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.

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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.”

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Advent, the first season, the new year of the Church, has begun! Happy New Year! Advent looks towards Christ’s birth, but also towards the second coming of Christ at the end of all days; when the holy narrative begun with Christ’s humble birth and expressed most deeply through Christ’s humble death and triumphant resurrection will be fulfilled as Christ comes to set all things in order by love.

As this Advent season begins, the liturgical color changes to blue, we light one candle to watch for Messiah, and we move from having read mostly in the gospel of Matthew for the past year to mostly reading in the gospel of Mark in this new year as foundational scripture support in our faith journeys as individuals and as a community.

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I may have told some of you this story before.

I was standing at the front of the sanctuary at the church where my grandmama’s funeral was taking place. I had been crying all through the worship service (understandably), but somehow as I stood up, and then walked forward to sing a solo, my tears parted like rain pulling back to give a brief reprieve during a long storm.

And then, as I was singing, pouring out my heart to God and in memory of my dad‘s mother; my grandmama who used to tuck me in at their house when I would stay overnight, and then as she left the room, wind up a ballerina music box that played itself out into my dreams; as I was singing there at my grandmama’s funeral a most extraordinary thing happened.

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To understand the joy into which we are being welcomed by God in Christ, we may need to better understand the nature of God’s judgment.

Judgment. That word “judgment” may, to our modern ears, evoke images of harsh and negative punishment for misdeeds. Judgment from the courts, politicians getting their due, children being reprimanded for straying off course.

Now, when reading and hearing chapters 23-25 of the gospel of Matthew, which taken together are referred to as the Judgment Discourse, we might be tempted to be fearful as we consider the end of days and God’s judgment that will accompany them. Yet such a reaction could cause us to miss Matthew’s invitation to faith-filled and just living by, with, and under the promises of God fulfilled through Christ. This is actually the intent of our dear pastoral Matthew, encourager of Christian communities and writer of one of the four gospels. For, in fact, by Christ’s work we are not doomed to fear, but welcomed into faith and invited to enter Christ’s joy.

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