I want to talk about a single verse in the Christmas story, about really just one single, very powerful little word in that verse. It was actually a promise made by the prophet Isaiah a long time earlier when he said, "The young woman will be with child..." That's Jesus. "...and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, "which means God with us.
The little word I want to talk about is the word with. Not God above us or even God all around us but God with us. The reason it's so powerful is from when we're really little. We all know that part of being alive means being alone. Nobody wants to admit being lonely, but nobody wants to be that kid in the school cafeteria who is eating all by himself. There was a movie called Forrest Gump. Forrest gets on the school bus, and nobody wants to let Forrest sit by him. Everybody says, this seat is taken. You feel the pain of his being alone until a little girl named Jenny says, You can sit next to me. Then, he's not alone anymore. Then, he's with, and Jenny is like an angel to him.
Christmas is all about being with: being with friends, being with family, going to holiday parties, sending out what used to be Christmas cards but are now Facebook posts of amazing holiday experiences that will make other people feel as lonely as you feel when you look at their amazing holiday posts.
Yet, for a lot of people who have gone through a loss or a breakup or an illness or depression or who can't have any children are who are looking for a relationship or, maybe for some reason they don't even know, Christmas is often the loneliest time of the year. Maybe it is for you. Sometimes we think our loneliness is something another person could take away from us, and, if we're still lonely at Christmas, it just means we have not found the right person to be with yet. A theologian by the name of Elvis Presley put it like this: "I'll have a blue Christmas without you," but there is a kind of aloneness that is so deep no other mere human being can ever take it away.
Now, the story of Christmas is a claim that things are not that way, that you were made by God and God actually hates loneliness. God says, "It's not good for people to be alone." God doesn't want anybody sitting at the table by themselves in the cafeteria. In fact, the central theme of the Bible is God's desire to be with people. God says, "I will be with you”, time and time again. It's almost like all of that is not enough to satisfy God, so finally he says, I know what I'm going to do. I'm going to go down there and be with those people myself. That's Jesus. That's Christmas, when the biggest miracle of all is also the smallest. God causes all of his person, all of his presence, all of his majesty, and all of his power to be condensed and to be compacted into one fragile, frail, little human body. Because Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, that word, with, really becomes Jesus' signature word if you know much about him.
It turns out that our loneliness is kind of a clue about who we are. Just like the fact that we hunger indicates that we were made to eat and the fact that we thirst indicates that we were made to drink, our loneliness tells us we were made for God and to be with God.
There is an old Beatles song called "Eleanor Rigby." It asks this haunting question: "All the lonely people, where do they all come from?" The answer is, "They are people who live apart from this God and apart from his love."
The apostle Paul describes it like this. There are people without hope and without God in the world, and the good news of Christmas is you don't have to go through life that way. You can ask Jesus to be with you on this Christmas. What a great time to do it! You can ask him to forgive you of the wrongdoing, the stuff you're embarrassed about, the sin, the flaws that make us all hide from each other and make us isolated and make us feel so lonely, and give you a fresh start with his forgiveness.
Maybe you're already a Christian and you've known God for a while, but he has felt far away for some time. You can begin all over again with him right now and make space for him in your everyday life. Jesus says, "For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them."
That's an amazing promise. He actually has a plan for loneliness, and his plan is that those of us who follow him would create a community that is really kind of a family that would embrace anybody who needs to be loved, because God hates it when anybody sits alone at the cafeteria table.
For God so loved the world!