During the first years of our marriage, Jennifer and I lived in Evansville and both of our families lived here in Indianapolis. Now, this is not the time to explain the complexity of our families back then; I’ll just say things here in Indy were complicated… and our living 4 hours away was a healthy distance for us… it kept us out of the day-to-day in our wider families. But from about mid-November until New Year’s Day, our family-related tensions elevated considerably. We were expected to come home twice during the holidays and each trip was a time of intense, ‘expectations navigation!’ First, Thanksgiving… let’s just say, one year I recall sitting down to 4 full, traditional Thanksgiving dinners on the same day… and then came the big one: Christmas! Where would we stay? Where would we spend Christmas morning? Whose church, or rather, how many churches would we attend on Christmas Eve? And all this tension multiplied tremendously once we had children! Plus, there were completely different expectations in the various family settings when it came to gift giving and food preparation and such. I remember years when we had to have gifts for around 20 people. We were young and just getting started in life and we couldn’t afford to be extravagant, but even when we tried to keep spending to a minimum, holiday guilt would often push us into spending more than we should have. Also, during the second year of our marriage our bank ‘awarded’ us our first Americard… the forerunner to Visa. And while using that card made December buying seem easier, it also introduced us to the terrible ‘January surprise.’ You know, the day December’s credit card bill shows up. Christmas wasn’t just a few days of stress… it was weeks of stress and we longed for some calm in the chaos. And I am certain that our experience wasn’t and still isn’t unusual. In fact, I know it isn’t unusual. I’ve done hundreds of weddings and the one premarital counseling question that most often gets tears from a soon-to-be bride is, ‘Have you two talked through how you are going to navigate the holidays once you are married?’ And stress related to the holiday season isn’t just a newly married couple’s issue; it’s everywhere… for people of all ages… in all sorts of times of life. Now, you’re probably wondering why I am talking about this at all here at the beginning of November. Well, as wonderful as the all-too-soon-coming holiday season can be, we know that for many it can also be one of the most stressful and painful times of the year. The holiday season, which is meant to be a time of joy and celebration, can overwhelm us, sadden us, and even be a time of great isolation. And so, because of this, we wanted to spend November preparing our hearts and searching scripture for guidance on how to go through this holiday season not floundering but flourishing with the presence of Jesus and the hope and rest he provides. We believe that by talking about these things now we can be better prepared for the upcoming season. Our thought is that if we talk about these things now, maybe the season ahead won’t catch us off guard and overwhelm us. So, this month we are hoping to turn to scripture to help us all create, as our series is called, some Calm in the Chaos.
But before we jump into today’s topic and passage, I want to give you a quick overview of the series: Next Week we’ll be talking about the unrealistic cultural expectations that come with the American celebration of the holidays, expectations that can leave us stretched thin, exhausted, and anxious. In Week 3 we’ll be talking about the grief that often accompanies the holiday season, grief from the loss of those we’ve loved, pain from holidays past, and the isolation that can come from grieving while others around us are celebrating. And finally, in Week 4 we will address Broken Families; we’ll be talking about both the anticipation and, in some cases, the dread of family gatherings.
This week we are focusing on the financial stress that can come with the holidays. I know that one of the most common stressors during the holidays is money. I’ve already talked a bit about my own experience with this. Truth is, the holidays often include travel and gifts and parties and meals… and it is so easy to let our end-of-year, holiday expenses lead us into debt and as we all know, with debt can come significant stress... financial and otherwise! And financial stress is a known to contribute significantly to anxiety, depression, and relational strife... And so, because of all of this, we felt it was important to take some time to remember Jesus’ teachings about money, about God’s provision and where we should put our trust. We firmly believe that Jesus words can help us think differently about our financial priorities and can lead to experiencing calm in the chaos and stress of not only the holiday season, but any season.
