We all have stress during the holidays – some more than others. Some of us create our own stress, as if there wasn’t enough already. We think that we need to create the “perfect” holiday. Even if we aren’t typically perfectionists, we tend to want the holidays to be perfect. We think that if we just work hard enough maybe this year will be different and everything will be just perfect. We feel the need to decorate the house like Martha Stewart would; to find the perfect live Christmas tree, cut it down and drag it home; to make all of grandma’s home cooked recipes; to spend hours at the mall buying all the presents and then beautifully wrapping them; to make our own Christmas cards; to write a carefully crafted Christmas letter highlighting all of our kid’s accomplishments during the last year so that Aunt Susie in Florida who never sees the kids can read about them. We feel the need to pick out matching outfits for a perfect Christmas photo to send with our cards and letters; oh yeah, and we all need haircuts before we take that picture because grandma will think we all look like ragamuffins. We have to attend all the Christmas parties; make and decorate homemade cookies with the kids; take the kids Christmas caroling; visit all the relatives; volunteer to help the less fortunate; and capture the entire thing on camera so that we can spend hours cutting and pasting photos into our elaborate albums afterwards! Even if we don’t do all these things, if we are honest with ourselves, we feel as if we would have done a better job if we had done them all. How many of you are stressed out now thinking of all you still want to get done?
All of these expectations that we, as well as others, place upon us at Christmastime, can cause some stress. And some of these expectations are just plain unrealistic. Think about it…you imagine this holiday is going to go perfectly. The house will look just beautiful and smell like fresh baked cookies. The food will be wonderful. Everyone will love their Christmas gifts and nothing will need to be returned. The kids won’t fight. The family is going to come over and everyone is going to get along this year. We engage in what psychologists call “magical thinking”. We set ourselves up for failure because we just assume Christmas is going to be just perfect this year. But we need to realize ahead of time that things are not going to go the way we plan them.
I would like to suggest to you that the real secret of having a simple Christmas doesn’t lie in more time management techniques or shopping tips or even escaping to Jamaica! I believe we can learn much from a woman named Mary – not the Mary you would expect me to talk about during this Christmas season, but another Mary from the Bible. Her story is found in Luke 10:38-42: As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
I think probably the majority of us identify with Martha in this story, and not Mary, especially at Christmastime. We look at someone like Mary and think to ourselves, “Why is she being so lazy?” or “I can’t believe how rude she is being, not helping out.” We tend to put women like Martha up on a pedestal and think we want to be just like her. But in fact, it is Mary and not Martha that Jesus commended. It was about Mary, and not Martha that Jesus said that she had chosen what was better. Notice that Jesus didn’t say that what Martha was doing was wrong, but that what Mary was doing was “better”. So, what was that “better” thing that Mary had chosen? Mary chose to sit at the feet of Jesus.
This season typically brings out the Martha in us, but I believe this really is the season to be Mary. We have to learn to say no to some very good things so that we can say yes to the “better” things. Maybe you have said yes to too many good things and there is no margin left to say yes to the better things. Maybe you are so busy doing good things that you haven’t had any time to reflect on who Jesus is and why He came to this earth. Jesus is calling you today to sit at his feet and to experience His rest and His peace, and to experience intimacy with Him. Will you choose what Jesus said is the “better” thing this Christmas season – to take time to sit at His feet? My prayer for you is that you will have yourself a “Mary” little Christmas.