In the movie Home Alone, Kevin wakes up to find that his entire family has gone off on their Christmas Vacation and has left him behind. In all the chaos and confusion of trying to get their large family out of the house, no one notices that Kevin is not with them, so he wakes up in the morning and realizes he is home alone. If you have seen the movie, you know that Kevin experiences some of the joy a 10 year old boy faces when he is left home by himself, but the movie also shows some of the sadness and fear he faces as he encounters dangerous and uncertain situations. For many of us, one of the things we fear most is finding ourselves home alone. The fear of being alone to face the challenges of life is scary whether we are 10 or 70 but the good news of the Christmas story is that God never leaves us home alone. Jesus came to be Emmanuel, which means God with us but as we read through the Christmas story we also see that God provides people to walk with us during the joys and challenges of life.
The last two weeks we heard the story of the angel appearing to both Mary and Joseph with the news that Mary was going to have a child who was going to be the son of God. For each of them, this presented some incredible challenges. Mary had to explain to Joseph and her family what was taking place and pray that they believed her story about the angel, and once Joseph got confirmation that Mary’s story was true, he still faced the challenge of being the husband to Mary and the father to a child that wasn’t his and was in fact, the son of God. So both Mary and Joseph are facing huge challenges here and while they were assured that God was with them, I’m also sure that each of them experienced a deep sense of loneliness, after all, this kind of news isn’t something that is easily shared with family and friends. And it’s not the kind of thing that many people can relate to and understand, so in many ways Mary and Joseph were alone, but as we keep reading the Christmas story, we find that God provides people to encourage and walk with them during this difficult time in their lives.
Let’s look at Luke 1:39-49, 56.
So as soon as Mary heard the news that she was going to be pregnant with the son of God, it says she went with haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Now there was a reason Mary chose to visit this particular cousin. Of all the women Mary must have known, Elizabeth would be the only one to understand her situation because Elizabeth herself was pregnant under some very unique circumstances. Elizabeth was an older woman who had never had children and everyone, including her, assumed that she would never have children and yet both she and her husband Zechariah longed for a child. Children were seen as a blessing from God and they both longed for and prayed for that blessing.
When the news came to Zechariah that he and his wife would have a son who would grow up to be a prophet, he was skeptical because they were both so old – but in time Elizabeth became pregnant, and people would have seen this as a miracle. (Just an aside here, their child did become a prophet, the man he grew up to be we know as John the Baptist, and John was the one who called people to repent of their sins and prepare themselves for the coming of the Messiah.) So when Mary finds herself miraculously pregnant, there is only one woman who would be sure to understand her situation and that one woman just happened to be her cousin Elizabeth. Think about it, God could have chosen any woman to be the mother of John the Baptist, but he chose Elizabeth because she was related to Mary so that when Mary got the news of her pregnancy she would not be alone. God provided a mentor for Mary. God provided support and encouragement for Mary. God didn’t leave her home alone.
So Mary traveled the 80+ miles to Ein Karem, the village where Elizabeth lived so that neither woman would be alone. Elizabeth needed help as an older woman about to give birth to her first child, and Mary needed reassurance. Mary needed a mentor and friend; she needed someone who would understand her situation. Now last year when we studied the journey of Mary and Joseph we learned that Ein Karem, the village where Elizabeth and Zechariah lived, was just a few miles from Bethlehem, where many people believe that Joseph lived. So it actually could have been that Joseph heard the news about Mary being pregnant at Ein Karem, which would mean that when he heard the news he also was not alone. Zechariah and Elizabeth would have been there for Joseph as well.
It must have been an encouragement for Joseph to see another couple dealing with the miracle of an unexpected pregnancy. Remember, there is only one thing Joseph knows for sure and that is that the baby Mary carries is not his. He is taking it on faith and trusting the words of the angel that the child is God’s, so it must have been an encouragement for Joseph to see another miraculous pregnancy. Joseph wasn’t home alone dealing with this situation. He had Mary and perhaps Zechariah and Elizabeth who could help him come to terms with the sudden change in his life.
So neither Mary nor Joseph had to deal with this situation alone. They didn’t face the obstacles of an unplanned unexpected and unexplainable pregnancy alone. They didn’t face the fear alone and they didn’t face the uncertain future alone. Mary and Joseph were not home alone – God provided them with people who would support them and understand them. The truth of the Christmas story isn’t just that God has come to be with us in the person of Jesus, but that God never intends us to be home alone. God provides people to support and encourage us throughout our lives.
