As “Trail Walkers,” my wife, Joan, and I walk most every day on the many wonderful trails that wind in and through and up and down the scenic wooded campus of our retirement community in southeastern Wisconsin. We regularly see deer, birds, wild turkeys, fox and, once, a scraggly coyote as we get our needed exercise.
But like anything worthwhile, the trails need to be maintained. So my octogenarian friend, Norm, and I volunteered to install name signs—Kettle, Scenic, Ridge and Inspiration—made by other members of the trail committee and color-coded markers that we’ve spaced along each of the trails to help keep walkers on course. It’s been a fun job, but in doing it we’ve simply been following in the footsteps of the foresighted pioneer who established the trails 25 or 30 years ago because he dearly loved nature and wanted to give others opportunities to enjoy God’s creation.
Walking the trails reminds me a lot of our faith walk in life. Sometimes the path in the woods is easy to identify. Other times leaves or snow and other debris covers the ground, and you have to pay much more attention to stay on the path. You find yourself looking intently for the markers: “Where’s the next one? I can’t see it. I don’t know which way to go. I could go many different ways.”
And when I start to move on without seeing where the next marker is, I invariably discover that I’m not on the trail. It’s a panicky feeling—not knowing where the path is. And before I get too out of breath and wander too far off, I say to myself, “Go back to the last marker.”
When I get there, I don’t proceed until I do see the next trail marker. That can take time and requires patience. But I’ve learned, sometimes painfully, that I can’t do it on my own. I can’t find my own way no matter how hard I try. I need to sight the marker.
These markers are like that star the Wise Men followed to the infant Jesus. Today for us, as Christians, the faith markers are God’s word, guiding and assuring us that we’re on the right path. God’s word provides the encouraging signs we need to keep us moving forward and in the right direction.
There are times on my walks that I need to pause at each marker and look for the next. The path simply is not visible. And to proceed without the marker in sight is to wander from the path and get lost. So it is in our faith walk, and we say with the Psalmist: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (119:105).
As God’s children, we are all trail walkers. In this Advent season, let us become aware of what’s cluttering or obscuring our path and not let it sidetrack us. Let’s move from one trail marker to the next in our faith walk. And as we come, again, to Christmas and the celebration of the birth of the Word become flesh, may we put our trust in this One who grew up to be the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, knowing that his Spirit will guide us each step of the way to our heavenly home.
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