Paul’s mission intentionally included Gentiles – those who were not Jewish and did not grow up with Jewish traditions and history. Some in the early church wanted the Gentiles to adopt Jewish traditions. But Paul was insistent that the mystery of God was revealed, not through the teachings and traditions of the Jewish culture, but in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Traditions can be wonderful gifts. They connect us to those who have gone before us. They connect us to those across the globe who share our faith. They ground us in knowledge through history and memory. At the same time, traditions can bind, rather than free us. We may become slaves to the traditions, rather than allowing the traditions to serve us.
We have many traditions in our household. One of those is an annual trip to the Christmas tree farm up in the snowy hills of the Minnesota River Valley. The tree farm is an all-day affair, as it is just over an hour away. First we let the kids play on the hay-bail-tunnel-fort-maze thing that grows bigger and more grand every year. Then we scarf down donillas (mini-donuts with nilla wafers instead of donuts) and burn our tongues on hot chocolate. Next we hop on the tractor-pulled cart up to the lot to cut down our own tree – short needle, of course, but not the blue ones that get super prickly when they’re dry. Daddy and the kids throw snowballs at each other, while I work to dodge the strays. Then they take turns laying on the tarp as they maneuver to cut down the tree. We drag the tree down the hill, with the kids taking turns riding on the tarp. While daddy gets the tree paid for and tied to the car, the kids try their hand at the hand-crafted wooden gumball-obstacle-contraption and I sit on the warmed bench trying to shake the shivers. We sing Christmas carols with Ray Conniff all the way home.
A few years ago, the snow didn’t come, and it didn’t come, and it didn’t come. You need to have snow to cut down your own tree, or you’ll end up laying in the mud. Finally, we relented and 4 days before Christmas we went to the tree farm. We missed the donillas and hot chocolate (already closed for the season) tractor ride (too muddy) snowball fight, tree cutting, and riding the tarp (no snow). We enjoyed our tree for four days before Christmas, and for 12 days after. (12 days of Christmas, right? Then let’s be done.) It was the shortest, most depressing season we’d ever had.
The next year when it seemed we might have another not-white Christmas, we realized we might have to give up some of our traditions in order to maintain others. We decided to get the tree early, even though it meant getting one that was already cut. The rest of the trip was wonderful and we got to enjoy the tree throughout the entire season of Advent. We realized the family time, the memories, the laughter – those were all more important than the details of how it got done. Now we let the traditions serve us – not the other way around.
Colossians 1:24 – 2:5
I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me.
For I want you to know how much I am struggling for you, and for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me face to face. I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
I am saying this so that no one may deceive you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, and I rejoice to see your morale and the firmness of your faith in Christ.