Walking through the nursing home years ago, still a fresh and green pastor, on my way to visit a parishioner in rehab. I never spent a lot of time in nursing homes before this, hospitals yes, but never nursing homes. I didn’t know, I didn’t realize how many grandmas and grandpas, honored veterans and someone’s old friend would be there, sitting in their wheelchairs, in a group but alone. I thought they must have family and friends come to see them and spend time with them. As I walked down the hallway one of these honored veterans smiled at me. I stopped and said hello, we talked for a few minutes, he wondered why I was Lutheran not Catholic even though I was wearing a priest’s collar. We said good-bye and walked down the hall. One of the staff must have seen us talking because she stopped me and said; “he really needed that.” Said he had family and grandkids but they never came by to visit. He was lonely and alone. It was a few days before Christmas. I wish I had spent more time.
It’s not good to be alone during Christmas.
There are so many people that are so alone in a world where we are more connected than ever before. This being alone comes in so many forms. It is alone because the people have all moved away or moved on. Alone because of neglect and carelessness in the life of the people who are meant to care for and to be cared for. Alone because of choices made, hurt caused, and resentments never let go, because people were pushed away. Sometimes people are alone because they got forgotten by others; often people are alone because they create that situation themselves.
Think back to all of the Bible stories you have heard, think about what it meant to be alone:
-The first Adam and God saying it is not good to be alone.
-The man and woman in the garden together but alone because of their choices that pointed accusing fingers, blaming each other for their actions.
-The people of Israel alone, apart from the presence of God wandering in the wilderness.
-Joseph feeling isolated and cut off wanting to divorce Mary because she was pregnant
-Jesus alone in the wilderness being tempted by the devil.
-Jesus on the cross suffering the consequences of our sin, crying “my God why have you forsaken me?”
-Hell itself a place of being alone, apart from the love of God. The ultimate place of isolation.
Now think of the stories of the joy of being together especially in God’s presence:
-Adam’s joy at knowing his wife Eve, I’m not alone!
-The people of Israel, you are not abandoned but the joy of God bringing them into the promised land.
-Joseph and Mary in the stable together holding their little bundle of joy.
-The Angels together singing with joy because Immanuel, God is With His People.
-The shepherds going together with joy to see this wonderful thing that has happened.
-The church always described as a family, a body, a community, experiencing joy together in their partnership in ministry.
-Heaven itself, a city, a community of joy from every tribe, nation, culture, language, race.
-God himself, the three in one, the mystery of a community of joy but only one God.
It’s never about numbers or quantity of people, we all know you can be alone in a crowd. But it’s about being brought into the presence of God, God dwelling in your midst, Immanuel God with you. Because we are in the presence of God, dwelling together with those who are also in the presence of God. God first then us together experiencing the joy of knowing and being known in the love of God then knowing and being known in loving relationships with each other. That is why communities of Christian faith can be so very special because they have joy together that can only come from being in the presence of God. When these communities of joy come together it’s like the reality that we will be living in the presence of God eternally breaks through into our world of isolation and loneliness and gives to us a place we can go to get a taste of that eternal joy together.
It’s not good to be alone during Christmas that is why Christmas came to us in the grace of God so we don’t have to be alone in this world. God has provided places to go to experience joy together in His presence, but it is sin that keeps us from these places and from God. Sometimes it is our own sin that drives us away and pushes people away, sometimes it is sin in the community of faith that pushes others away. But when you are a part of that community that knows joy together because of Jesus we are given a responsibility. We cannot control how people will live but we can do everything we can to build relationships, to call upon others, to send them cards, to invite them in, to sit with them and spend time with them, everything in our power that opens doors for the Spirit to work in them so they can experience joy together.
Right now is especially the right time for those who know already joy together to reach out to those who don’t, not only because the doors are a little more open during the holiday season and people are a little more receptive but because this is the time of greater need and deeper isolation, when those moments of joy together are needed so desperately. To do this, especially with those who cannot for themselves, like the honored veteran in the nursing home I met all of those years ago, that I wish I had given more time during Christmas. Amen