Sermon: Now We Look

December 26, 2021

Colossians 3:12-17
Luke 2:41-52

by Eric Anderson

He wanted to find the end of the island.

He didn’t actually know what he meant by that.

‘Elepaio are known for being curious, for closely watching human visitors to the koa and ohi’a forests, and for closely examining every tree and branch on which they perch. They don’t tend to be travelers, however. The ability to fly makes visiting easier, but a small bird with short wings finds long flights tiresome at best. But.

If you’re going to find the end of an island, you’re going to have to take some longer flights.

Other ‘elepaio, older and younger, tried to discourage him. “You’ll never find the end of the island. It’s too far away.” Or: “Why look for the end of the island? There’s nothing you can’t find here.” Or: “Don’t go. You might never come back.”

He set out despite the worries and the worriers. His first few flights – a few short ones that added up to a longer one – brought him down to the edge of the ocean. That was promising. If he followed the coast, he should find an end to the island. The only question was, which way should he turn? One end was probably closer, but there was no way he could tell which was which. Well. How about to the right?

He flew in bright sunshine amidst lots of trees until the sun set in all its color to his left. He didn’t go very far each day, to be honest. Small wings need rest and small birds need nourishment. He’d travel and eat, he’d travel and drink, he’d travel and rest, he’d spend the nights in sleep.

He was able to avoid hungry ‘io and pueo in the grasslands between Hualalai and Kohola, though he wasn’t sure how. There was plenty of woodland in the valleys between Pololu and Waipi’o, but everything was more humid than back at his home in South Kona. Passing down the Hamakua coast, he spent time in rain and in sunshine, but rather more rain, and that continued on as he flew past Hilo into Puna. He took the flight over the steaming lava fields of Kapoho in a long, hungry, and thirsty day. The strong winds beyond Kalapana buffeted him along, and he wondered how he’d fly against them on the way home. The Ka’u Desert made another long hard hungry flight before he found green trees again.

To his astonishment, as he followed the coast beyond Na’alehu, some things began to look familiar. The shape of the mountain to his right was similar to his memory of home, and growing more similar with every beat of his wings. The ocean to the left glowed with each sunset. And at last he reached… the very spot from where he’d decided to turn right.

He’d set out to find the end of the island – but it had no end.

He found his grandfather before conferring with the rest of his family. “I didn’t find the end of the island,” he said.

Tutu nodded. “It doesn’t end, does it?”

“It doesn’t,” said the grandson. “I came back to the same place.”

“But did you find what you were looking for?” asked Tutu.

“I don’t know,” said the grandson.

“Keep looking,” said grandfather. “But this time you might want to begin by searching your heart.”

This is the only story we have about the childhood of Jesus, just this one incident at age twelve. And it sounds curiously like a mixture of classical “heroic childhood” story – the Emperor Augustus, for example, delivered the eulogy for his grandmother at the age of twelve – and one of those family tales that gets repeated down the years to the perpetual embarrassment of its primary subject.

“Do you remember that time that Jesus disappeared?”

“Do I! Can you believe he didn’t even leave the city with our group?”

“Really? What a scamp he was.”

“Oh, you haven’t heard the best part.”

“What’s the best part?”

“He was sitting in the Temple and when we found him, he said, ‘Where else would I be but in my Father’s house?’”

Cue the laughter of guests and the blushing of the teenaged Jesus.

Craig Satterlee writes at Working Preacher, “Had things been so blessedly ordinary for so long — no more angels, adoring shepherds, and OT prophesies — that the mystery surrounding their son’s birth had begun to fade like a dream? Or maybe Mary and Joseph were aware of what their son would do and become, but figured that was years away.”

Or maybe they just weren’t that accustomed to looking for Jesus.

You and I, we are accustomed to looking for Jesus. In this last hard year – these last hard two years – it’s been a hard search, and harder to find. We are accustomed to looking for Jesus in some pretty stable, consistent places – all right, one of those stable places is the Bethlehem stable, at least in metaphor. We’re used to looking for Jesus in a big room called “church,” surrounded by lots of other people, singing songs together, spending some time catching up with one another afterwards, and every once in a while sharing a table and a meal.

