I had the honor of officiating a friend’s wedding at the beginning of this month. They chose, with great intention and care, the ideal location to match their vibrant personalities, an outdoorsy place that needed little adornment beyond the splendor of creation around them, which would have seemed crazy in December except that you just knew that the warmth of these two people would manage somehow to defrost the entire crowd of witnesses; it did. We worked together on the words, with great intention and care, and what I loved was the ways they wanted to honor great traditions of marriages past, giving their ceremony coherence and belonging with their own parents’ vows, their friends’ vows, while infusing for them what was necessary to speak and sing in their own hearts. It’s why worship songs do not get old across church after church. It’s not that every worship leader is a cover band, chasing a commercial dollar. The same words, chords, prayers alight anew in each mouth, in each repeating and telling of it, enfleshed in every life and moment.
Similarly, I am amazed at my wife’s knack for this. We have made Christmas a grand thing in our family. Individually, I might be grumpy about it, wondering why we join the world’s hullabaloo (“Easter’s the one we should be spending a month anticipating and celebrating, and can you imagine preparing for the new creation by stocking up on items from the old?”). But my better half has taught me the precious value of traditions re-traditioned. Family gathering to compel the children to sing the same songs their parents did as children of immigrant families, trying to make coherence out of American lives. Ornaments pre-dating our marriage, our adulthood, even our lives themselves, going up year after year as a reminder of the accretion of love. And with my wife and now our kid, we established a tradition of making, rather than buying, the gifts we give each other. For a person as un-handy as I am, and as quick-triggered to “bolster the economy” in gift-buying, it has been a weirding tradition that has forced me to give early and earnest thought to trying to do something I’m quite uncomfortable with. For love.
The gospels seem laced with constructive re-traditioning. Entirely consistent and entirely surprising are the ways God moves, the way he appears, the way he speaks and teaches, the world he unfolds, the kingdom he casts. Yes indeed he speaks out to sinners; no sirree, he does not judge them but embraces them. Yes he upholds the wisdom of ages; not at all does he misinterpret them to prevent him from healing. Yes he is the newborn king, born of the tribe, gathering the nations, reconstituting the flock; yes he vanquishes his foes, he restores the splendor, he ascends a throne, he makes a new people. No, it does not look like anything we expected, unless we are gifted to be guided by a strange, bright star.
The misapprehended arrival of the messiah reminds us that God’s radical re-traditioning is not haphazard, fluky, clever. With great intention and care, it communicates the profound reality and pares away the misleading externalities. Beautiful.