Jesus Builds a Fence

Matthew 5:21-37

One of the things we love to do when we go to Kauai is to take the long drive from Princeville down to the south side of the island and then up into the mountains.  We usually make a stop at Spouting Horn to stretch our legs and enjoy the plumes of water that geyser into the air as the waves surge against the rocks.  Sometimes you can also see sea turtles bobbing in the surf there, which is always kind of exciting.  

When we get to the town of Waimea, we turn mauka and take the road that goes up to the Waimea Canyon lookout.  We like to take our time at the lookout because Waimea Canyon, which is also called “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific” is truly beautiful and thought-provoking, and inspires a sense of wonder and awe.  Also, on a clear day you can see Niihau, the small island reserved for Hawaiian natives that sits forty-three offshore from Kauai and seems to float on the surface of the ocean like a great big stone raft. 

After leaving the lookout, we drive a few miles uphill to Koke’e State Park and the Kalalau Valley lookout where we can gaze down the slopes of the Na Pali cliffs into the Kalalau Valley and think about what life was like for the ancient Hawaiians who lived there.  

So why am I telling you all this?  Well, the Spouting Horn, the Waimea Lookout and the Kalalau Valley Lookout have one important thing in common aside from spectacular views.  They are potentially very dangerous places.  And so at each of these very beautiful but dangerous places the State of Hawaii has put up very sturdy steel-rail fences to keep people from accidentally injuring or killing themselves.  They have also mounted signs on the fences that say, “Danger!  Do not go beyond this point!”  And, of course, there is always someone who thinks they can get a better view or a better picture or maybe just add a little extra excitement to their vacation by going beyond that clearly marked margin of safety, by exploring or fooling around on the other side of the fence.

If you want to keep people from falling off a cliff one of the first things you do is to put up a fence and warning signs a little way back from the edge of the cliff.  Since ancient times the rabbis have described Torah as a fence that protects us from hurting ourselves and others.  They have also noticed that some people tend to ignore the fence, so in their teachings they would extend the fence, moving the margin of safety a little farther back from the edge they were trying to protect.  They actually called this practice extending the fence of Torah.  

For example, the law says you shall not commit adultery.  Committing adultery is falling off the cliff.  The law is the fence that is designed to keep everyone’s relationships from slipping over the edge and falling into pain.  In addition to the Torah law, the rabbis established the cultural custom that frowned on a man and woman being alone with each other or even talking to each other if they were not married to each other.  That’s the extension of the fence that they thought would keep people from getting so close to the edge that they would be tempted to climb over the fence onto unstable ground where they might slip and fall off the cliff. 

Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that he had not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it.  What Jesus is doing in this section of the Sermon is fulfilling the law by extending a different kind of fence on some of the more important laws of Torah.  In each instance, he is improving the safety of the fence by making it more visible and raising the top bar.

With adultery, for instance, Jesus realizes that the real problem isn’t proximity, it’s perception.  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into the trash heap.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into the dumpster.” (5:27-29)  

Adultery starts with lust and lust starts with how you perceive the other person.  If you can only see another person as a sex object or as the object of your longing and affection, or as someone who might fill some emptiness in you and make you whole, that’s the real problem.  That’s the eye you need to pluck out so you can replace it with an eye that sees that other person as a whole person, a person who stands apart from you, a person whose wholeness includes relationships and commitments that have nothing to do with you other than your own obligation not to infringe on them.  

If your hand starts reaching for things that don’t belong to you or if it keeps rising up in an angry fist, tie it behind your back until you can retrain it and restrain it.  All this is a metaphor, of course, because it’s not the hand or the eye that has a problem, it’s the mind.  It’s a matter of developing self-control over our impulses, appetites, and feelings.  Over and over again, living the values of the kingdom of God is a matter of metanoia—a transformation of the mind.

Jesus applies this same principle to murder.  Rage clouds your mind and damages your vision.  “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that if you are furious with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment.”

When you are enraged, the person who is the object of your fury becomes something less than human in your eyes.  It might sound like hyperbole, but for that moment in the ferocious heat of your anger, you have killed them.  Jesus extends the fence of “You shall not murder” to “you shall not let yourself get so angry that your anger blinds you to the other person’s humanity.”  Take a breath.  Count to ten.  Walk away.  Relax your hands.  Don’t even get close to the fence of “You shall not murder.”

But anger isn’t the only way we dehumanize each other.  Jesus went on to say, “If you call a brother or sister an idiot, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the trash heap of fire.” (5:21-22)  I don’t know about you, but I violate this one all the time, especially when I’m driving.

