Take the Next Faithful Step (The Epiphany of Our Lord)

Sermon on YouTube…

I don’t usually have corporate sponsors for my sermons… but I feel as if I should give fair warning: Today’s sermon is brought to you by the makers of Playmobile and the Disney franchise. Ok – I’m joking – mostly. They aren’t kicking in any big bucks for my preaching, but both companies’ fictional characters helped shape much of my sermon this week.

Some of you may have seen the Wandering Wisemen posts that have been shared on Prince of Peace’s Facebook page during the season of Advent and up to Epiphany. Basically, the picture centered posts use the wisemen and camel from Playmobile’s nativity set to invite the follower of the ‘page’ into the daily encounters and adventures of Gaspar, Melchoir, Balthazar and their faithful camel, Hezekiah as they search for the infant king Jesus. According to the creator- constructor of the Wandering Wisemen, the concept was born out of a desire to participate in the whimsical fun of “Elf on the Shelf,” with the focus more on Jesus than on Santa.

One post will depict the wisemen contemplating whether carrying a bulky tube of of sunscreen is worth the trouble; another day finds the wisemen lamenting the blisters on their feet, as only the camel is accustomed to such long travel on foot; and yet another finds them eating Cheetos and ho-hos, just two days into the New Year, breaking their resolution to be healthier.

Anyway. It’s fun. A bit stupid. And sort-of ironic, because curiously, the Wandering Wisemen posts we’ve shared have received more likes and interaction than just about anything else we post. Maybe we need more whimsical fun throughout the year…

I personally am a bit impressed by the creator-constructor… they’ve apparently been doing this for a few years now and each year the journey to find Jesus is different. I don’t know if I could come up with 37-ish days of creative photos and captions year after year.

Regardless of the whimsy and fun, why does Epiphany even matter? I mean, mostly it ends up being the day we can finally put the Wisemen in the nativity scene (if it’s still up), or the day we can finally take the dry, needle-bare tree down (if it’s still up), or the day we finally toss the pies, cookies, and candies (if there’s any left). Epiphany marks, in practice, the end of all the hubbub and the return to normal schedules, normal decor, and normal life. Often, I think of it as the time we climb out of the blackhole we all seem to live in between Christmas and New Years, where we don’t know what day it is, where our shoes are, and we’ve subsisted on wine and chocolate for far too long.

But, I think there’s more to Epiphany than that.
Actually, I know there is.

Part of what gets lost in the retelling of the wisemen’s journey is that their couple year endeavor to find Jesus gets boiled down to a week or so… which means the hardship, the wrong turns, and the tedious aspects of their faith journey are lost.

I think that’s why I enjoyed the Wandering Wisemen posts so much. Sure, it is ridiculous that the Playmobile figures were having tea parties, playing soccer, arguing with one another, and taking silly sidetrips… but, those normal, everyday things reflect more realistically how it is to follow Jesus than a watered down recap of: they saw a star at its rising, and followed it to where the baby lay, and a dream guided them down an alternate path.

I feel like the wonder and allure of the star probably faded pretty fast.
At least by the time the first illness hit or they became homesick.

They left everything familiar, including their home, friends, and occupations, to seek security in a foreign land; they depended on their own resourcefulness and the kindness of strangers. They faced their own mortality in a very real way. I think it was probably a very dark journey both to find Jesus and after leaving his bedside.

Frankly, following Jesus isn’t easy, even if there’s a bright star to guide you. And, lacking a bright star or any clear sign, I often feel directionless and lost, while simultaneously feeling overwhelmed and underwhelmed.

What am I even journeying for? Or to? Does it even matter?
My stamina and vision fails quickly. I, like our Playmobile friends, could easily slouch into a comfy chair and eat ho-hos and Cheetos for days in blissful ignorance to anything new that God’s revealing, let alone any way I’m supposed to be participating in that new thing.

If the Wisemen could’ve seen the whole journey or known how very hard things might get, they might never have undertaken such an endeavor. I think what God called them to do – and I believe what God calls us to do – is to just take the next faithful step.

And honestly, I think I can do that.

Sometimes the next faithful step is tiny; sometimes barely a crawl. And sometimes I’m gangbusters out the door. But no matter the day, no matter the circumstances, no matter what lies ahead… Really all God asks from us is to take the next faithful step.

Which is where Disney comes in… I took my daughter to see Frozen 2 not long ago and the whole movie is basically a faith journey. One part struck me so profoundly that it took my breath away. Anna, she’s the redheaded princess, who lacks the chilling magical powers that her sister, Elsa, has… she sings a heart-wrenching song when she believes all is lost… the journey has failed, she does not know where to turn to next or what to do, Elsa is gone forever (but, it’s Disney so you know she’s not really gone forever). Anna believes her life is over. However, slowly, the strength of her soul and the tenacity of her faith compel her to rise and take the next faithful step, unsure of where it will lead her. She sings, “A tiny voice whispers in my mind: You are lost, hope is gone. But you must go on. And do the next right thing. Can there be a day beyond this night? I don’t know any more what is true. I can’t find my direction, I’m all alone. The only star that guided me was you.”

She may have lost her star, but something deep within her knows that hope is never gone and we are never too lost to be found.

I think the Epiphany journey is a little like that. Star or no star, clear vision or no vision, dream or no dream, choice or no choice – what God asks of us in this broken, blessed world is to do the next right thing. The next faithful thing. To take the next step.

Whether we are walking through the night, blindly stumbling towards the light or basking in the daylight, confident of our way… Epiphany pushes us beyond our boundaries and into the Unknown (which is also a little Frozen 2 reference). Epiphany is really about relying on more than the map; heeding the signposts of intuition and dream; taking a risk and following a star, even if you’re the only one who sees it; keeping an eye open for the wonders that attend your path – a game of soccer, a meal with friends, an open hand that could use some help; pressing on when you’re tired, and resting when necessary.

We may put away the wisemen, the facebook posts may end, the twinkling lights will dim, happy endings may not always prevail, but Epiphany does not mark the end of the season. It’s just the beginning.

We set out from here, with the presence of the Christ child illuminating our hearts, into days that hold unknown treasures and daunting dangers… because once we have seen the child, once we have discovered his great love for us, once we have heard his voice we are drawn forward by his light, making paths where none could be seen before.