A good friend of mine recently posted this comment on facebook, and it got me thinking. "Christmastime offers opportunities for stress and opportunities for hope," he wrote—"Which are you choosing this season?" 

It’s a fair question, you know. Stress is a Christmas staple, right up there with eggnog and elves. I would have added fruitcake to that list, but it didn’t start with an “e” and, apparently, there’s a general and growing discontent surrounding that belovedly traditional brick of stick-to-your-ribs. So be it; more for me. But all rib-sticking aside, it really is easy to get caught up in the stress machine that is an American Christmas, easy to get drug out to the deep end of the tree lot by an undertow of deadly nostalgia that pressures you to accept responsibility for recreating the magic of Christmas past while simultaneously orchestrating the memories for Christmas future, all at the expense of Christmas present. And that’s just stupid. When it comes to choosing between opportunities to create “the perfect Christmas” and opportunities to share the hope of the incarnate Christ in a loving way to those around us, the choice should be a no-brainer. 

But what about that first Christmas? Was it immune from the barbs of stress and filled strictly with the sweet strains of hope? Was it free from complications and full only of “The little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes?” No. Now granted, absent were the petty stresses of recreating nostalgia or the headaches involved in thinking up cute new traditions. But, in general, the more I think about it, the more I believe stress has always been and always will be a companion of Christmas.

Think of the virgin.
A man that she loved, a wedding on the horizon, her whole life ahead of her. She had plans, you know, she had dreams. And then she had an angel, standing in front of her, telling her that everything about her everything was about to change. I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty stressful to me.

Think of the fiancé.
One day he’s the luckiest man alive. The next day he’s the subject of pity and speculation. He had honor, you know. Now he was being asked to risk it on a miracle. He had rights, you know. Now he was being instructed to forfeit them for the greater good of God’s master plan. I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty stressful to me.

Think of the Wise Men.
Families, livelihoods, schedules to keep. Then, suddenly, a brightness in the heavens that claims their attention over jobs, wives, even children. They must drop everything to follow this inconvenient star, leave home behind and follow a belief that costs them comfort, not to mention gold, frankincense and myrrh. I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty stressful to me.

Think of the Shepherds.
Minding their sheep and their own business on a cold night, a silent night. But suddenly— a holy night! A noisy night! Gleaming beings with a message that must have been nothing less than overwhelming to these simple men. Maybe their sheep scattered at the explosion of singing. Maybe they lost some much-needed sleep. For sure, we know they were afraid, at least initially. I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty stressful to me.

Think of that stable.
No privacy. No drugs. No sterile, multi-positionable cushioned bed. No caring family, keeping anxious vigil in the waiting room under the influence of free yet horrid coffee. Just a bunch of sleepy cows or donkeys or, God help us, goats— filling the air with what I can only assume to be an irritable ‘lowing,’ accompanied by the distinct aroma cattle barns are known so famously to possess. And then, on top of it all, visitors—visitors!— unannounced and uninvited by the new and bewildered parents, who by this time were doubtless exhausted and at their worst. I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty stressful to me.

Christmastime offers opportunities for stress and opportunities for hope,” my friend wrote— “Which are you choosing this season?”
You know, I'm beginning to believe the two have always been connected. That maybe, just maybe, God allows stress as a test of our trust. Maybe these “stress-tests” are actually “trust-tests.” God says something, maybe through a promise in Scripture written a millennia before, and then he brings along stress, to see how firmly we’re holding onto Him. Maybe that stress looks like an angel, informing you your dreams are about to change. Maybe that stress is a whole boatload of angels, enough to make you ‘sore afraid.’ Or maybe the stress comes to you in the form of a governmental decree that inconveniences you at a time of incredible financial and emotional vulnerability. Maybe then, the question is not so much ‘will you choose stress or hope?’ but ‘what will you choose to do with stress?’  I doubt you can avoid it this Christmas, but you do have options, you know. You can complain about it. Get angry about it. You can fight it. Or you can give it back to God and trust Him, trust that God can use stress to lead you to Him, in much the same way that a star can sometimes lead to a King.

Christmas has always been stressful, and always will be. But perhaps, in the end, the test of stress comes down to how we choose to interpret the character of God in light of it. Herod looked at the stress-filled arrival of baby Jesus and saw a threat. The virgin, the fiancĂ©, the shepherds and the wise men looked and saw 'peace, on earth... good will toward men.' I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty hopeful to me.

Surrounded By Grace,

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