Jesus is basically telling us, “Don’t dehumanize people by calling them names.”  He wants us to understand that that is, in fact, what name calling does: it makes them into something less than human in our eyes, in our thoughts, in our minds and in our hearts.  Dehumanizing someone is the first step toward eliminating them.  History has taught us that dehumanizing the “other” is always the first step toward genocide.

In the kingdom of heaven our relationships with each other are part and parcel of our relationship with God, so Jesus expands the fence of shalom around worship. “When you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” Don’t carry a grudge, and don’t let anyone carry a grudge against you if you can so something to make amends!  A grudge is a festering wound in God’s shalom, so before you come before God with your prayers or your offerings, do what you can to heal that wound so both of you can come to God in peace.

Jesus also raises the fence around divorce.  “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’  But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (5:31-32)

Divorce was a hotly debated issue in Jesus’ time.  The Torah law in question, Deuteronomy 24:1-4, said that a man could divorce his wife if “she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her.”  The argument was over what legally constituted “something objectionable.”  The House of Shammai said that only adultery or some other form of unchastity constituted legitimate grounds for divorce.  The House of Hillel had a much lower bar, saying that something as simple as the wife burning dinner could be grounds for divorce.  

Jewish marriage in the first century was a contractual agreement, and women were protected by marriage contracts called ketubah that acted something like a prenuptial agreement and provided them compensation in the event of divorce, so Jesus isn’t necessarily thinking of protecting women here so much as protecting the institution of marriage.

Marriage is a covenant relationship and as a covenant relationship, it is supposed to be a living emblem of the covenant between God and Israel.  A good marriage creates shalom in the home which is essential if there’s going to be shalom in the world.

In Matthew 19 when the Pharisees bring up the topic of divorce again, Jesus cites Genesis where “the two become one” to reemphasize the ideal unity of marriage, but when the Pharisees then ask why Deuteronomy includes instructions on how to divorce, Jesus tells them, “It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning, it was not so.” (19:1-8)

It has to be said here that the sad fact is that marriages do break down.  People do become hard-hearted.  A marriage that has turned to all heated words and cold shoulders is no longer really a marriage at all, and certainly not a relationship that mirrors the love of God.  It’s obvious that Jesus didn’t want marriage or any other covenant relationship to be treated as disposable.  But not all marriages are made in heaven.  Sometimes the only way to keep it from becoming a living hell is to dissolve the covenant and go your separate ways.

It’s logical, I suppose, that right after reinforcing the sanctity of marriage, Jesus turns to the matter of vows and oaths.  “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’  But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,  or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.  And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.” (5:33-36)

It might look like Jesus is dismantling part of the fence here but in fact he is once again raising the bar.  The ethic in the kingdom of heaven is simple straightforward honesty.  Those who mean what they say and say what they mean don’t need any rituals or special language to verify their promises or certify their honesty.  “Let your yes be yes and your no be no,” says Jesus.  It’s that simple.

Honesty and integrity.  Faithfulness in relationships.  Seeing and respecting the humanity of others and honoring their lives, commitments, and relationships. Preserving and restoring peace.  Changing the way you see and think so that you see the world with compassion and think beyond your immediate desires or convenience.  Love.  These are the extensions Jesus builds around the fence of Torah.  These are the ethics of the Beloved Community.  This is the Way of righteousness in the kingdom of heaven.  This is what St. Paul had in mind when he wrote in Romans, “Love can do no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”

The Time is Ripe

Mark 1:14-20

Pepleirotai ho Kairos.  “The time is fulfilled,” says Jesus as he begins his ministry in Galilee.  The word for time here in Mark’s original Greek text is kairos, the word you would use to say the time is right.  It’s the right moment.  Kairos.  It’s the word used to say that a fruit is ripe or that someone arrived just in the nick of time.  There’s another Greek word for time: chronos.  Think chronology.  That’s the word we use to say that the time will be  six o’clock in the morning when the alarm goes off.  But the word here in Mark 1:15 is kairos.  The time is fulfilled, says Jesus to the people of the Galilee.  The time is full.  The time is ripe.

Who are these people he’s speaking to as he moves through Galilee?  The Galilee was one of the richest areas in Palestine.  It was the breadbasket of the region, rich in wheat and barley and oats, and also with olive groves, vineyards, and orchards.  Dried fish from the Sea of Galilee provided the primary source of protein for the region and helped to feed both Caesar’s and Herod’s armies.  But for all this, the majority of the people were poor.  A system of high rents paid to wealthy absentee landowners, heavy taxes paid to Herod or Rome, and heavy tithes paid to the religious system of the temple guaranteed that most of the people lived in a perpetual cycle of poverty.  These were people who had lived for generations under someone else’s heavy hand.

