December 1, 2014
It's Christmas! How's Your Stress Level?
By Sharon W. Betters
For our December In His Grip devotions, my wife Sharon, will encourage you with some of her thoughts about Christmas.
Family problems? Join the Holy family.
Imagine - Your 15-year-old daughter (or daughter-in-law-to-be) stands at your bedroom door and stutters, "Mom, I have something tell you." Your heart skips a beat and you hold your breath as she continues, "Now don't get upset, but I'm pregnant. Before you say anything, I still have my purity ring on and no, Joseph didn't pressure me and I'm still a virgin and the baby's father is God." She senses your disbelief and adds, "An angel told me."
Remember Mary's response to the angel who "told her?" I have a feeling that your stress level just went through the roof and you're trying not to scream Mary's same words, “And, uh, how can these things be?” We never hear about Mary's parents or her in-laws, but I get the sense that they might have felt some extreme stress over this turn of events!
Overwhelmed with all the decisions you need to make? Join Joseph’s party. His fiancé is pregnant and let's imagine his thoughts after the shock of getting this news and him thinking, "This is not my baby!" "Hmm…what are my options, let’s see, stoning Mary, but that's a little extreme. I think I'll just quietly divorce her because I still love her and I don't want to hurt her..."
Oh never fear, an angel steps in and encourages him to believe that Mary's child is the Son of God and to stay the course and marry Mary, but we still don’t know what happened with the in-laws.
Ah, wouldn’t you just love an angel to help out with all of your decisions?
Too Many Bills, Taxes and a Trip to Underwrite?
Joseph was a carpenter, and now he had a new wife and baby and increased taxes and he had to pay for the costs of travel to Bethlehem. We think our taxes are bad, but they don’t have a whole lot on the taxes of that era. So this new husband saddles up his very pregnant wife on a donkey and they make the trek to Bethlehem to register and pay their taxes.
If It Can Go Wrong, It Will!
Mary was very, very pregnant (when I was nine months pregnant one Christmas my doctor wouldn't let me travel by car from Philadelphia to Delaware - I can imagine her face if I asked if I could go by donkey!). They were exhausted and far from home. In that Middle Eastern culture you would think the extended family in Joseph's hometown of Bethlehem would have opened their homes to this weary couple. But, talk about family conflict, no room for you, Joseph! I imagine the candles going out and the curtains being drawn as Joseph and his "hussy wife" passed by. Every motel had a No Vacancy sign. As if things couldn’t get worse, Mary goes into labor. Yeah, that stress level must have been rising just a little bit!
Do you think Joseph was starting to wonder if he heard that angel right? Do you think he might have been starting to question God’s plans for his life? Maybe not, maybe his faith was so supernatural that every time he was tempted to worry, he remembered the words of the angel. But I'm thinking these circumstances created a sure fire way for him to practice patience and trust. And, sure enough, God provides, a stable for the birth of the King of kings.
A Sigh of Relief
The baby is born, mother and father breathe a sigh of relief and revel in the glory of this newborn son, wrapping him in blankets Mary probably brought from home, and placed him in a manger, in a stable. They named Him Jesus as the angel instructed, remembering the words of the angel, that He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High and that the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.
But while they may have been soaking up this private moment, that pesky angel was stirring up trouble on the other side of town! Talk about stress, those poor shepherds – the sky broke open with what must have felt like lightening and thunder unlike anything they had ever experienced – they were “sore afraid!” Which means, TERRIFIED!
I bet they were! In response to the angel’s declaration that Christ the Lord had been born, they rush to the manger to worship Jesus.
Roller Coaster Emotions
Have you ever been on such an emotional roller coaster, where one minute you are flying high with joy and then suddenly, the bottom drops out of the moment? I wonder if Mary and Joseph were so emotionally exhausted by the highs and lows of the birth of Jesus that instead of returning home to Nazareth, they decided to stay in Bethlehem for a while. Maybe they just needed some alone time to create a home without the whispers and public humiliation that might have come their way because of this supernatural pregnancy.
All is Calm, But Not in Bethlehem
Just about the time life must have settled into a fine routine, and baby Jesus was growing into a sweet little boy, wise men show up to worship Jesus. Well, that’s a wonderful event, yes? But after their visit, an angel wakes up Joseph in the middle of the night and tells him that the murderous King Herod is searching for baby Jesus so that he can kill him. He orders Joseph to pack up his little family and get out of town, to run to Egypt, where they will be safe. So in the middle of the night Joseph wakes the sleeping child and his mother Mary, packs their belongings and sneaks out of Bethlehem in the darkness of the night.
In the Fullness of Time
When I dig into this not so calm but rather chaotic birth of our Savior, I conclude the circumstances of his birth could only be orchestrated by the sovereign love of God. Scripture tells us that in the fullness of time, Jesus came, fully God, fully man, to live the perfect life with the cross on the horizon. Nothing could stop God's plan for redeeming His people and His fingerprints are all over every detail.
Study the story and you see incident after incident of circumstances coming together at just the right moment for God’s plan to take place. What may have seemed like chaos to the participants was actually God putting each piece into a perfect puzzle that would forever change the world.
I begin to conclude that perhaps the disruptions in my life can be viewed through that same grid. God is always up to something more than I can see going on in my life or the lives of those I love. So when those stress levels start rising, whatever the cause, I'm grateful that the Christmas story reminds me that my circumstances are my platform for glorifying God. And in that glorifying is the joy of His presence. It is a comfort to know that while I don't have a lot of control of many of those disruptions, I can choose how to respond to the chaos. The more I choose to react in the confidence that God's message to Mary and to Joseph, that they didn't have to fear because the Lord was with them, the more I sense my gripped fists opening up to receive grace to cooperate with God's eternal purposes.
So as your Christmas stress level rises, step back, take a deep breath, and remember, someone else walked this way by faith before you. Ask Jesus how your response can reflect His presence in you. Some day I hope to sit at Mary's feet and tell her that her faith response to the words of the angel changed the course of my life in ways I can't even describe. Maybe our response to stressful news and chaotic circumstances will impact another life with the same eternal perspective that will enable them to walk by faith when their world is turned upside down.
In His grip,
Sharon W. Betters