It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Except when it’s not.  At least not for everyone.

Many of us eagerly embrace the traditions of the Advent season.  Families trade visits and swap gifts, neighborhoods string lights and host parties, churches add services and multiply outreach.  Christians celebrate the profound mystery of the Incarnation: God-made-flesh, God with us. Light blooms between the green arms of trees. Beloved hymns and carols trigger memories of Christmases past, simple celebrations orchestrated by loved ones long gone.

But some face the heightened expectations of the holidays with quiet dread. That thin smile disguises sorrow running thick through the veins. Why draw attention to the fact that this is not a season to give or to get but to be gotten through? How to divert office party chatter away from mentions of the empty chair that will be at the Christmas table? What can safely be said about the icy spouse who will bring winter inside again this year?

Maybe the lonely one this Christmas is your neighbor, your coworker, your longtime friend. Maybe it’s you. Maybe it’s more of us than we can imagine.

Nashville pastor and author Scott Sauls suspects that feelings of loneliness are more the norm than the exception.

According to the Bible,” writes Sauls, “we experience loneliness not because there is something wrong with us, but because there is something right with us. We experience loneliness because we know, deep down, that we were made for more connection, intimacy, and love than we seem to experience. We sense that this is not how it’s supposed to be.

So we wait, setting our leaky craft adrift on a sea of expectation hoping it might be different this year. Perhaps he’ll come home or she’ll come around. The kids will make an effort to get along or the in-laws will decide to be civil for once. Maybe someone will speak our name into a call of welcome and invitation. Or maybe not.

We can wait to be asked, invited, thought of. Or we can do the asking, inviting, thinking.

You think everyone else has a place to go? The international student, the widow, the just-moved-in and the plain-tuckered-out are wearing that same thin smile too. Loneliness has found them even if no one else has.

I’m looking ahead here, see. I’m fearful for myself just like I’m concerned for you now. Next year at this time my man and I and the mom we call dear will be in a new old house in a new old place where we won’t know a soul, though maybe a body or two. Who will think to welcome us in? Who will know or care that we wistful newcomers are looking for new friends to make old ones out of?

Maybe that’s you this year. Today. 12 days before Christmas.

So here’s where we come in. Here’s what you and I are gonna do this season or maybe next.

Take a step back. Then another one, and look carefully. Who might be standing on the sidelines of the season just longing to be invited into your circle of love, and warmth, and friendship?

You see her, don’t you? The single woman who can’t afford to go home, or would if there were a home to go to?

You spot him, right? The older man in the home who has a walker ready to go but nowhere to go with it?

You survey the neighborhood and there they are: the newly arrived immigrants bewildered by all of it, but eager to be a part of it.

So  you and I will open our hands, we surely will, and we’ll invite them over, or out, or anywhere there’s warmth and light and community. The ties that bind are elastic, surely they are, but they can always find room for another hand to hold.

He loves the lost, the forgotten, the insignificant, the outcasts, the weak, and the broken. Where men say, ‘lost,’ he says ‘found’; where men say, ‘condemned,’ he says ‘redeemed’; where men say ‘no,’ he says ‘yes.’ Where men look with indifference or superiority, he looks with burning love, such as nowhere else is to be found. Where men say, ‘contemptible!’ God cries, ‘blessed.’ – Advent Sermon by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1933

Blessed are the lonely, for they shall see God. His image-bearers are everywhere.