Every Christmas season, the Hill family watches a few classic Christmas movies that get us in the holiday spirit. One of them is the 1990 film, Home Alone. In the movie, Macauley Caulkin plays a precocious eight year old boy named Kevin who is accidentally left home alone all during Christmas. While at first he is excited to have the run of his house to himself, that quickly wears off as he fends off two would-be robbers and longs for his family to come home again on Christmas.
Home Alone resonated with me on a different level this year.
The image of Kevin being left behind, all alone, to fend for himself, is surely something that we understand from the past several months of pandemic life. Maybe we have felt like our leaders, the supposed adults in our nation, abandoned many of us as this pandemic continues to rage and so many are out of work. Maybe we have experienced the deep pain of grief, losing someone near to us and unable to find comfort with our family members. Maybe we are preparing for a Christmas home alone this year, even though we wish for anything else.
And maybe there are some of us who have felt abandoned by our church or even by God, wondering where that hope, peace, joy, and love we need has gone with over 300,000 Americans alone lost to this virus.
Did God leave us home alone?
Two thousand years ago, Mary and Joseph, on contrary, would have preferred to have their first Christmas home alone.
Instead, according to the decree from Augustus Caesar, they had to travel to Joseph’s ancestral home of Bethlehem for an imperial census. The census’ purpose wasn’t to make sure their democratic system was appropriately represented and government funds were put to good things like hospitals, roads, and social security. Rather, that census insured that the Roman empire was getting its tax money to fund the violent military occupation that made Mary and Joseph and their families’ lives hell.
Among the Judean countryside, people rebelled against this oppression anyway they could – by picking up weapons and trying to incite rebellions or working with the Roman occupiers to find compromise… but especially by crying out to God that God would save the people.
No doubt, in Mary and Joseph’s day like our own, there were those who believed God had abandoned them, had turned away from their cries, and left them all alone.
In the midst of this, Mary was pregnant, ready to have that baby at any minute, forced to travel through mountains to a crowded little village on a hill south of Jerusalem. And that night, Bethlehem had swelled with size as everybody and their kid and their kid’s kid came home. Every bed was full. I hear even the local Costco was clean out of toilet paper.
When her contractions began, Mary and Joseph’s only option was the part of the house where animals were brought in for safety during the night, a room wafting with the Christmas smell of... livestock.
The closest thing they had to a crib was an empty feeding trough, a manger, where Jesus was laid, screaming like all newborns do, waking up the neighbors, until Mary’s lullaby rocked him to sleep.
Mary and Joseph made do in that impossible situation, but can’t you imagine they would have loved to be in their own home, in their own bed?
Adding more misery, a crowd of shepherds, farm hands, fresh from working the fields that evening, knocked on the door and practically let themselves in, barely pausing to wipe their muddy shoes, claiming that they had seen angels in the heavens with big news, that this baby was no ordinary baby but the Messiah, the one come to save God’s people.
Mary and Joseph again would have loved to be home alone where they were private and had locks on their doors.
But they also had heard messages from angels, urging them not to be afraid and understand that their child was a gift from God, not just for them but for all who walked in the shadows and pain of an unjust, broken world.
I am sure they could see in the eyes of the shepherds and even those Magi who came later, in the eyes of their family members and the prophets Simeon and Anna, people who had been waiting a long time, hope reborn. God had heard their cries. God had not abandoned their people. Even more surprising, as the Message translation of the bible puts it from the Gospel of John, “God had moved into the neighborhood.” God had come home to be with God’s people.
That’s our good news tonight.
In a world two thousand years ago that was as messy, violent, and full of grief and pain as our own, when people questioned whether God answered their prayers and if God had abandoned them, God came to us.
Not in a display of power and might but in the vulnerable form of a child to share life with us and to show us a way to love and care for each other. And to ultimately, love us.
So while we might all feel a little like Kevin this year, abandoned by the adults in charge of our country, saddled with grief and pain, crying out for justice to be done, Christmas is God’s way of reminding us that we are never home alone.
But Christmas is more than a comforting thought. Like the shepherds, we are invited this night to go and proclaim what we have seen and heard, to work for a world where there are no more Kevins, no one who feels left behind and left out. Imagine what that world might be like – no families facing eviction, no transgender children kicked out of their homes, no need to march in the streets for justice for black and brown lives, no more violence on our city streets.
That is, as Dr. Howard Thurman writes, when the work of Christmas begins.
So, hear the good news. We are not home alone, even if our Christmas is going to look a little quieter this year. God is with us, and our God comes to invite us to create a world where no one goes to bed hungry or unloved. May we receive that good news. And may we, despite how hard this year has been, have a merry Christmas and then let the real work of Christmas begin.
Thanks be to God.