What is it that makes this time of year inherently stressful? Is it the parties… the lights… the egg nog? Maybe it’s because we are in the fourth quarter of the year and every company in the world is trying to hit the year-end numbers. Maybe it’s the insane lines at every major department store, mall, or gas station in America. Maybe it’s the bargain-induced craze of search for that perfect “hard-to-find” present for that “hard-to-shop-for” relative. I’m not quite sure, but I do know that for nearly everyone I know, in nearly every line of work, in nearly every type of family, this is a stressful time of year.
Now, in my last post I kind of gave some advice on how to beat the stress, but the more I think about it, the more I wonder… why is it so stressful?
Last, year I was doing some studying on a sermon I was getting ready to give at our church’s Christmas Eve service and something struck me… this time has always been stressful. It is in inherent to the very nature of Christmas. Far from being a time of joy and thanksgiving to all the involved players, Christmas was… at least for the original players… a time of mixed emotions, hard travel, and smelly farm animals. I mean let’s take a little journey to that little town of Bethlehem some 2,007 years ago.
Basically, you have a pregnant, out-of-wedlock teenaged girl… on a donkey… with her 30-something fiance who is not quite sure about the situation in which he finds himself… desperately trying to find a warm bed and a roof. Neither of which they find. Now, stop for a moment. Put yourself in Mary’s place. Imagine going to old Mom and Dad and saying, “Mom, Dad… I’m pregnant. I know I’m not married yet, but before you take me out back to stone me, I have to tell you, the baby’s daddy is God.” [crickets…] Now, Joseph. It’s pretty obvious from the Bible what Joseph was thinking. It even says in Matthew that he wanted to divorce her. He wanted out. Looking at these two, I can imagine what the ride to Bethlehem must have been like, and what the reaction to the news that “there was no room for them in the inn” must have been… well… I know what it would have been like for me and my wife… not good…
Anyway, we could back up further and even look at the shepherds “keeping watch of their flocks by night.” These guys were not high men on the corporate ladder by any stretch of the imagination. They were poor. Dirty. Socially nothing. And here they are minding their own business when BAM! Fireworks… choirs of angels… and in the words of Luke “they were terrified.”
All in all a pretty stressful night by any definition of the word. So, why should it surprise us that it is stressful for us?
The thing is stress can lead to something good. On the other side of stress is relief and joy, and that is also the picture we get from the Christmas story. The shepherds ended up running to town shouting and singing about all they had seen. Mary “treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Even with cows, donkeys, and other assorted farm animals… even in the midst of hay and in the cold… Mary took the stress of the evening into account and saw the beauty of the end result.
I know our lives don’t always echo with songs of “Glory to God in the Highest” but we should look for those moments that we can ponder in our hearts. Times where we can sit back and just breathe. Stress will come, but so will your next breath. Take a deep one.