Small Towns

A message about Seymour Indiana and Nazareth, a musician and a savior, and the good that can come from literally anywhere on our planet.  

He was born in a small town, six decades ago, population just under 10,000, in the rural area of Seymour Indiana. Referred to as the “Crossroads of America” due to the north/south and east/west railroads that intersect downtown, Seymour is more of a spot to head through than to head to.

And this particular small-town man, at face value seemed, well, nothing special. Born with spina bifida you may not have expected much from this infant later in life. At age 18 he eloped with his pregnant girlfriend, mere months after graduating high school, becoming a young father soon after. While attending a two-year college in another small Indiana town he got knee-deep in drug culture, at times being so high on pot he wouldn’t get off the couch for days at a time. With just this limited information about a town and a person, you may ask yourself, can anything good come out of Seymour?

If this were your friend, or child, or relative it’d be difficult not to judge.

Two millennia ago another man also grew up in a small town, population of just a few hundred, in a rural area of Galilee known as Nazareth. Born of an unwed mother, who gave birth far away from home, in a barn of all places, knowing just this you may not expect too much from him later in life either.

Like other small towns in the area, Nazareth was an agricultural village, and economically dependent on the capital of Galilee. Hebrew scripture never mentions the town, much less connects it with anything special. To the locals it may have seemed rather ho-hum, another small town away from the action of the big city.

In today’s scripture passage, John 1:43-51, where the twelve disciples begin to get gathered, begin to follow, you can hear the assumptions, hear the prejudice clearly about where this man from Nazareth grew up. When the apostle Philip approached Nathaniel and described he who Moses and the prophets wrote of, the promised savior, Nathaniel was less than impressed. Nathaniel replied, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathaniel felt so ho-hum about this town he was willing to write off all its inhabitants completely.

Heck, in my own life I must confess to being guilty of this kind of mindset. When the Southeastern Iowa Synod phoned last Spring about a possible call to a church, in a town called Ames, population about 66,000, initially I didn’t know what to think. When Assistant to the Bishop Pastor Eric Carlson asked me what I knew of Iowa I responded coyly, “beyond the corn? Not much.” I found myself pondering, in those early moments of discernment, some version of the same scriptural question, “can any good pastor gig, for a suburban South Florida guy, come out of Iowa?” At the time I wasn’t so sure.

A Rock Star
So what about that guy from Seymour Indiana? Well, it turns out he was musically gifted, and went on to became a highly successful rock star, singing songs about America’s heartland. His life’s work spans across 23 albums, with 28 million in albums sold. Some of his biggest hits include Hurts So Good, Jack & Diane, Pink Town, and R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A. This musical icon was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2008, that’s a pretty big deal. He’s gone by several names over the years, and for the past couple of decades is known simply as John Mellencamp.

But Mellencamp isn’t just a talented musician beloved by millions. He is also one of the founding members of Farm Aid, an organization that began in 1985 to raise funds that keep farm families on their land. Farm Aid concerts have remained an annual event over the past 33 years, and, with his help have raised over $50 million dollars.  He came from a small town, and people may have wondered, can anything good come out of Seymour? We know the answer, it’s unequivocal: yes.

A Savior
Turning back to our scripture text, after Nathaniel wondered aloud if anything good could come from Nazareth, the Apostle Phillip responded simply, “Come and see.” And Nathaniel went and saw. There he saw Christ, who found no deceit in Nathaniel. This surprised him, who felt deeply known by someone Nathaniel had only just met. Now seeing Christ in the flesh Nathaniel exclaimed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, the King of Israel!” Jesus, who at this point in scripture had performed no miracle, shown no sign, and engaged in no teaching responded you, Nathaniel, “will see greater things than these.”

Come and see, Christ beckons. Come and see.

Speaking personally, after my own “can anything good come out of” moment, I got down to the business of getting educated about all things Ames, all things Bethesda. I spoke with people, ran internet searches, prayed, and imagined with wife Kathi what could be. After getting educated some my initial bias toward going to a town this size began to melt away; I began to see the possibilities more clearly. The call committee said, in their own way, “come and see” inviting the two of us to do just that. So this past June we went, soaking up as much as we could over the course of three days learning about this town, this church.

While visiting we found much to love in what, to us, is a small town, tho admitted you may not agree on that particular label – I suppose that depends on where you’re from 😊

So we packed our stuff, kids and pooch and moved to this small town, and these several last months have been wonderful.

