As the weeks of November slip on by, time grows shorter. Christmas will be here before you know it.
So, do you have your Christmas shopping done? Have you figured out just what perfect item will bring joy to the hearts of those you love? Or what perfect item will score brownie points with those you need to impress?
And have you made your list yet – no, not your gift list – your list of “to do’s” in the midst of a hectic December? Shopping, decorating, parties, travel plans, and all the rest…
This is supposed to be the “most wonderful time of the year,” and a time to refresh and renew ourselves. Good luck with that! Too much to do, too many things to take care of, and way too much stress to handle.
And for what? So we can open gifts, some of which will be appreciated, some of which will last only a short time, and most of which will be long forgotten by the time we do this again next year.
And then the bills. Remember, you need to pay for all this. The bills will come due. And while you may be OK, all budgeted and ready, not everyone has it all set. For many, January is “the time of reckoning.”
All of this begins with Black Friday. You know, the shopping day after Thanksgiving, the day that has slowly seeped back into Thursday, with stores not content to open early on Friday – now they need to open late on Thanksgiving. So you can have your turkey and the rest of the feast, enjoy a couple of games, and then dash off to get started on the Black Friday specials. You can fight the crowd and get the great deal. All part of relaxing, family time together. Enjoy!
With all that in mind, I want to commend one of our national retailers, one that sends me e-mail advertisements. This retailer cares – deeply. They understand the stress of the season, and especially of Black Friday. And so they have reached out to me, with an answer to my troubles, a solution to my shopping dilemma.
The e-mail I received last week read, “How do you avoid stress on Black Friday? Start NOW!”
There you go. Stressed out? Need new life and hope in the midst of darker days that overwhelm us? Shop more, and do it sooner! Black Friday must give way, not to a new way of living, but to…more of the same, and quicker too!
Like a person with an itch, the solution is to itch more, and sooner. That way we satisfy our itch, and all will be well…right?
Or not. Itches don’t get better, not by itching anyway. Temporary relief usually only means more misery in the near future. So, if the challenge is stress on Black Friday, is the answer to get an early start, shop now, and feed the itch? Is the answer “more…and sooner?”
The problem is really rooted in our consumer culture. We need more, and we need it now. We measure our “fulfillment” in life, with how full our life is with things. The stuff under the tree makes, not only for a “merry Christmas,” but for a satisfied life. If you don’t have the toys, how can you experience the joys?
But remember, the toys are consumable. That is to say, they break, they wear out, they outlive their usefulness, and in the end, they are tossed aside. They end up in the trash, or the attic. Mortal stuff, made by mortals, is still mortal. Moreover, mortal stuff, made by mortals, can hardly take mortals beyond where they are. In other words, the toys we make (and buy) can hardly be expected to rescue us from all the crummy stuff of our existence. If life is what I want, life in the midst of a hectic, fearful, sometimes overwhelming world, the toys under the tree just don’t have what it takes.
So, skip shopping early and often as a solution to the stress of the season. Instead, do something radical. Embrace Christmas – the real thing. And what is that? Christmas is about a world that is not joyful, that is not full of real life. A world that is broken and fearful. A world that can’t find or create the hope it needs.
But Christmas is also about God’s response to brokenness, fear, and hopelessness. That’s why we gather in worship on Christmas Eve, completing the journey to the manger at Bethlehem, coming face to face with something incredibly mysterious – the presence of God, right here, in our midst, in the person of the child Jesus. And then we continue to walk with Jesus as he makes his way to the cross, to the place and the moment when the powers of this world, the powers of sin and death are overcome and life is restored.
Christmas, you see, is about what GOD is doing. It’s not about the toys, the parties, and the decorations. It’s not about the expectations that our society places upon us, that this should be a wonderful time, and if it isn’t, well then, you must be doing something wrong. In the end, that is what really stresses us out. This is supposed to be the “most wonderful time of the year,” and if it isn’t, failure! So, work hard, spend lots, and stress out to make “the most wonderful time of the year.” Except, that doesn’t work.
Only God makes it work. Only the child, the gift, the journey, and in the end, the cross.
So here’s the point. The answer to the stress of the season is not more shopping, more hard work, and sooner. The answer is turning around. Let go of Christmas. Don’t try to “make” Christmas work. Let God do that.
In the meantime, find real ways to allow the season to unfold around you. Take time, real time, for the people in your life. Consider how real relationships are not created by the price tag on the gift.
But most of all, take – and make – the time to see God at work in the season, to see God’s gifts of life in the Christ child. Make time for worship, discover the joy of generously gifting real gifts of life to those who have little or nothing (watch the December newsletter for ways to do that). Make the commitment to make this Christmas about “God at work in the world” and “God at work in you!”
And as you are embraced by the Christ child, relax – for there, is real stress relief!