While circumstances in life might cause us to feel alone today, the truth is that God has provided people to support us and encourage us, but we have to be willing to reach out to them. God provided someone for Mary but Mary did have to make the 8-10 day trip to be with Elizabeth. Mary had to make the decision to seek out someone for help and she had to make the journey to be with her. God does provide us with people in life but we have to be willing to reach out to them.
As most of you know, I went to Michigan State University, but when I arrived on campus I didn’t know a single person in the state of Michigan let alone anyone at Michigan State. I am also somewhat of an introvert, so making friends is not always easy for me, so my first few weeks at college were pretty difficult. My roommate never showed up so I sat home alone while everyone around me had roommates to go off and do things with. I was incredibly homesick and thought about returning home when I got a letter in the mail from a high school friend whose sister had attended Michigan State years earlier.
Cindy wrote me and told me about a group her sister had been part of called Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship and she told me it was a lot like our church youth group and that I should check it out. Now here’s the thing. I didn’t get that letter on just any day or at just any time. I received and read that letter right after walking by a huge banner for IV at freshman orientation. Now I didn’t pay any attention to the banner because I assumed IV was a sports organization and as you know I was a less than ordinary athlete – but after reading Cindy’s letter I realized I had just seen that organization on campus so I immediately went back and talked to the students who were there. Gary and Ruth invited me to attend the first meeting which just happened to be that night. While I didn’t know anyone in Michigan and I struggled to find support at Michigan State, God did not intend me to go through it alone. Through miraculous ways, God guided me to the group of people who would be my support and fellowship for the next 5 years and more.
Now what I love about this story is that it has entire second chapter. 25 years later I was telling this very story in a sermon at my church in Lewisburg when a visitor came up to me after worship and said, I bet your friend’s name was Cindy Ball and her sister who went to Michigan State was named Mary. Well, I just about fell over because she was right. I had never seen this woman before in my life, she was a first time visitor who had just moved to Lewisburg and I was stunned. It turned out that Pat was good friends with Mary and had just moved to Lewisburg and was looking for a church, that day she decided we were the church for her and while she lived in Lewisburg we were her support and the support for her daughter Sara.
God never intends for us to be home alone. But the truth is that we have to reach out to those people God brings into our lives. Mary and Joseph had to reach out Elizabeth and Zechariah. I had to reach out to Gary and Ruth and the rest of the people in Inter-Varsity and Pat had to reach out to the people of St. Paul’s Church in Lewisburg to find her support and fellowship. God provides us with people for support but we have to reach out to connect with them and we need to be willing to lean on them and the truth is that this comes with a certain amount of risk. Mary didn’t know for sure how her cousin Elizabeth would take the news of her situation. Elizabeth could have been skeptical and critical – she could have thrown Mary out of the house. Mary took a risk to travel to Elizabeth and reach out to her. Joseph took a risk to take Mary as his wife and to walk together in life. It’s always risky to reach out to someone, but we have to take the risk because we were created for relationship.
God created us because first and foremost he wants to have a relationship with us. Think about it, even God doesn’t want to be home alone. God wants a relationship with us, and He promises to never leave us nor forsake us. While Kevin’s family forgot him on their Christmas Vacation, God has promised to never forget us, look at Isaiah 49:15. As unlikely as it might be that a mother would forget her child, God will never forget His children. God will never forget us and God has promised again and again to be with us no matter what. We were created for a relationship with God and God is always there for us, but God also created us for human relationship. God created man for woman and woman for man. God places us in families to be supported by brothers and sisters. God unites us in a church to be encouraged, inspired and nurtured by friends. God has created us for relationship and so we need to take the risk and seek out those relationships.
But what this also means is that we need to be there when others reach out to us. Actually, let me take that a step further, we need to intentionally reach out to those around us that today are home alone. God has always had a special concern for those who live alone, in fact in Psalm 146:9 it says the Lord watches over the alien, he sustains the fatherless and the widow and in James 1:27 it says a religion God accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.
God doesn’t want anyone to go through life alone so those that have no families are to get special care and attention. We should work extra hard to make sure that as God’s people we are taking care of the widow and orphans. We need to reach out to those that are alone, especially in this season, and we need to make sure that we are doing what we can to support them and remind them that they are not forgotten. We need to make sure that they aren’t feeling home alone.
