There was a lot of noise for what was proclaimed to be such a silent night. The inn was full, and families were bustling about, busy with those that they loved. Those that they had traveled such a great distance with. Many were tired, but the children were perhaps still running around, too glad to just be settled somewhere to actually sleep.
From somewhere came the sounds of screaming, a woman in great pain, in agony, but hardly anyone noticed. Maybe no one at all. For there was too much going on in their own little worlds to really pay attention, too much at their fingertips to do much reaching out. They had everything they came with, and even more. A new little family was forming in that inn as the weary travelers connected with one another - perhaps not the first time they had done so, since they had all come back to this little town for the census. This was home.
And yes, this is a story about Jesus - about a little boy coming quietly into the world on a night that was, outside of that stable, anything but silent. But it's also a story about this Christmas - this one right here - where the screams of women, and men, in agony go hardly noticed in all the noise.
This is a story about something very human, something we don't talk about near enough, but it seems so fitting on this day, on the day in which God Himself became flesh to remind us that we are not alone.
Because oh so many of us, especially this time of year, feel very, very alone.
It's hard to fathom, with all the stuff that's going on in the world at Christmas. With all the stories of families traveling to be together, with the shopping centers packed to the brim, with everyone (it seems) doing the same things at the same time - wrapping presents, baking cookies, decorating trees, carving ham. How can you feel alone in the world when the whole world is celebrating the same thing you are? How can you feel alone when your house is literally full of others?
How...how can this be a silent night when the inn is so full?
But that's just it. Because for the lonely in this world, having other persons around doesn't necessarily cure the loneliness. Sometimes, in fact, it makes it worse. Especially at a time like this when maybe others are around, but they've come with their own little families. They have their own group of people with them. They are talking about all of the other places they have to go and all of the other persons they get to see and all of the things they are going to do, and yes, maybe they've carved out these few hours just for you, but for you, this is all you've got. People who come with their people to be at your place for a bit and then leave with their people and leave you...alone again. Only more alone now, because the worst kind of loneliness there is in this world is the loneliness you still feel even when others are near. It's the sting of being a single in a world of groups, of being an outsider among insiders, of being the extra person in the room - even if it's your own room.
It's the sorrow of having lost someone this year, of feeling the emptiness of a space that used to be so full. It's the grief of not having found someone to spend your life with, the way the others in your life seem to have settled down. It's the pain of having separated from someone you thought you'd spend the rest of your life with, but that person just didn't feel the same. It's feeling all of your insecurities, all at once, in a season that is so full it's bursting, but you...you feel only your own hollowness.
It's the rejection of being cast out into a stable while the inn is so full, lights on in every room, families settling around tables, daily prayers being called out, screaming....screaming in agony, and no one even notices. It's too loud where they are to notice.
And yes, Jesus is born in places such as this. In lonely places on the outside, where even the cries of a newborn baby aren't heard, but this is not a post for the lonely. This is not a post to tell you, as your heart aches, that Jesus is near and that He's enough. This is not a post to shame you into Christmas this year because if your faith was just a little bit stronger, it wouldn't bother you that you're lonely. That's all crap, and it's neither Christian nor Christlike. No, this is not a post for the lonely.
This is a post for all of you in the inn. This is a post for those of you who have your people this year. Who have your families. Who have your spouses. Who have your friends. This is a post for those of you who will enter into someone else's space with your own little clan and leave with the same folks, having spent some time in what is otherwise a desolate place right now. This is a post for you, and here's what I want to say:
Be intentional about who you're with this Christmas. Be mindful of those who don't have what you have. While you're bustling about in all the noise, listening to the laughter of the little children as they run around, unpacking your things in a new place for the night, settling around your dinner table, a light on in every room...be mindful of the lonely, of the ones cast out, of the ones not connected. Tune your ears to something other than the noise, and hear the cries of those for whom there was no room this year. Don't let the sounds of the season drown you out; open your heart to the silent nights that are happening all around you. And enter them.
Because the worst kind of loneliness in all the world is the loneliness you feel when you're stuck in a stable, well within hearing distance of the party at the inn.