From The Rev. Dr. Ronald Shellhamer, provided by United Churches of Lycoming County. 

Recently, a member of one of the congregations I serve as Supply Pastor communicated with me. The person commented: “The holidays have begun to stress me out!” Although my approach to this person was one of being a good listener, I could also identify with the words, having felt this myself in the past. I could relate to the many challenges, pressures and stresses which confound and confront us each day.

Faith requires us to take a close look at the self during these “stressful” times. These times are matters of faith. They seek from us a thorough self-assessment of who we are (as children of God), where we are going (as people of God), and what it means to be filled with purpose and renewed hope that God is for us, never against us.

As this piece goes to print, Judaism is nearing the end of Hanukkah, a time of celebration when God is seen as the One who first provided temple light to the people of Israel during a time of war and turmoil in the Holy Land. During Hanukkah, people of God respond with gratefulness for God’s presence, which seeks to guide and protect. The prophet Isaiah encourages us to take that necessary step forward to embrace this warmth when he writes: …those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength (40:31). Patiently, arriving each day with the understanding that the Lord is by our side can help reduce the stress of every holiday season. Yet, we must take the initiative, putting forth an effort to embrace this Grace. During Hanukkah, Judaism considers this initiative an important matter of faith. We are encouraged to stay calm and be focused. This can offer the person of faith a deeper understanding that God is in control of the present and future.

In Islam, a noted Muslim theologian instills this same concept of encouragement saying: “God says you may have someone in your mind, someone in your heart, someone in your dreams, yet, I am that someone when you feel you have no one.” On December 8, the very day this reflection is printed, Muslims enter the final (twelfth) month of the Islamic calendar as they make preparations to embrace a new year of spiritual growth.

Christians observe our own understanding of what it means to make preparations, as we enter the Season of Advent. Advent encourages us to recall the events of Jesus’ birth, reminding us that the One who is the very nature of God will come again later this month. He is the same One who comes each day, seeking to be a part of life, bringing comfort, relief, rest and renewal.We also believe that Jesus is the same One who will come at the end of time, to reconcile all things to His final, eternal care: “Come to me …I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

The challenges of the present season and current age are demanding, producing stress and burdening the human soul. Yet, God is always near, as the major religions of the world attest. As you and I step into the future, which at times is filled with uncertainty and unpredictability, may we be inspired to stay the course of faith and to embrace God’s goodness, which seeks not to guarantee a life free of problems and situational circumstances. Rather, the sacred promise is to be with us and to see us through them.

-Dr. Ron is an ordained minister in The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, presently, serving both Lutheran and Presbyterian Congregations.

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