One of the things I remember from my childhood was going out to see the Christmas lights. My parents would bundle everybody up (in western PA the nights were cold and there was usually snow on the ground) and we’d all pile into the family station wagon. Then we’d drive up and down the neighborhood streets, looking at all the pretty Christmas lights.
Driving home from night meetings this past month and seeing all the beautiful lights in this area—there seem to be more than ever this year!—has reminded me of how much I enjoyed that as a kid, and of how every year I’d look forward to that particular night almost as much as Christmas morning. It was the repetition of that tradition that both drove it deep into my memory and built anticipation of going out and doing it again.
We live in a culture that sometimes distrusts repetition—and the rituals it produces-- as boring, meaningless, or insincere. That’s too bad. Yes, when repetition becomes mindless, it can be all these things to be sure, but it doesn’t have to be.
In fact, repetition can be the vehicle for deep connections that would not be possible to access any other way-- deep and profound connections with our past, with others, and with what we most enjoy. Think of the childhood stories we remember to this day, the games we’ve played (and still play!) over and over again, the enduring power of our favorite songs no matter how many times we hear them.
That’s part of why I so love the seasons of Advent and Christmas in a church with a history that stretches back thousands and thousands of years. The repetition and rituals of our worship connect me more deeply to a God who is more than the just the product of our current culture, to others, to the richness of our past, and to the people we love but see no longer who thought these rituals so important that they have bequeathed them to us.