No time conjures up images of families sharing love and togetherness quite the way the Christmas season does. Advertisements capitalize on this season of family unity. Everywhere you look, happy families or couples share gift-giving and craft-making, snowball fights and quiet moments by the fire. There's a common theme underlying all these golden moments: What really lights up the Christmas season is love.
But for some people, Christmas might not be very golden - or love-filled - at all. Loneliness, which may lie dormant for most of the rest of the year, surfaces all too readily, often accented by bitterness and depression.
Even for those surrounded by family, the Christmas season isn't always wrapped up in feelings of warmth and togetherness. Sometimes there's a distance in spite of outward unity, a loneliness even in the presence of loved ones.
Whether or not we're among friends and family at Christmastime - or any time of the year, for that matter - we don't have to feel alone. In fact, that's exactly the promise of the Christmas story, that the coming of the Christ reveals God's ever- presence to humanity.
Christ Jesus' works - his demonstration of God's healing power - proved that God's love is not some distant, abstract force. Rather, his works were, as Mary Baker Eddy put it in "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," "the sign of Immanuel, or 'God with us,' - a divine influence ever present in human consciousness ..." (pg. xi). These works proved that no matter what the circumstances, Love was present and active and meeting every individual need.
During my sophomore year in college, a number of my friends deserted me. One told me she just didn't like me anymore. Another stopped speaking to me without any explanation. It seemed like every time I turned around, another friendship was falling to pieces. What troubled me was that there was no apparent reason for what was going on; what was worse was that I didn't know any way to stop it.
Compounding the problem was the fact that I'd been struggling, emotionally, with some other issues during that time. Now, when I needed the support of friends more than ever, it had all but disappeared. I felt very much alone.
I prayed fervently during that period - to love, to feel Love, to be lovable, to see others as capable of loving and of being loved. I thought often about the message of the Christmas story - that God's love is a palpable presence and one that draws all receptive hearts to it.
To me, the guiding light of Love was exemplified by the star that led the wise men and shepherds to pay homage to baby Jesus. His were humble beginnings, but even a manger and an unfamiliar town couldn't overshadow the brightness of what he brought to the world.
I began to realize that in much the same way, no circumstances could shake my steadfast trust in the Love that was lighting my way and my life at all times. And as I became more aware of the presence of the eternal Christ, of God's demonstrable love for man, I actually started feeling less lonely, even though I was still having problems with friends.
Before too long, I became acquainted with a warm, compassionate professor who had many of the same interests I had. She became a mentor and a friend. In spite of the age difference, we shared a bond of mutual appreciation.
This was only one of a number of meaningful relationships that developed over the next year. But as much as I delighted in and was grateful for these signs of Love in my life, what meant even more was the fact that even in those dark moments, I'd eventually been able to recognize the light - a light that guided me into a greater understanding of Love's omnipresence and power.
What I discovered that year was the Christmas message that speaks to every lonely heart, at every moment, in every circumstance: Love is loving each of us the whole year through.
Thy word is a lamp
unto my feet,
and a light unto my path.