Someone once said, “Christmas is a time when children tell Santa what they want and adults pay for it. Deficits are when adults tell the government what they want and their children pay for it.” Three phrases probably best sum up Christmas – ‘Peace on Earth”, “Good will to all” and “batteries not included”.
This was originally going to be about “How to have a Stress Free Christmas”. Then I realised there is no way we can experience an entirely stress free Christmas. Its impossible. Without some stress, it would be a very floppy Christmas. Stress is like cholesterol. Not all cholesterol is bad for you. There is good and bad cholesterol. We must choose more of one and less of the other. In the same way there is good stress and bad stress. What is good stress? Stress is like inner biofeedback. Its purpose is not to harm you but help you focus or concentrate, to flee or fight, for limited periods of time. Stress is to the mind what blood pressure is to the body. We all generate waste as a bi-product of living but we don’t always dispose of it properly. Without balance in life – work, rest, play, sleep, solitude, fellowship, the waste levels pile up and take over and we lose control in destructive ways. If you think about it, stress, whether its caused by worry, anxiety, fear or anger does not exist independently of ourselves. It simply does not exist in the physical world. It is internal. That is because stress is not about what happens to us. Stress is our response to what happens to us. We therefore choose our stress levels. And the holiday season of Christmas provides a wonderful opportunity to learn to handle stress constructively.
Please turn with me to Matthew 6 and lets see what Jesus has to say about good and bad stress, especially at Christmas. In this passage Jesus is specifically concerned with worry caused by materialism. This is clear from the context. Verses 24 says “you cannot serve both God and money.” Then in verse 25 he says “Therefore I tell you…” Remember a ‘therefore’ is always there for a reason. Jesus gives us three reasons why we should not worry at Christmas.
- Worry is Foolish
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?
“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:25-26)
Jesus tells us life is far more important than material possessions. So often our worries are about relatively unimportant and trivial matters, such as food, drink, clothing.
The people who really matter don’t care where you bought your Christmas decorations or which supermarket you bought your Christmas turkey. If they do care, they don’t matter.
Worry is actually a slander on God’s character. Worry suggests that God is more interested in his pets than in his children. Birds are kept alive by food he provides. They may have to spend time searching for food, but it is there to be found. Look at the birds and realise worry is Foolish.
- Worry is Futile
Jesus says, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Matthew 6:27)
Worry is futile. Jesus reminds us we cannot add anything to our life by worrying. But you can certainly shorten it by worrying. Worry causes things like ulcers and a coronary thrombosis. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its troubles but it robs today of its strength.
Most things we worry about will never happen anyway. Worry is foolish. Worry is futile.
- Worry is Faithless
Jesus says, “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear? For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them’ (Matthew 6:28-32)
Faith and worry are like fire and water. They do not mix.When we worry, we are saying to Jesus. I can’t trust you with this, I’ll handle it myself. Worry is not only foolish and futile, it is faithless. If we think material possessions will provide security, significance or satisfaction, we are acting more like the pagans than God’s children. God our father knows our every need. If our loving Father knows our needs, we can trust him to provide for the future. Not necessarily our wants but certainly our needs. Jesus says worry is foolish, its futile and faithless. Three reasons why stress caused by worry is destructive. So what does Jesus have to say about good stress?
In Matthew 6:33-34. The verse begins “But”. “But seek first…” Jesus is stressing by way of contrast how to eradicate worry, how to overcome the destructive consequences of stress. We must simply focus our minds and energy on Him.
‘But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. ‘Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.’ (Matthew 6:33-34).
God does not promise a trouble free or a stress free life. He promises to provide for our needs if we get our priorities right. God will walk with us and hold our hand. He will use trouble, the unknown, the uncertain, even hostility or depravation to refine us, to build our character.
And make us more like Jesus. And God can only do this one day at a time. God has given us units of twenty-four hours and we should take life a day at a time. If we wish to live a long and fruitful life, we must respect and live by the biological clock he has built inside each of us.
I had the privilege of attending a concert given by Roy Castle shortly before he died of cancer. His wife Fiona wrote about the challenges they faced in her book ‘Give Us This Day’:
“Recently a friend commented to me that many people live their life as though it were a dress rehearsal for the real thing. But in fact, by tonight, we will have given the only performance of ‘today’ that we will ever give. So we have to put our heart, our energy and honesty and sincerity into what we do every day. As a show business family, we find that a very suitable illustration. And every show comes to the end of its run, when we must lay aside the costumes and step off the stage, into another, larger world. So as we pray the prayer Jesus taught us, we ask God to ‘Give us this day’ – thankfully receiving one day at a time – looking to him to sustain us with everything we need, whether it be food, shelter, love of family and friends, or courage and hope to face the future. And at the same time we echo the words of the psalmist: ‘This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it’ (Psalm 118:24).
So what does Jesus have to say about good stress?
Seek God’s Kingdom
Jesus calls us to a higher, nobler ambition – to seek his kingdom. That means his sovereign reign in our lives, in our marriages, in our home, in our family and in our world.
We seek his rule in the lives of our friends, relations, neighbours, work colleagues and community. Our new 2020 Vision expresses our shared conviction of what God’s kingdom rule could look like in Virginia Water.
Re-read it this Christmas, meditate on the biblical passages it contains and commit yourself to help us turn our vision of God’s kingdom into a reality next year. If you are still undecided about giving gifts this Christmas, here are some suggestions: To your enemy, forgiveness. To your competitors, respect. To your friends, your heart. To your clients, service. To a child, a good example. And to your loving Father, your praise and adoration. Pray “Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” Seek first God’s Kingdom. Secondly,
- Seek God’s Righteousness
We can only extend God’s kingdom in God’s way.
We long to see his values universally accepted. There are many examples of men and women who have made a great impact on society because they have been passionate about God’s righteousness. For example, William Wilberforce, as a Christian Member of Parliament, devoted his entire life to introducing God’s values into society. He campaigned for forty-five years to abolish slavery. The necessary Act of Parliament was passed in July 1833, three days before he died. What are the similar challenges we face? Poverty? AIDS? The breakdown of marriage? The abuse of children?
In which of these areas may God be calling you to step over the line and make a difference in 2016? Make it an early new year resolution to seek His righteousness. Jesus promises that if we get our priorities and our ambitions right, then ‘all these things will be given to you as well’
Seek God’s Kingdom. Seek God’s Righteousness.
- Seek God’s Son
If you are not sure why you should seek God’s Son or where to look, then join us on our Christianity Explored course starting 4th February. We will find answers to three questions. Who? Why? and How? “Put Christ back into Christmas” is not just a slogan. This week it will mean going against our prevailing culture with its all consuming materialistic values. And it wont get any easier in the January sales either will it? Seeking God’s Son will create stress. But it’s a good stress.
It will help strengthen your spiritual muscles. It will enhance your spiritual witness. God willing it will lead others to God.
Howard Thurman, was an African-American theologian, educator, and civil rights leader.
He wrote “Now the Work of Christmas Begins”
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
Seek first God’s kingdom, his righteousness and especially his Son this Christmas and Jesus promises he will provide all your needs. He will bless you, he will guide you, forgive you, cleanse you, and make you whole. And you will most assuredly have a joyful, fulfilling and blessed Christmas. And may God bless you and those you love. Lets pray.