And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace,
good will toward men.
(Luke 2:13-14 KJV)
Jesus… withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
(Luke 22:41-44 NIV)
Missed deadline, every writer’s nightmare! As I’m writing this blog I’m on the cusp of this unpardonable sin. OK, that’s a little dramatic. It’s just the stress talking. After a joyous week of celebrating Thanksgiving with my family, and a beautiful first Sunday of Advent, our church secretary reminded me this morning that my blog was due for publishing today. Today! As my mind raced about what to write about, my stress level raised. I did what most Christians do when we’re not prepared, threw those Hail Mary prayers at God, hoping for a last minute catch to save the day. “Lord, I’m stressed,” I prayed, “I sure could use a bolt of inspiration.” What in the world could I write about?” Stress. “Yes Lord, I’m stressed, but could you throw me a bone here?” Stress. “Huh?” What better thing to write about when you’re stressed? Stress. What better thing to pray about when you’re stressed? Stress.
In his book, Anxious for Nothing, pastor and best-selling author, Max Lucado reports, “Anxiety-related issues are the number one mental health problem among women and are second only to alcohol and drug abuse among men. Stress-related ailments cost the nation $300 billion every year in medical bills and lost productivity. Even students are feeling it. One psychologist reports that the average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s.”
The body of Jesus Christ, known as the church, is often no different than those outside the church when it comes to anxiety and stress. Based on recent pastoral counseling, at least a third of our church struggles with stress related illness, depression, and anxiety. The tragic irony is, this month when we joyfully anticipate the arrival of Jesus and listen as the angles proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men,” we too often experience anything but peace. Our attitudes, driving, and Christmas shopping styles often don’t reflect good will toward men, especially as we aggressively pursue that last parking space at the mall, or later than promised delivery.
A lot of us proclaim, post, and/or put on little pins that announce, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” It’s a nice little catchy quote and great bumper sticker theology. If we’re not careful, we may choose to ignore the real reason for the season. In Matthew’s telling of the Christmas story, the angel of the Lord appears and tells Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, to marry Mary, “because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."
Fast forward about 33 years, and witness real stress as Jesus is about to fulfill the angel’s prophesy. Jesus is alone, asking God to reverse the reason for the season. Luke’s Gospel, which began announcing the joyous news of Jesus’ birth now tells us, “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” And then Jesus willingly submitted to His Father, and saved His people by dying on a cross for our sins.
Hmm? Now I’m pretty sure that God has given me, not only a solution to my blog, but an upcoming sermon topic and Bible study. God, You are a life saver! Yeah, I know, in so many ways. Happy Birthday Jesus! Thank you for taking on the real stress of hopelessness and sins of the world.