Oh, the Christmas Burden

Christmas is upon us, and I fear that for many people, it is filled with stress rather than joy. As a single person from a laid-back family, I often feel like and observer of the madness. At one Christian gathering, in a prayer someone referred to “the Christmas burden.” I wonder if it was one of those moments when more honesty slipped out than was intended. Most Christians don’t want to admit, even to themselves, that they have allowed Christmas to become a burden. As I pondered the phrase I heard, I concluded that the burden people feel stems from expectations.

And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to [Jesus]. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

     “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Luke 4:17-19

We all have expectations. They are set from our history and from the myriad of influences on our lives. As I thought back to my childhood Christmases, it occurred to me that society has only been ramping up our Christmas expectations over the last thirty years. I think this can be attributed to the increased media saturation combined with an entertainment industry that banks on our romantic hopes of  a “perfect” Christmas. Too many of us find ourselves slaves to our own expectations, as well as the expectations of others. It is a burden. But these expectations are all set around societal traditions. Has anyone ever told you they were looking forward to the time of worship they would have at a Christmas Eve service? People are focused instead on having the family together and seeing the children perform. It is certainly a problem when the traditions are leaving Jesus out of the celebration. At the same time, people don’t seem to realize that they are making themselves unhappy in the very pursuit of a happy season. There is joy in serving God, and there is joy in giving, but there is no joy in carrying a burden of obligations.

Sometimes, I have a bad attitude toward Christmas traditions. Over the past couple of years, I have made an effort to be more cheerful and positive about the season at work. What I have realized is that my bad attitude is often triggered when people want to push me into ‘celebrating’ or ‘enjoying’ Christmas the same way they do. Have our expectations really become so extensive that we can’t tolerate someone having different preferences? If I were in a Hallmark Christmas movie, I could be convinced, within a two-hour time frame, of the joy of celebrating a traditional Christmas. But here in my real world, I am happy to enjoy the peace of my quiet, unburdened Christmas.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

For me, an unburdened Christmas means buying gifts and participating in activities when it gives me joy to do so. I won’t be going to the Christmas Eve service because I don’t get anything out of it. I will spend time with family, but not on the day itself because I work on Monday and Wednesday. And my real secret is that I enjoy working around the holidays; it’s the best time of the year to go to work!

To some extent, I am kicking myself for the times this month that I allowed a bad attitude to rear its head. I see that it has cropped up when people push me to like the same traditions they do and celebrate the same way that they do. I can’t help but wonder if some people want me to carry the same stress they do, just so that we are all equal in it. My conviction this season, is that Christians need to cast off this burden, rather than trying to make sure that everyone around them is carrying it, too.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.”

Matthew 5:14-15

How can we shine the light of our Christ if we have turned a celebration of His coming into a burden?  We are not a light in this world unless we are actually living differently. When we fall into the trappings of society’s secular traditions, we just blend in with the world. I know there are many Christians who treat this season differently for the right reason. But still, I think, there are too many who are trying to balance the true celebration with meeting the expectations of those around them. Celebrating Christ just becomes another ball in the juggling act.

Jesus came to take our burdens and break our chains. There is an irony in this burden that man has created surrounding the celebration of Christ’s birth. I find immense joy in giving and receiving gifts, spending time with my family, and reflecting on the birth of the Messiah, who saved me from sin and death. But the day marked on the calendar doesn’t dictate my schedule for these activities. When I don’t let the calendar or expectations control me, it is easy to have joy in the season.

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