For Those Feeling Weary and Stressed at Christmas

Christmas is not a law to keep. It is a gift to receive.

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Andy Williams made the song famous in 1963.

It's the most wonderful time of the year
With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you be of good cheer
It's the most wonderful time of the year.

For some of us, the most wonderful time of the year is the most stressful time of the year. The Christmas season, with the promise of rest and peace, is anything but restful. Instead, it is a season of emotional anxiety and physical exhaustion. With Covid, there may not be as many social gatherings to attend, but there is still the wrapping, decorating, cooking, and rushing. There are cards to send and last-minute gifts to buy.

Rather than feel rested and at peace, we feel… weary. And maybe even guilty that we “didn’t do Christmas right this year.” While some are celebrating, others of us are grieving—grieving the loss of someone we love or the strain of broken family relationships, with the pain only exacerbated during the holidays. A merry little Christmas is better described as a weary little Christmas.

If you are not stressed and weary, I’m glad and thankful. But this post is not for you. In fact, you may want to avoid this one because there are some things we will talk about that might not sit well with those who have no stresses and anxieties.

But if weary describes you, I have good news, because, in Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus makes an invitation that seems custom made for those of us who find ourselves weary at this time of year. It is not a classic Christmas passage by any means, but I think you’ll find it unusually applicable, where Jesus says,

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Enjoy the Traditions, but…

I enjoy the traditions of Christmas. I remember watching the claymation version of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer with my grandmother as a child every year. You know, the one narrated by Burl Ives. Those were the days when you had to look ahead at the TV Guide in the Sunday paper for when shows would be aired on one of the four available stations. This was before recording shows on a VCR and way before Nexflix, Youtube TV, and Amazon Prime. Rudolph was on once a year, and we never missed it.

These days, I look forward to decorating the tree and building fires in the evening. I just stocked my woodpile yesterday with a half-cord of firewood to burn over the holidays. This is the season I enjoy putting peppermint mocha creamer in my coffee, wearing my Christmas jammies, and watching It’s a Wonderful Life.

I really do enjoy the traditions of Christmas. However, as harmless as they look on the surface, traditions have the potential to be dangerous. Before you call you Ebenezer Scrooge, let me explain.

You may remember what Jesus said about the Pharisees. They loved traditions, too. For them, traditions were easy to keep, and a way for them to feel superior over those who didn’t keep the traditions.

Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with traditions. Unless they become laws. This is what the Pharisees did. They turned their traditions into legalistic expectations for others to keep.

Jesus called them burdens.

In Luke 11:46, he speaks to a group of Pharisaical teachers, saying, “Woe to you, experts in the law, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, but you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.”

Christmas is Not a Law to Keep.

While we may feel like there are things we are supposed to do at Christmas, there is no command in Scripture to hang a wreath on the front door or decorate your shrubs with multi-colored lights. There is not even a command to have a special Christmas Service or a Christmas Eve Service. While the narrative of Jesus’ birth is in the Bible, there is no evidence in Scripture nor in the early church that anyone set apart a day to commemorate the birth of Jesus in a way that demands liturgical observation at the end of each calendar year. In fact, we are not sure what day Jesus actually was born. December 25th is a traditional date but is unlikely the actual date of his birth.

Simply put, Christmas is not a law to keep.

Nevertheless, we are free to enjoy the candlelight communion service and sing “O Come All Ye Faithful.” Decorate the house with lights. Build a fire, drink eggnog, get out your Christmas jammies, and watch Elf, The Grinch, and A Miracle on 34th Street. We are free to celebrate a special season and commemorate the birth of Jesus.

Yet Paul knew that requiring the observation of special days and seasons was a dangerous business because our fleshly tendency is to legalize everything. Like the Pharisees in the New Testament, we create traditions that end up becoming burdens of expectation and demand. Eventually, traditions may become laws. And laws become burdens.

The tradition may be having family Advent readings with the kids before bed? Let’s say there are twenty-four readings on your calendar to fill. What if you miss a night, or two, or three, or more? How do you feel? If the answer is guilty, you have turned a tradition into a law.

Does that make sense? There is nothing wrong with traditions, as long as they don’t become laws.

Again, I love Christmas traditions. Our own family has an Advent Tree with ornaments that are hung after each evening devotional. Today is the 20th, and we have four ornaments hung. We’ve missed sixteen days!

Here is the point: if I let traditions become burdens, they will no longer be a source of grace but a source of guilt and stress. If Advent devotions become a guilt-ridden duty, I will come to view them as burdens to fulfill rather than as gifts to enjoy. The same thing goes for baking cooking for the neighbors, sending Christmas cards, and attending Christmas Eve Communion Candlelight Services.

So, what do we do when the traditions of Christmas become a source of stress rather than a means of grace? How can I enjoy the gift of Christmas when I am so weary.

Take your weariness to Jesus.

  • Jesus, will you take my weariness and give me rest?

  • Will you take my anxiety and replace it with peace?

  • Will you take my sadness and restore my hope and joy?

  • Will you take my sin and let me rejoice in your immeasurable grace and unfailing love?

This is what it means to experience the freedom that Jesus was born to bring—freedom from the expectations, demands, burdens, and stress that we put on ourselves and on others, and freedom from the condemnation of our sin deserves, not for breaking traditions but defying the wisdom of God in the moral law. As the angels sang at his birth, so do we, because the babe in a manger would become the man upon a cross. As Paul says in 1 Timothy 1:15-17,

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. “

Did you notice what happened in Paul as he reflected on the purpose of Jesus’ birth—the why he came into the world? Meditating upon Jesus’ mission to save sinners as a substitute for their sin, especially his sin, caused the apostle to break out in doxology. To sing! He just couldn’t help it. And neither can I when I realize that Jesus came into the world to save this sinner. To bring me grace and hope.

A Thrill of Hope for a Weary World

There is a well-known hymn that proclaims this grace and hope for those who crave peace and joy. It is a Christmas hymn for the weary. You know the lyrics.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining, Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth. The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. Fall on your knees, Oh, hear the angel voices O night divine, O night when Christ was born.

Yes, the weary world rejoices with the thrill of hope in a glorious new morn that causes us to worship our Savior-King, not just on Christmas, but every day of the year, moment by moment as we come alive to the present value of Jesus’ blood. But it is not just the weary world, it is the weary me. Christmas is not a promise of grace to sinners in general but to you and me in particular. It is a personal promise.

Now, because of the cross, every day is holy for the believer as we live under the umbrella of grace fulfilled. Not just at Christmas. After all, the Jews in the Old Testament had a Sabbath day. We get a Sabbath life, resting every day in the finished redemptive work of Jesus.

So, is it wrong to celebrate Christmas? Of course not! But in celebrating the season, fix your eyes on the Savior, the one who takes your burdens, grief, weariness, and sin upon himself so that you may find rest for your soul.

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