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Well, the tree is finally up, all my “gigs” but two have happened, some snacks have been snarfed…and I am finally, mid-December, able to think about Christmas. Now I’ve actually had Christmas music playing in my car since Halloween, and on my PC and iPhone (and on “ALEXA”) which has helped to helped to put me in the mood, when I have the time to sit and listen…music, and specifically, the music of Christmas is for me a wonderful tradition!

Oh, how the years have changed; where I used to pull out the LPs in the back of the shelf, now I “download” it all from that mysterious “cloud” out there.  But listening to the music, while enjoying decorations and wassail, takes me back to the years that Mom & Dad would pull out the old Christmas LP’s.

The first “album” I ever purchased was the FIRESTONE CHRISTMAS ALBUM WITH JULIE ANDREWS (remember those? One quarter with a fill-up?).  I saved my quarter and begged Dad to fill up at TEXACO (against his principles, as a Richfield Oil man).  For me, Christmas is not Christmas unless I’m listening to Julie belt out those Christmas songs with the London Symphony Orchestra, and arrangements by Andre Previn.  They ARE STILL beautiful recordings, but it’s the memories that the music recalls, more than anything else, the “tradition” that puts me in the Christmas mood.

Memories and traditions are strong motivators.  In churches, it’s memories of days-gone-by that sometimes determine how people feel about certain times, seasons, and events in the Church.  It’s the way a song reminds us of a moment in time, in the past, that makes us want to hear it again and again during worship. And it’s the memory of the “way we’ve always done it” that keeps people from accepting change also.

And yet, the rule of life is, everything changes…except God. Ministry and church work is a good example of that.  We sang out of a hymnal until some young guy named Bill Gaither started writing songs for us to sing…that weren’t IN our hymnal. (Of course, he’s been around long enough now that he IS in the hymnal).  How about the Pastor’s office?  I remember visiting the office of Pastor Bill, my Pastor when I was growing up in my hometown church.  Every wall of that office was a floor to ceiling shelf, filled with Bibles, commentaries, sermons, old and new.  His office was filled with two typewriters, a mimeograph machine, a couple of phones, etc.  You reached him by stopping by or calling the church office.  Today, most of our communication is by text, phone calls, etc.…which can, miraculously, be done anytime from anywhere.  I also have a wall filled with books, but can’t remember the last time I cracked one open, because MY office isn’t defined by the room in the church building, MY office is now my LAPTOP, my iPad and my iPhone…on those “devices” I have more than 15 Bible translations, 30 Commentaries, and various dictionaries, maps, etc. Wherever those electronic devices are, there is my office – and conversely, wherever I am, my office is with me.  I miss the tradition, but I love the convenience and efficiency.

I spent some time this year listening to those Julie Andrews recordings, and asking myself, “Do I love these songs because of the memories, because I still see myself pulling that LP out of its case and placing it on the HiFi…or because the music is beautiful in itself?”  The answer surprised me: “I love them FOR the memories AND because they are beautiful songs in themselves…I love that recording for BOTH reasons. 

And so, is tradition good? Or is it bad? 

Sometimes God wants us to re-visit our traditions just to affirm that they are GOOD traditions…AND sometimes He wants us to accept change, not just because it’s different and new, but because it might be what is needed at the time…to see HIM in a new way.  WE change, HE doesn’t.

I see “tradition” as comfort, but only when it doesn’t get in the way of learning, progress, and growth.  In worship, we use tradition to gain strength in the present, but when we start placing “tradition” in front of “relationship” then we have moved from “Christianity” to “Religion”, from “Relationship” to “Ritual” – and those are priorities out of whack.

I’ve always been a lover of tradition.  I love the songs JULIE ANDREWS sings on this, still my favorite Christmas album.  Now, I listen to the same songs I played on my “HiFi” on my iPhone, the “tradition” of the LP and it’s colorful “TEXACO” cover is gone, but the core of what started that tradition is still around…the music.

I LOVE our traditions at CENTRAL CHRISTIAN, but I earnestly, and humbly, pray that I will never let my “favorite things” get in the way of God’s agenda, His truth, and the relationship we have with or without any “religious tradition”.

Now…I hear Julie Andrew’s voice calling to me…I wish you and all you love a very Merry Christmas!