Our daughter isn’t coming home for Christmas this year. She’s going to be with her boyfriend’s family. She’s growing up, for sure. But that’s not why she isn’t coming home — or so we’re told.

Last year she finished her degree — or two degrees, to be precise. This year she’s working on her master’s. But that’s not why she isn’t coming home either.

It seems that with only one academic program in her life, she wasn’t busy enough. So she took a job at a bakery and was told she couldn’t count on getting the holidays off — and they meant it. We will get to see her (and the boyfriend) on New Year’s Day. But that’s not the same.

I was going to tell my congregation at Rolling Hills United Methodist Church that I’d canceled Christmas. If I can’t have Christmas with my family, then no one can! Not really sure that would have worked. I’m over it, at least for now.

I haven’t hung up the lights yet, or replaced the second set of lawn deer with number three. But that’s coming soon. We’ll send her a picture to show her that things are just the way she remembers them. We want her to know that while lots of things change in this life, some things remain constant and true.

When it comes to times like Christmas, I’m in favor of tradition. That may be a vocational hazard for those whose work is in the community of faith. People make fun of churches, where everyone wants things to be the same. Sit in the same pew. Sing the same familiar hymns. “How many Christians does it take to change a light bulb?” “What do you mean, change?” Every denomination has its own variation on the theme.

I think of traditions as old friends. Some things you just don’t have to explain. And maybe you couldn’t if you tried. For us, it’s a star on the top of the tree and a wide variety of ornaments collected throughout the years. We remember who we were and where we were the first time we hung them. There’s a wreath at the front door, a couple of cherished nativity sets on the mantle and a snowman candle that is nearly at the end of his days. None of them is actually necessary, but all of them help us remember and give thanks.

Whatever your traditions might be during the holidays, I will hope that they will be sources of grace, encouragement and peace for you and your families. May it be a time, for those of us who are grownups, to let go of the stuff we carry around each week, and that we let our children, our grandchildren, lead us into mystery and wonder. Let their innocence and joy be yours. And if you have trouble believing, let them believe for you. Let their faith and hope carry you through this time. As the prophet Isaiah once said, “And a little child shall lead them.”

We could use some of that just now. And if our daughter won’t be coming home for Christmas this year, we need it even more.


Jonathan Chute is senior pastor with Rolling Hills United Methodist Church, which worships each Sunday at 8:30 and 10 a.m., and 5:30 p.m. He lives with his wife and daughter (when she’s home!) in Palos Verdes Estates. He can be reached by email at jonathan@rhumc.org.

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