And there is one passage that comes right out of Jesus’ most famous sermon, his Sermon on the Mount, that gets right to Jesus’ thinking about money and God’s provision, and you can find this sermon in the 6th Chapter of Matthew, verses 24-34. Page ??? . (Say hello to those online). Let’s read this passage. 24 “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money. 25 “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? 27 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? 28 “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, 29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 30 And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? 31 “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek the Kingdom of God[a] above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. 34 “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Now, you may be wondering what this passage has to do with the stress of the Christmas season… and I get that. Honestly, this passage says absolutely nothing about the specific stresses of the holiday season… but Jesus is talking about two things that directly relate to how we approach the holiday season: first, where do we place our trust for what we need in life, and second, where do expend our energies. Now, Jesus has given us enough to think about in these verses for an entire series, but for today’s purposes I only want to talk about 3 things that jumped out at me when I read these verses. The first is what Jesus says in verse 24: “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money. Slavery in Jesus’ day was a very different system than our horrific American experience with slavery. In fact, 1/3 of the people in the Roman world were slaves, people who had masters (I’ve put some information about all of this on the app) And the people that first heard Jesus say these words would have understood immediately why trying to equally serve two masters would have been an impossibility. The way the NLT translates this last phrase, ‘You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money,’ is right on point. One interesting thought, though. The Greek word translated ‘money’ here is the word ma-mo-neh () and it has moved into English as the word Mammon; mammon is a word that generally means money that is gained though greed and has become an object of devotion and worship. But the primary meaning for this Greek word in the first century was quite different. It meant something like this: ‘Something a person trusts will give them all they need in life!’ It’s easy to see why this word became a dark way to speak of money as an object of worship: so many people have put their trust in money to give them all they need in life and so many do worship money. And we all know that Jesus was right on the money when he said it is impossible to put your trust for your future in God’s hands and at the same time put your trust for your future in the accumulation of money. I love the way the great Greek scholar Kenneth Wuest translated this verse, ‘You are not able to render a servant’s obedience to God and be a servant to a passion for accumulating wealth.’ Jesus is calling us to place our trust in the one who created us and loves us and wants what is best for us… This is where we need to start as we think about our financial priorities: who… or what… are we really trusting to give us all we need in life? The answer to this question will make a difference in just about everything.
The second thing that jumped out at me in this passage is the number of times Jesus says, ‘Don’t Worry!’ He uses the same Greek phrase, meh mer-im-na-o (4 times from verse 25 to verse 34… and this kind of repetition is unusual… and important! Meh Merimnao means: ‘Don’t be anxious;’ ‘Don’t you worry;’ and maybe best: ‘Don’t even think about it!’ And 4 times in this small passage Jesus says, ‘Don’t you worry, don’t even think about everyday life… don’t you worry, don’t even think about your clothing… don’t you worry, don’t even think about what you’ll eat or drink… don’t you worry, don’t even think about tomorrow.’ Now, I know that it’s easy for us to think, ‘Well, that’s easy for you to say, Jesus. You didn’t have a 9-5 job with a mortgage and 3 kids.’ But Jesus’ point isn’t that we shouldn’t take care of what we need to take care of… he isn’t suggesting that we get lazy or simply expect abundance… no, what this is about, again, is putting our ultimate trust in God’s care… this is about making certain that our priorities, and in particular our financial priorities, reflect our trust in Him. The truth is He cares so much for you that you shouldn’t even think about it!
