Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
Many of us love Christmas, and the media portray Christmas as a time of perfection—lots of laughter, happy people, stress-free Christmas shopping, and families enjoying each other’s company.
It’s supposed to be a really happy and relaxing time—but is it? I read recently about a survey that revealed 20% of Australians become highly stressed at this time of year. That’s quite high—it means that the festive season is a major cause of stress in Australia. Christmas is supposed to be a time when family, friends, and loved ones gather to spread cheer, goodwill, and peace on earth.
Christmas Can Be Stressful for Many People
Yet the effort in spreading all this goodwill and cheer about is stressful for many people. Children become overexcited. After all ‘tis the season to be jolly! Isn’t it funny how a season that is known for peace and joy turns into a season of stress and anxiety?
We may feel stressed now because we are busier than usual. There are additional expenses at this time of year and more commitments than usual (e.g. family and other social gatherings). And then there is the old problem that the festive season does not live up to our expectations. Others may be feeling lonely or isolated. It’s true that not everyone is happy and festive at this time of year.
Christmas can be a difficult period for some people.
In fact it can be a particularly difficult period of the year for some people. People with financial problems, those who relate Christmas to a tragic event such as the death of a family member or have recently experienced a tragic event such as divorce or death. And what about people living in isolated areas? There can be many reasons for stress at this time of year.
So, there is no such thing as a perfect Christmas. Spending time with relatives who you’ve not seen all year can send some people’s stress levels soaring and in turn, raise tensions within the home. People often make the mistake of thinking that just because it’s Christmas, they are going to get on with their relatives. But if you don’t get on with them the rest of the year, there’s no reason why you should expect to get on with them at Christmas.
But Christmas Can Really Be a Wonderful Time
But I would like to say that prayer and spending quiet time with God keeps your life in perspective. Christmas really can be a wonderful time in your year. How? The Gospel of Matthew tells us that Jesus at his birth was given this amazing name ‘Immanuel’. In Hebrew, ‘im’ means ‘with’, the ‘nu’ part means ‘us’ and the ‘El’ (common abbreviation of ‘Elohim’) means ‘God’. Jesus was and is the ‘With-Us God’. When his presence in our hearts and lives is at the center of it all, everything begins to fall into place.
Centuries ago the Prophet Isaiah said “A virgin is pregnant; she will have a son and will name him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). And Matthew, after quoting this verse, added the words “which means ‘God is with us’” (Matthew 1:22-23. Note here he said “God is with us”—not God is against us. So many people believe God is ‘out to get them’ for some reason. That he is up there with a large stick ready to punish them.
The Bible says, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (John 3:17). All of your sins were paid for at the cross. If you are trusting in the death of Jesus as the payment for your sins, you have nothing to fear. God is not mad at you and he is not looking for a way to ‘get back at you’. Jesus took your punishment at the cross. God has already accepted you into his family. No, he is not our enemy. He is our friend.
God Is With Us Rather Than Somewhere Else
There is a feeling in many hearts and minds that God is distant and detached from his people. People talk all the time about their attempts to ‘find’ God. But God is not hiding. He is not distant. He has drawn close to us through Jesus. Christmas is the account of God taking on the form of man. He lived as we do. He is not detached and unsympathetic; he understands from firsthand experience.
In the Old Testament during the time of the Exodus and the journeys in the wilderness, whenever the children of Israel set up camp they put the tabernacle or the dwelling of God, right in the middle of the camp. They wanted God to be in their midst. And we want the same thing.
God walked among us in Jesus.
One of the fun things about the Toy Story movies and the animated film Antz is that they allow us to imagine a world that is foreign to us. We are not toys, we are not insects, we are above these things. We would have no idea what the world of these things was really like.
It’s a poor illustration, but God is above us as well. He is the creator, not the created. But for a period of time he became as one of the created. He lived as we do. He experienced what we experience. He was not distant—he walked among us. Chuck Swindoll wrote,
Emmanuel. God with us. He who resided in Heaven, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Spirit, willingly descended into our world. He breathed our air, felt our pain, knew our sorrows, and died for our sins. He didn’t come to frighten us, but to show us the way to warmth and safety. (Charles Swindoll in “The Finishing Touch”, Christianity Today, Vol. 40, no. 14).
When Jesus went into heaven he did not desert us again. Instead he gave us his Spirit to live with us, to guide us, to comfort us and to assure us of his presence and his love. God is no absentee landlord. God is not absent. He is with us. And someday, he will not only be with us—but we will also be with him. Surely that helps take away the stress of Christmas?
God Is With Us—We Are Not Alone
There are times when we all need someone to be with us—someone who can share our sorrow or pain. Jesus is with us in this sense. He is with us so that we don’t have to face the tough times of life alone. Jesus told us, “I am with you always, even to the end of the earth”. He will not “leave us or forsake us.” He walks with us, he holds our hand, he dries our tears.
This life sometimes can be terribly cold. Sometimes the bitter winds of disappointment and pain make us feel desperately alone. But in these times we remember the promise of God. Isaiah 41:10 says: “Fear not for I am with you, do not be dismayed for I am your God, I will strengthen you and help you and uphold you by my righteous right hand.”
God is with us. He will continue to work with us, to direct us, to support us. When those around us throw up their hands in frustration or despair, the Lord does not. He remains with us. He will make sure that we get home safely.
In a couple of days another Christmas will be over. Decorations will be taken down and the grind of daily life will resume. We must do something to remember that the message and meaning of Christmas does not cease when the celebration is over. Christmas is not really about a celebration—Christmas trees, and piles of gifts. Christmas, the coming of Christ, is about everyday life. God is with us and we need to do anything we can, to remember that fact the rest of the year.