Sunday, December 20, 2009

Balancing Act

This is my fourth Advent post. To read the first three posts, click here, here, and here.

In church this morning, singing the old hymns with a smile on my face and hardly ever looking at the hymnal, I realized how important repetition is to the celebration of Christmas. We repeat the same hymns, make the same cookies and Christmas dinner, read the same Bible verses in the same translation, hang the same ornaments, buy a tree from the same place or put up the same artificial tree, go to the same services, and pray the same prayers. We receive comfort and peace from the annual repetition, but we run the risk of becoming complacent and taking the things we repeat for granted, too.

At my previous church, we sang O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (all verses) every Sunday of Advent—and one Sunday we actually sang it twice. After a few years of this, I came to despise that song and still wince each time I hear it. It killed my Christmas joy and made my heart shrink just like the Grinch’s. Too much of a good thing, and you lose the point of it.

On the other hand, how many times have you heard a Christmas carol performed with a slightly different beat from the traditional version, such as a Muzak version of Joy to the World? What is your reaction? Probably annoyance, if you’re anything like me. Your expectations aren’t met, and disappointment results.

When the shepherds heard the heavenly hosts at the first Christmas, the experience of the Greatest Gift was fresh and new and wholly unexpected. Honestly, who would have thought the old prophesies would be fulfilled by travelers in a stable in an overcrowded town during tax season? I don’t think anybody expected that. Mary and Joseph sure were amazed, and the shepherds marveled at angels speaking to them—lowly and poor and socially scorned—of good news of great joy for all people.

Every year, Christians are called to perform a balancing act at Christmas: to have the comfort and peace of the same old and blessed story, and at the same time to hear that story with fresh ears and hearts as did the shepherds. But we can’t stop there; the shepherds didn’t. To keep Christmas, we also need to share that story with others.

I invite you to share in the comments how you keep Christmas fresh and new in your heart each year. How do traditions actually help you do that? If you’ve become complacent, how can you sing a new song this Christmas and share once again in the good news of great joy?

I’ll go first. Reading Luke 2 in the King James Bible has always felt fresh to me, mainly because I simply don’t read it any other time of year. Since I started using a different translation for Bible study a few years ago, it’s particularly fresh each year. Also, putting out the nativity set my mother made keeps the story fresh for me, especially because Baby Jesus is missing a hand as a result of a little too much love, probably from my cousin Kathy, decades ago. Finally, rather than give to the same charity each year, we mix up our giving.

Now it’s your turn to share!


  1. One of the ways to keep it fresh for me occurs during these last few days before Christmas~it is unexpected gifts to give or receive just because someone wanted to give.

  2. Anything I can do with another family member keeps Christmas fresh for me -- baking cookies, wrapping presents, shopping for a Giving Tree gift. This year, I set up our nativity with my 13 year old granddaughter, and we discussed how each figure was added over the years by her mother, aunts and uncle. It's an odd mix, filling out a sadly lacking original set. I mean, the wise men had no camels or camel-herder, the shepherd had no helpers and only 3 sheep, there was only one angel, the stable had only one cow and one donkey -- where were the turkey, goose, rooster and chickens? And musicians! There must have been music, so we added three young men playing for baby Jesus -- a drum, a flute and a bagpipe! It became quite an ensemble, and I love each and every member.

  3. Oh, Brenda, don't you just love those unexpected gifts! I keep a few things lying around because I always forget someone and it's so nice to whip out a card and gift and hand them right over!

    Kay, your nativity set sounds PERFECT! My mother did ceramics years ago and made practically everyone in the family nativity scenes. My cousin Kathy, now a respectable 30-something, used to play with all the baby Jesus figures at every house we went to. Not one set today has an intact Jesus (though I'm sure Kathy isn't responsible for ALL the damage, LOL). Mostly, it's broken and lost hands, but at least one has glue lines around the neck. And of course, there must be turkeys in nativity scenes...turkeys being native to Bethlehem and all. *wink*

    Christmas blessings to you both!

  4. I was just thinking the other day how our traditions really help us keep our holidays going. In the Old Testament, the people were even given specific traditions to follow so that God's Truth would be passed down from generation to generation. Yes, we can get caught up in the hustle and bustle, forgetting what it's really all about; but we can counteract that tendency by making time each holiday to reflect on what (and Who)the festivities represent. If tradition weren't important, then why the song "I'll Be Home for Christmas"? It's one of the ways we bind together as families, communities and a nation.


Thanks so much for taking time to comment!