I don’t know for certain that you’ve found Jesus there, doing that, but I would guess you’ve found something precious because you’ve kept coming back.

For most of 2020 and all of 2021, that hasn’t been available at Church of the Holy Cross. Every time we’ve considered re-gathering our congregation, infection numbers have risen to new heights. I’m desperately hoping that’s not the case for us next month, but my desperation is increasing and my hope is fading. O’ahu has experienced more new cases per day than we ever have before, and there’s no signs that it won’t rise even more.

So I’m looking for Jesus.

My anxieties are not the same as those of Mary and Joseph hunting for a twelve-year-old. I’m looking for reassurance, for hope, for revival, for safety. I’m looking to have my spirit renewed after disappointment. Nobody promised that this pandemic would be over by now – at least, nobody with understanding of how pandemics work – but it didn’t matter to my unconscious, did it? It will end. Sure, it will end. When will it end? Well, how about in the year the vaccines are released? Sure, that’s when it will end.

But we didn’t vaccinate enough people. It’s not just about the vaccine reluctant. It’s about the those without access. Viruses change randomly when they get an opportunity to grow. In a population without large-scale access to vaccines, viruses change more quickly. So we saw with the delta variant. So we’re seeing with omicron.

So I’m looking for Jesus. I need a twelve-year-old to tell me it’s going to be all right. Just as long as I realize that Jesus is not likely to make all things clear. As Ginger Barfield writes at Working Preacher, “In a culture that calls for clarity and conclusive ways of understanding God’s good news in Christ, we offer a text this day that ends in pondering and lack of understanding. The conclusion of the story does not nail things down. The story is as open-ended as is the Gospel itself.”

You know, I’ll take what I can get. Where to look?

When I did my “What I’m Thinking” reflection earlier this week, I got a comment suggesting that we start with the historic Jesus – and indeed, that’s exactly where this search starts. It starts with this particular Gospel reading, and with the further descriptions of Jesus’ words and actions that Luke recorded, and of course that Matthew recorded, and Mark, and John. Does this give us a complete, accurate, and orderly account of Jesus?

No. It doesn’t. It’s messy and occasionally contradictory and frequently mysterious, sometimes because the authors make passing mention of something that was common knowledge two millennia ago but today… not so much… and sometimes because, let’s face it, these very human Gospel writers didn’t fully understand the Savior either.

They kept at those questions just the same way Jesus and the teachers had done – asking questions, offering answers, critiquing the answers, trying other answers – and you can see much of that work being done by the authors of the remaining books and letters of the New Testament. They – and we – continued to find inspiration in the pre-Jesus books of the Bible, because they speak of the God we find incarnate in the child of Bethlehem.

And… there’s more to search. The Bible, for all its richness, is neither the fullness of the historic Jesus nor of the Divine. Poets and theologians and teachers have spilled a lot of ink to find them, and the quest hasn’t ended yet.

Ultimately, the search for Jesus will return to the same place it started, and that is the human heart. Our troubled hearts. Our aching hearts. Our broken hearts. Our confident hearts. Our sin-sick hearts. Our loving hearts.

By all means, search for Jesus by seeking the end of the island. You won’t find its end, but you will encounter a lot of Jesus and a lot of blessing along the way. Remember, though, that you carry your heart with you, and when you seek for Jesus, Jesus will always be there.


Watch the Recorded Sermon

The video above includes the entire service of December 26, 2021. Clicking “Play” will jump to the beginning of the sermon.

Sometimes the variations between sermon prepared and sermon delivered are the result of inspiration. And sometimes, Pastor Eric has trouble pronouncing words together. There’s a little of both happening today.

The image is from Biblical illustrations by Jim Padgett, courtesy of Sweet Publishing, Ft. Worth, TX, and Gospel Light, Ventura, CA. Copyright 1984. Released under new license by Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Categories Sermons | Tags: , | Posted on December 26, 2021

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