Recently I was getting made fun of for putting up my Christmas tree. My family admittedly keeps our Christmas tree up for a long time. In my first year of marriage, my wife and I found a deal for Christmas trees and decorations in the first week of November. So we went and picked out our first Christmas decorations and tree. (We had a new dog and would have gone potty and the real tree.) We immediately put up our decorations when we got home. We were just so happy and excited we had to do it. This tradition continues even today because it reminds us of the joy we had and the joy we continue to have today.
My family also has another tradition: Uki-Christmas. Uki-Christmas is short for Ukrainian Christmas. I was adopted into a Ukrainian family that has the tradition of celebrating Christmas on January 7th. My adopted mother's Father followed the old calendar and continued to celebrate Christmas on January 7th. In honor of grandpa, we continued the tradition. It is time we spend with our Uki-family. This means we keep our Christmas tree around until after Uki-Christmas. So, in summary, my household has our Christmas decorations up from the beginning of November until January 8th.
I can feel some people's instant rejection of the Christmas season going on that early and going that late in my house. My answer is to remember that my family tradition begins with joy and ends with love. It also really embodies my family. We are a bunch of kids at heart, full of love, full of joy, and we got hope in spades. So this interesting season has become a symbol of who we are.
Now here is the fun thing: we read the Bible through the lens of tradition as well. We draw on family traditions and even seek to adjust, so we have our own traditions. In the book Following King Jesus Scot McKnight and Becky Castle Miller explain that we read the Bible through the lens of tradition. We should start with tradition. What has God said to the church since the beginning? In what ways has God spoken throughout the generations? These are good questions. It reminds me of the old saying, "Know where you have been, so you know where you are going." We need to know not only what the cultural context of the scriptures is, but how that Scripture was understood throughout history. I find this part of studying the Bible fun. You get to know some of the great heroes and theologians of the faith. You get to hear how God has shaped the church and spoke throughout generations.
Once we know the tradition, we move forward to how God is speaking today. I don't believe that God is a stale God. I believe the living God who continues to speak to the church today. In new ways, Jesus is still trying to reach new people and meet people where they are. Tradition becomes important because it tells us where we have been, but we must not let it weigh us down until we cannot move. As with all things, there must be a balance between the old and new.
I also have observed churches themselves have a tradition of how they view and use the Bible. Depending on the community, we see how it shapes the individual's experience of the scriptures. It also becomes evident in their worship how people view, use, and experience the word of God. They, too, take the traditions of the past generations and allow it to shape the community. Just like how my family tradition of the Christmas tree says a lot about who we are as a family, our traditions of the Bible communicates who a church is as well.
Tradition is surprising. Tradition is not just what has been, but can push us forward. Tradition can communicate who we are. For some church communities, we deny the existence of our traditions when it comes to scriptures. We don't realize the impact is having on us today.
Make no mistake; your traditions on scripture are as visible as the tree in my house.