“Christmas Pressure” – essay by Pastor Scott Carson

“Unless you’re in a James Bond movie, it’s really unlikely that the pressure that you’re feeling is anything but self-induced.”  Seth Godin

For many, Christmas, and being with family is one of the highlights of the year. Yet, for many others…it’s anything but “Peace on earth.” Already, you’re dreading the obligatory holiday gatherings. Hopefully, most of that dread is not within your own family but with extended family.
Yet, some of the tension is self-induced. Some of us have watched too many sappy Christmas movies. We’ve allowed ourselves to succumb to idealism and need to replace it with a healthy dose of realism. If you and your spouse tend to periodically squabble the other 364 days, like most married couples, it’s highly possible that you’re going to have a disagreement on December 25th, too. If your children fight, complain and whine the other 364 days of the year…like most children, it’s nearly guaranteed they’re going to do that on December 25th, too. Our sin natures don’t go comatose just because it’s Christmas. Why is that?
Many of us overextend ourselves financially, particularly at Christmas. When we give a generous gift to someone, particularly one of our children, and they’re not overjoyed with our gift, we may be hurt…offended. But is it truly a gift? Or, is it a gift with strings in that we expect appreciation?
When a gift is truly a gift, there are no expectations. Gratitude is just an extra blessing. We also need to honestly ask ourselves if we model gratitude. If our children do not see us thankful for God’s blessings, His salvation, forgiveness, our church, job, home and countless other blessings then what are they learning from us? It’s a reminder to us to be continually thankful to our Heavenly Father for His constant bounty of blessings in our lives. With knowing all that God has given me, shouldn’t my life be filled with continual thanking of Him?
Many of us overextend ourselves physically, particularly at Christmas. If you’re not getting adequate rest, you’ll have difficulty controlling your spirit. Most of us find carnality more quickly rises to the surface when we’re fatigued. If we’re biting off heads or finding ourselves on the verge of an emotional meltdown, we’ve missed God’s plan of “peace on earth.” We probably need to cut back on our obligations and be willing to disappoint or irritate a well-meaning relative who insists “everyone has to be there for Christmas.” As an adult or married couple, you need to wisely do what’s best for you (and your family) both physically and spiritually.
And since Jesus wasn’t actually born on December 25th, do we have to actually celebrate on December 25th? If another day would make the time of getting together more pleasant for most, why not schedule it for another day? The specific day isn’t the point, it’s the getting together that’s important. While Christmas is an opportunity to encourage family gatherings, it’s not a biblical command.
Many of us foolishly think it will be different this time. If Uncle John drank too much last Christmas, he’ll probably drink too much this year. If Aunt Martha was inappropriate last year, she’ll probably be inappropriate this year. If Cousin Bob bragged about his new car, new house, Harvard bound kids, etc., things aren’t likely to change. But you can. You have the Holy Spirit indwelling you. You should be growing in your Christian walk and can choose how you’ll respond. Romans 12:18 commands us, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
Many of us are the only Christians at our Christmas gathering. Some will be visiting family members who are contemptuous of Christianity and even hostile to the gospel. Christmas isn’t the time to argue whether Christ was born of Virgin or if the Bible is truly God’s Word.
The Holy Spirit brings peace (Gal. 5:22), and believers are to be peacemakers (Matt. 5:9). Sometimes the divisiveness that happens at extended family dinner tables isn’t because an unbelieving family member decides to persecute a Christian, it’s because a Christian is a Crusader rather than a missionary. While it’s true the gospel exposes sin, the gospel does so strategically, in order to point the lost to Christ. Antagonizing unbelievers at a family dinner table (or even a company Christmas party) because they think like unbelievers isn’t the way of Christ. Some believers foolishly think their belligerence is actually a sign of holiness. It’s not. Your presence should be one of peace and tranquility. The gospel you believe ought to be what disrupts, not you’re your own obnoxious argumentativeness. There’s a big difference between the two.
And please keep the main thing the main thing. Our country today is polarized on political differences and ideology. No one is going to Heaven or Hell because they’re a Democrat or Republican, because they’re a Liberal or a Conservative, or even a member of the Tea Party or a card carrying member of the ACLU. Amazingly, Jesus had those who were ardent supporters of the Roman government and those who were fanatical revolutionaries seeking to overthrow Rome among His disciples. He taught and modeled for them to keep the main thing the main thing. There is only one Government that ultimately matters – that’s His reign. All of the rest are merely re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic of a doomed world. Personally, I want to rescue as many as I can off this sinking ship as I can, don’t you? Christmas with unsaved friends or family members isn’t the time for a political debate that’s not going to make any ultimate difference whether it’s in DC or Madison. We must be focused on eternity.
Jesus is the Prince of Peace and came to bring “peace on earth.” He gave us the responsibility to share His message of how to have peace with God. By His grace, let’s choose to let Him fill our hearts with His peace so we can share it with those who don’t know Him. We’re His ambassadors in a world that knows little of true peace. Jesus brought peace through His humility, love and grace. That’s the starting place for us as well.