One of those heartwarming stories in Chicken Soup for the Soul is about a little girl named Schia. She was four years old when her baby brother was born:
Little Schia began to ask her parents to leave her alone with the new baby. They worried that, like most four-year-olds, she might want to hit or shake him, so they said no. Over time, though, since Schia wasn’t showing signs of jealousy, they changed their minds and decided to let Schia have her private conference with the baby. Elated, Schia went into the baby’s room and shut the door, but it opened a crack-enough for her curious parents to peek in and listen. They saw little Schia walk quietly up to her baby brother, put her face close to his, and say, “Baby, tell me what God feels like. I’m starting to forget.
In Luke’s gospel, chapter three verses one to six, the Jewish people are starting to forget God. The sometimes comforting, sometimes challenging religion of the prophets has given way to a stale, dry ritual of rules, regulations and laws that burden people beyond their ability to cope. God’s tender love has given way to a transcendent but stern lawgiver, and the only way to be right with God is to obey the law of God. The encounter with a personal, powerful presence that loves us and embraces us and calls us into companionship has become more a distant memory than a lived experience. Yes, the people are starting to forget God.
Enter John the Baptist, who begins preaching that God himself is going to come among his people: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth: and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
One is coming, John says, who will lift up even the most sagging heart. One is coming who will provide the people with a glorious, shining, redeeming hope! A wondrous hope! Hope beyond belief.
The crowds must have been awestruck to hear such good news when they had grown so accustomed to only bad news. Imagine their excitement, their sense of anticipation, their overflowing joy at what they were hearing: God is coming. God still loves you. All is not lost. There is hope for your future.
It is hard for us to picture the exhilaration the people must have felt as they heard John’s message. They heard the love of God in a whole new way, as a love that would not ever let them go; a love that would be with them forever.
Some of us may have trouble believing John’s message. The great comic actor W.C. Fields hated Christmas because it reminded him how lonely he was. His nephew Will Fowler remembers Fields saying to him, “We’re all lonely enough as it is. I was born lonely! But Christmas and New Year’s and Thanksgiving and all the rest make me even lonelier. So I observe only one day-April First. That’s my day…”
Can you imagine celebrating April Fools’ Day and not Christmas? Even if Fields was engaging in a little hyperbole, his sentiments come through loud and clear. Christmas is a very sad season if you are lonely. We need to be sensitive to the needs of those who have no one to share these special days. Particularly those who are in nursing homes, those who are home-bound, those who have experienced the loss of a loved one in the past year. Not everyone hears the message of John the Baptist as good news.
Perhaps you yourself have been hard-pressed to believe in God’s love: that God is with you, that God cares for you, that all is not lost. If you have been clinically depressed; if you have lost a child; if you have been through a divorce; if you have been disabled; if you have suffered from some kind of addiction; if you have been making your way through a debilitating illness-you may have known that dark night of the soul that can make words of hope sound empty, or too easy, or just a sentimental platitude intended to “buck you up.”
Still, John the Baptist speaks to us-speaks to our distress and our doubts and even our despair. God is coming. God still loves you. All is not lost. There is hope for your future. Things will change in ways you have not even imagined. Sometimes we can’t hear those words because our pain is so profound.
Several years ago, I was asked to visit an elderly woman in a nursing home who was near blind and suffered from severe osteoporosis. Because she was confined and could not return to her own house, she was mad as a hornet at God. Isabelle was not mad at God because she thought that God had caused her blindness or given her osteoporosis. She was mad at God because God had abandoned her in her suffering. She did not fear death, but she did fear the weeks of dying alone. There was no comfort to be found. “Where is God?” she would ask me. Then she would answer her own question. “God has abandoned me. God doesn’t care. God has turned his back on me.”
Our conversations seemed to go in circles until I finally asked her, “Where is Jesus in all of this?” She put her hands to her chest, closed her eyes, put her head back and sighed, “Oh! He’s everywhere!” When I suggested that that could be where she would find God, her eyes lit up. That was the good news she had been searching for. The words of hope: God is here. God still loves you. All is not lost. There is hope for your future.
I linked Isabelle with a pastoral visitor, and over the next two years they read the Bible, shared in communion, prayed and talked together. That pastoral visitor was with Isabelle on the day she died.
Wherever you are in life, whatever the pain you are experiencing, however much you doubt God’s love, God will never give up on you. God loves you and will always love you. You can walk away from that love. You can say no to that love. You can refuse that love. But God will never stop loving you, because God is love, and love keeps on loving, no matter what.
The French philosopher Henri Bergson came to join a church in his later years. A friend asked him, “How did you find God?” Bergson thought for a while and said, “Perhaps it was how God found me.”
Isn’t that the truth? You search for God, but it is God who finds you. God comes to you, loves you, embraces you and brings you home. God never gives up on you, even when you are tempted to give up on yourself. Isn’t that the good news we need to hear this Advent season? That no matter how lost you are, no matter how far you may have strayed, no matter how much pain you may feel, God still loves you and searches for you and brings you home. I tell you, none of us are ever so far-gone from God that God will not find us and bring us home.
A little boy became lost in the woods. As night grew near, the family grew frantic. Many joined in searching for the little boy. Snow began to fall, hindering their efforts. Despite their diligent search, they could not find him. Next morning, the weary father, having looked all night, decided to return home for a rest. A half-mile from the house he kicked against what seemed to be a log lying across the path. Suddenly, the snow-covered bundle moved, and a small boy stretched, yawned, sat up and exclaimed, “Oh, Daddy! I found you at last!
Yes, even as we seek God in the dreary moments of our lives, God is seeking us, finding us and bringing us home.
So lift your head high and face the future with faith. You are a child of God. Watch how God comes into your life. Watch how God levels the rough places before you so that God’s purposes will be accomplished. Watch how God will guide you if you will let God lead. God will renew your life, brighten your days and give you hope.
Dear people, hear the good news: God is coming. God still loves you. All is not lost. There is hope for your future.
The Rev. Dr. Gary Nicolosi is the rector at St. James Westminster Anglican Church in London, Ont.