Some of you know what it is to experience Christmas as a very stressful holiday.
Perhaps the stress comes from moms and dads trying to create just the perfect Christmas experience for their loved ones. Or it may come from anticipating Christmas dinner as your older brother brings his new wife for the first time. (Meanwhile, the family grieves because his previous wife of twenty years is no longer present.) Or, the stress may come from the two brothers-in-law who do not get along and are now in the same room.
Craig Barnes, in his book The Pastor as Minor Poet, writes about how the Bible reveals God as the achiever and ourselves as the receivers. Far too often we live with much stress because we are trying to gain something through achieving that can only be had through receiving.
At no time is this more obvious to pastors than at Christmas, when our parishioners are knocking themselves out to achieve the perfect experience for their loved ones. It is amazing that the mythology of this dream is able to resurface every December in spite of its repeated failures. When I hear the aspirations that people have for their reuniting families, gathered around the piano wearing matching sweaters, joyfully singing carols, I always want to ask, “Is this the same family you had last year?” But no one is interested in reality checks at Christmas. So they knock themselves out to achieve what cannot happen. . . . (p. 95)
Does this sound familiar? Could it be that many of us are under so much stress during this time of the year because we are trying to achieve so much? Perhaps some of the stress is due to our efforts to achieve something perfect instead of simply receiving graciously all that we are given. Ultimately, it is only what we receive from God that will satisfy. Our efforts to create and achieve something to satisfy will always be lacking and will have its limits. After all, the Bible presents God himself as the ultimate achiever. Barnes concludes:
In all my years of pastoral ministry, I have never had a child come to see me to talk about the stress of the holidays. They aren’t worried about making it to all the parties, buying the perfect presents, maxing out their credit cards, and travel plans. As every child knows, the only stress of Christmas is how can we possibly wait for it to arrive — the day we receive so much. (p. 95)
In what ways do we attempt to create a perfect Christmas experience for our families? How can these efforts test our nerves?