The World Cup, Meghan Markle and the Royal Wedding. The top three searches on Google in 2018. The most popular question: ‘What is Bitcoin?’. Ones about Brexit only coming ninth behind Diwali and upskirting.
As one year ends, it’s natural to reflect on what we looked for in the last 12 months – and what happened (or didn’t). The highs and lows. Joys and disappointment. Failures and fulfilment. Times of change (or lack of). Regrets and missed opportunities. Separation. Reconciliation. Loss. Beginnings and endings.
What kind of year has it been for you? Is it one that ends saying ‘Was that it?’ or proclaims ‘That was it – and that was good!’?
And what might the next 12 months hold? Certainties and uncertainties. Hopes and fears. Waiting and wishing. Health and happiness. Stable relationships. A more balanced life of work, rest and pray. A deeper faith.
At Christmas we remember those who searched for the Christ-child. Shepherds from the hills and the wise ones from the East. For the shepherds, the search lasted a few hours or days. For the wise, a couple of years. They encountered difficulties along the way. But they knew what they were looking for – and they knew when they had found it.
No doubt some were sceptical. “What? The Messiah – in a cattle trough?” “Oh yeah, so I suppose you know exactly which star it is, then?” Some would have wanted to stay just where they were. Seated on the ground watching their flocks by night. Not wanting to traverse afar. Afraid that life will be different. Seeing this Jesus business as too much of a risk.
Just like the shepherds and the wise, searching for the really important things takes time. It is often confusing and rarely straightforward. It involves uncertainty and difficulties. There are challenges and instability. It takes effort. Little wonder we’re tempted to give up searching at times.
And yet it is those very components which help us discern what we are looking for for ourselves and what God’s plans are for us (the two are not mutually exclusive, by the way).
There’s also clue in a word we hear a lot at Christmas. Immanuel. It means ‘God with us.’
Anselm Shobrook, a Benedictine monk at Alton Abbey, talked about how the core of the Gospel message is a mystery and a paradox: ‘We can’t have one without the other: suffering makes God with us authentic.’
It is within our searching, with all its uncertainties and difficulties, that we can most deeply experience God with us.
Across the world, the most popular verse in 2018 on the YouVersion Bible App is from the Old Testament book of Isaiah: ‘(The Lord said) do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.’ (Isaiah 41:10).
UK users of the same app looked to another Old Testament prophet for assurances about the past, present and future. Jeremiah wrote: ‘For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.’ (Jeremiah 29:11).
Immanuel. God with us. God grants the strength we need. God wants the best for us: plans to give us a future with hope.
Maybe at some point in the Christmas period, why not take a while to consider what you’ll be searching for in 2019? And how you think you’ll know you’ve found it.