Pinned to the wall of their dining room, displayed regally to overlook the entire home, our dear friends Zach and Madison have hung a massive tapestry. On it, one short sentence is embroidered.
“May heavenly things
our earthly things”
I often think about that one sentence. Certainly heaven has interrupted earth. The Kingdom of God has interrupted the kingdom of this world. In the beginning, God interrupted the darkness with light and creation. Jesus interrupted human history with His incarnation. And He’s called us, His people, to be ushers of divine interruption. Interrupting lostness with salvation, guilt with forgiveness, the seen with the unseen.
The months ahead offer a ripe opportunity to usher a holy interruption by creating holiday traditions.
The world uses the holidays for nearly every purpose but holy ones. Our culture marks them with consumerism, gluttony, and greed. But for Christians, we see the holidays with their intended purpose: to help us glorify God and enjoy him forever. I love the way Noel Piper defines traditions in her book Treasuring God in our Traditions: “God wants his people to celebrate in a way that re-enacts the story of his mighty deeds”.
I want to encourage you to think about the holidays the way that God does. This year, try to use holiday traditions as tools to point your (as well as your guests’) attention God-ward.
Here are three ways that holiday traditions create space for heavenly things to interrupt our earthly things:
- They give your family something to look forward to.
Humans are built on hope. As Christians particularly, we long and pine for the redemption of our world. Establishing traditions during the holidays creates the anticipation for small moments of heaven breaking through to interrupt the current challenges of life. For the family member feeling distant from God, distant from loving community or from safe security, a short holiday experience can point their eyes to the God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. One great blessing of traditions is that they don’t change. They’re steady in turbulence, just like our Lord.
- They give your family something to look back on.
Holiday traditions become some of the fondest memories as we age. It’s not likely that family members will remember which toys or electronics they were given. If they do, those trinkets almost certainly diminish in value over time. But traditions are the opposite – they compound in value as the years go on. Looking back on life, a family member may view a certain season of the past as uniquely challenging. However traditions (and those who facilitate them) are used by God to rewrite the life narrative away from abandonment and towards recognizing the presence of God’s enduring love.
- They give your family something to pass along.
Traditions are also, in a sense, an heirloom. Like physical heirlooms, traditions are passed down with great merit, and are often of even greater value. Are you one who can’t pass along a large cash inheritance? Pass along an inheritance of God-ward tradition. Are you one who can’t give the gift of houses or property after you’re gone? Give the gift of God-glorifying ritual. Decades from now, your family will reap the spiritual benefits of what you’ve sown into them through carving out space to intentionally trade the carnal flow of the holidays for a holy liturgy of life.
Here are four small opportunities for tradition:
- Special Feasts: Consider adding a meal to the holidays- maybe a breakfast, a dessert, or a brunch. For us, this looks like inviting all those who attend Thanksgiving dinner with us to come back the following day to eat leftovers and watch football.
- Special Toasts: Consider taking a moment before or after a meal to make a toast- this honoring practice draws attention and puts appreciation into words. For us, this looks like starting each meal during the holidays by raising our glasses and toasting to God Himself. We start the meal by simply saying, “To the King of kings! To the Lord of lords!”
- Special Songs: Consider incorporating singing a song together to commemorate a moment. For us, this looks like lighting a candle during the evenings leading up to Christmas and singing the Doxology.
- Special Blessings: Consider writing and speaking a blessing over guests or family. This could be done before bed, or before they depart. Before the grandchildren left her house after each holiday, my grandma would put her hands on them each, one by one and say, “May the Lord bless you and keep you, cause His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.”
What’s been said of saving for retirement can also be said of setting traditions. “The best time to start was five years ago. The second best time to start is today.”
How can you establish a new tradition this year?
It’s daunting. I recommend communicating early, being honest, and setting expectations. You might consider calling family members before the holidays to run it by them.
“I know I’ve not done this well in the past, but this year, I’d like to ask if we can start a new tradition. My hope is it will give you something to look forward to, to look back on, and to pass along to your families as well. Here’s what I’d like to do. ______ ”
The very act of tradition requires pausing what’s normal to engage in the abnormal. May heavenly things constantly interrupt our earthly things this holiday season.
For more resources on establishing God-honoring family traditions, check out these resources: