These past couple of weeks, my wife, Lauren and I have been talking about the Advent and Christmas season and how funny it is that it is meant to be a time of quiet reflection and preparation. At church, so often during these two seasons, we talk and emphasize how important it is to slow down and reflect. Not only to celebrate Christmas, but to ponder what we are actually saying when we tell this Christmas story. But in all honesty, I think it can easily be our least reflective time of the year. We are busier this season than any other. And the problem is that we are busy with great things – holiday and Christmas concerts, a friend’s cookie baking party, making Christmas cards to send out, and gathering together as a family. But so rarely does it actually allow us to slow down and take pause.
As I reflect a little on what Christmas means for me, I hope it will provide you with a little bit of space to allow you to slow down and wonder about what Christmas means for you.
With all of this talk about Jesus being born, I’ve been thinking about the “firsts” that many children have. First steps, first tooth, first birthday, first words. And so I kept wondering, what were those things like for Jesus? Jesus’ first step, first tooth, first birthday. And what were Jesus’ first words? These words that we hold so dear, that we print in red ink in our Bibles – What were the first words that Jesus uttered?
For those of you who have children or have watched a child grow up, you know what an important and powerful moment it is when a child speaks for the first time. Family and friends are called to announce the event; the video camera is often pulled out as we coax the young child, “Say it again! Say it again” – and they likely stare back at us blankly and silent. When my wife Lauren spoke her first words, it was a particularly special moment. One day, when Lauren was about one and a half years old, she walked into the kitchen where her mom was, grabbed a fist full of jeans and gave a big tug. When Lauren’s mom turned towards her and said, “Yes, honey?” Lauren opens her mouth and speaks for the first time, by saying, “Guess what, Mom? 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10!” As if she had been preparing for months for this momentous event, Lauren’s first words were an inviting question and a successful demonstration of counting up to ten. First words are important. They are something we wait and hope for, and if they come, they are something we remember and share stories about them.
So what were the first words of Jesus? Unfortunately, we don’t know those first words of little one-and-a-half year old Jesus. But the first words of Jesus that we do get to eavesdrop on come from the gospel of Luke, when Jesus’ is 12 years old. As the story goes, Jesus is hanging out in the temple, while his parents have been frantically searching for him for days. Between Nazareth and Jerusalem, they have been fearfully looking for him. When they hear that he is in the temple, Mary bursts through the doors of the temple and scolds Jesus for having gone missing. At that moment, Jesus opens his mouth and speaks for the first time by saying, “Why have you been searching for me?” Twelve-year-old Jesus. Lost for three days. He does not say, “Mom, Dad! Thank God you found me. I’ve been so scared!” No, Jesus’ inaugural words, those first red letters in the gospel of Luke are, “Why have you been searching for me?” First words are important. They are something we wait and hope for. If they come, we remember them and share stories about them. So I believe the author of Luke’s gospel knew exactly what he was doing when he inked these words as the first to come out of Jesus’ mouth. These words were not meant just for Mary and Joseph, these words were meant for the reader of Luke’s gospel. When Jesus asks, “Why have you been searching for me?” the words leap off the page inviting the readers to stop and pause, to reflect for themselves, “Why have I been searching for Jesus?” And so as readers of Luke’s gospel, maybe these words are meant for you and I. Why have you been searching for Jesus? What are you searching for? What have you come seeking? We are on that bridge between the end of the past year and the beginning of a new year. What are you searching for in this new year?
Perhaps you are searching for life to feel meaningful? You’re here at church out of habit, but you’re not really sure what you believe but you’re tired of nonsense. Perhaps you are searching for assurance that a loved one who has died is okay and in the company of God. Perhaps you are searching for someone to join you in your joy. Life feels full and exciting right now and you simply want someone to be excited with you. Whatever you are searching for this year, remember that we have a narrative. A story from our community, that has been whispered about between friends, dramatized around camp fires, and passed down from generation to generation. A story about a God that loves creation so much, that delights in creation so much that God chooses to join it. A god that thrusts God’s own self into creation and becomes a part of it. This is our Christmas story. Refusing to abandon it, God in fact is born into this world. Because God is for humanity. God is for creation. God is a loyal God. And isn’t that what we crave? Loyalty. Someone to stand beside us and love us?
Thinking about God’s loyalty reminds me of a story from the president of Luther Seminary. Years back, President Bliese was interviewing to be a pastor for a church in South Chicago. When he went to the interview, he was asked two questions. The first question was a question about Jesus. Which makes sense, since he was interviewing to be a pastor. But the second question was a little different. The second question they asked him was this: Are you a white sox fan or a Cubs fan? While he thankfully answered correctly (White Sox), it was not until years later that he realized the question really had nothing to do with baseball. But it was a question about loyalty. Are you a white sox fan or are you a Cubs fan? Are you with us or are you against us?
And it is in the Christmas story that we hear God is with us, not against us. God is a White Sox fan. And a Cubs fan, and a Twins fan, even a Yankees fan. Loving and loyal to all. All of humanity and all of creation. So much that God does not abandon this world, but actually enters it, becomes incarnate in this world. And not simply as a child two thousand years ago, but today, God joins us here. This is our Christmas narrative. With a divine love such as that active and loose in the world, we can let go of what weighs us down and we can trust. Trust that when we are overjoyed with the fullness of life, God sings out with us. Trust that when when a loved one dies, they are welcomed into God’s care. Trust that when we are lost and not sure what to believe and what to do, God accompanies and wanders alongside us.
So whatever you are searching for today, know this. Our God is a loyal God. With us, not against us. For creation. For humanity. For you. In all its mystery, this is the heart of our Christmas narrative. Thanks be to God.