Mariah Carey retakes her place as the Queen of Christmas. Michael Bublé comes out of hiding. I’ve already listened to Ashley Tisdale’s cover of “Last Christmas” at least 10 times.
Ah, the sounds of Christmas time.
Really, though. I love Christmas. Cliché, I know.
There’s just something about the atmosphere the holiday season creates. The world just tends to be happier. People are nicer to one another, and the gift-giving nature of the season awakens a spirit of generosity within us.
This is something we need, especially with the state of our current world. There is so much hopelessness and uncertainty, anxiety and tension, fear and anger. I think it’s good for us to have a season of joy and peace.
I just read an article published by The New York Times about the mental health effects of constantly being constantly exposed to negative and violent news. A team from the University of Bradford in England conducted a study where participants were exposed to images and stories from various events that we would consider terrorist attacks. 22 percent of those participants were significantly affected by what they saw. According to the team, exposure to acts of this nature can cause symptoms similar to posttraumatic stress disorder.
To be fair, the article was published in July 2016, however, there’s not much debate that anxiety has been on the rise. Some of this could be with those fighting to help end the stigma surrounding mental health; people are more willing to admit that they struggle with mental disorders than in the past. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if one contributor to our anxiety was the news footage we’re constantly consuming.
A few months ago, The New York Times actually published a rather interesting article titled “America’s New ‘Anxiety’ Disorder,” which centers on America’s love affair with anxiety. As a nation, we’ve always been anxious, but an anxiousness caused by rapid progression (a.k.a. growing pains). This age of anxiety, however, is brought on by an economic uncertainty. We constantly find ourselves asking questions like, “What building is going to get shot up next?” We’re constantly wondering which male celebrity will be fired for sexual misconduct or what tweet will be sent out by Mr. President next.
Some of these are valid concerns. Sexual harassment is a daily reality that many women face, and I’m proud that the #metoo movement is helping to show that and giving people courage to speak up.
But the constant barrage of news we face, especially via social media is not good for our health if we don’t learn how to take a break.
This Advent, I encourage you to rest in the peace and joy the season brings. While I agree it’s important to be aware of what is happening in our world, take advantage of the opportunities you have to focus purely on friends and family. Spend time rejoicing in the little things: the lights outlining everything, the cheesy Hallmark movies, the innocence of children’s belief in Santa.
In spite of the joy that accompanies Christmas, not everyone will simply stumble upon peace. Some will have to work to rejoice through the holidays. Families will face first get-togethers without loved ones; moms will spend Christmas Eve alone while their children celebrate with their dads and vice versa; children will hope for family members to be sober for one day.
However, we can rest in knowing we trust in a God who delights in bringing about life from desolation.
I was reading Isaiah 11 this morning and the first verse states, “Then a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from His roots will bear fruit” (HCSB). Right before this verse, the prophet Isaiah records, “Look, the Lord God of Hosts will chop off the branches with terrifying power, and the tall trees will be cut down, the high trees felled. He is clearing the thickets of the forest with an ax . . .” (Isaiah 10:33-34, HCSB).
Picture a forest completely cleared. I think of the devastation caused by the wildfires that ravaged the West earlier this fall. Absolutely nothing is left; just charred remains of the glory the forest once held. And yet, a tiny, green shoot emerges from a stump promising the continuation of life.
This was how Jesus appeared.
For hundreds of years, God was silent toward the Jewish people. The people He had once led through the wilderness as a cloud. The people He had spoke to through His prophets.
I wonder if they felt forgotten, desolate, destroyed.
Then, like a tiny shoot from a decaying stump comes Jesus, the King promised in Isaiah. He doesn’t come with a loud procession or a celebratory announcement. He comes quietly with humble beginnings born to a carpenter and his wife in a manger.
The King who promises a kingdom of peace where wolves will lay with sheep, where children will lead leopards and goats side by side. The King Who promises to bring justice, Who wears righteousness as a belt, Who swears no harm will destroy anything else in His realm.
This King comes as a frail baby to enter into our humanity. Our pain and our hurt, our anger and our fear, our uncertainty and our anxiety. He comes into our world to offer us His righteousness so that we might enter into the kingdom He promises to reign.
That’s what I love about Christmas. The overwhelming sense of peace gives me the tiniest glimpse of what I think Jesus’s kingdom will be like. It’s a place where we won’t have to fear or worry about the future, a place where we can rest knowing Jesus will let no harm come upon His kingdom, a place where we can worship with abandon in the complete knowledge of Who He is.
I pray this season brings you comfort. I know it will be a battle to find peace and joy to some, but I pray you find some rest in the One Who promises to carry your burdens. I pray you see a glimpse of His heart through the sacrifice He made to reside in our world.
Also, keep an eye out for your fellow man. Christmas is not the time to argue politically correct sayings or Starbucks’ cups. It’s the time to remember the humility of a God who chose to confine Himself to a baby’s body so He might be love personified. May Jesus’s sacrificial love for mankind be evidenced in us.