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Search for "Prodigal" Father Reveals God's Presence

In a sermon titled "The Hopes and Fears of All the Years," Craig Barnes says that the message of Christmas is not that we always get what we want, but rather that God will probably answer your prayers in ways you weren't expecting. Then he shares the following personal story:

[My father] left us when I was sixteen, and once he left, he never stopped running. Every time we tried to find him, he would only leave and disappear again. He died alone in a raggedy trailer park somewhere in the middle of Florida. A neighboring pastor, who did not know him, spent two days trying to find his family even though he did not know our names.
My Dad missed all of the important events in his sons' lives: graduations, weddings, birth of children, our two ordinations, and both of our Ph.D. ceremonies. He missed all of it. I prayed and prayed that he would return to us. I used to yearn for the day that he would show up in a congregation where I was preaching. My longing was for him to come through the line at the end of worship, take my hand and say, "Good job, son." But he never came.
At his funeral, I stared at the casket and wondered what happened to all of those prayers for him. Were they just lying around on the floor of heaven?
When the service was over, my brother and I went to his little trailer in hopes of piecing together something about his life. That was when we received the great Christmas gift. Sitting on his kitchen table was a devotional journal in which he had written his prayers and thoughts about various Bible passages. I was relieved to discover that he did not also abandon his faith. But then I came across a dog-eared, tattered page with the title "Daily Prayer List" at the top. The first two items on that list were my brother's name and my name.
I will never understand the lonely madness that drove my father away from everyone who loved him. But I am so thankful to know that to his dying day, he never forgot us. He talked to God about us, even though for some reason he could not talk to us. There was enough grace in that to get me through.
The grace was not that I received what I wanted. I did not find my father in time. The grace was that Jesus never lost him. And for me, the grace was that I then realized, through all of those years of praying for my dad, I was speaking with the Heavenly Father, who will never leave me or forsake me.

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