So often we find ourselves making snap judgments about people, and places, based on our own bias, our own stereotypes, our own limited information. You’ve heard my confession, please forgive me, people of Ames, I love ya. We each have our own challenges in this department.

Heck, in the past two days our national dialogue has pivoted to this exact topic. It’s caused us to pause, reflect, and dialogue on something akin to these three questions:

Can anything good come out of Haiti?
Can anything good come out of El Salvador?
Can anything good come out of Africa?

As followers of a God that created each of us in God’s likeness, the answer is obvious. As followers of a Savior raised in a small town, a Savior that taught us to care for those society treats as less than, over and above all else, we know the answers to these questions.
It is unequivocal: YES.

But to arrive at that kind of conclusion requires something of you.

To experience the brilliance of John Mellencamp, you can’t just look up his birthplace and call it a day. You have to come and see, and listen to the music. You’ll be glad you did.

To experience what’s so great about Ames, and about Bethesda Lutheran, you can’t rely on a joke about corn. Kathi and I had to come and see, to talk and to tour, to learn and to dream. And we are so glad we did.

To experience the transformational beauty that Christianity offers, you can’t rely on cultural assumptions of what our faith is, or isn’t, and simply tag it onto a political or social platform. The beauty of our faith requires we come and see, read, learn, worship, break bread together and participate in the life of the church. It asks us to go and do, here and throughout the world, as Christ has modeled so well. It asks us to then to share, to converse, to invite others, asking them to also come and see, to experience this transformational beauty for themselves.

Before we close I’d like you to take a listen to a favorite Mellencamp song of mine, Small Town. As you listen, consider the small town Jesus came from, and the stereotypes and challenges he encountered throughout his ministry. Then consider the town you come from, either big or small, and the challenges and bias from others you may have had to endure as you grew up. And then consider, in your town, how you can ask others to come and see Jesus, right alongside you, and how you can encourage them to experience this transformational beauty for themselves.

Click on the YouTube link for the full video and then read select lyrics below.

Well I was born in a small town
And I live in a small town
Probably die in a small town
Oh, those small communities

Educated in a small town
Taught the fear of Jesus in a small town
Used to daydream in that small town
Another boring romantic that’s me

No I cannot forget where it is that I come from
I cannot forget the people who love me
Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town
And people let me be just what I’m meant to be

God is perfectly capable of honoring ordinary people from apparently insignificant places. And God is perfectly capable of doing amazing things with those people. And that, when you are open to it, certainly includes you.  Amen.



A homily on Luke 1:39-55.

This week our confirmation youth begin their study of the Lord’s prayer with a focus on two phrases:

Your Kingdom come
Your Will be done.

It is in this context we consider the text from Luke chapter 1, more commonly called the Magnificat, or the song of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

But before we delve into that perhaps there’s some value in first digging into the word kingdom. When you think of that word, kingdom, what comes to mind? Here are two things that pop into my cranium.

Earthly Kingdoms
The first is the United Kingdom. The UK is made up of four countries, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It’s a kingdom because the country has royalty, Queen Elizabeth II is the reigning monarch, and has been since 1952. What United the UK, initially at least, was war. Over several centuries what brought these lands together was the conquering of one country by another.

Even now religious conflict remains somewhat common in Northern Ireland. Many Catholics want to be reunited with the rest of Ireland; many Protestants wish to stay within the UK. They debate, they argue, sometimes they spar, sometimes it gets violent. The kingdom is United, tho not always unified; perhaps not too unlike our own country in that way.

And this kingdom is doing well financially, the UK, it represents the sixth largest economy in the world.

The second kingdom that comes to mind, and this may be fairly obvious coming from a former Floridian – is the Magic Kingdom. That’s the informal name for Disney World, the series of amusement parks in Orlando. It’s a kingdom, arguably, because at the center of the park is Cinderella Castle, complete with a costumed Cinderella and her costumed prince, always smiling, ready to shake hands or snap a photo with you too.

Kathi and I have been to the Magic Kingdom many, many times, and more recently our kids have too, and I can tell you, speaking from personal experience it is indeed magical. Disney is about as good as it gets when it comes to taking care of everyone that enters their kingdom. From the design of the theme parks, the quality of the rides, the transportation network that spans their four parks and dozens of hotel properties, the experience, from beginning to end, is simply magical. But don’t take just my word for it. In 2016 the park hosted over 20 million visitors, making it the most visited theme park in the world for the 11th straight year.

