Christmas is supposed to be the happiest season of the year for Christians throughout the world. No need to worry about pressures inherent in work, school and other activities due to the usual Yuletide break, except for those who in exigencies of service continue to report for duty in respective endeavors. “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” as aptly described by one of the most popular carols.
However, like any other holidays intended for rest and leisure, Christmas has become a stressful time brought about by complexities in our modern world. There’s a stressful decision on what to prioritize due to limited budget, squeezing the budget in gift giving for family members and godchildren, and at times choices on where to spend the vacation. There are also mixed up of activities and celebrations, traffic, queuing in shopping, time pressures, and family tensions. Not to mention, threat/lose of employment, damaged properties due to disasters, sickness for some and bereavement for others. Even the thought of upcoming activities reserved for the incoming year can cause stress.
Worse, we are more aware of how stress has become detrimental to our health. Many of life threatening illnesses and long-term health problems are caused by stress. No wonder, various articles on print or web have been written towards a stress-free Christmas. Some even insert the phrase stress – free on the usual Merry Christmas greetings.
However, before we make a rush on dreaming of a stress-free Christmas, let us be reminded that the first Christmas was indeed a stressful one for some important characters as told by the Gospel writers. Foremost, it was stressful for Mary and Joseph who were forced to travel from Nazareth to the little town of Bethlehem, at the time of expected delivery. One can imagine how slow the movement of a pregnant woman about to give birth as she trod on rugged terrain, the discomfort it brought to them for estimated four days to a week until they reached their destination. This, probably, explains why “there was no room or them in the inn” as these were already occupied by those who arrived earlier.
Those of us who have experienced the birth of our kids coinciding with equally important or demanding occasions can empathize with the situation of the couple. I can still recall the births of our three children which came at a time when there were pressures on us. Our eldest was born while I was at our home province attending the funeral of my father. Good that my wife’s insistence to travel with me was neutralized as it could have put us into a more difficult situation. Likewise, our youngest was born coinciding the funeral of my mother. So our hired taxi had to wait for us so that I could catch up the boat trip so as not to repeat what happened during our first born when I experienced the agony of waiting for the next day, worrying about the fate of my wife and our baby. At that time, there was no mobile phone or internet connection to get timely updates. The birth of our middle child was equally stressful as there was complication prior to his birth.
However, it was not only Mary and Joseph who experienced stress. Luke mentioned about the shepherds who were the least to be expected as purveyor of the glad tidings. Shepherds were considered to be among the lowest and most despised social groups, at that time. The nature of their work kept them away from the mainstream of Israel’s society. They couldn’t even perform rituals and observe religious celebration. From all angles, it would be unlikely for them to be visited by the throngs of angels. Thus, one can imagine how stressful it was for them to handle such a godly situation. That’s why they were terrified, much more with the sudden appearance of a great company of the heavenly host.
Matthew, on the other hand, mentioned another character who had experienced stress at that time. He recorded how the reigning king panicked…”Herod was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” The connection between the reaction of Herod and that of the people can be gleaned from the recorded accounts of his cruelties. The Wikipedia has this kind of consolidated description for him: a madman who murdered his own family and a great many rabbis; the evil genius of the Judean nation; prepared to commit any crime in order to gratify his unbounded ambition; and the greatest builder in Jewish history. Modern scholars agree he suffered throughout his lifetime from depression and paranoia.
That’s how stressful the first Christmas to the aforementioned characters. But how did they manage such stressful condition? And what were the effects to them and the subsequent relevance to us, nowadays. These are the content of the next post.