Christmas for the isolated.
“O Lord, thou hast searched me out, and known me” (Psalm 139:1)
There are times in our lives when we become strangers – not only to those who don’t know us, but to those who do, and even to ourselves. The word “isolation” comes from the word “island”. In those times, we feel cut off from the familiar, or no longer able to understand it, or relate to it in the same way. Christmas, especially family Christmas, when we’re exploring or coming to terms with our sexuality, or have a relationship we’re not ready to share with the world, is isolating in that way. We’re an island, floating restlessly within a sea of the totally familiar. Or we may not be there at all. We may not be welcome. Or perhaps that girlfriend or boyfriend isn’t. So we isolate ourselves. We have a truth to tell, and telling the truth is right – and yet we can’t. Not yet. Or we tell it, and find that they’ll welcome us with open arms – but not the person we have started to find love within. We start to doubt whether those who have always said they loved us, really would, if they knew us. That feels bad – it’s depressing, can make us angry, guilty, bitter, or just sad. And they’re all feelings that isolate us even more. Christmas is not “glad tidings” for everyone. And for anyone who just needs to be listened to – forget it, this is the shouting season, and don’t you dare rain on their parade.
But isn’t the Gospel meant to be Good News? Shouldn’t we be joyful of God that “thou hast searched me out and known me”? That God looks at us, made in God’s own image and likeness, and declared us “very good”? And yet we can’t say so. Not about all of ourselves, all of our truth. And maybe that is because the time isn’t yet right. It took “the babe of Bethlehem” thirty years to find the right time. And he left home to do it.
Many of us face Christmas alone, whether physically and actually on our own, or apart from those we’d rather be with, or with them, and not yet able really to be ourselves. There is so much expectation that the season itself will be full of sweetness and light, and the stranger, even the stranger within, will be welcomed. But the story tells us there was no welcome at the inn, and the greatest mystery of the Christian faith began in isolation. Sometimes isolation insulates us from those who would, unwittingly, harm us.
Mary and Joseph (let’s take the story at face value) took the welcome they were offered. It was enough. It got them through. Imagine both of them. She, the bearer of another man’s child, far away from her own family. He, on a pilgrimage he never sought. Maybe being amongst strangers for a while helped them to be themselves, to do the thing they had to do, to become the people they had to be. There’s no evidence they told a soul. But God knew.
Whatever our circumstances, whether we go or we stay or we hide away, we go with God’s love, the God who searched us out and knows us. “And they shall call his name Immanuel – God With Us”. Isolated, insulated, but never, ever, alone.