This morning, after working out, I was talking with a friend in the locker room of 24 Hour Fitness. He was telling me about how things were just in a funk for him and he didn't know where to turn. He is not a follower of Jesus, so I tried to share a little about how I trust the Lord in those situations. He is overwhelmed by what is happening in his home and how stressed his wife is during this time of the season. He is also experiencing a lot of pressure from family members for financial help, laying the guilt on because of the Christmas season. At the end of our brief conversation, I told him I would be praying for him, although he wasn't sure how to react to that.
As I reflected on this discussion, I began to wonder how many other people are having deep pain during the Advent season. It seems that people have so many expectations about this time of the year, plus they are racing at a breakneck pace with no time to breathe or rest. Unfortunately, the church often adds to the stress and anxiety of this time. We have to have our big Christmas outreach of a musical or a Christmas Eve service or some other type of event. This requires people to put in extra time at the church preparing for this large event. Then we have to attend our Sunday School party or this church gathering. So the church has simply added to this rather than allowed people to live more peacefully.
Our culture puts so much pressure on us during this time of the year. Economically, we are strained because we HAVE to buy presents for everyone and even our government encourages us to stimulate the economy in this way. We are strained with our time because we have to get cards written and mailed, packages shipped, goodies baked, parties attended, trips to make, shopping to do. Socially, we are strained because we are supposed to have Normal Rockwell Christmas gatherings and remember to send cards to everyone who has sent us cards. Emotionally, we are strained because we don't rest as much and we feel so much pressure to meet so many expectations.
Here is a fact about Christmas in America: It is a pagan holiday. Let's not try to fool ourselves any longer. The church an try to keep Christ in Christmas, but our culture has moved a far distance from any significant thoughts about Jesus and salvation. Many places have outlawed setting up nativity scenes and it is becoming a social faux pau to say "Merry Christmas". Even those of us in the church will spend way more money on presents for family than we will tithe to our local church this month. We will exhaust ourselves trying to adhere to pagan rituals than we ever exhaust ourselves in witnessing or serving in the church. I'm not preaching about this, I'm just stating a fact. I am ready to let the pagans have Christmas and celebrate the birth of Christ in August, when He was probably born. This way, we can truly appreciate the birth of Jesus and the coming of the Messiah without competing voices all around us.
So rather than waste energy ranting about the lack of Jesus in this holiday, I propose that we set an example to our culture. Keep things simple. Set a budget that is financial, time, social and emotional. Set some boundaries and keep your celebration simple. Don't buy into the lies which our culture shoves down out throats at this time. No matter what we see and hear on commercials, just relax and enjoy spending time with our family. Actually say "No" to some invitations and refuse to be drawn into the stress. Take a step back and evaluate what you will invest this year in a holiday that, often times, falls far short of our expectations. Maybe that is another reason why I enjoy taking my family to North Carolina for Christmas. Once we get on that plane, we can relax and decide to see who we want to see. We don't have lots of parties to attend and very little pressure, so Christmas becomes a relaxing time for me. I guess that's why I enjoy the nativity account so much. Here we have an example of a simple family welcoming their child into the world. The chaos around them did not diminish the peace they had in following God's will. Mary and Joseph serve as examples of servants who kept life in the right perspective. Luke 2:19 says, "But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." She didn't stress or panic. She treasured those moments and was caught up in the midst of that moment, not focusing on what may happen a week, month or year or decade later.
So my prayer for you is that you will have a simple, relaxed and blessed Advent. May God give you the wisdom to say "No" more often and say "Yes" to slowing down. May the Christ of Christmas guide you during the most pagan seasons of our calendar. May the touch of the Savior bring peace in the midst of chaos and grace in the midst of pain.