The third thing that jumps out at me in this passage is found in verse 33. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. The way this verse ends in the Greek is with the word pros-teeth-amee (. The NLT has translated it ‘everything you need.’ This is okay, but the idea in the Greek is more nuanced and, I feel, more profound. I’m sure some of you have heard the end of this verse translated, ‘and all these things shall be added unto you.’ Well, the word pros-teeth-amee means ‘to add more on to something that’s already been given to you.’ Here was Jesus’ point; ‘God has already been giving you what you need to eat and drink and wear and such… so, you put your emphasis on seeking God’s Kingdom and living a truly righteous life and you can count on God to continue to add on to what he has already been regularly giving you.’ And again, this is all about who we are going to trust to continue to give us all we need for life! I know this can sound like a rhetorical question, ‘Who are you going to trust?’ But I don’t mean it to be. I honestly want us all to think about who or what we trust to bring us calm in the chaos… both in the day-to-day moments of life, but especially now when we are talking about the chaos that can come with Christmas. I know that it took a great deal of work for Jennifer and me to come to a point where we could, first of all, think differently about our financial priorities broadly, and then move those priorities into our thinking about the Christmas season. And I’m not saying we’ve completely overcome all the stresses of the season, but just regularly recognizing what our needs really are and who it is who is ultimately meeting those needs and has promised to continue to meet our needs, has brought a calm. We now have somewhere, or should I say someone, to turn to together when things start to get overwhelming… we now live in the reality that we are being watched over by a trustworthy, heavenly father… and in the stress we have found a peace that truly exceeds anything that we can understand. Bottom line, you don’t have to give in to or be overwhelmed by the ‘Christmas frenzy.’ Holidays don’t have to be stressful and filled with drama, especially financial drama. But finding calm in the chaos starts with honestly committing in our heart-of-hearts to only love and serve one master: and that master would be Jesus.
I honestly believe that Christmas 2021 could be the perfect time for a holiday season reset… so, here are some practical suggestions for resetting things… especially financial things: First, create a budget for the holidays… a realistic budget that allows the holidays to be special, but doesn’t push you into unnecessary debt. Budgeting specifically for the season can help reduce stress because it gives you a plan and creates boundaries for your spending. Remember, the only things we can really control in life are our own thoughts and actions—and one of the actions we can control is our spending. If you stick to your Christmas budget, you’ll avoid impulse purchases and you’ll just feel freer financially… I promise. I know this can sound very scrooge-like, but sensible budgeting and sticking to it can actually open the door to freedom from stress and also, to having enough to bless others who are truly needy. So, make a budget… and make this budget soon… as in right away… and stick to it. I promise, you’ll be glad you did.
Secondly, talk to your family, and only you can decide how widely you should cast this family net, but talk to your family about working together first, to set realistic expectations for the season and then secondly, about working together as a family to help other people who can really use your help. Can I just remind us all that finding ways to help others is literally seeking God’s kingdom? It is truly the righteousness of God. And there are so many opportunities, even here at Grace, to be a part of God’s work in this way. What I’ve found is that often the other members of the family are longing for someone to take the lead in this way. They, too, are struggling with stress and the overwhelming expectations for the holidays and they’re thankful when someone has the gumption to say something about lowering the holiday expectation heat and together doing something that helps others in greater need. And one other thing. It may be too late this year to have this kind of conversation but do it next year for sure and do it in July or August when everyone is more rational about what needs to happen come Christmas time.
Thirdly, spend some time over the next weeks thinking about how God has continually ‘added unto you.’ I know that there are those here who have been through or are going through tough times right now, tough times related to the very things that Jesus said God will provide. I don’t want to minimize those things at all, and we are here to help if that is where you find yourself now. But... for many of us, God has been ‘adding unto us’ and, at least for me, I want this to be a Christmas season where I am thankful, truly thankful for all the care God has so wonderfully shown towards Jennifer and me. For me, the best way to do this is by making a list… and it might be a good idea to join me. My bet is that if you start listing God’s goodness now, here on November 7th, by the time November 25th rolls around you’ll have quite a list for Thanksgiving Day… a list that should go a long way to keeping you, to quote Jesus, ‘From worrying about the things that tend to dominate our thoughts.’
Now, I can’t promise an absolutely stress-free Christmas. There will still be holiday traffic; there will still be passive/ aggressive family members; there will still be the uncle who won’t leave the politics at home; Aunt Joan will still be Aunt Joan. But if you can enter into the holidays with a confidence that your financial priorities are focused on the things of God’s kingdom and that your heart’s desire is to live into the righteousness of Jesus, then I guarantee you will have a space of peace in your heart that will help you overcome whatever it is that others may do… you will be able to find a calm in the midst of the chaos… you will be able to rest knowing that as the troubles of each day come, God will take care of you and all of these things, all you truly need, will be added unto you.