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FAMILY TRADITIONS Rev. Dave Brighton Warner Robins, GA 31088 Introduction "Fiddler on the Roof" is my favorite musical and one of the striking and thought provoking tensions in the story is Tevye's struggle with the place of tradition in his life and the life of his family. "The way it's always been done" is good enough for Tevye -- "Tradition!" he sings. But his daughters have other ideas! They want to choose their own husbands, etc. and therein lies the tension! Tevye cannot bear to think that his daughters would abandon the traditions of the family. His daughters cannot bear to think that their father would force them to do things they don't want to do. What is it about traditions that makes them such a powerful force in families? Are they really worthwhile? What kind of traditions might a family practice? And is there any biblical precedent for family traditions? Biblical Precedence Let's begin with the final question first. There are many examples of family traditions in the Bible and those traditions often evoked powerful emotions! One such example is found in Genesis 27 and it deals with the ancient Near East tradition that said the oldest son received the primary blessing from his father and became the new patriarch of the family. As Isaac nears death, he sends for his son Esau to carry out the time-honored tradition of giving him the blessing. Isaac's wife, Rebekah, overhears Isaac and she helps her other son, Jacob, to pretend to be Esau and steal the blessing for himself. When Esau finds out, he is understandably upset! Imagine a grown man crying like a baby, "Bless me -- me too, my father!" (Genesis 27:34) But the tradition has already been carried out. There is no going back. Isaac can only give Esau a "secondary" blessing. Esau is so upset he decides to wait until his father dies and then kill Jacob, no doubt to get his rightful blessing back. Another example of an important family tradition in the Bible is in Jesus' family. We read in Luke 2:41-42, "Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When He was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom." Not only was Passover an important family tradition, commanded by God Himself (Exodus 12:14), but Jesus' "coming of age" was also an important tradition and this may have very well been the first time He is allowed to make the trip to Jerusalem for Passover. In the Jewish community of Jesus' day (and still today!), the tradition was that at the age of twelve, Jewish boys would begin to prepare themselves to take on a more adult role in the religious community. Joseph and Mary just don't understand that Jesus' adult role in the Jewish religious community is going to be a lot more than they are thinking it will be! Jesus stays behind in Jerusalem when His parents leave to converse with the teachers in the temple as a prelude to the rabbi/teacher role He will assume when He becomes an adult. Traditions: A Powerful Family Force Biblical illustrations such as these show that traditions have been an important part of family life for a long, long time! But what is it about traditions that makes them such a powerful force in family life? We would all probably have our ideas as to how to answer that question. Let me share a few of my ideas! First, traditions create memories that last a lifetime and help to cement family relationships. I can still remember our family Easter tradition when I was a little boy. We would go to Grandma and Grandpa's house for Easter and try to find our Easter baskets that Grandpa had hidden around the house! My Dad continued that tradition in our family when we no longer lived close enough to visit Grandma and Grandpa at Easter, and I have continued that tradition with my children to this day. Many people have memories of special family traditions at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, the Fourth of July, Memorial Day and other holidays. Many of the traditions - going a certain place, eating certain foods, seeing certain family members, playing certain family games -- are traditions that all those involved will look back at with fond memories and talk about for years to come! Second, traditions help us know how to do things! They help form a solid foundation to build our lives upon. Think what it would be like if your celebration of Christmas or birthdays had no tradition, no pattern. The celebration of those events loses something. Many children who grow up in homes without traditions are more in danger of losing their way as teenagers and young adults. The Search Institute has published the results of research which clearly points in this direction. If children grow up without traditions as part of the foundation of their childhood, they tend to struggle more to find themselves when they grow up and they are more prone to a whole host of problems. Third, traditions help put JOY into our families! I'm sure the boy Jesus looked forward to that trip to Jerusalem when He was twelve year old! It was an important and meaningful and joyful occasion! And years later as Jesus prepared to celebrate