Family Ministry

Each year I bake my great grandmother's Christmas Eve chocolate cake. I cannot say it is really all that unique. There is no special German chocolate or some secret French style decorating involved. The only real challenge is that great grandmother Mace did not leave a full recipe. Instead, what we have is something that reads like this: "Boil icing until ready to spread." That leaves a lot of room for creativity as well as error. Regardless, I make the cake every year. It tastes great! But mainly, it reminds me of her. After over twenty years of baking this cake is now OUR family's Christmas Eve dessert, just as it was hers. It is a tradition, something important that has been passed along to us from those who came before.

Each night in Advent, we have a family practice that happens after dinner. One family member lights the candles on the Advent wreath. Another person reads a Bible passage. We share our thoughts. We end with the Lord's Prayer. The order rarely changes. The experience has a beginning, middle, and an end. Each piece is important and matters to us. It is a ritual.

Advent and Christmastide provide a perfect time of year to implement and practice family rituals and traditions - new ones or old ones. The season invites us to ritual. The music we hear this time of year is part of the tradition and we look forward to it. Christmas Eve would not be the same without singing Silent Night. Hliday commercials, such as the ringing of the Hershey chocolate bells, come around each year. The smell of pine is a much a part of December as the snow on the ground and the chill in the air. As the world encourages us to enjoy rituals and traditions, we can be intentional about of practicing them at homes, for they sharpen the holiness of this season.

Practicing rituals and traditions is the second key to nurturing our faith and passing it along to our children. These are powerful tools because they tap into a place in us deeper than our thoughts. Rituals and traditions get under our skin and nurture us from deep in our bones. They are tools that help us to embody who we are and what we believe - even when our minds spin doubts around us. They are tools that help hear once again the story of who our God is and how much our God believes in us. Rituals and traditions are means of incarnating, if ever so slightly, the Holy within and around us all. Without rituals and traditions we would miss a deep experience of what it means to know God, not just in our heads, but in our hearts and bodies as well.

As you and your family step deeper into Advent and closer to Christmas morning, pay attention to rituals and traditions you have received. Develop new ones that are waiting and wanting to be brought to life. See how these tools bring you closer to God, to one another and they shed a bit of light on who you are. See how these tools can be a means of telling the world who you all are as a Christian family today.

Then, when the recipes have been put away, when the last candle has been extinguished and when the tree is ready to come down, commit yourself to taking the practice of engaging rituals and traditions into your daily lives beyond this Christmas season. These holy tools, unlike tinsel, can be useful long after the holy days are over. These tools are gifts that you can take with you on into each new day, each new season. We can create rituals for the more "ordinary" events of life, such as how we say good night to one another, what we say and do as one goes to school or work each day, or what we do as we prepare the evening dinner. Traditions around birthdays or other rites of passage can be created. These may seem like small acts, but they matter.

Simple acts like these are a key to passing on our faith, for they embody what words alone cannot articulate and what our souls long to express. Who knows? Maybe with them will begin to not only know our Christian Story but live it.