By Brian Lowery
She is standing at the front door, balancing a heavy bag of groceries on her hip as she tries to fish the keys out of her purse. Not a minute should be wasted on “this or that.” She needs all the time in the world to make it all look perfect—the perfect table spread, the perfect decorations, and yes, even the perfect family. And she needs all of this time because she knows everything is far from perfect.
Just across the street is a man who lives alone—always has and perhaps always will. There are no lights strung about the frame of the garage. There is no tree in the living room, dressed with ornaments collected over years past. There are no gathered family members or friends to trade gifts with. Like any other year, his Christmas is painted in a pale, sad blue—not the typical reds and greens.
She has just stepped into the store. The shopping cart is empty for now, but she is determined to fill it with stuffed animals, wild books, buzzing toys, and enough candy to put a kid in a coma. It will be quite the spree—and why not? She bought enough 25-cent wrapping paper at last year’s day-after clearance sale to wrap a 747. It will be quite the spree—and why not? She wants to buy the love of the kids at home who are still reeling, two years later, from a messy divorce.
In the same store stands a man with bloodshot eyes and slumped shoulders. He spots the aisle of choice, the one lined with bottles of gold and amber elixir. The liquor is practically his prescription for this time of year. The names on the labels form his guest list. Some will drink to remember. He will drink to forget.
Watch as they decorate, as they host, as they shop, and even as they hide—but do not miss that above all, they seek.
You and I know full well that for some odd reason—maybe it’s the heady eggnog, the slaphappy songs, or the blinking lights—Christmas stirs within people a desperate sense of seeking.
’Tis the season to be looking about and seeking out.
We shouldn’t be surprised. If one reads closely, Matthew’s Christmas story is populated with a handful of unique seekers (see Matthew 2:1-12). We have more questions regarding them than answers.
Who were they? Tradition has pinned the name wise men to their chests. In fact they were Magi—possibly astrologers or magicians.
Where were they from? Probably the east—maybe Persia or Old Babylon.
How many of them were there? Our nativity sets say there were three. That’s probably mere tradition built on the fact of their offering three gifts (2:11). Some scholars say there were as many as 12.
Ultimately, there is a cloud of mystery about them. But we know they were seeking something that Christmas night. If they were astrologers, one can assume they were seeking some insight into the future via the stars that blazed in the dark skies overhead. They held close to their hearts the idea that maybe the motion and commotion of the universe and its galaxy could help map out tomorrow and, if lucky, today.
The wonderful part is that in their seeking they stumbled upon something—someone—they weren’t even really looking for, but found anyway. They happened upon a star that helped them happen upon a Child who held a rather profound future in his tiny little hands.
We know the rest of the story: When finally in the Child’s presence, having traveled rough terrain for months (or maybe even years), the seekers from the east fell to their knees and all who were gathered there saw the glint of golden gifts as a sweet fragrance filled the air. Of course it could be said the real gift was themselves—willing subjects for a discovered King.
I am not one who cares to over-spiritualize a text, but I do sense in many ways the Magi of old represent humanity as a whole. There is a certain “seeking spirit” present within them that makes cameo appearances even in today’s Christmas.
This spirit may very well be what we see in the woman who stands in the doorway to the house or in the man making a lonely trip down some store aisle. There are many among us more like the strange fellows from the east than they care to know or admit. Quite literally, some even still stare into the stars, hoping to sketch a map. They are looking for something, not even realizing it is a “someone.”
More often than not, they never get around to the King and instead allow the seeking to end with only a “very special Christmas,” a celebration of the Norman Rockwell variety. They buy out the store, string up the popcorn, and climb ladders to the roof to make sure everything matches the picture on the greeting card. With that, all is well. Or they seek after a bottle, a handful of pills, or whatever else kills off the feelings that swirl just below the surface of things.
It’s all very sad, what people often end up doing with their Christmas.
But what’s sadder is quite often we don’t do much of anything for those still stumbling around in the dark, looking for some light to carry them home in a Christmas season.
Of course we have our services and our sermons and our songs. There are advertisements in the paper concerning the “schedules and times” of things, and the church gives a turkey or two to the shelter. We may even offer a greeting to the visitor who shuffles in. But we ultimately end up tucked away in our own Hallmark special, pining for a white Christmas and all the other trimmings.
I confess this is true of me. I know as much having spent last Christmas with my in-laws. They invite everyone and their mother to crash the family party. They welcome whatever conversation and whatever opportunity to be Christ incarnate for the neighborhood at large. I was taken aback when I should have been a little more convicted by such grace.
You and I have excuses for our reluctance to embrace the seeker each Christmas season. Perhaps the person would like us to “leave things well enough alone.” Maybe they are already religious in another direction and any swing at proselytizing would be offensive. You have to guess that some really do want to merely roast chestnuts over an open fire, and in turn, want nothing to do with Christ.
And it is possible they will play “Herod” to our good news. Matthew’s angle on the Christmas story has its share of seekers, but it also has quite a few characters who, though displaying an initial impression of interest, are altogether “sealed off” and stubborn. There among the bowed Magi is Herod standing with arms crossed, seeking really only one terrible thing—to reject the Child at all costs and to cause suffering for any and all who embrace him.
True, we never know what will happen when we reach out to those in whom we perceive a seeking spirit.
But that simple truth cuts both ways, doesn’t it? You may just happen upon someone who has been staring into the heavens and waiting, just waiting. And like that, a tired excuse can suddenly become a wild impetus.
Into a seeking world is born a small, frail Child who has the power to draw any and all men to himself: eastern astrologers, the family stretching to keep up with the Joneses, the lonely soul in the empty house, the saddened mother searching for the right gift, and the drunkard struggling to put one foot in front of the other.
One just never knows.
So it is not too late. It’s just Christmas Eve. There are people fishing for their keys next door and shopping in the aisles of the stores just down the street. Even now they are going about their decorating, hosting, shopping, and hiding. They are still seeking.
Now is the season for seeking the seeker.
Brian Lowery is a freelance writer and speaker living in the suburbs of Chicago with his wife, Sarah.