And, at last glance the Walt Disney company had assets of over 92 billion dollars, so it’s doing pretty well financially too. The worst thing I can say about the Magic Kingdom is this: it ends. It’s real, and magical, at least in the flesh, for only as long as you are there. When vacation ends so does the magic. After the magic ends you head home, back to your regular day-to-day.

Your Kingdom Come
When we pray your kingdom come, as part of the Lord’s prayer, this heavenly kingdom, come to earth through the Christ-child, seems so very different from our earthly kingdoms.

God’s kingdom came through not royalty sitting on a throne of gold, but instead through an unwed mother, pregnant from questionable circumstances.

Unlike earthly kingdoms God’s kingdom arrived not in a castle but in a manger, to a family without the resources to make room at the local inn.

God’s kingdom descended in the midst of violence, King Herod really did want to kill off this new King of Kings. But God’s kingdom is different, and never got involved in a bloody struggle for power. Instead God’s kingdom brought the great, non-violent unifier, the Son of God, the Prince of Peace.

Your Will Be Done
We get a clue about what God’s kingdom looks like, and what it means to pray Your Will be done, from our scripture reading today.

As a first-time mother, carrying the hopes of the world in her womb, I can only imagine the joy Mary felt as she sang of God’s kingdom, and God’s will for us all, as the kingdom of God literally grew within her. Her song teaches us that:

God’s will be done not by the raising up of the powerful, but instead by bringing them down from their thrones, and lifting up the lowly in their place.

God’s will be done when the hungry are fed good things, taken care of by a kingdom that looks after not just the 1% or the 2% or the 5%, but instead looks after everyone.

And unlike the Magic Kingdom, which is magical for only a certain time and place – during vacation – God’s Will be done is a promise, made to our ancestors, made to us, made to our descendants forever.

It is a promise that crosses national borders, peacefully. God’s kingdom unites us, bringing people from around the globe together in a common identity. Together in common purpose. God’s kingdom it is a promise that God is with us. And it is a promise that never ends.

God’s promise, when fully embraced, as Mary embraced with her whole self, brings joy. May you also do as Mary did, your soul magnifying the Lord, your spirit rejoicing in God your savior. For unlike earthly kingdoms, which can’t help but be corrupted and lead to haves and have nots, or are just a temporary reprieve from reality – as fun as that can be – God’s kingdom, when lived out, unites in ways no earthly kingdom can.

God’s kingdom is here. God’s kingdom is now. God’s kingdom is forever. And, most importantly, God’s kingdom is for you.  Amen.



Breaking Routine

A Christmas Eve message based on the birth narrative of Luke 2.

Current Routine
It was a normal day, this past Thursday. With a weekend message to prepare I do what I always do, and headed out to a local eatery. With a pile of reference materials, and laptop in hand, I settled in to write. Being out amongst the hustle and bustle of food and commerce, the essence of life for many of us, well it tends to get my creative juices flowing. This is my routine. This is what I do. It’s how these messages come to be. And like clockwork it works almost flawlessly.

But this time, much to my chagrin, for some reason the magic wasn’t there. I found myself reading the same notes, again and again, making notations, but still landing short of inspiration. Oh dear, I thought to myself, perhaps this day isn’t going to go as planned. Writer’s block is the worst.

As I sit there I realize I’m also feeling rather run-down too. I’ve been getting over a cold the past few days, and in the afternoons it feels like there isn’t enough energy to make it through the day. With this sermon going nowhere and energy levels running low – winter colds are the worst too – I opted to head home and lay down for a nap. Things were not working out as planned. This made me more than a little anxious.

Ancient Routine
It was a normal night, two millennia ago, for those shepherds we hear of in today’s text. They were doing what they always do, living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. I like to think they too have a certain way of doing things. Move the herd at 9pm, meal break at midnight, shift change at 3am, or something like that. When they woke up that day I’d guess they had a pretty good idea of what their day, and their night would look like. This is their routine. This is what they do. It’s how their flock gets cared for. And like clockwork I bet their routine, for the most part, worked pretty well for them.

But then, in the middle of all that normalcy, all that standard routine, something unexpected happens.