Pepleirotai ho Kairos.  “The time is fulfilled,” proclaims Jesus to these people and to people of every time and place who have lived or are living under systems that hold them down, push them to the margins, pick their pockets, and crush their hopes and dreams.  The time is fulfilled.  You’ve waited long enough.  Enough is enough.  The time is ripe.   

 “The kin-dom of God has come near,” he tells them.  It is arriving.  It is in reach.  It is imminent.  It is doable.  And then he says this: “Repent and believe the good news.”

Do you remember what I said about “repent” a few weeks ago?  

Repentance.  In English it’s a smudged and leaden word filled with regret and contrition. Repentance is a stinging backside, bruised knees and hunched shoulders.  I suggest we ban it and replace it with the Greek word: Metanoia.  Metanoia is climbing out of a dank hole into the sunlight.  Metanoia is being freed from the nasty habits that ruin your health and suck the life out of your wallet.  Metanoia is putting on new glasses with the right prescription and realizing that you had only been seeing a third of the details and half the colors in the world.  Metanoia  is shoes that fit right, have cushy insoles, perfect arch support, and take the cramp out of your lower back.  Metanoia is thinking new thoughts and behaving in new ways.  Metanoia is a change of mind, a change of heart, a change of life, a new direction.  

“Metanoiete!” Jesus says.  He says it in the imperative, as a command.  Put on those new glasses and those better shoes.  See the world in a better, clearer way.  Walk into the world in a new way that doesn’t cause pain for you or anyone around you.  Think about the world in a new way.  Think about yourself in a new way.  Think about your neighbor in a new way.  Think about who might be your neighbor in a new way.

“And believe the good news!”  Pisteuete! Another imperative.  Another command.  Believe!  It’s not a request to accept the idea, to consider it thoughtfully, to mull it over.  It’s a command to believe it, to trust it, to act on it, to base your life on the good news that the kin-dom of God, the reign of God is within reach.

That, according to Jesus, is the gospel.  That is the good news.  The kin-dom of God is immanent.  The kin-dom of God is arriving on earth as it is in heaven.

And notice this:  He doesn’t say a word here about receiving him into your heart and making him your personal Lord and Savior.  He doesn’t say anything here about being saved.  He doesn’t say anything here about forgiveness or atonement.  There is nothing spiritual in his language here at all.  When he says “Believe the good news!” it is a call to action.

“Believe” in Mark’s gospel is not a sit-and-think word.  “Believe” is a get-up-and-do word. 

In this gospel Jesus is on the move and calls others to move with him.  As he passes along the seashore he calls Peter and Andrew and James and John and they drop their nets to follow him.  He teaches as he moves.  

He calls us where we are and in the same imperative voice says, “Come!  Follow me and I’ll teach you how to bring others along!”  

He calls us to travel with him.  To work with him.  There is so much to be done.  There is an old world to dismantle and a new world to build.  The kin-dom of God is within reach.  The kin-dom of God is arriving.  

If we can see him with eyes refocused by metanoia, if we can hear him with ears opened by metanoia, if we can be freed from our preconceived ideas and learn to believe him with a trust and faith transformed by a metanoia of heart and mind, then we can begin to see the kin-dom take root and grow like a garden spreading across the desert.  

And this isn’t just “me” work that Jesus is calling us to do.  This isn’t just about saving your own soul, although, “the one who endures to the end will be saved,” said Jesus.[1]  But there’s a lot to do before we get there.  

This is “us” work.  Building the kin-dom of God requires all hands on deck.  It requires unity.  As President Biden said in his Inaugural address, “It requires the most elusive of all things in a democracy: Unity. Unity. Uniting to fight the foes we face: anger, resentment, hatred, extremism, lawlessness, violence, disease, joblessness and hopelessness.”

He was talking about healing our country of the divisions that have been tearing us apart, but the same thing applies to making the kin-dom of God a reality on earth as it is in heaven, something we pray for every time we pray the prayer Jesus taught us. 

“History, faith and reason show the way, the way of unity,” said President Biden. “We can see each other not as adversaries, but as neighbors. We can treat each other with dignity and respect. We can join forces, stop the shouting and lower the temperature. For without unity, there is no peace — only bitterness and fury. No progress — only exhausting outrage.”

At the founding of this country our founders gave us a vision to strive for: “We, the people…in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity…”  That has always sounded to me a lot like the kin-dom of God.  It’s collective.  We the people—all of us want to form a more perfect union.  That’s ongoing work.  All of us want to establish justice.  That’s ongoing work.  All of us want to ensure domestic tranquility.  Is this not merely the country, but the world we all want to live in?  A world where everyone’s well-being is secured by the solemn word and promise of everyone else?  A world in conformity with God’s own vision of equity and justice?

