When God Gives You an Overcrowded Christmas

For many, the last few days before Christmas are rarely peaceful. This is especially true for parents and pastors. These days are packed with final (and often pressured) preparations of presents and programs and celebrations and sermons. “All is calm” is not our experience. This can leave us wondering if we are nothing more than Christmas “Martha’s,” “distracted with much serving . . . anxious and troubled about many things” and missing the “Mary” moment in all the merry (Luke 10:40–42).

While such distractions are, of course, a year-round ever-present danger, let me encourage you with some brief Christmas perspective on busy-ness.

Remember Joseph and Mary

First, we must keep in mind that the original Christmas was not peaceful, not for Joseph and Mary. They were the first parents who had to prepare for Christmas and the pressure they felt dwarfs what most of us are experiencing right now. Bethlehem was overcrowded with census registrants. Things did not go as they likely envisioned. Joseph was desperately searching for lodging for his wife who was in labor. All he could secure was a stable.

If an unforeseen crisis emerges in the midst of your already challenging Christmas labors, remember Joseph and Mary. That place of desperation is often where the grace of God breaks in with the greatest power.

Remember the Ministry-Weary Disciples

Second, certain seasons of ministry and serving are simply exhausting. The Bible is full of weary saints who serve in the midst of various kinds of pressures. One example is the time in Capernaum when the crowds trying to get to Jesus became so great and demanding that the disciples didn’t even have time to eat (Mark 3:20). Were they “distracted with much serving” at that moment? In a sense, yes — meaning they weren’t sitting at Jesus’s feet peacefully listening. Yet, at that moment, from what we can tell, they were doing exactly what they should have been doing: helping all those people hear Jesus.

That is what Christmas is for our children and our congregations (and all the visitors in our homes and churches during the season): a time to hear Jesus. If making that happen means extraordinary busyness for you, it is very likely that you are doing exactly what you should be doing.

Get Away to a Lonely Place Later

There seems to have been a rhythm in Jesus’s ministry of very hard work followed by seasons of respite in “lonely” or “desolate” places (Luke 5:16; Mark 6:31). This is necessary for all of us. If your Christmas is an extraordinarily busy time of family and church ministry, then it is wise to plan a time, in January if possible, to get away from the chaos and listen to Jesus in his Word and to pray (here are some helpful pointers on how to do that). Find a lonely place where you have time to eat the Bread of life and be refreshed for the next exhausting push.

A busy, high pressure Christmas does not de facto mean you’re a Christmas “Martha.” You may be a desperate Joseph or Mary in an overcrowded Bethlehem or you may be a tired disciple in an overcrowded Capernaum. If that’s your call, work hard and serve well. Make the aim of your serving the progress and joy of the faith of others (Philippians 1:25) and aim to serve in the strength that God supplies (1 Peter 4:11). Then afterwards, withdraw with Jesus to a lonely place and be refreshed by him.

If your Christmas isn’t tranquil because you’re trying hard to make room in the world for Jesus to become “good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10) for others, you are in very good company. May God bless you.