Merry or Miserable Christmas
Christmas is that wonderful time of the year filled with warm traditions, special foods, excited children and pleasant memories. It all merges into something we call the “Christmas spirit”.
If Christmas is a happy time, why is it that so many people are depressed and miserable at this time of the year? Why do so many experience discouragement, fatigue, anxiety and unhappiness? Why do suicide rates jump sharply during this season? Why do so many need psychiatric care?
Even Christians who know the real meaning of Christmas are not immune to problems during the Christmas season. They fall into two categories:
1. Stress and 2. Loneliness
Note, those same two problems in the Christmas story.
Nearly all of us are familiar with pressures and the stress it brings during this season of the year: shopping deadlines, intense traffic, letters and cards to write, homes to decorate, extra church activities.
Added to that, the frustrations of pressures at work, political unrest and a depressed economy.
JOSEPH AND MARY EXPERIENCED STRESS
In that first century, the Jews experienced the stress of Roman oppression with their heavy taxation.
Mary, no doubt, was in her late teens when she was confronted with an angelic announcement that totally changed her life. A virgin, espoused to Joseph, she was looking forward to the consummation of her marriage to him. Suddenly the angel Gabriel appeared to her and made an astounding announcement that would change her life. You can read it in Luke 1:26-38.
He explained to her that God wanted to use her to become the mother of Jesus. God’s Holy Spirit would supernaturally inseminate her, enabling her to bear God’s Son in a totally human body. The whole idea was mind-boggling! She would bear Jesus, the God of creation, in a totally human, yet sinless body.
In total submission to God, she answered, “Be it unto me according to thy Word.” You can read more about this in my article Virgin Birth, which you will find under the category JESUS. Can you imagine her stress? How was she going to explain this to her beloved Joseph and to all her family and friends?
Several months later as her pregnancy became obvious, Joseph’s heart was broken. His beloved Mary was pregnant. Can you imagine his stress? What should he do about this? Have her stoned? No, he loved her too much for that. He would as privately as possible dissolve the marriage and try to remove her from his life.
While he was considering these options, the same angel Gabriel who had appeared to Mary a few months earlier now appeared to him. with an explanation of what had happened. You can read about that in Matthew 1:18-25 This was, no doubt, stressful to him at first. But he, as Mary, surrendered to God’s amazing plan for their lives.
Eight months passed and in the ninth month, Mary and Joseph began their sixty mile journey from Nazereth to Bethlehem on foot or perhaps riding a donkey. Either way it would probably be over a week’s journey and very difficult for Mary, heavy with child.
Upon arriving in Bethlehem, Mary went into labor. You remember in Micah 5:2 the prophet declared by inspiration of God that the Saviour would be born in Bethlehem. God would not allow Mary to go into labor until she was in the right town at the right time.
Crowded with people coming to register for the Roman taxation, Joseph could find no room for his beloved Mary, to deliver her baby. Finally he found a place in a cave where cattle and sheep were bedded down for the night. There, in the straw, Mary had her little Lamb, the Lamb of God who would about thirty years later, willingly go to the cross and shed His life’s blood for the sins of the world. There she made a bed for the baby in a manger where animals come to feed.
Note that the stress placed on Mary and Joseph was not of their own making. Much of the stress we face is not of our making. It just comes upon us as a part of life.
Sometimes, though, through our own ignorance, foolishness and selfishness we bring unnecessary stress on ourselves by procrastinating concerning our responsibilities, such as students failing to do their homework, or wives failing to do their housework or failing to pay our bills on time, or getting in debt over our heads.
By insisting on having our own way or making foolish decisions, God usually allows us to experience the painful, stressful consequences of those decisions in order to teach us life’s important lessons.
How did Joseph and Mary handle their pressures? Mary submitted herself to God and Joseph trusted God.
The question is, how should we handle our stressful situations? Read Isaiah 54:11-17, Romans 8:28 and I Peter 5:7 to learn of the humble, submissive attitude we must have to face anything the Lord allows us to experience.
Another source of stress and anxiety is LONLINESS. It has been a problem through human history.
A century ago most American lived in rural areas and small towns. Though people lived a mile or two from each other, there was community closeness. Everyone knew and helped their neighbors when in need.
As people moved from rural areas into the big cities and metropolitan areas, they lost that neighborliness and closeness. Walled up in their crowded apartments and row houses, people became detached and lonely.
In this modern technological age surrounded by our cell phones and lap tops, we’re more lonely than ever, as we reach out to one another in an impersonal way with emails and Face Book and My Space, etc. In this age our cyberspace friends come and go with the click of a mouse and we remain lonely.
CHURCH, A LONELY PLACE TO BE
For many, going to church is one of the loneliest experiences of life. Why is that?
In most churches, regardless of size, there is an In-group, made up mostly of middle class married couples and families. They attend most of the services and do most of the work. They are, for the most part, emotionally and financially stable.
But scattered through these congregations are many lonely people. Some have physical and emotional problems. These are often misunderstood people. We often feel uncomfortable in their presence and seldom go out of our way to get to know them. Perhaps we would just as soon they leave and go and bless some other church.
Some of these new people are newcomers to town with no family or friends. Some are single, widowed or divorced. Some are from foreign countries and difficult to understand. Some are young college students or service men and women, looking for friendship and acceptance.
Some are independent thinkers and do not fit our molds for “normal”. Some wear rings in the weirdest of places, some come with purple or green hair. Some are dressed outlandishly and immodestly. What do we do? Give them the cold shoulder and hope they never return?
I would hope not. These are people for whom Jesus died. We are called to love and accept and befriend them as they are and share our lives with them as well as the Gospel of Christ.
Certainly we preachers are called to give them the truth of God’s Word, but our love for them makes the truth more palatable.
TO YOU WHO FEEL LONELY AND UNACCEPTED
Remember, Jesus, who lived in a human body and was as human as you are, but sinless, totally understands your pressures, your loneliness and your grief. He’s been where you are. Read Luke 9:58 and Hebrews 4:14-16.
If you lack salvation read John 5:24 and receive Jesus by faith
If you are a wayward Christian. burdened down with unconfessed sin which is destroying you; confess it to God alone and receive His forgiveness today and discover the joy of a clean heart and a clean conscience. Forgiveness and cleansing are promised in I John 1:9.
If you have few or no friends, open yourself up to the overtures of friendship from the church family. We want to love and accept you, but you cause us to step back when you rebuff that friendship.
If you are feeling sorry for yourself, look to Jesus. Let me read to you a picture of Jesus in Isaiah 53:1-3 from The Message, a modern paraphrase of the Bible in modern English by Eugene H. Peterson.
“Who believes what we’ve heard and seen? Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?
The servant grew up before God- a scrawny seedling, a scrubby plant in a parched field.
There was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause us to take a second look.
He was looked down on and passed over, a man who suffered and knew pain firsthand.
One look at him and people turned away. We looked down on him, thought he was scum.
But the fact is, it was our pains he carried-
Our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought he brought it on himself,
That God was punishing him for his own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to him.
That ripped and tore and crushed him— our sins!”
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