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Christmas Traditions with Keith Palmer

Dale Johnson: Today I am with Keith Palmer. Many of you know him as one of our speakers at our CDTs throughout the country, and he is a blessing to us at ACBC. He’s a board member, he’s been serving faithfully for a number of years. He’s also a pastor at Grace Bible Church in Granbury, he also directs their training center there the Center for Biblical Counseling and Discipleship in the north Texas area, which is a partnership of several churches. I love the way that they do things there. If you’re in the area, I would encourage you to visit their site and do some of their training.

Now, today is going to be a fun time for us. I know Keith fairly well, we’re good friends and dear friends, but I’ve never asked him some of these questions. I am so intrigued to hear about his Christmas traditions. Listen, when the weather starts turning cooler and the leaves start changing, this is a fun time of year. But also there’s a sense, in a few ways, we remember that the Lord is in control of all as seasons change—and this is the time of year where we remember the incarnation. We remember our Lord coming to earth. God becoming flesh.

Keith there’s some fun things that we do to celebrate that—and families do this differently depending upon where we grew up, where we live. There are some fun traditions, I’m sure, but then there are ways that we try and teach our children and focus our hearts in the hustle and bustle of the world on Christ. Talk to us just a little bit about first some of your favorite Christmas memories. What are some of the things that you can recall in the Palmer history of things that you remember most about Christmas time?

Keith Palmer: Well, thanks Dale. It’s always good to be with you and enjoy this conversation together. Favorite memories. My brother-in-law is in law enforcement and there was one Christmas that my in-laws got us all tactical Nerf guns and we had the Nerf war of the century. Again there was strategy, there was tactical training done, and all I know is at the end of it all we were all laughing and had a lot of fun and we had about a million of those little yellow Nerf balls to pick up. What’s funny is, later in the year, it’s Easter right? It’s April and we’re going, “Oh, here’s another one of these yellow Nerf balls.” That was a great memory.

Thinking back even before that. I mean, my kids are all older now in the home, but thinking back to when they were very very young. You know that first Christmas you spend with a child was very special. We’re blessed with three children and I think each time we got to celebrate Christmas with another one of those blessings was a great memory. 

Lots of specifics there, but those are a couple of memories that stand out.

Dale Johnson: That’s great. Now, as I mentioned earlier, as the season starts to change, our house starts to look different. We start to do even some pattern things differently, sometimes our family worship changes in direction and scope and the things that we talk about. What are some of the things that you guys do in preparing your hearts in this season of advent to think about the coming of the Lord? 

Keith Palmer: We think about decoration and devotion. In terms of decoration, like a lot of people, there are decorations that go up. We are big fans of the lawn nativity—like the old-school, 1985, plastic blow-mold. I had to find them on eBay because they don’t make them anymore. We just put that out as a witness to what Christmas is really about. And we do something similar for Resurrection Sunday. We have an Easter cross that’s covered with flowers, which was a tradition that my church growing up did. It’s just one way as people drive by, hopefully they stop and they think and it promotes conversations. The lawn nativity is great. I think this year we’re working on how we’re going to make the most supernaturally looking star, but there’s always a technological piece that we’re trying to work on. 

Then when we go inside we do an advent wreath. I grew up in the Lutheran Church where the advent wreath was a big part of our tradition in terms of how we celebrate the incarnation. We have a little advent wreath. For those who don’t know what that is, it’s a wreath that typically sits on a dining room table. It has four candles on it and each of those candles represents a theme in the Christmas story. Starting in December, you light one of those candles, one each week successively until all of them are lit, and the Christ Candle is the last one. Our church does that too, there are advent readings that we do. We set aside our family worship from whatever we’re doing to focus particularly on texts that tell the Christmas story as well as the theological texts behind that would talk about the incarnation (Philippians 2 for example).

When our kids were little we had an advent calendar, which is this little cardboard cutouts, and when you build the manger scene up on the mantle. I’ve got two teenagers now and they still love the cardboard cutouts. I mean, they’re all about that. It’s like the flannel board. It’s just timeless. It does not get out-dated. We do that, but special times of family worship and remembering what this is all about.

My kids, if they were here, they would probably say, “Dad, you say this every year,” but we don’t ever want to waste another Christmas. We don’t ever want to waste another Resurrection Sunday or Good Friday. Every year I’m thinking, “What can we do different so this doesn’t become routine or boring?” What’s neat is that as our kids have gotten older, they participate, they lead the devotion, they talk about what the text means. That’s some of the ways that’s grown up over the years.

Dale Johnson: That’s really helpful, Keith. In our world, we start commercializing Christmas long before Thanksgiving. Our world seems to drift in its focus on truly for us what this season is really all about—remembering the first coming of Christ so that we can long for the second one that’s to come. Man, it’s so helpful and encouraging to me personally, and as I know it is to our listeners, about how people celebrate and remind ourselves of that and anchor ourselves to that truth that’s our true hope this time of year. 

