The mystery of the incarnation holds our greatest hope: God is with us.
By Erin Gieschen
Unless you haven’t lived very long, chances are you can easily recall at least one lonely Christmas. Whether you were by yourself or surrounded by people, it’s likely that your loneliness was sharpened by the thought that you’re supposed to be joyful at Christmas. After all, isn’t it a celebration of life and love and hope? Isn’t it about “Joy to the world, the Lord is come”?
It is. But it’s also about that joy mysteriously converging with profound aloneness, transforming it into a completely new reality.
Some of us know the story so well that we no longer feel its tension and humanness as we read or hear it for the hundredth time. By default, our imaginations easily turn to sentimentalized commercial images. But to truly understand what Christmas means for our present-day experience, it’s crucial to recognize that Jesus was born into a very real human existence.
These were people who lived in oppressive times, struggled to make ends meet, and made decisions that would cost them their reputations and dreams for the future. Mary and Joseph’s experiences of human loneliness nearly jump from the page once we put ourselves in their shoes. And the joy that propelled them onward was made stronger and truer by their hardships.
The famous words of the Magnificat, Mary’s psalm of praise in Luke 1:46-55 (NKJV), simply can’t be divorced from their original setting. “My soul magnifies the Lord,” she sang, “and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant . . . henceforth all generations will call me blessed.” This young woman’s hopes for the future had been thrown into upheaval, yet she offered praise in the midst of her unknowing. At the time, she was pregnant, not yet married, and alone. No one could share her weighty calling—no one could give birth to the incarnate Messiah for her. But joy came from that wondrous presence within her, even as she knew she would soon be deeply misunderstood and most likely shunned.
The beauty of Mary’s worship at this point in her story is unique, yet it has much in common with the wider stream of prayers and hymns flowing through Scripture. So many of the biblical songs extolling God’s greatness were originally composed in a context of both outer and inner struggle. Isn’t this the very thing that so often sharpens our vision of His glory? Suffering may not cease after the last word of the psalm is uttered, but no longer is it merely pain. Anyone in this world can experience joy in obviously beautiful moments. But the mystery of our salvation becomes clear when, in the midst of darkness, worship utterly captivates us.
This is why, when telling the Christmas story, we should never shy away from its bittersweet context. It’s always been an intermingling of pain and joy, aloneness met by Presence. Yet we know, even as children, that the story is ultimately glorious and full of wonder. We know deep down that this convergence of struggle and miracle, of darkness andlight, alchemizes into something so much greater—a paradoxical beauty that pervades the greatest of stories. And how could it not? Jesus’ birth is the turning point of history, when the loneliness of exiled mankind is met in the most intimate of ways: God becomes one of us.
There’s something far beyond human comfort we can draw from the knowledge that Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. There is life-giving courage. His presence tells us that loneliness isn’t the whole of our story. It tells us that there’s so much more than what we initially see—that reality goes deeper than the surface of pain or even momentary happiness.
Christ has come to us right where we are, just as we are. He enters into our loss, comes to share our sorrows and infuse them with His healing presence.
He is with us.
And truly knowing that He’s come to make His home in us—and invites us to make our home in Him—changes everything. The lonely space our heart currently navigates may not change, but the substance of our journey through it can be transformed.
The true beauty of Christmas never fades and never loses its power. The great Light came quietly into the world to redeem it and has never stopped shining. Even now, His presence surrounds you, waiting to break through any shade of darkness to reveal itself as the truer, deeper reality of your life. So wherever you are, no matter how alone you may feel right now, make room for the Light to come. Because this is why He came—to be with you.