There he was, nearly 80 years old, living in a sleepy village outside Rome, Italy, with his books and seven cats. His wife had been dead for seven years and his only daughter worked in Afghanistan. He lived a silent rhythm, seldom venturing out, rarely speaking to others.
He was lonely. And on the day he decided to do something about it, Giorgio Angelozzi put himself up for adoption. That’s right – the octogenarian sought a family.
He placed a classified ad in Italy’s largest daily newspaper: "79-year-old seeks family in need of a grandfather. Would bring 500 euros a month to a family willing to adopt him."
The ad changed his life.
The paper ran a front-page article about him. Inquiries poured in from Colombia, New Zealand and New Jersey. Angelozzi was an overnight celebrity. He went from having nothing but time, to having scarcely enough time to handle interviews and requests.
A pop star responded. A millionaire offered servants and a seaside villa. But one letter stood out, Angelozzi explained, because every member of the family – father, mother, sister, brother – had signed it.
Last reports have him happily settled in their ground-floor apartment, taking walks in the garden, helping with dishes and homework. "I couldn’t have chosen better," he says, "Maybe it was luck, or maybe it was God looking after me, I don’t know."
The latter option makes the best sense. Loneliness is never the product of heaven. Among our Maker’s first recorded words were these: "It is not good for man to be alone." (Gen. 2:18 NIV).
He gets no argument from us. We may relish moments of solitude – but a lifetime of it? No way. Many of us know the language of loneliness.
His ultimate solution for loneliness isn’t found in a bar or a dating service, a spouse or a social club. God’s cure for the lonely heart lies in a manger.
No one knows me. People know my name, but not my heart. They know my face, but not my feelings. I have a Social Security number, but I don’t have a social life or a soul mate. No one really knows me. Moreover:
No one’s near me. The last two years have taught us the meaning of words like social distancing and quarantine – leaving us lonelier than ever. We want someone to be near us. Ever since Eve emerged from the bones of Adam – we’ve been reaching out to touch one another. We need to make a connection. And, we need to make a difference. The anthem of the lonely heart has a third sad chorus:
No one needs me. The kids used to need me. The business used to need me. My spouse never needs me. The lonely fight feelings of insignificance. Desiring to be remembered, one wealthy Midwest man had an ATM installed at his gravesite.When his heirs wanted cash from his estate, they had to go to his grave – enter a PIN and take the receipt to the bank. He didn’t want to be forgotten. The lonely think they will be.
What do we do? How do we manage thoughts of isolation? How do we cope with loneliness? Some stay busy, others stay drunk. Some buy pets, others buy lovers. Some seek therapy. And a few, a precious few, seek God.
This is God’s plan. His ultimate solution for loneliness isn’t found in a bar or a dating service, a spouse or a social club. God’s cure for the lonely heart lies in a manger. The babe of Bethlehem. Immanuel.
Remember the promise of the Angel? "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call his name ‘Immanuel’, which is translated ‘God is with us.'" (Mt. 1:23 NKJV).
He is not content to be an "above us God" or a "somewhere in the vicinity" God. He came as the "with us God." God with us.
Will you say these three words aloud with me? God with us.
God with us. Not just: "God with the rich" or "God with the religious." But God with us. All of us. God with Russians, Germans, truck and taxi drivers, librarians and libertarians. God with us.
God with us. We love the word, with. "Will you go with me?" we ask. "To the store, to the hospital, through my life?" God says he will.
"I am with you always," Jesus said before he ascended to Heaven, "to the very end of the age." (Mt. 28:20 NCV). Search for restrictions on the promise, you’ll find none. Nothing like: "I’ll be with you, if you behave, when you believe. I’ll be with you on Sundays, in worship, at Mass." No, none of that. No "withholding" tax on his "with" promise. He is with us.
God with us.
Let this be the Christmas you come home to Christ.
I’d like to close with a prayer – a prayer of decision. A decision to follow Jesus. Many of you reading this have made this decision already. Others of you have not – but you want to. Whether you are re-affirming an earlier decision – or making a first decision – will you pray with me?
"Immanuel – you are with us. You are with me. You became a person and took on flesh. You became a savior and took on my sin. I accept your gift. I receive you as my Lord, Savior, and friend. Because of you, I’ll never be alone at Christmas again. AMEN"