Some of you might have caught the holiday movie, Deck the Halls, starring Danny DeVito and Matthew Broderick, on TV recently.
Matthew Broderick’s character is the epitome of the old fashioned Christmas traditionalist. He forces his family to go through the motions of fulfilling all the standard holiday traditions dictated by their unchanging Christmas Calendar, from caroling to ceremoniously cutting down and decorating the (always essential) Silver Noble Fir Christmas Tree.
Danny DeVito’s character is the epitome of the extreme opposite—the flashy, techno-commercial-Christmas. In an effort to make his house visible from outer space, he turns it into an electronic spectacle that loops blinding lights through a state-of-the-art show set to modern music, including a holiday rap, that blares through the neighborhood—and into Broderick’s bedroom—until 4 a.m.
The two men quickly become enemies blinded by their desires to outwit and thwart the plans of the other until each nearly destroys the holidays and comes close to losing his family altogether.
The movie is a light-hearted, funny bit of entertainment, but the extremes represented by the two main characters are familiar to us in ways that affect us year round. It is so easy to get caught up in any and everything new, or to reject the new and stubbornly camp out in the old ways. Neither extreme is wise.
The old guard knows the value of tradition and fears what will be lost if they accept the inevitability of change. Change is inevitable, and there is always loss with change. However, by deceiving themselves into believing they can freeze time, traditionalists ultimately risk losing ground not only with the changeable things, but with the absolutes as well—things that ought always to remain stable.
The new order embraces change and recognizes the good that comes from fresh ideas and approaches. But, having lost stability in their hunger for the thrill of newness, they dismiss nearly everything that came before them into obscurity, and come to regard the past as tired and worn out. In the process, they lose a sense of purpose, and all meaning is lost in an endless, and tiring parade of innovation. In the end, seeking rest, they attempt to freeze time and become the new, old guard.
The truth is that there are some old ways that never change, and we all ought to stubbornly preserve them. But, those old ways are often not as one-dimensional as we think, and can be respected and manifested in new, more relevant ways. Even the old ways that are as unyielding as stone aren’t right just because they’re the old ways. They’re right, because they’re right. Rather than regarding them as weighing us down, we ought to see them as solid rock beneath our feet—they stabilize us and give us much needed security.
On the other hand there are old ways that are just old ways. They were once new, and the old guard back then feared and resisted them until they all died off and the new thing became the old thing beloved to the new old guard.
Wise people recognize the things that are transient, and can let them go, knowing that fresh approaches are needed to keep our families and societies from going stale. So, whether we’re talking about the holidays, the world, or the church, the best approach is to be neither old guard nor new order, and to be both. An attempt at balance, however imperfectly executed, offers the best shot at preserving what ought to be preserved with stability, and embracing change as needed to maintain a healthy sense of newness.
“As we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2Corinthians 4:18).