An angel appears, and proclaims to them good news of great joy. The angel tells them of the Messiah, now born, lying in a manger. And the angel makes this news pretty specific:

I am bringing *you* good news.
This day the Messiah to *you* is born.
This will be a sign for *you*

In the midst of all this good news, delivered by spoken word, the lone angel is now joined by a multitude of angels, who burst out in song. “Glory to God in the highest,” they proclaim, “and peace on earth.” Peace on earth for who? With all this news being for *you* it must have been, in that moment, for that audience, meant for those shepherds.

We’ve got some great music tonite, Christmas Eve is about as good as it gets, but imagine the heavens filled with an angelic choir praising God, heralding peace on earth. Apologies choir, and apologies musicians, but I think that angelic choir has our number, the splendor that must have been. And the prophetic angel definitely has my number in the preaching department 😊 But just imagine, try and put yourself there, as a shepherd, having your normal routine suddenly interrupted by such splendor.

Shepherds go, tell
We’re told that when the shepherds had their normal night interrupted so grandly, by angels and heavenly choirs and celestial proclamations, well, it made them more than a little anxious. In fact it terrified them. Picture yourself, sitting at your office desk, or on your couch watching tv and having all this happen right before your eyes. I’d be terrified too.
After the angels departed the shepherds huddled up and decided to go, to see this child in a manger. But there must have been more to it than that. Their normal day was now anything but, and well, it terrified them.

I wonder, what did they do with their flock? Did they bring them, or make other arrangements? Did they bring family, or leave them behind? Scripture doesn’t specify. We do know they went, leaving their routine, leaving their sense of normal, leaving behind their own earthly todo lists, all in search of something more. The angels promised peace.

Peace. Perhaps peace is what they journeyed for.

The shepherds then went, and found what they’d been looking for: the child in the manger, the Prince of Peace. They praised this Prince of Peace, giving glory to God in the highest. And they shared what they’d seen, and what they’d heard, and all who heard it were amazed.

“I bring *you* good news,” the Shepherds would say.
The Messiah to *you* is born.
This is a sign for *you*
Peace on earth, this Christ-child brings.
For who, the people would ask the shepherds? For *you*

So whatever happened to my failed attempt to write this message the first time? After dropping my writing routine and heading home for a good long nap in front of a warm fire my mood began to shift. My body, still recovering from that winter cold, felt stronger. Kathi and the kids came in and the four of us laughed and played and were generally silly and it just seemed so right.

I found myself asking my wife after dinner to snuggle up on the couch and watch a Christmas movie. As we settled in to watch the 1947 classic Miracle on 34th Street it started to snow outside, and it was wonderful.

The next morning, my daughter, seeing her first Iowan snowfall, excitedly asked dad to go outside for our inaugural snowball fight. We somehow found a way to make tiny balls of snow from the half-inch overnight dusting, and laughed and giggled at targets being hit and missed. After that my toddler son and I took a boys-only road trip, he could use a haircut and we could use a breakfast. Haircut now done I then watched my four-year old order a pancake as big as his head. He made it through half that pancake too; I could only smile.

It was then, after taking some time to heal up from that winter cold and spending time with the family just being present that I realized what this change in routine had yielded. It had brought peace. And it was then the dreaded writers block began to be released.

So often we find ourselves caught up in the busy-ness of our jobs, our check lists, our routines. Being sick disrupted my routine, those angels, well they certainly were a disruption for the shepherds. But in both cases, when we were open to those disruptions good came from it.

Yet we define ourselves by our successes and failures in very practical, earthly ways. I have my stories, you certainly have yours, it’s part of our human condition. We barely have time to breathe it seems, let alone make room for the divine presence all around us. But that’s what Christmas Eve is, it prepares us for God’s coming into the world, through Christ, right in the middle of daily life.

We may never have the chance, at least in this lifetime, to experience a chorus of angels singing to the heavens as the shepherds did; tho I certainly look forward to that in the life to come. But as the shepherds were, we too are offered, in so many times and so many ways, the chance to break routine, to journey to the manger, to meet Christ in the flesh.

  • We journey to the manger though family, cuddling on the couch, throwing snowballs, eating huge pancakes with the kids.
  • We journey to the manger when we walk alongside the lonely, doing those same things for those with no family.
  • We journey to the manger when we show hospitality to the stranger, regardless of their race, creed, or national origin.
  • We journey to the manger when we clothe the poor, heal the sick, feed the hungry, and house those without.

For when we journey to the manger, we model the angels, and model the shepherds, and proclaim to others, both in word and deed:

“I bring *you* good news.”
The Messiah to *you* is born.
This is a sign, for *you*

We’re really pretty good at making room for the Christ-child on December 25. Preparations have been made, gifts purchased, jobs, schools and stores all closed. We can just be, and celebrate God come to earth, we make room for it, it’s on the calendar, and that’s a beautiful thing.

