For one will scarcely die for a righteous person-though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. -Romans 5:7-8 (ESV)
Facebook has a nice little feature called: On This Day. It lets you see posts from yesteryear, things you've posted on this very day a year ago or ten years ago, and so forth. On this day, 2 years ago, I'd shared a link to one of my sermons on "Tradition," a word on my mind lately. While my wonderful host family decorates the back yard (You've never seen the Zahnow backyard? Get that on your bucket list!) and my wife and I plan for a holiday that's mostly packed in boxes, our traditions are forefront this season.
One tradition that's fairly new is one I like to mention each Advent season, Elf on the Shelf. People are very divided on this little imp. If you don't know of this custom, parents get a little Elf on the Shelf, the kids name him/her, and then he sits in the house and watches the children's behavior and reports back to Santa. Teachers sometimes get one for their classrooms. Often, whether at home or school, while left unattended, the elf does mischief and makes messes around the room. Some parents rail against the expectations of more work in a holiday season. Some love the fun.
As someone who believes equally in grace and in mischief, this one is tough for me. I welcome a tradition that adds fun and anticipation to Advent for children. But I always add a word of caution about this tradition. As with Santa, we must be careful when we link gifts and good behavior. Because a GIFT is something unearned. If gifts are to be representative of the true gift of God's son or to represent the gifts of the magi, they are unearned, undeserved. We receive gifts not because of good behavior, but in spite of bad behavior. Any idea of Santa and his elves monitoring bad behavior for gift payout should be discouraged. It destroys any shred of the beautiful theology of grace.
So, be sure any elf of yours is a good-hearted elf, however mischievous, and that he's there for fun only. And, as you hang stockings or millions of lights, as you place your crèches and elves, do so in anticipation, include the children, and speak to them of God's great gift to us, unearned, undeserved, and so needed, God's light, God's love, God's son, Emmanuel. Teach them grace.
Prayer for Today
Lord, you sent your son into a world that did not deserve him. We are that world. Help us as we wait in hope for the coming of that light. Help us to see all our gifts as reminders of your grace and to share that grace with others, especially in this season. Amen.