Sunday, December 28, 2008

Stress Test

I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

-- Psalm 4:8

Now that we’ve consumed the last of the leftover Thanksgiving turkey and pumpkin pie, it’s safe to say that the Christmas season is in full swing. And we know that’s so because the television commercials have announced it for weeks. Yes, ‘tis the season for exchanging gifts under the tree, sipping hot chocolate with neighbors and family members… and dealing with a lot of stress.

The sad fact is that stress is as much a part of Christmas (at least the secular holiday) as are Santa Claus and candy canes. And stress can be much more serious than a disagreement with your in-laws; it’s literally a life-and-death proposition. Stress leads to cardiovascular disease, workplace injuries, sleep disturbances, ulcers and even cancer. In fact, the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine reports that health care expenditures are nearly 50 percent greater for workers who endure high levels of stress.

It’s an unfortunate truth that the Christmas season comes with a high cost. And we’re not talking about those hefty MasterCard and VISA bills that will arrive in January. Like the socks or sweaters you might receive from an aunt or distant cousin, Christmas-related stress comes in a variety of colors and styles. It can be physical, emotional and financial. Not only can Christmas mean a strain to your bank account or an exhausting cross-country flight to your parents’ house, December 25 can bring emotional turmoil when it’s a reminder of a broken relationship or the death of a loved one.

The vibrant reds and greens of Christmas often seem deep blue for many hurting people. And that’s when God gets into the act.

The Bible tells us that long before the world was formed, God knew our names. He knew when and where we would be born, what sort of life we would lead and when we would die. And He also knew that we would need a Someone to save us from our failures and shortcomings. We could never save ourselves. So God decided to do it Himself by personally living the human experience on Earth through His Son, Jesus Christ.

By literally becoming God with us, Jesus truly understands the stress of Christmas (which is ironically meant to celebrate His birth!). Leading up to that first Christmas when Jesus was born among a stable-full of less-than-spotless farm animals, Joseph and Mary – His earthly parents – knew all too much about stress. They experienced emotional stress from the scandalous rumors swirling around Mary’s pregnancy. They endured physical stress from the grueling trip to Bethlehem mandated by the Roman census. And with money in short supply, financial stress abounded.

But because He experienced it all Himself, Jesus really does understand our sorrows – whether it’s December 25 or any of the other 364 days of the year. The good news for us is that He has promised all His followers that He will never leave them or forget them. His is a trustworthy promise of care and love. It’s one more thing – like that Christmas check you received from your long-lost uncle – that you can (and should) take to the bank.

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