The Answer to the Loneliness Epidemic
The birth of Jesus is a foretaste and anticipation of God’s dwelling with his people. God is with us: then, now, and forever.
One of the tragic characteristics of modern society, exacerbated by the Covid crisis, is an epidemic of loneliness. People feel isolated with no one to speak to, or to care for them. This is contributing to a huge rise in mental health difficulties.
The Bible would suggest that our human loneliness is not just a horizontal problem. We were created by God to have a relationship of close fellowship and personal relationship with him.
Genesis tells us that God walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Now as a result of human sin, and the just judgement it rightly provokes, humanity experiences a pandemic of God-loneliness.
The true God seems unknowable and distant, and so we try to fill the void by creating gods for ourselves, worshipping created things as gods, or struggling to bear the burden of declaring ourselves to be our own god.
The great news of the Christmas message is that God has not left us in this terrible isolation. Throughout the Old Testament, he promised that he would come and make his dwelling with his people and be present amongst them. For a time he did, as his glory filled the tabernacle and temple, but once again the sin of the people caused him to withdraw his presence at the time of the exile. The promise remained unfulfilled for hundreds of years until finally, Jesus came into the world.
God with us
Matthew’s gospel tells us that the baby Jesus was not just an ordinary human baby, though he was thoroughly human. The angel announced to Joseph that his virgin fiancée Mary would give birth to a son called Immanuel, which means God with us (Matthew 1:23).
It is impossible to understand how this might be, but the baby born in Bethlehem was the eternal Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, who has taken to himself a real human nature. He was God with us.
This truth is profoundly important. The fact that Jesus was God with us means that he fully reveals God to us, he understands our human experiences of pain, suffering, grief, temptation, and joy, and he was able to die in our place as a sacrifice to take away the wrath that we deserve. He could stand in our shoes.
Those who encountered the Lord Jesus in his earthly life walked with God in the land of Israel and saw his glory.
God in us
Given that the resurrected and glorified Lord Jesus ascended to heaven to rule at the right of his Father, we might be tempted to think that once again that he is absent from us and we should be lonely again.
However, nothing could be further from the truth. The Father and the Son have sent the Holy Spirit to be with us. He not only dwells amongst us but, if we are Christians, he makes his dwelling in us personally. We are now the manger, or the temple, in which God by his Spirit lives. Jesus will return bodily to establish his kingdom on earth, but as he reassured his disciples the night before he was betrayed and executed, his presence with us by his Spirit is not second rate.
The Holy Spirit is ‘another counsellor’ (John 14:16-17), and it was better that he return to the Father so that the Spirit could come to all his disciples.
God with us forever
The whole Bible story is really the story of God choosing to make his dwelling with his people. This is where it begins in the Garden of Eden, and it will end with the new creation in which God will come to make his eternal dwelling with redeemed humanity.
The birth of Jesus is a foretaste and anticipation of this wonderful future, which is guaranteed for us by the present presence of the Spirit.
As we reflect on these truths once again this Christmas, it ought to be a real encouragement to us as we still live in this fallen and broken world that is longing for redemption.
We are not alone - God is with us. He is not distant and aloof from our suffering. Jesus is reigning in glory exercising his transcendent sovereignty, applying and extending his victory. He is present with us by his Spirit, bringing his immanent comfort and equipping us to serve him as we await the consummation.
As Psalm 139:7-12 reminds us there is nowhere we can go where the Lord will not be with us.
As Jesus prepared to ascend to heaven, he gave his disciples their mission to go and make disciples of all nations. Just as the Magi came to worship him at his birth, so now the whole world is to be called to worship him. Facing with this daunting challenge he reassured them:
‘And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ (Matthew 28:19-20)
The great news announced at Christmas is not just of historical or theological interest but is true for every Christian.
God is with us. We are not alone, and we will never be alone.
This wonderful truth should strengthen our faith and encourage us once again to share the good news with the lost and lonely all around us.