But the rest of the year, well, that’s a little trickier. Let me encourage you, all year long, to travel to the manger, in word and deed, with every step you take. For it is in the doing, and in the saying, and in the bringing of good news to others, it is *there* where we finally find our peace.   Amen.

What Christmas Is

A poem for the holidays.

What is Christmas? Christmas is many, many things.

Christmas is toys and joys, cocoa and cider, trees and trimmings.
It is memories, some past, others newly made, still others lofty aspirations yet to come.
Christmas is tradition and family, baking and tasting, churches and carols, decking the halls.
Christmas is full bellies, needs met, gifts given, loved ones snuggled, contented, by a warm glowing fire.

Christmas is stables and mangers, livestock and hay, stars and angels, shepherds and wise-men.

It is unexpected parents, long, arduous travels, and inns with no rooms. It is a recognition that sometimes life, even for the divine, is HARD.

Christmas is hope and love, joy and peace.

Christmas is a promise made good, of God made flesh, of new starts, second chances. Not for a family or tribe, town or district, region or country, but instead a new start for the entire world.

Christmas is toys and joys, not just for us, but for those without.
It is filling bellies, not just our own, but those still empty.
Christmas is providing shelter, making room at the inn, in the midst of those who cry there is no room.

And Christmas is singing, but not for us. It is singing for those whose voices go unheard. It is singing for those who have no voice. And it is singing, loudly, Joy to the World! The Lord, in the most unexpected of ways, has come.

Image credit:

Proclamations of Peace

A message for the second week of Advent based on Mark 1:1-8 featuring renaissance fairs, turkey legs and proclamation too. 

Have you ever been to a renaissance fair? This kind of fair has become more common in the US the past two decades, I’ve got a few friends that absolutely love them.
Renaissance fairs typically aim to recreate a certain era; many are set during the reign of Queen Elizabeth of England or Henry VIII. Still others go for more of a Viking or pirate motif; I definitely see how those themes could be fun.

These events typically have a slew of costumed entertainers and fair-goers, and the outfits can get really creative, perhaps this was the original cosplay. Renaissance fairs often include musical acts, arts and crafts for sale, and festival foods galore. Personally I always go for the turkey leg, love me some of that, I get one just about every time they are available. These fairs are designed, intentionally, to blend right in with the era being replicated; going to one is akin to stepping out of a time machine that’s taken you back a few centuries.

One of my favorite parts of a good renaissance fair is the town crier competition. In these events participants, each decked out in bright, flashy costumed regalia, take turns giving a proclamation to the gathered crowd. “Here ye, here ye!” the proclamations often begin, with language dripping in old English words and phrases, not too dissimilar from what can be found in parts of the King James Bible.

The winner of these competitions is the voice that speaks the loudest, and clearest, with the most emotion, the most energy, the most life. And the winner is often made the official voice of the fair. The town crier, sometimes referred to as a herald, then proclaims the goodness that is to come, giving updates on what renaissance festivities happen next. The herald draws people in, gets them excited, gets them involved, all while giving the good news of the day.

For grins, here’s a video of a town crier, giving an important announcement, just to give you a glimpse of what we’re talking about.

Isn’t that fun? The person in the video is Tony Appleton, he’s the President of the Guild of International Millennium Town Criers, who knew such a group existed? Now Tony has a strong British accent in spots, perhaps for some, so in case you missed parts of that here is what the proclamation says.

Hear ye! Hear ye! Hear ye! On this day, the second of May, in the year of 2015, we welcome, with humble duty, the second born, of the royal highnesses, of the Duke and Dutchess of Cambridge. The princess is fourth in line to the throne. May the princess be long lived, happy, and glorious, and one day long to reign over us. God save the Queen!

The birth of royalty, especially in England, is about as big of news as it gets.

John the Eccentric
The scripture reading also features a herald, proclaiming some good news of a different sort. The herald’s name is John the Baptist.

Similar to a good renaissance fair herald, John could also draw quite the crowd. John attracted people from the whole Judean countryside; all the people of Jerusalem went out to see him. But John didn’t have the advantage of modern marketing and event-based promotions like renaissance heralds do, and he certainly didn’t have the best of venues. John’s proclamations came from a rather unexpected, unheralded location, the wilderness.

