My granddad grew up in Birmingham. He was the son of Italian immigrants. When he grew up he joined the army and travelled the world serving in India and China before eventually settling in Derby as a builder. Apparently on one occasion he returned to Birmingham to visit. He got off the train at New Street, came out of the station and found himself completely lost. He had to ask directions. The place had changed so much that he felt like a stranger in his own city.
Do you ever feel like you are a stranger? When we hear the anti-immigration rhetoric ramped up, many of us feel like strangers in our country. We are told we don’t belong even though we’ve settled here, love the country and work for its good. I also meet many people who feel isolated and lonely. They live in a big city with over a million inhabitants but they don’t really know anyone. Then I meet people whose families are broken and divided. Some of us feel like strangers on our own streets and in our own homes.
The Bible says that we have become strangers to God, to his love and his grace. God made us to know him, love him and worship him. But we choose to live as though God isn’t there. We make up our own rules, we live for ourselves and the result is a messed up hurting world where we are strangers to each other and ourselves. We have that strange sense that there must be more than this life here and now. We experience an aching and a longing to know and be known, to love and be loved.
That’s the beauty of the Christmas story. The carol “Jesus Joy of the Highest Heaven” sums it up perfectly. Jesus is the one who has “come to turn me a stranger, into a child of God.” In other words, in Jesus, God dealt with the problem of sin that separates us himself. The bible says that in Jesus, God was reconciling us to him. In Jesus sin is forgiven, death is defeated and we find ourselves no longer on our own. At Christmas we discover that the God who we tried to banish to the distant edges of the Universe has drawn near to us. God is with us. In Jesus, we discover that we do not have to be alone, we can become part of God’s family. He has “come to turn me a stranger into a child of God.”