I must admit that it was incredibly difficult to write a sermon this week. I still feel somewhat shell-shocked, as no doubt some or even all of you do, by the events that have transpired. Yet, as I prayed and steeped myself in the scriptures, I found two images placing themselves side by side in my consciousness. One was an image from the gospel itself, and the other was an image from the news on what is being described as one of the darkest days of United States history.

The first of these two images was of John the Baptist, clothed, as we heard in today’s gospel, in camel hair, calling the people to repent of their sins and turn to God. John the Baptist, clothed in camel’s hair and baptizing Jesus, the Sovereign of Love and Author of all creation, there in the River Jordan.

The other image that I found in my mind was a member of the mob of people who broke into the Capital Building this past Wednesday. You may have noticed this man in news photos as well, as he wore a headdress of some kind of animal skin and horns.

Two men clothed in animal skins, but with entirely different messages.

Including today, there are actually three more days of Christmas. Three more days to especially praise God for the gift of the Christ child, sent to heal the sins of the world. Three more days to especially praise God for becoming the Love that Came Down, the Love that Comes Down to dwell among us. Yet we are celebrating the Epiphany today, the festival that comes right on the heels of the twelve days of Christmas and which this year would land on Wednesday of this week. Epiphany; the occasion of the wise men – or wise guys as I sometimes fondly think of them – the wise men arriving to visit the baby Jesus, presenting him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gifts fit for a king.

Now, I imagine that we all know that the best gifts are the ones that money can’t buy.

For those of you who may not have seen, it was a mixed week in the news:

On an upbeat note (pun intended), Beethoven’s 250th birthday was celebrated with a variety of online concerts and articles. On a more somber note, even as the first vaccinations have begun to be administered, the Coronavirus death toll in the US passed 315,000 and 1.68 million worldwide. And, depending on your disposition towards snow, the two feet of snow that most of us received here in the northeast on Weds night into Thursday either brought joy or frustration, or perhaps a mixture of both!

I want to take you on a short journey with me today. We are going to start in one place and end up in another.

I was searching through YouTube how-to videos this week to learn how to cut long hair into layers: for obvious reasons (pointing to his bald head). It’s amazing how many things one can learn on YouTube these days: how to cut hair, how to build a backyard shed, how train your dog or cat. You could also learn how to balance two forks on a toothpick or do a cartwheel, or make fifty-foot long paper mâché angels. Many of these things can be useful, or at least fun.

We are not alone in the wilderness! Here on this second Sunday of Advent, in our gospel lesson from Mark, we hear of how God sent John the Baptist, like other prophets before him, calling us from our wandering ways to come home, calling us in the midst of our struggling lives; to know that in God our refuge we are home. That rooted in God our refuge we are called to be a comfort and refuge for others.

I have a story for you. In this month’s Living Lutheran magazine, Bishop Elizabeth Eaton writes about traveling to Honduras with a group of folks from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – the ELCA of which we are a part. They went to hear first-hand about the plight of migrant minors, who had tried to flee Honduras because of gangs who had killed family members and extortion from organized crime. Turned away from entering the United States, these Hondurans had found refuge and help in being resettled in safer places back in Honduras through the efforts of the ELCA, in partnership with the Lutheran World Federation and our Mennonite siblings. The ELCA’s effort is this is known by an acronym based on the Spanish word, “amparo,” which means “shelter,” or “refuge.”