Advent: Week Two Searching and Finding. Reading: Jeremiah 29:12-14
12 Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will look for Me and find Me, when you look for Me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,’ says the Lord. ‘And I will bring you back and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have made you go,’ says the Lord. ‘I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you away.’
Sometimes the warmth and joy of the Christmas season hide behind a thick fog. The rhythms of life, the steadiness we bank on is interrupted with a cosmic tragedy, or unexpected upheaval. Maybe no income, ongoing construction in your home, family far away, or most terrifying, the loss of a loved one. It can be mild or extreme. The carols of Christmas don’t warm us like they may have when we were 10. All the childhood jubilee, the excitement I still want to capture in my adulthood with traditions and wassail and gingerbread houses and decorations, can be out of reach. Pain can sting so badly around the holidays that we want December 25th to pass quickly so we can try to breathe again.
Years such as these strip away the dazzle and leave us with the basic elements of the holiday. The benefits we are meant to celebrate typically get lost in all the excess. Those years of plenty, where we sing and bake and laugh aren’t wrong. They are reminders of what we await one day as God brings his Kingdom to earth. Yet, sometimes we have a severe mercy. The mercies that lead us back to the Christ child as our ONE hope, our ONE joy, our ONE remedy. At those times we must labor to remember the joy of his birth. We must seek him with our whole hearts. As Jeremiah speaks on behalf of God, “You will look for me and find me when you look for me with all your heart.” When the Christmas season feels shrouded with heaviness, we must haul ourselves to the Christ child. God is looking to meet us, carry us and restore us.
That late night, when the sky was lit ablaze over the shepherds, they were given the good news. Little did they know, there was an arrival of a redeemer who would be their advocate. The angels told them to go and find him, to make the long trek.
“Let us go to Bethlehem! Let us go and see this thing that has happened…”
A journey is before us to get us back to the most sacred and holy moments of Christmas. There is waiting and there is searching. There is seeking and listening and looking and finding. The shepherds were struck with awe. They went with speed to find the Lord. There was now a rescue from hardship, poverty, rejection and weariness. Certain years we need to travel to find him again. Like the shepherds, we need to make the journey back to Bethlehem. Sometimes being whittled to the barebones makes us run to him in a different way. It’s an agonizing run, with tears and heaviness. But to look for him is to find him as he is: Savior.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran minister and German theologian who was imprisoned and martyred for his involvement in a conspiracy against Hitler and the Natzi regime wrote letters from prison to his parents, friends and fiancé. He knew the reality of a stripped-down Christmas. No warm fires to sit by, no turkey and cranberry sauce around a table with those he loved, no presents to wrap or unwrap, no caroling in the neighborhood. He was cold, alone and in pain. He pushed hard through all the loss to find the Christ child. His letters record his reflections:
For a Christian there is nothing peculiarly difficult about Christmas in a prison cell. I daresay it will have more meaning and will be observed with greater sincerity here in this prison than in places where all that survives of the feast is its name. That misery, suffering, poverty, loneliness, helplessness, and guilt look very different to the eyes of God from what they do to man, that God should come down to the very place which men usually abhor, that Christ was born in a stable because there was no room for him in the inn – these are things which a prisoner can understand better than anyone else. For him the Christmas story is glad tidings in a very real sense. And that faith gives him a part in the communion of saints, a fellowship transcending the bounds of time and space and reducing the months of confinement here to insignificance.
Bonhoeffer had also written these words to Eberhard and Renate Bethge (Bonhoeffer’s niece and husband):
Blessing means laying one’s hands on something and saying, Despite everything, you belong to God. This is what we do with the world that inflicts such suffering on us. We do not abandon it; we do not repudiate, despise or condemn it. Instead we call it back to God, we give it hope, we lay our hand on it and say: May God’s blessing come upon you, may God renew you; be blessed, world created by God, you who belong to your Creator and Redeemer.
May you find the Lord this season, in the midst of all the emptiness and brokenness in your life. May advent be a time when you look with all your heart for the King who has come to make all things new. Even now, we keep our eyes open and our ears perked, for he is still to be found.
Further Reading for a Reminder of the Hope We Await: Isaiah 35