Forget the jolly guy in the red suit and the sentimental pics of families peacefully picking out the perfect Christmas tree. Christmas has become a harsh taskmaster. This taskmaster begins to snap out orders with the crack of a whip just before Thanksgiving, when the “black Friday sales” start on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. He barks out commands about buying perfect gifts, finding the best tree, putting up the most extravagant display of lights (before the neighbors), baking the tastiest cookies for all to talk about, attending the parties, watching for sales, and paying Christmas bills. The list of demands goes on and the pressures increase. Stress overwhelms as we strive to meet each of the Christmas Taskmasters commands. Yes, Christmas has become a harsh taskmaster.
Obeying the harsh taskmaster of Christmas, I risked life and limb to fight through the gridlock of traffic, cut off by impatient drivers weaving in and out of traffic, to arrive at the mall in search of the demanded perfect gift. I walked through a crowd of people seemingly unaware of personal space and common courtesies bumping and pushing past me to be the first one to buy the “gift of the year.” Suddenly, steadying myself against the tide of crazed shoppers driven on by the taskmaster of Christmas, I caught a glimpse of a manger scene. Quietly, peacefully, Mary and Joseph gazed in adoration at the Baby Jesus, the Son of God. I stopped for a moment and realized they too knew the taskmaster of Christmas. They felt the pressure of living as an oppressed people under the harsh rule of a foreign power. They had traveled to Bethlehem in response to the political demands of the taskmaster. They have fought the frenzied crowds seemingly unaware of personal courtesies. The taskmaster would not even allow them a place to lay their head. Mary and Joseph knew the taskmaster’s accusation against an unwed yet pregnant teen. The taskmaster whip came down hard on Mary and Joseph as they searched Bethlehem for a place to rest. There is no rest for you, scolded the taskmaster.
Yet now I see Mary and Joseph looking on in worship at the Light of the world, the Creator of all, God Incarnate, Emmanuel. I love that name—Emmanuel. He is the God who was with Israel to deliver them from the harsh taskmaster of Egypt, the One who was with us to deliver us from slavery to the taskmaster of sin. He is the One with us to liberate from the taskmaster of the Law. He delivered and liberated us from the harsh taskmasters, so we have no need to fall under another. Perhaps Mary and Joseph have an important message for us. They were unfazed by the taskmaster’s whip. They simply looked to the Baby Jesus, the Incarnate God who has come to set them free once again. The Christmas taskmaster holds no power and rule over them or us. We do not need to worry and scheme for the perfect holiday experience or struggle and rush to meet the demands of Christmas giving. We simply need to rest in gratitude and amazement. We need only look in quiet trust at the perfect, generous gift God has already given to us, His Son. We do not need to succumb to any taskmaster. We can give ourselves to God and then to others in celebration. We are free! Free to love and wonder, rest and share, serve and bless. We are free to experience peaceful worship of the Christ Child rather than feel the pressure of the frenzied crowds of Bethlehem (or the mall traffic). We are free to celebrate the joyful adoration of seeing the Child in the manger rather than rushing to satisfy the taskmaster’s pomp and circumstance. We are free to love Christ, our Savior, and one another more deeply. Have a joyous and merry Christmas!