A church member forwarded a video to me this past week. It’s entitled “Point of Light” and features the actor, Tyler Perry, speaking of a key relationship in his childhood. He described his dad as a functional alcoholic who was abusive toward him and his young mother. Tyler lived in New Orleans and had a challenging route to get to school each day. He walked past drug dealers, poverty-stricken projects, gang members, and a graveyard to arrive at a six-lane intersection that was always busy. One day when he was a 13-year old middle school boy, he got to that intersection and heard a man calling out, “Will someone help me cross?” Everyone hurried by this man in a suit who stood still. Tyler offered to help and the man asked if he could have his shoulder. “Yes sir,” Tyler answered respectfully. The man carried a folding chair, a cooler filled with pralines and walked with a cane. He was blind. Tyler learned that the man was heading to his school, on the other side of the intersection, where he sold pralines to the students for 24 cents apiece. Soon Tyler became the daily “crossing guard” for Mr. Butler. They took that walk every day, Mr. Butler assuring this broken young man that “God will bless you for that kindness.” Perry states, “Mr. Butler was one of the first men in my life to see me. What made it all the more special is that he was blind. He was a point of light.”
One day Tyler was a bit late arriving at the intersection. Mr. Butler was there, standing still. Tyler approached him but decided not to say anything, following an instinct that it would be good to test Mr. Butler’s keen sensitivity. After just a moment of standing there with the quiet man, he said, ”I know you’re there, son.” When Tyler wondered aloud at how he could’ve known, the blind man assured the boy that he had been listening for him. He shared his faith by telling this adolescent boy from a broken home, “Sometimes in life, son, when you pray, you said all you can say, all you have to do is stand and wait and listen.” Mr. Butler was a point of light into Perry’s darkness as he was growing up. By offering a shoulder and a willing spirit, Perry received a gift far greater from this blind man who could see so clearly!
Sometimes we go on a search by traveling long distances. Other times we go on a search by standing still and waiting on God.
When Jesus was eight days old his parents did what was customary for Jewish parents in the first century: they took their infant son to the Jerusalem Temple to have him dedicated into God’s service. As this young couple, of meager financial means and far from home, entered the vast structure of the Temple courts, their journey was interrupted by two unlikely figures. One was an old man who came to the Temple everyday to worship. He believed a promise by God that he would live to meet the Messiah. Prompted by the Spirit to go to the Temple that day, he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this baby was the Jewish Messiah when these parents brought him in. He asked to take the child in his arms and said a blessing over him. Likewise, elderly Anna, who had lived in the Temple courts for years, sang the praise of this boy who would bring redemption to the oppressed Jewish nation. These two servants of God had been on a lifelong search for the One who would save them and their people. Their search kept them in the same place each day: the Temple. Anna fasted and prayed continually. Simeon’s life was guided by the Spirit. Their search didn’t take them far geographically but took them to a deep place spiritually. They recognized the Messiah when He arrived because they listened for Him.
The wise men also embarked on a search. They loaded up their camels to embark on a pilgrimage that took about a year of travel. They left their homes, their families, their communities, and their work to find a child that God revealed to them as a newborn King. A star that kept changing positions was their map. As the star moved, they redirected their course. Somehow I connected their journey to this beep in our house that we can’t quite locate. It seems like it’s in one area but then, when I’m on the upstairs landing, I can tell that it’s below me. When I’m downstairs, I know that it’s above me. When I’m in the kitchen it seems like it’s near the front door. When I’m in the dining room, I’m sure it’s coming from the laundry room. I’ve timed it: each beep is about 12 minutes apart and we keep searching for it. But it is elusive! I think of the wise men who must have had frustrating moments when their directional signals were challenged and the end destination unknown. They persevered, searching for an elusive king, until they found him. When they did, they offered him the gifts they had carried for many long miles. The star provided a point of light that lit the way and rewarded them in the end with great joy.
We enter this new year praying that there will be more light to show the way than we had in 2020. We religiously scanned the horizon in the year past, looking for hope when there seemed to be none. We found new avenues for channeling our love when physical distance kept us apart. My greatest joy at Christmas was that we could all be together, that we could hug our grandson and laugh together. The simple gifts of presence became very clear to us. The foundation of our faith is still being tested and strengthened as we continue the search for meaning in what feels like a foreign land. Like the beep in our home, we are continually distracted by one grim news story after another, being challenged to find a steady place where we could be still with the Holy.
Mary and Joseph suffered losses because of this Child. Simeon’s words must have seared like a knife when he predicted a future with great emotional suffering for the young mother. But they also received tremendous gifts with His birth. They encountered God in powerfully direct ways, enough to carry them into a very uncertain future. They received gifts fit for a King from foreign scholars who showed up after a lengthy journey only to fall on their knees and worship the child. Simeon and Anna were rewarded for their own journeys of piety that were lived out in the Temple on a daily basis.
We enter the new year, continuing our search. I pray that last year taught us that the guideposts to our journey can be elusive and confusing. If we rely on our own senses, we will surely get lost. If we open ourselves up to serving others, helping others cross the busy intersections, we will be rewarded beyond measure. We would do well to learn the lesson Mr. Butler taught young Tyler while crossing a busy street: Yes, sometimes in life, dear son, precious daughter, when you pray, when you’ve said all you can say, all you have to do is stand and wait and listen. In those rare moments of connecting with others in Christian outreach, we will know that we are finally home.