There is no better way to respond to Christ’s birth than with singing, and over the centuries the Church has amassed a wealth of carols and hymns that is the envy of the world. This has led to all sorts of crooners and warblers without a religious bone in their body recording Christmas albums, interspersing sentimental seasonal fluff alongside forthright carols of Christian joy, topped off with an original or two to try to make their collection distinct.
Sometimes this results in a beautiful voice singing beautiful truth, in a plundering-the-Egyptians, blind-squirrel-finding-a-nut sort of way. Other times, we’re hit with a jarring bolt of aural sacrilege as notorious non-virgins huskily sing of silent nights. But one of the most interesting aspects of an unbelieving artist’s Christmas catalog is the carol of loneliness, a melancholy song about missing out on Christmas joy. While Christians are singing about Immanuel, God with us, The Emotions ask, “’Tis the season to be jolly/But how can I be when I have nobody?” Elvis quavers, “I’ll have a blue Christmas without you,” and Prince mourns, “Last night I spent another lonely, lonely, Christmas.”
Missing the point
Of course, tragedies happen at this season as much as at any other and losses are keenly felt. It’s possible for followers of Jesus to find themselves feeling lonely, especially if they aren’t connected to a good church. Even those who sing of Christ making His blessing flow far as the curse is found acknowledge that this great work isn’t finished yet. But carols of loneliness don’t really represent another side to Christmas as much as a basic failure to appreciate what the birth of Christ really means. It makes no sense to say, in effect, “I know God is with us, I know the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, but I’m still lonely.” Our Christmas balladeers are like children who have grown tired of playing with the packaging, which makes their forlorn tunes somewhat less than profound. Christmas has not left them alone; they haven’t opened the box yet.
Our cheerless carolers think that Christmas is meant to be the answer to their unfulfilled desires. When those desires remain unmet, their Christmas turns blue. What they fail to comprehend is that the gift of Christ was given to satisfy deep desires they don’t even know they have. When the God of heaven draws near to empty the treasures of heaven into the arms of men, they don’t want a lot for Christmas; all they want for Christmas is a boyfriend or girlfriend. Admittedly, wanting human companionship is better than asking for fruitcake or a pair of maxillary central incisors, but like when the cripple asked Peter and John for silver and gold, God’s gift was something far better.
Are you longing for companionship? Jesus is a friend who sticks closer than a brother, who will never leave you or forsake you. Does marriage sound like heaven to you? Close, but no jingle bell. As wonderful as marriage can be, it simply reflects the union between Christ and His beloved Bride. Are you wishing for the joys of family? Jesus places the lonely in families, promising brothers and sisters and mothers a hundredfold through union with Him. In order to remain lonely at Christmastime, you have to turn away a friend who came down from heaven to be with you.
Jesus does not come to make all your relationship wishes come true, but He does come to restore the only relationship that matters for eternity: “I will be your God, and you shall be My people.” Seek first that Christmas present and you will find that Jesus gives you the gift of better desires for all your other relationships as well. God sent Immanuel to earth surrounded by songs of coming, visitation, friendship, and presence. May such songs rise from the lips of God’s people to drown out these lonely carols.
Copyright © 2019 Highlands Ministries. Reprinted by permission. <highlandsministriesonline.org/blogs/highlands-blog/impossibility-lonely-christmases/>
Member CJ Bowen is pastor of Christ Reformed Evangelical Church in Annapolis, Maryland.