by June Friesen
CHRIST COMES FOR EVERY HEART, INCLUDING THE LONELY HEART
As I have celebrated Christmas over the years, I have observed that for some it is a time of sadness. We talk about hope, we talk about love, we talk about joy and we talk about peace yet how is it for the one who is lonely this Christmas. It is easy to give what I call an ‘unfeeling answer’ and then try to change the subject. It may be difficult to listen to the memories shared through tears. It may be difficult to embrace the broken spirit of one whose grief is fresh. It may be difficult to not try to quiet them as they remember those special moments, those special foods, those special family gatherings and so much more. Yet as I think of the birth of Jesus that is the focus of the Christian Christmas I begin to think about Mary and Joseph and how they may have really felt that at the birth of their baby. What were the emotions that they were feeling?
Let me share from Luke 2:1-7:
1-5 About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant. 6-7 While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.
What was Joseph feeling as he was becoming a new father and could not even find a room to give his wife privacy? He could not find a bed for her to lie down upon. And besides that, she did not have her mother to help her nor anyone else as she gave birth to her very first baby. All he could find was shelter in a barn/cave. How empty must Joseph’s heart have felt? How lonely he must have felt not only for himself but also for Mary?
What was Mary feeling? Her husband had to (or at least chose to) take her away from her family and friends when she was ready to give birth any day. Why did she choose to go? Why did she not insist on staying home with her mother? Or why had she not insisted that her mother come along? Or maybe could it have been that her mother was no longer alive?
Yes, my friends, into this scenario Jesus enters this world to be known as the Son of God and the son of Mary. There had to have been many mixed feelings that night.
No doubt there was frustration, fear, anxiety, maybe even some anger and tears. Loneliness also was no doubt a huge factor. Yet when we choose to celebrate the Christmas story in our homes or churches most often, we choose to concentrate on the festivity of the season, the glorious celebration of the birth of a Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord.
How do you and I respond to a Christmas celebration if we are finding ourselves alone? Maybe, but not always are we truly by ourself as there may be family, friends and/or other people around? How do we respond to someone who spent last Christmas with their loved one(s) beside them? How do we respond to someone who may be spending their last Christmas with a loved one who is now on hospice care? How do we respond to someone whose loved one has dementia and is not aware of what is being celebrated? Possibly the loved one is not able to open their own gift/gifts? Possibly they do not understand what is happening at all? Possibly there is a child who has been born with disabilities so it cannot comprehend the celebration? How do we respond to the person who has a family member incarcerated? How do we respond if we are the one who has a loved one incarcerated (often they are not near enough to visit if one chose to do so). I have found myself in some of these situations – sometimes they are easier to face than others.
Yes, I find myself in the midst of wondering, how is it that I can offer support to those who struggle in one way or another with this season? Do I get so focused on my own life, my own family, my own way of celebrating that I fail to reach out a hand to the broken because it is not a brokenness I understand. Or maybe it is a brokenness that I do not want to or care to understand? Over the years I have been challenged to reach out and care for others in one way or another. And yes, I have been faced with some of these challenges in my own life as well.
When our children were growing we did not have immediate family near by. One way that we practiced teaching them to care for others who may be lonely was to invite several single people (often from a care center – widows/widowers/never married) over for a Christmas meal. We would try to give them some small gift that would be useful to them. Before covid we often entertained many people on Christmas Day. We had refugees from different countries, homeless, family members, and friends as well as people brought along that we did not know until that day. We also had people from other faiths/religions and we always had a delightful time. My husband still likes to tell of how an Afghani family brought a rice pudding and our refugees from the Congo remarked – this is just like we make in our home and we also did in our home in the Congo. Friendships and connections were built and continue to this day.
Joseph and Mary were alone – no doubt needing food brought. There may have been tears shed that day there in Bethlehem as well – some of loneliness as they were alone. We are not even sure that Mary’s mother and father were still living – maybe her heart was happy with the birth of her child – yet maybe there was a loneliness as well.
Today I do not know where you may find yourself this holiday season. If you are feeling alone, if you have lost someone special – maybe this writing will give you a moment to reflect and embrace the one(s) you do not have with you this season.
THE EMPTY STOCKING
Today I looked at the stockings
Hanging one by one on the mantle –
They hung just as they had for many years –
Yet, one seemed shrouded, somehow.
As I continued my gaze, I pondered
The trinkets I had bought
To fill each one –
All chosen with thought and pleasure.
I remember that day I had found
One thing I knew you would have treasured –
I held it tenderly in my hands – then drew it towards my heart.
The tears began to form – then tumble silently down my cheeks
As I remembered you would not be here this year
To delight in this treasure so dear.
I struggled within – should I buy it?
What will I do with it?
It was then I decided – yes – I would,
And I would put it in that stocking – yes I would.
Tonight, as I fill the stockings – not one will be empty –
And I will allow the memories of Christmases past
To come and bathe this heart of mine with love.
And each year as I hand your stocking I will fill it with a special memory;
And therein you will continue to be a part of my Christmas year after year.
“I love you.”
June Friesen 2008
When I wrote this it was a gift for someone who I knew was having a hard time the first holiday season their loved one was not with them. As I read it recently, and pondered it I realize how for me there have been Christmases too that I have felt ‘lonely’ for some family member/friend who was not with us in person because of death, moving away from family due to job, or unable to travel because of lack of resources or even because of incarceration. I have to admit that some of these words still bring some of those memories to mind – and a tear or two forms….and maybe even drops…..it is okay. Mary may have shed a tear or two or more as she ‘pondered things in her heart,’ – — my friend – it was for these tears (and so many other reasons) that our Jesus was born so long ago. Jesus loves you, Jesus loves your loved one(s) – that is why He came – because He loved each one of us so much. Amen.
Writing and photos by June Friesen. Scriptures are from The Message translation.
Celtic Prayer Cards include 10 prayers inspired by ancient Celtic saints like Patrick or contemporary Celtic writers like John O’Donohue. A short reflection on the back of each card will introduce you to the Celtic Christian tradition, along with prayers by Christine Sine and beautiful imagery crafted by Hilary Horn. Celtic Prayer Cards can be used year-round or incorporated into various holidays. Available in a single set of 10 cards, three sets, or to download.