The life of faith sometimes seems a little backwards-a paradox of sorts. I know what it is to be alone. This year, I am living as an orphan. I am celebrating Christmas as an orphan, and I have barely gotten used to celebrating as a single-parent. I have never known what it is like to live without anyone-parents, husband, or other family-close enough to help get Christmas boxes out of the attic. I have only recently discovered the dilemma of being unable to just run to the store to pick up items for a sick kid. There are days that I realize I have forgotten what it is like to have someone with whom to share the load around the house. And I now know what it is to have something funny, or troublesome to share, but feel at a loss to know who to share it with. Oh it's not like I am totally isolated. There are many who are more alone than I, but I have had enough of a taste of what it is to be cut off from others that I could well imagine the desperation of that.
Oddly enough, this taste of alone gives me a new and unique understanding of belonging and a new gratitude of what Christmas means. Immanuel means God with us. Imagine! God came to be with us! In reality, what I see in day-to-day challenges as aloneness is something with which we all wrestle. Many people walk around with an illusion of connections-family, friends, spouses-yet feeling totally alone like captives in their own invisible prison. They feel unconnected, unloved, hopeless, even desperate. They try to ease this isolation by staying busy, accumulating things, amassing power or recognition. From the beginning, in His place of perfect community with the godhead, God saw that isolation and it disturbed Him. So He sent Immanuel and an eternal connection to Himself. Now we have the promise from Jesus that he "will never leave us or forsake us." Death cannot separate us from Him, nor can abandonment. Even our own sin only creates the sensation in those of us who believe in Him that we are separated. But He never leaves, He is just behind us, waiting for us to turn around.
One of my favorite additional benefits of having a Savior from the lonliness brought into this world by sin is that He not only comes to relieve our aloneness, but "he sets the lonely in families." As we are connected to Him, He becomes our connection to each other. Although I sometimes create in my mind walls that make me feel more alone, I know there are people around me that I can call to come help me pull Christmas boxes down. There are dear ones I can call at 1 a.m. to come stay with my kids so I can make a Walmart run to get emergency supplies for a sick kid. I might at times feel I am running into walls as the lives of these dear ones seem to spin to quickly for me to connect, but I know it takes little more than a desperate cry out to them, and they will stop to listen to me. And that is because of HIM! I don't have that kind of security with my neighbor, or even with some family members. But oh, how I trust in the physical extension of Christ's body, the church.
This is the paradox. I am alone, but not alone. I know lonliness, but know a connection like no other on which I can count. This year I will not have a new computer under the Christmas tree, no jewlery, or new outfits, or anything from a list I prepared. But I am grateful for more enduring gifts that will never end up in a garage sale. In a new place this year, I will have the gift of Immanuel. Once more, HE is the gift. And I have the gift of knowing more intimately what it means that Immanuel showed us that God is with us-FOREVER.