In Australia, out-side of birthdays, Christmas is about the only holiday that families come together for.
For that reason, Christmas is sometimes described as the loneliest time of year for many people. People who have lost their families, who are estranged from their families, who have been part of broken families, or people who live a long way from their families, tend to spend Christmas alone.
And in some ways, we see that same thing happen on the first Christmas. Mary and Joseph had to leave their families for an Imperial Roman census. While they travelled to Joseph’s ancestral home of Bethlehem, they obviously had no-one who would accept them as family there, because they had absolutely nowhere they could stay. They were on their own for the birth of Jesus.
And yet something amazing happened.
Because of Jesus.
Shepherds, considered the rough outcasts of that ancient world, came to visit.
Wise men, rich and wealthy people of influence, travelled from another country to visit.
God’s presence on Earth, in human form, as Jesus, started to reverse some of the sad trends of loneliness that sinful humans produce.
Mary and Joseph were no longer alone. The Shepherds were no longer outcasts. The Wise Men were free to mix with people from a different country and social class.
In this very first Christmas, we see people being brought together, because of Jesus.
Its very fashionable today to think that people will naturally come together and be nice to one another.
In some ways we have seen this, to a certain extent, in Australia. The idea that people can come together, and live together, when we come from different backgrounds, with different beliefs, united a common legal system and a common view of humanity.
And yet, at the same time we see more and more people in Australia wanting to differentiate themselves from others, stay separate from each other, and fear or hate each other. On religious lines, on cultural lines, on political lines, and on racial lines. Different groups are actively fostering hatred and separation. You only need to listen to political discourse about industrial relations, or the environment, to pick that up, let alone discussion on immigration or war.
As we think about the splintering of society into different groups, and separatism and hatred being promoted, its tempting to think that if only we strike the right balance then everyone can get along harmoniously.
But this ignores human nature. The sinfulness of human nature, where people by and large want to force others to agree with them, or dictate to others how they should live.
There is no perfect balance people can reach in order to make the world a better place. History proves that.
And this is what Christmas is all about.
The fact that God himself came to earth, as a human being, as Jesus, to call people to a different way.
Jesus never forced people to follow him.
He didn’t fight against others who disagreed with him, or refused to trust and obey God.
He didn’t tell people that they needed to stay away from everyone else, to separate themselves from everyone who wasn’t like them.
And yet for those who follow him, Jesus united people together as a new family, children of God.
People from different races, including races who hated each other. Jews and Samaritans and Romans. People from different religious backgrounds. People with different political beliefs. People from different social classes.
He told people to love their neighbour as they love themselves.
He told people to pray for those who persecute them, and to love their enemies.
He promised peace with God to all who would repent of their sins and trust in him.
Jesus changed the world.
You may or may not feel lonely at Christmas time. Your situation and circumstances may well changed next year, or further into the future.
But know that Christmas is a celebration of God coming to Earth as a human being to tell people that they never need to be alone again.
Through trusting and following Jesus, God will always be with you, and will include you into a new family, a family of faith, that exists everywhere that followers of Jesus are. Not completely perfectly, because we are all in the process of being changed by Jesus, but certainly better than anything else in which God isn’t involved.
As the Angels proclaimed, Christmas is a time of good news to all people.
And its all because of Jesus.