Summary: To gain peace in stressful times, we need, like the shepherds of Bethlehem, to be ready and open to God’s doing new things; to set out promptly to respond to God’s action; and to go back into our normal course of life, but with a difference.

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These are stressful days. There is too much going on. Too much. Too much work, too much to think about, too many demands, too much.

Why, we have to shop and bake and decorate and plan parties and send cards and on and on. Too much. Stressful.

Too much traveling. I heard an astonishing statistic this week. I heard that 61 million Americans will be in the air, on the rails, or on the highways, traveling for Christmas. Hey, if there are that many going to see others, will the others be there when they arrive? Too much traveling, too much stress.

And then there’s church. The church wants extra choir rehearsals, the church sends out an appeal for debt retirement funds, the church has extra worship services, even church is stress. Too much. Let me out of here. We just can’t handle it all.

Stress and struggle. Yesterday we held a funeral here. And as the funeral procession made its way out to the cemetery, drivers were cutting in on us, drivers were trying to scoot out of side streets to get ahead of us, drivers were racing around us. Stress and struggle, hurry and worry. The funeral director complained about those drivers and their impatience. But then, I want you to know, that on the way back to the church, she got stuck in heavy traffic, and her patience ran out! It’s a stressful time when even the chilled-out mortician loses it!

On top of all of that – on top of the hurry and scurry, too much to do and too little time to do it, too little money to pay for it – on top of all of that, there is something else that stresses us. These special holiday seasons bring back hurts and pains we thought we had left behind. These seasons open up old wounds, and the losses and the defeats of the past crowd into our memories. It’s not easy to feel peace when you remember what you have lost or think about the mistakes you cannot correct.

Just a few days ago a family member of a family member – in other words, someone not related to Margaret or me, but related to Margaret’s sister-in-law – a young man, only sixteen years old, took his own life. No one knows why, but we do know lots of folks hurt because of this, and among them Margaret’s niece and nephew, cousins of this young man. So our son, Bryan, who is also their cousin, but of course on their father’s side, who never even knew the young man in question – our son decided that he would go and invest some time with these two teenagers. And when he told us why he wanted to do that, it came as a revelation to us. Bryan said, “You know, it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve enjoyed Christmas again. Grandpa Rust (that’s Margaret’s father) died at Christmas in 1991, and Grandma Smith (that’s my mother) died at Christmas in 1992, and for several years I just dreaded Christmas.” I say that came as a revelation, because it wasn’t obvious to us that he was feeling that, but he was. It took a while to get past those wounds. It’s not easy to feel peace at this time of the year when you remember what you have lost or those mistakes you cannot correct.

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