What happened to joy and peace of Christmas?


    There are many reasons to relish the Christmas season: the celebration of our Savior’s birth, the wonderful holiday music, special events at church, gathering together with family and friends. The food. The gifts. The memories.
    “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth.”
    But there is more to the holiday season than singing carols by the fire, retelling the Christmas story and sharing meals with loved ones. Increasingly, it seems, this is a stressful time for many people, the hustle and bustle, lofty expectations and added expense to already strained budgets.
   How stressful has it become? A recent news story spells it out pretty clearly.
   Think Finance, a financial services company, surveyed 1,000 Americans across a broad demographic and uncovered this remarkable sentiment: 45 percent said the holiday season brings so much financial stress, they would prefer to skip it altogether. Almost half of the survey’s respondents said their level of stress is high or extremely high.
     Approximately the same number of people -- about half -- say they do not have enough money to cover holiday expenses. 
    No wonder for many people the Christmas season has become more stress than joy, more burden than celebration. One person summed it up this way: Christmas is the time when we buy things we do not need, with money we do not have, to impress people who do not care about.
      I find it a bit ironic that at the time of year when we celebrate God’s unconditional love we seem to fret most about trying to measure up. Did I buy enough gifts? The right gifts? Did I spend enough? Try hard enough? Will anyone be disappointed? What did I forget?
     No wonder so many people say they would prefer to skip Christmas altogether.
Of course, there is a solution to taking the stress out of Christmas – by making Christ the center of it. We have already received the greatest gift anyone could ever get, without even driving to the mall: unconditional love.
     We celebrate this season as a reminder of God's gift to us. Jesus was not born in an ornate palace surrounded by servants; He was born in a stable, clothed with rags, laid in a feeding trough.
     Christmas was never meant to be about gifts under the tree, gifts that will never last. It is a season to remember God’s love and to share that with others: family, friends, even strangers.
     It has often been said that the best gifts are free. Is that not the truth? It is also true that the most wonderful time of the year really can’t be wonderful if we are too stressed out to enjoy it.
     May your home be filled with joy and peace this Christmas season, whether or not it is overflowing with wrapped boxes from the mall. 
Glenn Hannigan is editor of the North Georgia Advocate: glenn@ngumc.org.