another Passover with His disciples on the eve of His arrest, trials and crucifixion, He tells the disciples how much He has looked forward to celebrating Passover with them. There were, of course, some very serious things He had to talk about with them, some very sacred things as well (the institution of His holy meal!), but I think Jesus also looked forward with simple joy to this family tradition of Passover, to celebrating all that God had done for His people in the past, and all that He was about to do. The Lutheran Family Association recently conducted thirty "Healthy Congregations: Healthy Families" workshops. Participants in the workshops offered their thoughts on the question, "What do healthy families do?" The number five answer was, "Develop traditions." Family Traditions You Can Adopt! Family Devotions The number one thing participants in the workshop said healthy families do was, "Family devotions and prayer." This is a family tradition well worth developing! One way to do it is to set aside a time when the whole family is together -- a bigger and bigger chore these days! -- to sit down and read the Bible and pray together. Meal time is a good time to do this. After dinner or after breakfast, light a candle and put it in the middle of the table. Then read from the Bible. There are a variety of devotional books you can use to read along with the Bible reading. Then sing a song. When I was young, my sister, brothers and I must have learned the first lines of 40 hymns in family devotions! We closed our family devotions by singing, "Now the Day Is Over" and we blew out the candle. Family devotions can be a special time for the whole family and it's a family tradition that can transform mealtime into a worship opportunity for the whole family. Birthday Clues How would you like to spice up birthday time around your house and add an extra touch of excitement to the birthday child's day? At our house, we've been doing "Birthday Clues" for some years. How does it work? It's really a simple process. After the birthday child is "banished" to his/her bedroom, all the birthday presents are hidden around the house. Attached to each present is a clue that tells where the next present is hidden. The first clue is always in the family birthday card. It might read something like this: "It's birthday time, are you having fun? Get your legs ready 'cause you're going to run! Take a deep breath and yell, 'Yippee'! Then run downstairs and look behind the TV!" Did I forget to mention that all the clues are rhymes? As you can readily see from the example above, I'm not that great at poetry, but the rhyming clues are a lot of fun! You can also do rhymes that leave out the last word so the birthday child has to guess what it is: "Hey, birthday boy, it's you we're lovin' For another fun gift go look in the ____________." And in the oven he'll find the next gift! We've also found that it's fun to take pictures of the children as they find their presents, so we have pictures from all sorts of crazy angles -- under the couch, in the microwave, under the kitchen sink, in the dryer. And then there's this clue: "To find your next gift you'll have to go far -Out into the garage and look by the car!" Off the kids go on a dead run (the birthday child always has the privilege of leading the pack!) and there's a new bike!'' Birthday Clues can add lots of fun to the birthday celebrations in your home. Destination Unknown This family tradition started innocently enough. My wife, Marcia, and I thought it might be nice to surprise our children by doing something fun without first telling them where we were going. As we piled the five kids into the van, the conversation went something like this: "Where are we going?" "I don't know." "Dad, you have to know! You're driving!" "Maybe you're right. I guess we'll just have to see." "Why can't you tell us where we're going?" "Let's just say it will be a surprise, and you'll find out where we're going when we get there. Until then, it will be a destination unknown." And so our family tradition of "Destination Unknown" was born. Over the years, we've enjoyed many simple and inexpensive (yet fun) destinations: the local pizza parlor, movies, the city park, putt-putt golf, swimming, the zoo, the local ice cream parlor and a minor league baseball game. As time goes along, it gets harder to surprise the kids, but that's part of the fun. If the baseballs, gloves and Frisbees are in the back of the van, they all start guessing, "City Park!" If they have to clean up first, they get suspicious, "I hope it's not some museum!" And there are times of disappointment: "Not pizza again!" But over all, our destination unknowns have been wonderful family times, and if you want to stir up a bit of instant excitement around our house and turn a rainy day or a grumpy day into a great day of fun, all you have to say is, "Destination Unknown!" Family traditions -- they add a lot to our lives and they are a great way to let God's love flow through your family as you create special times you will never forget!
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