While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:6-7 NRS)
“What do you want for Christmas?” This was the second time my husband asked in as many weeks and I noticed a hint of desperation in his voice. “I don’t know. I can’t really think of anything.” He gave me the “you’re not helping” look. I get it. It’s hard to select presents, but the things that matter to me most aren’t the kinds of things a person can buy. That becomes a challenge this time of year. Somewhere along the way Christmas became a too showy, like a competition. Who can buy the most, decorate the most, host or be invited to the most parties. It’s daunting. It’s also no wonder that December causes a spike in depression and anxiety.
I once took a test that measured life stress, asking questions about health, job, relationships, deaths, etc. I added a point to my level of stress for each one that was a factor in my life. One stressor, “Do you celebrate Christmas?” Oddly, celebrating Christmas scored a point on the stress meter, equivalent to losing a job or having surgery. When did Christmas become synonymous with stress?
Despite the lyrics of Silent Night, “All is calm. All is bright,” that first Christmas was pretty stressful at times, too. There were two tired travelers bedding down in a stable rated by Trip Advisor with just one star. Granted, it was a pretty big star, but just one nonetheless. Warm? Maybe. Dry? Probably. Clean? Not so much. And a baby chose to be born right then and there. This was not the dream delivery of a nervous, first-time mom. Yes, that first Christmas definitely earned a point on the stress meter. Except it wasn’t the kind of Christmas we deal with. It was two people coping with the birth of a child as best they could in challenging circumstances. No lists, no parties, no decorations, though there were eventually the unexpected gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. That first Christmas was as simple as it gets, simply the Holy family together marveling at the miracle of new life. I imagine after the excitement of a stable birth it was calm and the future looked bright. There was peace in the middle of chaos.
That is what I want for Christmas too. I want peace in the middle of chaos. I want the calm contentment of a family while the world rushes by at its own pace, a pace very different from the one that suits us. I want that sense of hope in Christ that promises a future that is bright even where we cannot see. Years ago we down-sized Christmas. We buy less, we do less, we stress less and we enjoy ourselves infinitely more. We plan again this year to have ourselves a merry little Christmas. I wish the same for you and your family.
Amazing God, surprise us once more with the meaning of Christmas. Help us to embrace your peace, love, joy and hope, and make us your instruments to share a little Christmas with others as well. Amen.