We have a very beautiful first reading from Isaiah – “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” Lovely poetry, often quoted but the beginning of this reading is perhaps, more practical. Seek the Lord while He may be found. Call Him while He is near. Is there anyone you would like to say that to? Someone who, perhaps, was once a seeker of the Lord. Someone, close to you, a relative or a friend or maybe a child who has now gone in another direction?
Such a person was Dan Wakefield, a novelist and screenwriter. He used to call himself a former Christian, a fallen angel. He lived the high life of New York and Hollywood. His books were best sellers and two of them became movies. He led a dissolute life in the very fast lane. On Christmas Eve in Boston he left his grand hotel and went to look for a bar, a bar with local color. He passed King’s Chapel and he saw people going in. He thought to himself, oh yes, I remember Christmas Eve, that is what people do, they go to church. So he stumbled into the church and sat down by the crib. Seeing the Christ child there, that gentle God in human form and the words of St. John’s Gospel kept going through his mind – and the word was made flesh and dwelt among us.
He was caught by old memories of his family and a new emptiness in his life. Something resonated in his soul and it was not long before he returned to his roots, to Christ. He wrote a very beautiful book about that return, it is simply called Returning. He sought and he found the crib and its memories had caught him.
Another person who was seeking was a young woman named Catherine Whitemore. She grew up an Episcopalian and she had good memories. She writes about coloring books in Bible school and stories about Jesus. In college she never went to church and she scoffed at organized religion. After her mother died, she decided she wanted to go back. She looked in the Yellow Pages and found 48 listings for Episcopal Churches. The first one was very grand with a famous choir and Liturgy. It all felt rather anonymous, you were an onlooker just listening to the wonderful music. Watching the movements on the Altar, she felt like part of an audience. She kept searching and found a small church where everyone took part in the Liturgy but what first attracted her was the large crucifix on the Altar. Her first thought was God so loved me that he allowed this to be done to His son. This is not the way I would have saved the world.
No – God’s thoughts are not our thoughts – God’s ways are not our ways. It is interesting the paths these two seekers, Dan Wakefield and Catherine Whitemore, took. One is captured by the crib and the other by the cross but both were captured by the memories they stirred up.
The basic testimony of both these people is that their return was precisely that, a return. That is to say that someone in their young years had already laid a foundation. There were pictures and prayers and Bible school and family church goings. Later on it is true, they left all that but it did not leave them. Grace was but dormant, merely waiting, waiting to be resurrected by the crib or the cross of another time, put there by someone significant.
Their stories remind us of the importance of laying good foundations. The importance of you being here, the praise you are giving to God, the worship together, the example and witness. In short, the memories you are creating for this community, this family, this parish. Never underestimate the power of memories
Whether you teach others the gentleness and nearness of the crib or the demands and cost of the cross, do it early, do it often, do it faithfully, do it with your own lives. Never forget Isaiah’s message – seek the Lord while He may be found and call Him while He is near.
If you do not forget perhaps, someone someday will remember. They will remember what you showed them by example and maybe, the crib or the cross will remind them that the Lord is near to all who call upon Him.