The last few weeks I have been in stores more than a few times – and looking for presents as many of you probably have as well. I was struck by how many employees there were in each store asking me, “Do you need help finding anything?” “Can I help you find something?” Then when I would finally make it up to the cashier, usually they would ask, too, “Did you find everything you were looking for?”
It struck me as overkill – but I’m sure it was really just good customer service.
But I’ve been thinking about how we in the church, in our ongoing spiritual journey, have made this journey through Advent and we have arrived at Christmas Eve – how might we respond today if on the way out the ushers asked us to reflect on this season and answer the question, “Did you find everything you were looking for?”
Heaven knows we all arrive at Christmas with different needs and expectations. We arrive having experienced all sorts of joys and sorrows and trouble and good in the last year. We arrive here sometimes just because someone in our family asked us to come or because we aren’t quite sure what Christmas Eve would be like without this candlelight service or Holy Communion. We may come with the same prayers we have been carrying around for years or perhaps some new ones, too. We make our way up highway 6 and then up the snowy drive way and in through the glass doors and into this warm and cozy sanctuary and we sit together and sing and listen and when it’s all said and done, “Did you find everything you were looking for?”
A couple years ago on a quiet December evening, my son, Jesse, and I were at the nursing home we went to all the time in our little town in Texas and we were visiting with one of our church members there, Frances, in a waiting room. Jesse was playing his little handheld video game and I was doing a crossword puzzle with Frances – and finally it came time for us to go and so I went to bring Frances back to her room and Jesse said he would wait for me and keep playing his game in the waiting room. Well, as I was bringing Frances back to her room, I thought about how I hadn’t seen another one of my parishioners, Olaf, at the Supper table that evening and so I thought I would poke my head in his room to make sure he was doing okay. His room was just down from Frances’ and it would just take a minute. Well, it probably took about five minutes because of course Olaf and I started chatting and in the meantime, Jesse had gotten tired of waiting for me, had walked down to Frances’ room and when he didn’t find me there, went outside to see if our car was still there – and of course it was – but I wasn’t with the car, so then he started freaking out and went back to the waiting room, sat down, and started to cry – which was how I found him when I arrived moments later.
“I thought you were gone!” he cried. “I thought you had forgotten me!” he wailed. And I reassured him again and again that I would never leave him. I had been right there all along – just down the hall…but I promised him that in the future if I decided to stop at someone else’s room I would let him know so he could find me.
I felt bad I had caused him to be so upset – but I remember feeling surprised, too, because how could he possibly ever think I could leave him behind? I would sooner lop off my right arm than ever abandon my children – I couldn’t possibly do it. But I remembered once feeling that same fear as a child once when I was out grocery shopping at our tiny grocery store in Henning with my mom and she told me to go to the cereal aisle to pick out a brand and I loved to do that – I would go and pick the one that looked like it had the coolest prizes, so the task of picking out cereal took me a while – and looking back, I think that was probably nice for my mom because she got to be alone for a few minutes. Well, I found the cereal and went to find her and I couldn’t see her anywhere. I went out to the car, she wasn’t there. I remember feeling tears welling up in my eyes and then finally I spotted her. She had just gone to the bathroom quickly and now there she was in her dear old black coat and her kerchief on her head – and all was well.
Sometimes we think we are more lost than we are. Sometimes we are certain we have been abandoned, that all is lost, when the truth is that all is well.
This is the heart of Christmas – this beautiful, joyful Christmas. On this day, the church resounds not with the question, “Did you find what you were looking for?” – Rather – with a blessed statement of unchanging truth, “Christ has found you.” Christ has come to you. Christ is with you. Always.
In your joy and your sorrow – Christ is with you.
In your victories and your defeats – Christ is with you.
In your hopes and your longings – Christ is with you.
In your strength and in your weakness – Christ is with you.
In your beginnings and your endings – Christ is with you.
On Christmas and every day – Christ is with us.
Thanks be to our newborn king. In his name we pray. Amen.