A few months ago, I bought a flashlight. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that I bought two flashlights, one I intended to give as a gift, and the second I purchased just because it was on sale. It is this second flashlight that’s got me thinking.

Last January feels like an age ago, so much has happened. I spent the first couple weeks of the year in Atlanta, taking an urban ministry course. We had the opportunity to worship at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, Martin Luther King Jr’s old congregation. The pastor gave a message that used the illustration of “20/20 vision” as a theme—playing on the digits of the calendar year. It caught my attention, and I remember berating myself a little because it was just so obvious—a real plum of an illustration just hanging there, ready for the picking. No doubt there were thousands of pastors across the nation who were tapping into the “20/20” concept and laying out their visions for the future. I wonder if they would change anything if they could go back and revise their sermons?

The journalist Ellen Goodman called traditions “the guideposts driven deep in our subconscious minds.” This season is one rich with traditions—some superficial, others deeply meaningful—all helping us mark our days and years. And this year, all of those precious traditions are on the block as we face the reality of a Christmas unlike any other we’ve experienced. And to be honest, some of us are having a hard time coming to terms with this strangely-shaped Christmas.

There’s an old legend (2nd or 3rd century) about John the Baptist’s early days. Since John and Jesus were so close in age, there was a question about what happened to John during Herod’s terrible Massacre of the Innocents—the attempt of Herod to eliminate the child Jesus, referred to in Matthew 2. The legend goes that on learning of Herod’s plans, Elizabeth fled to the hill country with her baby, but could find no place to hide. So she called out to God, who opened a cave in the hillside for them. She and John are sheltered there, protected by an angel, basically until John begins his ministry.

Construction of the Idaho Statehouse began in 1905, a decade and a half after statehood. The architects, John E. Tourtellotte and Charles Hummel, chose a mixture of materials and techniques—the massive pillars that ring the interior of the central portion of the building are made from a combination of marble dust, plaster, and scagliola—a material that mimics the texture and look of quarried marble. The exterior is made from local sandstone on granite. Tourtellotte and Hummel used four different true marbles in the floor of the building—red from Georgia, gray from Alaska, green from Vermont, and black from Italy.