Tidings of Great Joy
The Christmas season has arrived. My family is busy decorating the house, untangling the Christmas lights, and picking out the tree. Of course, my kids’ wish lists have been full since June.
Once the advent calendar, with its little doors, appears on the countertop, the countdown officially begins. My four children excitedly mark off each day in December, eagerly anticipating opening the calendar’s final door on Christmas morning. All this might sound idyllic; but for many Americans, Christmas is stressful.
Nearly half the people polled in a 2022 study by healthcare marketplace Sesame feel increased anxiety during the holidays. Seasonal financial stress affects 64 percent of Americans, and 41 percent sense a rise in depression. Fifty-five percent consider therapy due to holiday stress, but 17 percent feel they can’t afford it.
According to online marketplace LendingTree, 35 percent of Americans accrued holiday debt in 2022, spending $1,549 on average. A whopping 63 percent of these spenders never even planned to use their credit cards.
Many question whether Christmas is worth the financial and emotional turmoil, and some wish to cancel the holiday altogether. When did the birth of Christ become synonymous with anxiety, stress, and depression?
Following Jesus’ birth, Herod the Great felt stressed. He, too, wished “Christmas” had been canceled when the magi appeared at his front door to worship Jesus, the young King of Israel, after they followed a star to Jerusalem. The thought of this Child usurping his throne troubled him (Mt. 2:3), and the client-king of Judea did all he could to kill Jesus and secure his fragile control over the Jewish people. But he failed.
Like Herod, many Christmas shoppers today struggle with anxiety and neglect to acknowledge, let alone worship, Jesus, the Prince of Peace. The statistics revealing society’s damaged emotional well-being during the holidays indicate that America collectively observes a purposeless Christmas.
Sadly, rejoicing in Christ’s birth has been superseded by chasing deals on material goods, as Christmas grows increasingly secular and commercial. A 2019 Gallup poll found that 93 percent of Americans celebrate the holiday, but only 35 percent do so with deep devotion to Christ.
If we do not worship Christ at Christmastime, we will never know true peace before, during, or after the holidays. Jesus promised, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (Jn. 14:27). Christmas should be marked by the peace Christ gives us.
When John recorded Jesus’ phrase Let not your heart be troubled, he used the same word (Greek, tarássō) for “trouble” that describes the trouble Herod felt at the thought of losing power. Like Herod, many people today look for peace in what the world offers, only to find more anxiety, depression, and stress.
I don’t condemn gift-giving and Christmas traditions; I enjoy plenty of them with my family. But if your stress level rises this holiday season, ask yourself, “What’s the purpose of Christmas?” We find the truth in Luke 2:10–14:
“Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
May the peace of Christ reign within our hearts as we celebrate our Savior’s birth.