Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3).
Years ago, the collapse of my first marriage acquainted me with the pain of Christmas alone. Lonely and estranged, I looked around at the apparently happy families and felt like I didn’t belong at the party. I grieved dreams dashed and time with my son. It seemed a celebration for others, a carnival for those who had it all together. Which did not include me, I thought.
The pain of Christmas alone comes after other losses, too – deaths of dear ones, unemployment, and dislocation to name a significant few. Someone is missing from the picture in this sacred time. Often the worst pain comes when the missing person is you.
Who are you without those with whom you belonged just last Christmas or many Christmases before? Who are you without the lost mark of success, wholeness, and hope? Little wonder you exit before the group picture. Loss strips so much away that you arrive ashamed if you arrive at all.
But strange as it may sound at first, Christmas alone offers a more intimate opportunity to celebrate the occasion. Remember whom we celebrate: A human baby, the most vulnerable and dependent kind in the animal kingdom, born among the animals in their quarters, not a hotel or hospital room. And this most dependent One happened to embody the divine. Still does.
That baby took Mary’s milk and the softness of moldy straw as gladly as he took frankincense and myrrh, probably more so. The Son took what came. The naked infant reached out his arms for comfort and his cry blended with goats’ bleating.
You are not a baby, of course, and nobody remembers infancy. But when that child grew up, you could swear he remembered when he opened his great sermon, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” blessed are the ones who know their vulnerability and reach out for comfort and accept what comes as the most precious gift. Knowing how easily we forget that simple gratitude in our adult striving to belong and be somebody, he reminded his followers later, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).
Christmas alone hurts. Honor that pain. Don’t sugarcoat it with sentimental chants of thanksgiving. But God gave you a soul large enough to hold both suffering and joy. Even as it hurts, Christmas alone taught me to receive gratefully whatever comes, however simple or mundane.
When you receive with wonder starlight through steamy breath on a cold, silent night, your heart opens and you enter each simple moment with the childlike expectancy of faith. And as you do, angels and wise men and scruffy, wide-eyed shepherds will amaze you with their coming in subtle forms and ways bearing gifts to honor you, God’s beloved.
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Loneliness Discovers Christmas Hope
My Loneliest Birthday Became a Blessed Christmas Eve
Beyond Happiness: Moving Through Grief to Christmas Joy
Christmas: When God Meets Us Where We Are