The Great Truth of Christmas ©

It seems like yesterday that the wildly popular Christmas movie Home Alone came out. It was so popular they made a sequel (four sequels actually, but no one can blame you for forgetting about Home Alone 3-5). You likely remember the original movie well. If you don’t, the plot is simple: 
A family plans a European vacation for Christmas. The relatives all gather at one house before departure. In the commotion, the youngest son feels slighted. After expressing his frustration inappropriately, he is punished and sent to a room in the attic. As he stews, in what he perceives to be the great injustice of it all, he wishes that his family would go away so that he could be all alone. The next morning, the family, having overslept, engages in a frantic rush to get to the airport on time and leaves the little boy at home – yep, you guessed it - alone. When the boy awakes and discovers that he has been left behind, he is delighted! For a few days, while his family frantically tries to return to him, he has the run of the house. Ice cream is a main meal. He watches the movies he wants and goes to bed when he feels like it. He just has a blast, life at its pinnacle! 
But as the story unfolds, burglars try to break into the house. Alone, he is in danger of being in the house during a robbery or worse. The rest of the movie unfolds through various slapstick scenes with the burglars being foiled through an inventive array of traps. In the midst of the humor, there is a subplot which can be missed. Slowly the boy realizes how lonely he really is.  He longs for the return of his family.   
In a strange way, the movie Home Alone (now some 29 years later!) can stand as a parable for God’s relationship with us and ours with God.  First …
The great truth of Christmas is that God is with us!
The words of the prophet Isaiah ring out in Christmas carols.  “Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) It is echoed in the angel’s dream visitation to Joseph.  “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us.” (Matthew 1:23)
This is the great truth of Christmas. God is with us! The Bethlehem event is no brief cameo appearance. The Lord of the universe lived among us, taught, healed, shared and sacrificed. Dan Schaeffer in his marvelous book, In Search of the Real Spirit of Christmas, perceptively notes that prior to Christmas, “it had always been God over us, God above us, God before us, God on the mountain, God in the temple, God in the cloud. But never before had it been God with us.” (Dan Schaeffer, In Search of the Real Spirit of Christmas, p. 37)
Yet, there is more to this great truth than just Christmas day and the 33 years following of Jesus’ earthy sojourn. Jesus closes his earthly ministry with a great commission to his disciples (that’s us!) and the promise “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) The “end of the age” means the end of time. Never again will we be home alone! In the closing chapters of the Bible this great truth is affirmed again. “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.” (Revelation 21:3)
Unfortunately …
The sad reality of Christmas is that we often feel alone.
In some instances, our sin or willful neglect has cut us off from God and others. In other cases, it’s loss or grief. However it happens, we often feel like Kevin, the young boy in Home Alone. Sagely, if uncomfortably, Schaeffer comments:
With all our sinfulness and rebellion, we should expect, at best a holy deity to be finished with us, to wash His hands of us, to cut us off forever – or, at worst, to annihilate us completely.  Instead, He bound Himself to us forever by His death on the cross.… Imagine our sorrowful destiny if the life of Christ among us had ended with the words, ‘And God left His creation, which had rejected Him and put Him to death, never to come again.’”
(Dan Schaeffer, In Search of the Real Spirit of Christmas, pp. 37, 39)
In the movie Home Alone, Kevin is scared of a neighbor, an older man about whom wild and scary tales are told. As Kevin wrestles with his own sense of feeling abandoned, he walks alone by a church a strange and moving dialogue, a budding relationship, emerges between lonely and scared Kevin and the older man. It is inaugurated with the simple common words of the Advent season, “Merry Christmas.”
With common words, and an appropriate greeting for the season, they convey more than just a greeting. Behind this simple phrase is a theological great truth, not just for Christmas, but for all times - God is with us. There is reason to be merry. Here is the ultimate antidote to our aloneness. As the drama unfolds, young Kevin asks the older man, “Why don’t you call him [a son with whom the older man is estranged]?” Christmas is God’s call to us. Actually, it is far more than just a phone call. It is an in-person visit, the offer of a relationship. 
We are offered the greatest gift we can ever receive. . .
God came in Christ to establish a relationship with us. 
The glory of Christmas is not a pageant or a play; it is the precious truth that God desired to draw near to His sinful creation, to bind Himself to us irrevocably and forever.  It is not a glory we watch; it is one we participate in, one of which we are the focus.”
(Dan Schaeffer, In Search of the Real Spirit of Christmas, p. 39)
Amazing as it seems, the point of all this is that God came in Christ to establish a relationship with us; or, more correctly put, to restore a broken relationship with Him.

