Single Christians are distinctly suited to identify with Christ during Advent. Their situation uniquely positions them to challenge the spiritual status quo by meditating on Christ’s Incarnation and demonstrating what they’re learning to other believers. To do so, however, they must take their cues not from society but from the Savior.
It’s a lesson I’m still learning.
Let me start by saying I do have a family. I have parents, grown siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews. Just not my own family. I’m turning forty around the time of this writing; I’ve never married, and I don’t have children. This is a key point to understanding my recent Thanksgiving meltdown.
I don’t often have meltdowns. Not real, genuine ones. Consequently, my meltdown over our family’s holiday dinner plans came as much a surprise to me as anyone. No one could decide anything, but the only one upset that we couldn’t nail down our plans was me. I remarked, “I’m sorry, I’m not sure why I’m getting so upset about this.”
One of my parents said, “Yeah, you’re the only one who thinks this is a big deal.”
That gave me pause.
At some point in discussing our plans, it had become obvious that my parents were hinging their decision on where the majority of their grandchildren would be. Even though I hadn’t articulated it in so many words, my gut reaction boiled down to this: “I am not a priority.”
Once I had a bit of distance from the conversation, I realized how unfair that gut response had been. My parents and extended family always show me great love and care; and as family members go, I snatch a lot of attention. I’m loud and expressive and do flashy things. Besides which, I know that no matter what happens, I’ll spend Thanksgiving with at least some of them.
As I mulled over my emotional response, it became apparent that something deeper was at work in my heart.
Singles often feel left out in the cold during the holiday season. Especially singles who, unlike me, don’t have a surplus of family members orbiting them. While everyone’s situations are unique, singles of all varieties are often left grappling with this question: how do we celebrate family-centric holidays if we don’t have families?
It’s true that many church fellowships reach out to singles during this time. They plan special events designed to fold potentially lonely singles into the group. Families invite rootless singles over for Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day so that they won’t spend those days alone. These are good and noble pursuits.
We must also recognize that in some ways, these well-meaning efforts can backfire. I talked to a single woman recently who told me that staying over the Christmas holiday with family friends actually makes her feel worse than if she were by herself. Watching close family communion playing out right in front of her reminds her of what she doesn’t have. As she put it during our conversation, “You’re there, but you’re not really part of things.”
My friend’s comments present a challenge and an opportunity, both rooted in the Incarnation of Christ.
The Heart of the Incarnation
During his Incarnation, Jesus was uniquely alone. Still a full member of the Godhead, Jesus left heaven for earth. Though constantly surrounded by people, he was—as the God-Man—in an intellectual, spiritual, and emotional class by himself. His heavenly family was physically far away, and his earthly family largely rejected him. His disciples were unpredictable, and the crowds fickle, alternately adoring him and screaming for his blood. While on earth, Jesus truly was a man set apart. Though the center of all creation, he was despised and rejected. For the sake of His own, he became fully acquainted with grief as he bore the weight of their sin on the Cross.
It all started with Advent.
Amid all the festivities, it’s easy to forget that while Advent signaled hope for the human race, it also signaled the beginning of sorrows for our Savior. We suffer during the holidays when the cultural celebrations hold stronger sway in our hearts than the person and work of the Lord Jesus.
Jesus did not come as Incarnate God to secure the fleeting comforts of the “holiday season.” He was born to suffer and die, rejected and alone, to secure eternal comfort for all saints.
To My Single Siblings in Christ
Before the rush of the season descends, we are presented with an opportunity. Rather than surrendering to our culture’s holiday imperatives, we can instead meditate on the ways in which our current situation allows us to identify with the totality of Christ’s work.
Christ has suffered more than any of us. When we are overwhelmed by the pain and sorrows of this life, we can pray to the Lord who sees, knows, and understands exactly what we are going through at all times.
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”(Hebrews 4:14-16, ESV)[i]
Thank God for Jesus.
As a further comfort, Christians have also been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, the fellowship of the saints in our local churches, and the example of believers who have gone before us.
Consider German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He had already spent roughly eight months imprisoned by the Nazi Party, cut off from family and friends when he entered the Advent season incarcerated.
In a prison letter dated December 1, 1943, he wrote to fiancée Maria von Wedemeyer, “I used to be very fond of thinking up and buying presents, but now that we have nothing to give, the gift God gave us in the birth of Christ will seem all the more glorious…The poorer our quarters, the more clearly we perceive that our hearts should be Christ’s home on earth.”[ii]
During Bonhoeffer’s time of exclusion and isolation, he found great solace in the Incarnation of Christ. Our need is the same. Whether or not our lives are exactly as we would wish them to be this Advent season, may we find joy in communing together with the Man of Sorrows, our Incarnate Savior, Jesus the Messiah.
[i] The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
[ii] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Letter to Maria von Wedemeyer, quoted in God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 6.