Do you know anyone who has a difficult time coping during the holidays? Is December a stressful or difficult time for you? Have you ever heard others say, "I can't wait until Christmas is over"? Have you ever had the thought yourself?
Perhaps you love this time of year and try to make the best of it, but the attitudes of others often bring you down; or maybe you strive for joy, but no matter how positive and festive you try to be, you end up stressed, disappointed, and have moments of hopelessness that bring shadows of fear, anger, fatigue, frustration, or despair.
I know I've had those moments, and it always feels out-of-place. Decorating the tree, shopping for gifts, enjoying a family dinner, attending a Christmas event, carrying out a tradition…all of these things should bring joy; but inevitably one or more of them brings something else, and the moment that's been planned so carefully or looked forward to is suddenly spoiled.
Holidays can be a difficult time for some because things much bigger than petty wishes haven't been fulfilled or gone exactly as planned. Tragedy, loss, illness, or loneliness can bring on much greater feelings of despair or even severe depression. But whether we're talking about small disappointments, stressful days, family issues, or life going horribly wrong—the story of Jesus coming to earth is all about hope, and rather than focusing on the difficulties, the pain, or the stress that Christmas may bring, our eyes must turn to the One who can help us rise above anything that is clouding our joy.
If you take a good look at the birth of Jesus as recorded in the Bible, and the events leading up to it, you see it was not all warm and fuzzy with holiday lights and traditions. A young Jewish girl had a lot of explaining to do. The man she was engaged to nearly left her. We don't know how her family and friends reacted to the news of her pregnancy, but I'm sure it was a stressful, life-altering time for Mary.
Then there was the long ride to Bethlehem when she was due any day, going into labor and delivering her baby in a stable, and the only crib available was a feeding trough softened by prickly hay? It wasn't exactly a "silent night", I imagine.
And yet we read in Luke 2:19, after the shepherds had come to see the baby, that Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Her first-born child may not have come the way she had expected or hoped, but she knew this baby was somehow the hope of Israel, her homeland, and He would bring her much hope as well…"My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior." (Luke 1:46-47)
Some people like to make a big fuss about removing the word "Christmas" from holiday greetings, business slogans, and town festivities. But a far greater loss is when those who claim to celebrate Christmas as a Christian holiday don't actually live by the love, hope, joy, and peace Jesus has for us.
Jesus doesn't want me to simply acknowledge His birth; He wants His birth to transform me. He doesn't want me to say the word "Christmas" and force others to do the same; He wants me to live in the reality of His presence. Christmas is love. Christmas is joy. Christmas is hope. This is what Jesus came to bring. Are we receiving these wonderful gifts ourselves and sharing them with others? Are we looking to Jesus to help us with any difficulties we are facing? Are we stressed-out, angry, weary, and frazzled, or are we living in the peace Jesus offers us when we simply come to Him?
One of my favorite sayings of Christmas is to not keep Jesus in the manger. A nativity scene or a children's play about the birth of Jesus is a good reminder that He came, but we must also remember why He came: A Savior has been born to you…(Luke 2:11) To us a child is born, to us a son is given…and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
Do you need His guidance today, His strength, His rescue, His protection, His love, His tender care, His peace, His presence? This is why He came. I pray you will remember that this season and throughout the coming year. I wish you more of Jesus.
Photo Credit:"ChristmasMarketJena" by ReneS at flickr - http://www.flickr.com/photos/rene-germany/2126809489/?addedcomment=1#comment72157611118374576. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:ChristmasMarketJena.jpg#/media/File:ChristmasMarketJena.jpg
Photo Credit: "Gerard van Honthorst 001" by Gerard van Honthorst - The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gerard_van_Honthorst_001.jpg#/media/File:Gerard_van_Honthorst_001.jpg