But it’s not just those that are physically by themselves that struggle with feeling alone, however, many people do and it’s important for us to keep our eyes and ears open to those who might need some encouragement during this season. While for many the Christmas season is filled with love and laughter, for others it is a dark and depressing time and we need to be open to the ways God might want to use us in the lives of others. Especially now, there are many people today who are struggling to make sense out of things that are senseless. There are many hearts that are broken and we will all struggle to celebrate the gift of life and love in the midst of tragedy, violence and death – but we need to. We need to offer hope to a dark world. We need to remind people here and in CT and around the world that God has not forgotten us and God has not given up on us. In fact, what we are celebrating is Emmanuel – God with us. God is with us in the this mess and we need to be there for those that are hurting. Elizabeth was willing to be a support and mentor to Mary. Are we willing to support and mentor those around us who need someone of faith in their lives? Are we willing to reach out in love to those that are hurting today?
Maybe more than anything else what we need to do right now is remind one another that we aren’t home alone. We aren’t alone in life and we aren’t alone as we struggle through difficult times, not only is God with us but God has provided us with people to surround us and support us. Look around you… there are people right here who love and support you. Look around you… there are people right here who need your love and support. What we need to do is reach out to one another in love and help each other through.
Rex Mattern shared with me a book called Implosion and the author Joel Rosenberg talks about what we need in our nation to experience a religious revival and what is needed is for each of us to get right with God. I have to say that in the wake of what we have seen these last few days, I couldn’t agree more, we need a religious awakening in our nation because what can heal the brokenness and offer hope is Jesus. Now one of the ways that Joel Rosenberg talks about bringing this kind of awakening into our lives and into our community is for us to reach out to others and make a disciple for Jesus Christ. Joel writes, Christianity is not a solo sport. It’s about building strong, healthy teams of fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ whom God can use to change the world. It’s about older believers taking younger believers under their wings to love them, help them grow in faith, and help them reproduce their faith in the lives of other, younger believers.
Isn’t this what we need today? Isn’t it the love of God lived out daily in the life of God’s people that can begin to bring transformation to our families and communities? Isn’t it the love of God lived out in our lives that can begin to heal the brokenness we see all around us? One way we can do this is to reach out and nurture and mentor those around us. That’s what it means to experience Christmas. Elizabeth and Zechariah took Mary and Joseph under their wing and they loved them and help them grow in their faith and trust in God. So experiencing Christmas means reaching out to build relationships with those that are alone, and those that are new to the faith, and those that are struggling to make sense out of life, and those that today are broken and hurting. Will we do it? Will we start connecting with and sharing our faith and simply loving and supporting the people God has placed in our lives? How can you help others experience this part of the Christmas story and just let them know that they are not home alone?
It’s been a hard couple days, so let’s end on a positive, fun and somewhat child-like note. This idea that we experience Christmas when we realize that we are never home alone is actually the message of most of our favorite Christmas TV specials. Think about it… the Grinch experiences Christmas when he reaches out to the who’s in whoville and they accept him at their table. Frosty experiences Christmas when the children laugh and play with him. Charlie Brown experiences Christmas when the Peanuts gang help transform Charlie Brown’s tree into something special. Rudolph experiences Christmas when he finds support from the runaway elf who wants to be a dentist and Yukon Cornelius. Maybe all those Christmas specials have gotten it right.
We experience Christmas when we realize that God doesn’t intend for us to go through life alone. We experience Christmas when we reach out to God and allow him into our lives but we also experience Christmas when we reach out to those people God has placed in our lives. I want to invite you to experience Christmas. Enter into a deeper relationship with Jesus, and then reach out to those you need in your life and those that you need as part of their lives. And maybe most important of all, today we need to reach out to all of our children, in our families and in our community and remind them that they are never alone. Whatever you do this season, never stay home alone.
Experiencing Christmas ~ Never Home Alone
1. Read the following scriptures and reflect on the ways that God has promised to never leave us nor forsake us.
• Isaiah 43:1-7
• Isaiah 54:9-10
• Matthew 28:16-20
• Romans 8:31-39
• Hebrews 13:5-6
2. Commit to doing one thing this week that can strengthen your relationship with God. (Suggestions: pray, read God’s word, serve in the community, reach out in love to someone new, forgive someone, help someone in need, invite someone to Christmas Eve Worship.)
3. In his book, Implosion, Joel C. Rosenberg wrote:
Christianity is not a solo sport. It’s about building strong, healthy teams of fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ whom God can use to change the world. It’s about older believers taking younger believers under their wings to love them, help them grow in faith, and help them reproduce their faith in the lives of other, younger believers.
• Identify some young believers you can reach out to mentor and encourage in their life and faith.
• Identify some older believers you could ask to mentor and encourage you and your family in life and faith.
4. Commit to or continue on in the Take 5 Challenge.
• Take 5 minutes each morning to pray.
• Take 5 minutes each evening to read the gospel of Luke.
• Find 5 ways you can give that will make a difference.
• Find 5 people to encourage and help.