They grow up so fast, don’t they?
It seems like only a few days ago that we were waiting in holy anticipation for God to come into the world; a baby in a manger, hungry and thirsty and naked, weak and in danger and in desperate need of someone to care for him, born to parents who were far from home and unable to find a room for the night.
And now it is the Sunday after Christmas. Now it is four days after Christmas. Now it is many years after Christmas. And we read that Jesus—who was a baby in a manger—we read that his ministry to the world began this way:
John was a man in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and the people were coming to him. One day, Jesus—the one who laid glory aside and became one of us—came to him. John baptized Jesus, and as Jesus came out of the water, the heavens opened… and the spirit descended… and a voice said to him, “You are my son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
And then the spirit drove Jesus—the one who called the worlds into being—into the wilderness, and Satan tempted him for forty days.
And then Jesus—the wonderful counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting father, the prince of peace, who shall reign for ever and ever—returned from the wilderness, and began preaching the good news. And as he was walking along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew, and he saw James and John, and he called to them.
And they followed him.
You might not know this, but about a year ago, we started using the Narrative Lectionary: a list of readings, one for every Sunday and every holiday, that takes us through the whole story of the Bible every year.
In September, we start reading through the Old Testament, the torah and the prophets and the writings. On Christmas Eve, we read from the gospel according to Luke. On the Sunday after Christmas, we start reading through one of the four gospels. On the Sunday after Easter, we start reading through the rest of the New Testament.
And, in the summer, the lectionary takes a break and we read whatever we want.
And there are two important things that you need to know.
First, this means that you can’t blame me when the readings have hard words in them. You can blame the people who chose the readings for the Narrative Lectionary.
Second, the Narrative Lectionary is on a four year cycle, with one gospel each year. So one year, we read through the gospel according to Luke; another year, through the gospel according to John; another year, through the gospel according to Matthew.
And this year, we’re reading the gospel according to Mark.
Mark… writes like he’s up against a deadline. He writes like it’s the night before his gospel is due and he’s just getting started on it now and he just needs to get the whole story written and make the minimum page count.
So we get rapid-fire scenes like this… and we get scenes like this:
Jesus is walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He sees Simon and Andrew. He sees James and John. He sees these fishermen, with their boats and their nets and their hired hands and their businesses and their livelihoods. And he says, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”
And they drop everything. And they follow him.
And that’s… ludicrous… right? They don’t know who this guy is. They don’t know where he is going. They don’t know what’s gonna happen. And you would think that they would ask who he was… and what he was planning… and how it could fit into their lives. You would think that they would count the cost.
But they don’t. They drop everything; and they follow him.
We live our lives on faith. We take on new things. We don’t know how they’ll turn out. And we hope that they will work out.
We move to a new town. Or start a new job. Or go on a date. Or get married. Or get a dog. Or have kids. And we don’t know. We hope. We plan. We count the cost. And if we’re lucky… or if we’re good planners… or if we’re privileged… things work.
We are willing to upend our lives because we have faith in ourselves, or our employers, or our friends, or our families, or an app. I know. I’ve done it.
But even with all of that faith, there’s this question… and it’s an uncomfortable question… even for a pastor. And it’s this:
After Christmas Eve, after we’ve hung the stockings and trimmed the trees, after we’ve donned our gay apparel and sung the carols, after we’ve lit the candles and told the story, after we’ve opened the presents and eaten too much… after we’ve celebrated the birth of the Christ child… after that child has grown up… are we willing to drop everything and follow him?
Are we willing to show up for worship… even when it’s cold and rainy outside and our bed is nice and warm? Are we willing to go to kids’ concerts and matches… even when they aren’t our kids? Are we willing to volunteer at the Referral Center… even though it’s Saturday and there’s a game on? Are we willing to love someone who’s living on the margins… even though other people might say we’re weird for doing just that?
Are we willing to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty and clothe the naked… are we willing to welcome the stranger and care for the sick and give company to the prisoner… even though it might be inconvenient, and it might be uncomfortable, and it might get in the way of those things that give us prestige?
And I’m not just asking you. I’m asking me. Because I like, as it were, my boats and my nets and my hired hands and my business and my livelihood. And here’s this guy, coming out of the wilderness, walking along the shore, saying, “Follow me.” And I know something about where that goes… the good and the bad… the Friday and the Sunday…
And I don’t always have the faith. I don’t always know if I can do it.
But I also know two things.
First, I know that Christ himself was baptized and that Christ himself was tempted. And I don’t really know how that works. I don’t know what it means for God to take a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. I don’t know what it means for the son of God to be tempted by Satan in the wilderness. I don’t know how those things work.
But I know that it means something like this: God has stood where I am standing. God has walked through my uncertainty. God has faced down my fear. God understands my dubious faith. God has been there. God is there. God will guide me through.
Because Christ was baptized, my baptism means something. Because Christ was tempted, my temptation means something. And because Christ overcame temptation, I can do the same. And when I fail, Christ will be there to pick me up and dust me off and say, “I’m not done with you yet.”
Second, I know that any journey begins with the first step. I know that even the first disciples—even Simon and Andrew and James and John—had their uncertainty and fear and dubious faith. I know that their journeys had Friday and Passiontide. And I know that their journeys had Sunday and Easter.
I know from their example that following Christ is not about getting to the end of the journey today. It is about taking one step at a time, one day at a time, putting one foot in front of the other, and getting back up when I stumble.
A few days ago we were waiting in holy anticipation. A few days ago we celebrated God coming into the world. Now, it is the Sunday after Christmas, four days after Christmas, many years after Christmas, millennia after Christmas.
And here’s the thing. We can leave Christmas as a morning long ago or a day on the calendar. We can leave Christmas as nothing more than trees and carols and candles and a story. Or… we can embrace the promise of Christmas and follow Christ. Even when it’s hard. Even when we don’t quite want to.
And we can do that because Christ has walked through our lives, because Christ knows who we are and what it’s like to be us, and because Christ calls, “Follow me.”