And John’s clothes? Like a good renaissance herald his clothes also made quite the impression, albeit in a different kind of way. John was clothed in camel’s hair we’re told, with a leather belt around his waist. While this text was written almost two millennia ago, even then, John’s wardrobe choice was a relic of the past. Theologian Martin Copenhaven observes that John’s camel-hair outfit was several centuries out of fashion, a biblical retro look of sorts, similar to what was worn by the prophet Elijah hundreds of years earlier.

And John’s choice of meals? He dined on locusts and wild honey, euch! While you may like honey – I’m allergic to it personally – imagine watching someone walk up to a beehive, stick their whole hand into it, and then lick the honey off, finger by finger. And then head off to find some live locusts, popping those crunchy insects into their mouth one at a time until they were full. Let that image sit with you for a little bit.

As for me? I’d rather have one of those renaissance fair turkey legs instead, so tasty.
All this is to say that John the Baptist, who could be best summarized as an eccentric, wild-child with a penchant for living off the land – don’t forget those crunchy locusts – well, he must have had some really, really good news to draw people in like that.

John the Proclaimer
So what made this news so good? When this text was written, near Galilee there was war, and rumors of more wars, and people weren’t getting along. It was a diverse population, both by race and religion, and tensions were high. There was governmental instability, leaders had lost the trust of their citizens, and divisive partisan politics drove people further and further from each other.

Again we’re talking ancient history. Or are we? So much of this sounds oddly familiar.

It is in this context the people went out from the cities, in the hopes of hearing more about a character called Jesus. And they went to the most unlikeliest of places, the wilderness, in search of the most unlikeliest of characters – that’s the camel-hair wearing, locust-eating John – to hear the good news being proclaimed.

And unlike a renaissance herald, whose proclamations involve festivities like the upcoming Jousting match, or the Pub sing, or Fire breathing exhibit, John’s good news is somewhat more lofty.

John calls on those gathered in the wilderness to repent, to be baptized, and to receive forgiveness for their sins. John calls on the people to make an account of the brokenness in their society, the wars, the religious and political infighting, and to repent for it.

It is then, in that state of reflection and repentance where John paves the way for what is to come. I can almost hear John the Baptist, using his best herald voice, quoting, Isaiah, saying “I am a messenger, sent from on high, who will prepare your way. The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”

For it is there, after repentance and reflection, baptism and proclamation, and then finding God’s people in the wilderness, once again, it is there we begin to find our way.

And it is there we can look forward, with joyful anticipation, to the breaking in of God in our world.

While John was not the chosen one – he’s the proclaimer, not the newly minted royalty – he sure did know how to announce the coming of the King of Kings, and the Lord of Lords. He did it with camel hair, and locusts and baptism, oh my, and he certainly wasn’t one to be shy. When the news is that big, is that good, God come to earth to save the world, in the form of a child, you really do want to proclaim that goodness with everything you’ve got.

On this, the second week of Advent, we light a new candle, to signify the peace we await this season. While we wait, I’d like to ask you to do something.

Most messages you’ll hear from this pulpit ask us to model Christ, and there’s always value in that. But this week, instead, consider modeling John the Baptist.

And while you don’t need to bust out the camel-hair outfits and start munching on locusts, I do ask you to model John with some verve.

First, reflect on where you need forgiveness, where you need peace. Ask for that forgiveness from your Maker, and accept the peace that it brings. As was then is also true now, in the midst of wars and rumors of wars, amongst political and religious divisions that threaten to tear at the very fabric of our society we all need a healthy dose of holy peace.
Then be like John, and proclaim the good news of the Christ child. Meet people in *their* wilderness. Help prepare the way of the Lord, make clear the path. Then help guide them out of that wilderness.

And then be like John once again and proclaim.

With apologies to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and using minor edits from the video we saw earlier, proclaim it with some gusto, with some panache, perhaps something like this:

Hear ye! Hear ye! Hear ye! On this day, the twenty-fifth of December, in the first year of our Lord, we welcome, with humble duty, the first born of God our Creator, the blessed Christ-child. Jesus will soon take the throne, sitting at the right hand of God. May Christ be with us forever, in glory, and reign over us eternally in truth, and in love. God save us all!

For when we do, we model arguably the best earthly herald of all, John the Baptist, who drew people in, got them excited, and pointed them away from the wilderness of our world, and toward the peace of Christ.  Amen.