“And when in time to come your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him…” Exodus 13:14a
The end of one year and the beginning of another is, in reality, just another day. But because we put away our old calendars and get out new ones, and because we measure things in years, it seems like a new start. Traditionally, perhaps infamously, people make grand plans and have grand ideas about how the future year is going to go. Often these plans have to do with establishing, or perhaps breaking, some kind of a habit. Some people want to get into the habit of exercising more. Some people want to break the habit of snacking when they aren’t really that hungry. It’s a good idea to evaluate one’s habits periodically and what better time than the beginning of the year?
God’s word addresses some habits of Christians. The writer to the Hebrews says in chapter 10, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.” This verse recommends that habit of meeting with other Christians for encouragement and speaks against the habit neglecting to meet with other Christians regularly. Going to church on a regular basis is a habit. It’s not just some thing Christians do because of tradition. Meeting together for worship is a habit that lets us receive God’s gifts anew and lets us encourage other Christians and receive encouragement from them.
Speaking of traditions, they have their place too. I don’t know that you would call celebrating Christmas a habit. It’s more of a tradition. I don’t know where the line is between ‘tradition’ and ‘habit’ but ‘tradition’ seems less regular and more occasional than a habit. God’s word addresses occasions. Exodus 13:14 reads, “And when in time to come your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him ‘By a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery.’” This verse comes in the context of redeeming the firstborn of man and animals. This is not a thing that would happen weekly. A first born child only comes once but I suppose a first born animal might depend on how much livestock you keep. In any case this would be an occasional event but would also be an opportunity to talk about why this is done. Indeed, God seems to have instituted this practice, in part, so that questions would be asked about it in the future and an opportunity would be given to explain and thereby remember God’s saving works and promises of the past.
Christmas affords us this opportunity every year. The same is true of all of the church’s holidays both major (Easter) and minor (St. Michael and All Angels). It seems like we often celebrate holidays because they’re fun or because ‘that’s what we have always done’. Now might be an interesting time to think about celebrating holidays as an opportunity to talk about God and what He has done or will do. Who knows, in time to come your son (or somebody else) may ask you, ‘What does this mean?’ and you will have an opportunity to tell them. Here are some suggestions for the upcoming season of the church year, Epiphany.
Chalking the Door – The Epiphany season is about Jesus being made known to the world beginning with the three magi/wise men/kings/sages. Epiphany starts after the 12 days of Christmas, that is, January 6. To bless their homes or to let the wise man know that they could stay there, many Christians write on their doors (or door frames) the year bracketing the initials of the wise men. The traditional (they are not included in the Bible) names of the wise men are Casper, Melchior and Balthazar. For this Epiphany then, the chalking would look like this, 20 + C + M + B + 24. Break out some chalk and scrawl it on your door for a good conversation starter.
King Cake – King cake also celebrates Epiphany with a nod to the three kings. King cake is a round pastry cake with a féve in it. A féve is a little prize hidden in the cake. Traditionally it was a bean but in order to prevent it from being knowingly or unknowingly eaten, most people use an inedible object such as a plastic baby. Finding the baby hidden in the cake can be likened to the three kings finding the baby Jesus who would be crucified for being the king of the Jews but was, in fact, the king of all. It can easily be another conversation starter, and hey, cake.
Whatever habits or traditions you decide to engage in this year try to put them into the context of your faith. How does what you plan to do or not do this year help strengthen your faith or the faith of those around you? What opportunities might you have to talk about the most important things in life such as a baby who lived and died and rose to be your king?