The loneliest Christmas I ever spent was in my grandfathers’ cottage near Sakogu, northern Ghana. I was just 15, and my parents and siblings were a thousand kilometers away. In previous years, when I had been with them and my village friends, Christmas was always big and memorable. But this Christmas was quiet and lonely. As I lay on my floor mat early Christmas morning, I remembered a local song: The year has ended; Christmas has come; the Son of God is born; peace and joy to everybody. Mournfully, I sang it over and over.
My grandmother came and asked, “What song is that?” My grandparents didn’t know about Christmas—or about Christ. So I shared what I knew about Christmas with them. Those moments brightened my loneliness.
Alone in the fields with only sheep and occasional predators, the shepherd boy David experienced loneliness. It would not be the only time. Later in his life he wrote, “I am lonely and afflicted” (Psalm 25:16). But David did not allow loneliness to cause him to be despondent. Instead, he sang: “My hope,
From time to time we all face loneliness. Wherever Christmas may find you this year, in loneliness or in companionship, you can enjoy the season with Christ.
Well before the calendar flips to December, Christmas cheer begins to bubble up in our northern town. A medical office drapes its trees and shrubs in close-fitting strings of lights, each a different color, illuminating a breathtaking nighttime landscape. Another business decorates its building to look like an enormous, extravagantly wrapped Christmas present. It’s difficult to turn anywhere without seeing evidence of Christmas spirit—or at least seasonal marketing.
Some people love these lavish displays. Others take a more cynical view. But the crucial question isn’t how others observe Christmas. Rather, we each need to consider what the celebration means to us.
A little more than thirty years after His birth, Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13). They gave responses others had given: John the Baptist, Elijah, maybe another prophet. Then Jesus made it personal: “Who do you say that I am?” (v. 15). Peter replied, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (v. 16).
This year, many will celebrate Christmas without a thought about who the Baby really is. As we interact with them, we can help them consider these crucial questions: Is Christmas just a heartwarming story about a baby born in a stable? Or did our Creator truly visit His creation and become one of us?
Long before Joseph Mohr and Franz Gruber created the familiar carol “Silent Night,” Angelus Silesius had written:
Lo! in the silent night a child to God is born,
And all is brought again that ere was lost or lorn.
Could but thy soul, O man, become a silent night
God would be born in thee and set all things aright.
Silesius, a Polish monk, published the poem in 1657 in The Cherubic Pilgrim. During our church’s annual Christmas Eve service, the choir sang a beautiful rendition of the song titled “Could but Thy Soul Become a Silent Night.”
The twofold mystery of Christmas is that God became one of us so that we might become one with Him. Jesus suffered everything that was wrong so that we could be made right. That’s why the apostle Paul could write, “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone; the new is here! All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17–18).
Whether our Christmas is filled with family and friends or empty of all we long for, we know that Jesus came to be born in us.
Ah, would thy heart but be a manger for the birth,
God would once more become a child on earth.
Christmas 1982 found me on assignment in a place many of my friends couldn’t locate on a map. Trudging from my worksite back to my room, I braced against the chill wind blowing off the bleak Black Sea. I missed home.
When I arrived at my room, I opened the door to a magical moment. My artistic roommate had completed his latest project—a nineteen-inch ceramic Christmas tree that now illuminated our darkened room with sparkling dots of color. If only for a moment, I was home again!
As Jacob fled from his brother Esau, he found himself in a strange and lonely place too. Asleep on the hard ground, he met God in a dream. And God promised Jacob a home. “I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying,” He told him. “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring” (Gen. 28:13–14).
From Jacob, of course, would come the promised Messiah, the One who left His home to draw us to Himself. “I will come back and take you to be with me so that you also may be where I am,” Jesus told His disciples (John 14:3).
That December night in 1982 I sat in the darkness of my room and gazed at that Christmas tree. Perhaps inevitably I thought of the Light that entered the world to show us the way home.
A few years ago, a friend of mine lost track of her young son while walking through a swarm of people at Union Station in Chicago. Needless to say, it was a terrifying experience. Frantically, she yelled his name and ran back up the escalator, retracing her steps in an effort to find her little boy. The minutes of separation seemed like hours, until, suddenly—thankfully—her son emerged from the crowd and ran to the safety of her arms.
Thinking of my friend who would have done anything to find her child fills me with a renewed sense of gratitude for the amazing work God did to save us. From the time God’s first image bearers—Adam and Eve—wandered off in sin, He lamented the loss of fellowship with His people. He went to great lengths to restore the relationship by sending His one and only Son “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Without the birth of Jesus, and without His willingness to die to pay the price for our sin and to bring us to God, we would have nothing to celebrate at Christmastime.
So this Christmas, let’s be thankful that God took extreme measures by sending Jesus to reclaim our fellowship with Him. Although we once were lost, because of Jesus we have been found!
It’s not about the table, whether it’s square or round. It’s not about the chairs—plastic or wooden. It’s not about the food, although it helps if it has been cooked with love. A good meal is enjoyed when we turn off the TV and our cell phones and concentrate on those we’re with.
The people of Ukraine include many wonderful elements in their observance of Christmas. Sometimes wisps of hay are placed on the dinner table as a reminder of the Bethlehem manger. Another portion of their celebration echoes the events of the night when the Savior entered the world. A Christmas prayer is offered and then the father in the household offers the greeting, “Christ is born!” The family then responds, “Let us glorify Him!”
When I was growing up, one of the rules in our house was that we weren’t allowed to go to bed angry (Eph. 4:26). All our fights and disagreements had to be resolved. The companion to that rule was this bedtime ritual: Mom and Dad would say to my brother and me, “Good night. I love you.” And we would respond, “Good night. I love you too.”
We refer to Christmas as the season of giving. Most of us try hard to find gifts that friends and family will like, but not all gifts are equal. Some gifts come with a subtle hint, like an exercise machine or a book about weight loss. Other gifts are those that the giver really wants for himself. But the best gifts are those that come from someone who loves us and knows what we want.