In the name of God. Amen.
It’s that time of year. It seems to start somewhere around Thanksgiving, and without fail it continues into the new year.
I think it happens to all of us. No matter how progressive or forward-looking any of us claims to be, at about this time every year – even if not for the whole time – there is some part of each of us that yearns to look back. Our time with family and friends brings up memories of the years that have passed, even as another year passes into memory. The year that was – with all of its things done and left undone – fades. We look back: perhaps with fondness, perhaps with regret. But what are we looking for? Do we ever really find it?
Some of you may know I have a fondness for movies. Fondness – it might better be described as addiction! My DVD collection is extensive, and I watch them often. It’s not that I’m a great aficionado of film. I don’t study the art form or sciences of filmmaking. I haven’t seen many of the great films that people are supposed to have seen. But I do love a good movie. Few things are more satisfying to me than crawling into my most comfortable pajamas and curling up on the couch with the lights low and watching a good movie.
During this season of nostalgia and looking back, that’s how I usually meet my needs – with a good movie.
Earlier this week, I didn’t have any big plans for New Year’s Eve. Some of my friends had work obligations or were out of town, so I found myself with an unexpectedly, but welcome quiet evening. I decided to use that as an opportunity to feed my own yearning for seasonal nostalgia.
I turned the lights low and got comfortable on the couch and settled into the last hours of last year to rewatch a comfortable old movie – Forrest Gump.
One of my favorite episodes in this film happens later in Forrest’s life. After his mother has died and after his success in the shrimp business has been established, Forrest is on the edge of embracing his true dream – to be with his beloved Jenny. She has returned to Greenbow, Alabama and is staying with Forrest in his family home.
They live a quiet life together: eating, watching television, dancing. But when Forrest confronts Jenny about his love for her, and proposes marriage, she gets cold feet again and runs away again. After a lifetime of searching, she still seems unsure.
In the next scene Forrest begins a search of his own. Not for Jenny, but for clarity in his own mind. Throughout his life he had found clarity and security and even fame and fortune in running.
As he put it: he ran to the end of the drive way, and when he got there, he thought he might as well run to the end of the street. Once there he decided to run to the end of the town. And then the county. And then the state. Before long he was on an epic journey running back and forth across the country.
People began following him. Though he rarely spoke, and then only few words, they were somehow inspired by him. But he didn’t run to inspire others. He ran because it was his way of searching his soul.
I think that’s what this seasonal nostalgia is for most of us. In our looking back we search our own souls for a way forward.
In the Gospel that we read this morning, we heard of another search – that of parents searching for a “lost” child. Since I’m not a parent, I probably can’t know the terror that must have been in their hearts. But I do know what it is feel lost – to feel separated from my dreams and desires to the degree that I wonder if we’ll ever be reunited. I know what it is to search.
Later this week, as a church, we’ll celebrate the end of another kind of search – the searching of the Magi for a king. These Eastern philosophers, following their charts of the stars, believed that something substantial was waiting out in the world for them, if only they could find it. After twelve days of wandering and searching, they stumbled onto one of the most insignificant corners of one of the most insignificant towns of a fairly insignificant kingdom. There they found their hearts’ desire – a king in the person of a seemingly insignificant child.
From the Jewish refugees wandering in the wilderness searching for the Promised Land to the people of Christ searching for signs of resurrection, the stories of our heritage are the stories of a people searching. One of the central purposes of the people of God is to engage in the search. It might seem preferable to seek out comfort and stability, but God is always calling us out of our comfort zones and back into the search: for deeper ways of engaging the Body of Christ through our relationships, for truer ways of being the hands and feet of Christ in the world.
What are we searching for?
In this time of economic instability and generally declining church attendance are we searching for the next morsel to get us through the next day, or are we searching for deeper relationships and truer mission?
Are we searching for the grace to share the divine life of the one who humbled himself to share our humanity? Or are we searching for our own comforts, and hoping to stumble upon Christ on the way?
Perhaps the young Jesus said it best, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
When our focus is on ourselves we are lucky, at best, to stumble onto even that. But when we, like Christ, endeavor to go about our Creator’s business, we will invariably find Christ.
In these waning days of Christmas – in this season of nostalgia – what are you searching for?
May we all, who seek God or a deeper knowledge of God, find and be found by God. Amen.