Let me be a geezer for a few minutes. In 1968 singer-songwriter Paul Anka heard an enchanting melody Comme d'habitude (As Usual) written and performed by French artist Claude Francios. He was so moved by the song that he purchased the adaptation, recording, and publishing rights , re-wrote the lyrics, and called Frank Sinatra with a deal to record and publish his new version, My Way. Of course, My Way became Sinatra's signature song. His recording in 1968 reached 27 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart that year and 2nd on the Easy Listening chart. In the UK the single was in the Top 40 for 75 weeks, a record that stands today. Evidently, the idea of living my way resonated with people in 1969. In subsequent years the song was recorded by author Paul Anka (several times as a single and as duets with Julio Iglesias and Jon Bon Jovi), Elvis Presley, Glenn Campbell, and most recently Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols. My Way still gets modern fingers popping and self-absorbed humans rocking to their version of life. it's perhaps why some of us are in a constant rut, you know, the same ol' same ol' we keep hearing about. Thanks to Wikipedia for the scoop on My Way.
Maybe it's just a convenient topical application but Matthew's account of the wise men at Christ's birth provides a seasonal portal that works for me right now. You know the story. According to Matthew 2, they were eastern mystics, star gazers, astrologers, magicians, or wizards who watched the heavens for signs. When they saw what Matthew defined as "his star" (v.2) they followed it to Judea to "worship him" (again, v.2). When Herod, the Jewish king, heard about this star he was troubled, along with everyone in Jerusalem. So, he summoned the wise men, sent them on a more exact search in Bethlehem and demanded that they send him directions to the place so he could go there and worship too (vv.3-8).
Matthew continued the narrative, "...they went on their way" (v. 9), which translates for me, they followed their usual practice of interpreting the stars and going to the place indicated. So, they arrived at the house, fell down and worshiped Jesus, and brought forth costly gifts for him (v.11). At some later point they were "warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way" (v. 12). They had arrived in their own way. They departed by another. Let me take some license with that thought.
Here's a newsflash! Even a bright, festive, musically adorned, and spiritually grounded season can become repetitious and then, superficial. Like much of our worship and practice of faith Christmas makes us tip-toe along that almost imperceptible line of tradition and traditionalism. It may be one of the reasons us free-worship Protestants have resisted the rubrics of liturgy for 500 years. There's this fear that something so precious could become mechanical, perfunctory, eventually meaningless through automation. Celebrating Christmas can compel us along that same path to some degree. What is dreary can easily become what is dreaded. And, like it or, or agree or not, it can happen during the Christmas season too.
Most of us have our Christmas stuff. You know, a favorite tree for those us with pine allergies, or a preferred species, one purchased on a farm in North Carolina, or the pink thing the children whined us into a couple of years ago. There are ornaments, creches, candles, lights, wreaths, wrappings, and tinsel stored away in the attic, or more likely the storage building, that are customary adornment for our season. In some ways we're all kin to the Griswolds and want to create the perfect family Christmas year after year. You know, Cousin Eddie and his white patent loafers forever. And, the compulsions that drive us through these metrics may just become another item on our proverbial to-do list.
Years ago when I was a bank commercial loan and marketing officer our advertising people warned us about our brand or logo or tag lines becoming landscape. It was such a vivid expression, landscape. What it meant was that the bank name or marketing pizzazz could become like road signs on the busy highway. Frequent travelers get used to them and they no longer register their message with consumers. These landscaped ads lose their worth. So, the marketing departments had to come up with a different way. Notice the digital electronic billboards along the interstate highways now. WOW! Something new every minute or so. They're taking their clients to the same location a different way.
Have repetition and mechanics made Christmas part of the landscape for you, perhaps grinched away some of your Christmas joy? Maybe it's time for a different path. Some families change their decoration schemes, others adopt a family or homeless person, many add Advent devotions to their daily or weekly plans, while others forgo traditional gift exchange to support a local charity or mission. Refreshing the season with some small surprises or something worshipful that is out of the ordinary may inject a sense of newness that overrides the grinch of sameness.
A word from Prophet Isaiah takes me to this new place. He wrote---
Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
Isaiah 43:19, ESV
it's what he does, our God. He gives us a new way, a different path than my way. It is his way. And, that makes everything, including this season, special.