Now, if we could get maybe a bit more personal. I love how you use your personality in these traditions. You’re an engineer by trade and you’re doing all these exciting things with your kids. But if we were to zoom in to your house—you and your wife Lisa with your children there—on a Christmas morning, what are the types of things that we would see happening? Take us on a little tour through that. 

Keith Palmer: Can I back up to Christmas Eve? 

Dale Johnson: Yeah, that’s great. 

Keith Palmer: So Christmas Eve, I mean the highlight of that is we have a worship service typically at our church. That’s a wonderful, special time. My kids will tell you it’s one of their favorite services of the year. We’ll do that, but all day we’ve prepared for something that we call “the feast.” The feast, as the name implies, is a lot of food, it’s food that we normally don’t eat because it’s horrible for us. Lisa will go and she’ll start baking and cooking, and so we’ll come home from the worship service Christmas Eve and we will have our feast. We feast and feast and feast and feast. We remember even the roast beast, for those of you that know the cartoon. 

When the kids were little, we would feast and we would watch a cartoon version of the Christmas story. As our kids have gotten older, we’ve moved to the Nativity Story movie, which came out several years ago. There’s a few historical things that are inaccurate and some creative license and going on, but overall it’s a great depiction of the events of Jesus’ birth. We’ll watch that and then we have that on our minds and hearts as we go to bed Christmas Eve.

Now, if you were to come over to my house, if you came early enough what you would hear first thing in the morning on Christmas morning blasting out of the family stereo is Selah’s Light of the Stable. Or as my kids like to call it “The Christmas Drum Song.” We have trained them that they are to stay in bed until they hear the Christmas drum song and then they can come out and we just crank that up. I’m sure our neighbors don’t like that, but that is our celebratory modern hymn of worship that Jesus was born. We do the Christmas drum song, Lisa always makes a special breakfast. She makes these homemade cinnamon rolls. I don’t know if you guys like cinnamon rolls, maybe you think Cinnabon is good stuff. No, no, Cinnabon doesn’t have nothing on these rolls.

Dale Johnson: So what time is too early to come over for some cinnamon rolls? 

Keith Palmer: You want an invitation? Yeah, you can come down. So she makes her homemade cinnamon rolls. It’s neat too, we’ll often invite maybe a widow in our church, or a widower, or a single that doesn’t have family in town. We’ll invite them to our special breakfast in the morning. I have great memories of some of the dear folks in our church that my kids got to enjoy Christmas with them. They got to enjoy Christmas with our family. And just let them be a part of our family for that morning. There’s special memories there.

We have our breakfast and what we do in terms of the Christmas morning devotional is, when the kids were little we had this little figurine nativity. What we would do is we would pick one of these figurines and we would put it in one of the kids stockings. Every year the character would change, which stocking it ended up in would change. So as the kids are opening their stocking, they’re wondering who’s got the figurine. Let’s say it’s Mary that year. What we do is we build the devotion for that morning around that particular figurine. We might talk about Mary’s song. She rejoiced in the Lord in that, so we have a devotion built around that. Then there’s presents. I married Lisa Boyd and, as you know, my last name is Palmer, so we had this dilemma, this early dilemma in our marriage. How are we going to do presents, because we can do it the Boyd way or the Palmer way. 

The Palmer way is like last man standing. It’s just, “One, two, three, go!” And there’s paper and there’s smoke and all that and we’re done in about a minute-and-a-half and everybody’s done. The Boyd way is that we all get our presents. We all lay them out and everybody gets their little pile and kind of go around the room. It’s this three or four hour endeavor, but my wife convinced me many years ago that what builds the character of Jesus is to do it the Boyd way and not the Palmer way, so we consider others as more important and we go around the deal that way. Anyway, so that’s awesome. Then usually the rest of the day is spent with family. We’re blessed to have family in town and so we often will will hang out with them for the rest of the day, but that’s a little bit of what you’d see.

Dale Johnson: So great, Keith. As we think about this season, I want to encourage you in your own family to build traditions that are centered around Christ and His coming to the earth, as we celebrate, as we worship the coming of our King. It’s so important. And as we train and disciple our children, this is such an important time. I know I look back on my childhood, and I think about the ways in which Christ was exalted, trying to do that for our own kids. Keith is doing that with the Palmer kids. We just pray that you would engage in these types of activities as well as you build your own Christmas traditions, exalting Christ as Savior, the Savior who has come to save the world. Thank you so much for listening. Keith, thank you so much for sharing a little bit about you and Lisa and allowing us to sort of take a tour in the Palmer home. It’s always fun. 

Keith Palmer: We’ll save a cinnamon roll for you. 

Dale Johnson: That’s right. Thank you!