What does this mean for us? It means the real Spirit of Christmas is found in this relationship, this holy and saving relationship. “It means we are far more precious to God than we could ever imagine.” (Dan Schaeffer, In Search of the Real Spirit of Christmas, p. 39) It means God wants to be with us! With you! The crude coldness of the stable, the stark boldness of the cross, are the visible demonstration of the depth of God’s love for you, for us, for all. Writes Dan Schaeffer…
Why He wants to be with us is too great a mystery to explain.  The answer lies in the nature of His merciful loving being.  But that He wants to be with us is undeniable.”
(Dan Schaeffer, In Search of the Real Spirit of Christmas, p.40) 
 God came in Christ to establish a relationship with us. In the most practical of ways, Christmas happens when and only when we …
Embrace God in Christ.
Consider what this represents; glance at the nearest nativity scene with the manger and straw. Instead of seeking punishment or permanent divorce, instead of walking disgustedly away, God used our ultimate rejection to cement His relationship with us forever. The cradle and the cross go together. Again, Schaeffer is perceptive.
That Babe in the manger was God with us, as was that same babe grown to manhood, hanging on the cross.  They were both Immanuel, committed to us for eternity.  Who else in your life is that committed to you?  Who else would return your unfaithfulness, abandonment, and even apathy with such an act?  Who? Only Immanuel! God with us!”
(Dan Schaeffer, In Search of the Real Spirit of Christmas, p. 41)
 Many things may hit us at Christmas. Money can run short. The hectic pace of the activities can impact. Grief can intercede. Strange relatives from the east can disturb our tranquility. But the only one who can block the discovery of the real spirit of Christmas is you. You see, this search for the real spirit of Christmas, the Holy Spirit of God, takes a commitment on our part. We must embrace God who comes to us in Christ.
In our decision, our embrace, we can …
Live life with God.
Christmas is about what God has done for us. If this is so, and it surely is, then we can enter into a life lived with God. This happens in myriad ways – in worship with prayer and song, in serving both God and others with love and care, in sharing with laughter and kindness, in the quiet and peace of thought, devotion and reflection. The spirit of Christmas is found in the great truth of Christmas – God is with us! We can live life with God.
Allow me to illustrate with two simple stories written by my former secretary at Bethany United Methodist Church in Austin, Kellye Noret.  She wrote,
I used to do volunteer work at an AIDS hospice. Nine years ago this month, I held Marilyn in my arms as she struggled to breath. She was 19 months old, the size of an 8-month old, and dying from AIDS. Careful not to jiggle the breathing and feeding tubes protruding from her tiny body, I softly sang, ‘Jesus Loves Me,’ and rocked her back and forth in my arms. Her eyes, wise beyond her years, looked into mine and seemed to say, ‘Yes, I know.’ It was a sweet moment, a sacred moment. God’s presence. I knew He was in that room, just as surely as I knew Marilyn and I were there. My grief was mixed with feelings of peace and comfort. I felt such privilege and awe to be in His presence, and to be holding this baby, this miracle of life. And death. And eternal life.
“Three years ago, I was in the delivery room of Seton NW [Hospital], not rocking or singing this time, but urging, ‘Yes, Carly, you can do it!’ And Alexis was born, beautiful and precious and healthy. Minutes later, I placed my finger in the palm of her tiny hand and whispered, ‘Hi, sweet baby, it’s Aunt Kellye.’ Her brand-new eyes looked into mine and seemed to say, ‘Yes, I know.’ Again, a sweet moment, a sacred moment. God’s presence. I knew He was in that room, just as surely as I knew Carly, her mom, the doctor and nurse, and myself were there. No grief this time, just incredible joy and love for this tiny new creation. I felt such privilege and awe to be in His presence, and to witness this miracle of birth.
“As Christmas nears and we celebrate again God coming to earth as a baby, I think of these two ‘sacred moments,’ and the many other times I have experienced God’s presence. And I remember joyfully that God is with me, in my sorrows and in my joys, in my trials and in my triumphs. I am not alone! Thanks be to God!”
(Kellye Noret)
 The one whose birth we celebrate at Christmas means …
We are never home alone!
There is far more reason to celebrate that we commonly realize! Whether you are by yourself or with many, Christmas need not be a lonely affair. God is with us, with you. The cradle connects to the cross. 
Imprisoned in exile, old John of Patmos received a startling vision from God. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, his pen danced over parchment as he wrote a great summation of gospel teaching, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.” (Revelation 21:3)  We are never home alone!
A famous American preacher of the 19th century named Phillip Brooks once visited Bethlehem.  On Christmas Eve, he stood on one of the hills above the little village and penned the words of the great Christmas hymn “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” He did not write them in maudlin sentimentality. He knew, as he put it, the “hopes and fears of all the years.” Yet, “in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light… O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!”