|1st Sunday in Advent||
December 3, 2000
It's the season to be jolly, right? Well, what if you aren't? What if sounds, sights and smells of Christmas make you want to deck someone not just some halls? Are you eligible for replacing Jim Carey in the next sequel to Dr Seuss's story or should we start calling you Ebenezer?
The truth of the matter is that the holidays are very difficult times for a great many people. Fred will be celebrating his first Christmas with his wife? After 40 years of marriage he is missing the most important person in his life. Tom and Sally will spend this Christmas thinking about their son who is in jail serving a prison term. Mary will only get to see her children Christmas morning. They will be spending the afternoon and evening with their father and his new wife. John still does not know how to break the news to his wife. She has made plans for some really expensive toys for the children She also wants to replace the living room furniture but John has already been warned that his company will be downsizing next year and he could be the first one to go.
These and others all have a legitimate reason to be sad this holiday season. While everyone around them is celebrating the season to be merry, they have a sorrow that overshadows the joy. What are they to do?
Each year newspaper columnists write articles about how people celebrate Christmas but also about how some people have to cope with depression during the Christmas season. They usually interview noted psychologists and medical doctors and solicit their advice. The columnists will create lists that are striking similar. With minor modifications the suggestions will include:1
1. Spending time with other people
If you notice, the list focuses on activity, staying busy, on doing. The emphasis is on keeping the mind busy so that it cannot dwell on the problem or circumstance that is making a person depressed. The list merely offers a temporary solution. A person will not be able to stay busy 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There will come a time when the activities cease and they must face the reality of their lives. They can run for a brief period from difficulties and problems but they cannot hide indefinitely. We must develop better methods of not only overcoming "holiday blues" but depression in general. The "holiday blues" are only the symptom of a much deeper problem in our society-depression. While one person in twenty is medically diagnosed with some form of depression, one psychologist has suggested that a majority of all Americans suffer from the disease during their lives.2 Fifteen percent of the people who suffer from a severe form of depression will commit suicide. Money definitely does not buy happiness. Depression occurs three times more frequently in higher socioeconomic groups.
HAPPINESS IS A CHOICE
We are living in days and times of uncertainty, and it may well be that the first and greatest lesson we all may have to learn is to know how to live without allowing circumstances to affect our inner peace and joy. And yet perhaps there was never a time in the history of the world when it was so difficult to learn this lesson as it is today4
Throughout the gospels, Jesus reminds his disciples that they are not
to let the circumstances of life dictate their emotional state. At the
conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount he warned them that they would be
persecuted for living out his teaching but they were to "rejoice in that
day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. (Luke 6:23)
Rejection, even punishment was not to control how they feel or how they
act. They must have an inner joy that dominates their feelings. Even death
should not bring sorrow or grief. When Jairus was told that his daughter
had died, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue "Do not be afraid, just
believe..." (Luke 8:49) And later he told his disciples that they were
not to worry about whether they had enough to eat, or drink or clothes
to wear, because "life is more than food and the body, more than clothes.
(Luke 12:22) And this thought is central to the passage under consideration
It will seem like all hell has broken loose-sun, moon, stars, earth, sea, in an uproar and everyone all over the world in a panic, the wind knocked out of them by the threat of doom, the powers that be quaking.5
Even when all these things are happening, Jesus warns the disciples that they are to be careful so that their hearts are not weighed down. The option is theirs. They have the choice. They can either choose to be "weighed down" by the disasters going on around them or they can choose to stand faithful.
ADJUSTING OUR EXPECTATIONS
One of the chief sources for the "holiday blues" is the gulf between
our expectations for the holiday and its reality. We expect the dinners,
the gift giving, and the general merriment of the season to lift our spirits.
When that does not happen a general malaise sets in. What we fail to realize
is that happiness can never be found in material trappings of Christmas.
In his book entitled, How Much is Enough? The Consumer Society and the
Future of the Earth, Alan Durning notes that 23 centuries ago Aristotle
wrote that the avarice of humanity is insatiable. The famous Russian novelist,
Leo Tolstoy once echoed Aristotle's sentiments:
Lewis Lapham who made a fortune in the oil business during the 19th century, conducted an informal survey on how much money people would need to make them happy. Nearly everyone agreed that if they just earned twice their present salary they could be content. The man who made $15,000 a year was sure that his sorrow would vanish if he just made $30,000 and the man who made $1 million knew that he would be content if he only he made $2 million. "Nobody," Lampham concluded ever has enough."6
Until we are willing to cease from finding our satisfaction and fulfillment in the pleasures or this world, we will constantly be plagued by a general state of depression and anxiety.
GUARDING OUR TIME
Jesus told his disciples to be careful. Other translators record the words, "Be on your guard" whatever the translation the message that is conveyed is one of long endurance. Change does not happen quickly, or without effort. Just as an athlete requires long and demanding training sessions to prepare his or her body to run in the Olympic so also does the spiritual life. Eugene Peterson entitled his book on the Psalm, "A Long Obedience in the Same Direction." The title communicates the difficult and the demands of the spiritual life. The third step toward overcoming the holiday blues requires a disciplined and persistent spiritual life. Prayer, Bible study, fasting, meditation, and other spiritual disciplines must become more than activities we know we should be doing. They must be regular habits in our life.
I tend to be somewhat cautious in my approach to Christmas, not because I am a Scrooge, although I have been accused of having such an attitude. My hesitation is toward the time required for all the activities. School events, church pageants, family dinners, and holiday preparations have a way of consuming our time. It is difficult to find time to pray, to meditate, and to read the Scriptures. Yet, if those spiritual exercises are not part of our holiday celebration than we will become vulnerable to the holiday blues.
1 Jennifer Safer, "Holiday Blues," Online WebMD, November 22, 1999, Online: http://onhealth.webmd.com/lifestyle/in-depth/item/item%2C55887_1_1.asp.
2 Frank Minirth and Paul Meier, Happiness is a Choice, Second Edition, (Grand Rapids MI: Baker Book House, 1994), 21.
3 Minirth and Meier, 14.
4 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1965), 281.
5 Eugene Peterson, The Message, (Colorado Springs CO: NavPress, 1993), 172.
6 Alan Thein Durning, How Much is Enough? The Consumer Society and the Future of the Earth, (W. Norton & Company, 1992) quoted in New Renaissance magazine Vol.3, No.3 Online: http://www.ru.org/33dubiou.html.
7 Online: http://www.foodforthepoor.org/christmas/
8 Homiletics, "Hazardous Holidays", December 3, 2000, Online: http://www.homileticsonline.com/visitor_services/cvrstoryND00.htm.
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