This is the collective work we are called to, the work of the kin-dom, the work of taking care of each other, the work of loving our neighbor as ourselves.

“So we lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us,” said Amanda Gorman, our inspiring, young poet laureate.  

“We close the divide because we know to put our future first,

we must first put our differences aside. 

We lay down our arms 

so we can reach out our arms to one another, 

we seek harm to none 

and harmony for all.

we will raise this wounded world 

into a wondrous one,

We’ve braved the belly of the beast, 

we’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace 

and the norms and notions of what just is, 

isn’t always justice.

We will not march back to what was 

but move to what shall be

we will not be turned around 

or interrupted by intimidation 

because we know our inaction and inertia 

will be the inheritance of the next generation, 

our blunders become their burden. 

But one thing is certain: 

if we merge mercy with might and might with right, 

then love becomes our legacy 

and change our children’s birthright.

There is always light 

if only we’re brave enough to see it, 

if only we’re brave enough to be it.”[2]

Pepleirotai ho Kairos. The time is ripe. The kin-dom of God is in reach.  It always has been.  Metanoiete.  Change direction, and believe the good news.  In Jesus’ name.

[1] Mark 13:13

[2] The Hill We Climb (edited) Amanda Gorman, from President Biden’s Inauguration

A Way in the Wilderness

Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 

2        As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

         “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,

                  who will prepare your way; 

3        the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

                  ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,

                  make his paths straight,’” 

4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.  6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.  7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.  8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

“The beginning of the good news…”

Those words take us somewhere, don’t they?  Right away they tell us we’re going to hear a story.  You might as well say Once Upon a Time. 

The beginning of the good news of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God.  But Mark, the writer telling us this story, doesn’t start with Jesus.  He reminds us that the story started before Jesus.  Long before Jesus.  He reminds us that Advent, before it was a season in the Church calendar, was a long season of history, centuries of waiting for Emmanuel to come.  He reminds us that during that long Advent of history God would speak through the prophets from time to time to remind the people that the covenant and promises that God had made to Abraham and Sarah and to Moses and to David had not been forgotten.  The prophets would remind them that God was with them in their times of trouble, and the day was coming when God would be with them more powerfully and concretely than they dared to imagine.  

Mark reminds us that “the beginning of the good news of Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God”—that this story had its real beginning long before Jesus arrived.  “As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,” he writes, to remind us that even though Jesus is the title character of his story, he’s really not entering the stage until the second act.  The stage has to be set.  The way has to be prepared.

Even the announcement has to be announced. To give the prophetic voice extra weight, Mark gives Isaiah a preamble from Malachi and simply refers to them both as Isaiah because who said it is not as important as what is being said:

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,

                  who will prepare your way;” – that’s Malachi–

         “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

                  ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,

                  make his paths straight” –that’s Isaiah.

But it isn’t Jesus the prophets are announcing.  Not here anyway.

First, there is another character we need to hear from.  Another prophet, some would say.  John, the Baptizer, dressed like Elijah and living off the land out in the wilderness where he can listen to God without distractions.  John the Baptizer who wants to be sure we’re ready, really ready for Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God.  So he prepares the way by “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” and announcing—wait for it—that someone even more powerful is coming. 

Repentance.  It’s not something you would think would draw a crowd.  But Mark tells us that “people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”  He must have been some preacher, that John.

Repentance.  In English it’s a smudged and leaden word filled with regret and contrition.  Repentance is a stinging backside, bruised knees and hunched shoulders.  I suggest we ban it and replace it with the Greek word: Metanoia.  Metanoia is climbing out of a dank hole into the sunlight.  Metanoia is being freed from the nasty habits that ruin your health and suck the life out of your wallet.  Metanoia is putting on new glasses with the right prescription and realizing that you had only been seeing a third of the details and half the colors in the world.  Metanoia  is shoes that fit right, have cushy insoles, perfect arch support, and take the cramp out of your lower back.  Metanoia is thinking new thoughts and behaving in new ways.  Metanoia is a change of mind, a change of heart, a change of life, a new direction.  

John came proclaiming a baptism of metanoia.  And to make sure the idea really stuck with people, he gave them an experience to go with it.  He dunked them in the river.  “There.  You were dry, now you’re wet.  You were going down the wrong road, now you’re on the right one.  You were dusty and crusty, now you’re clean.  You’re changed.  You’re new.  And just in time, too.  Because the One we’ve been waiting for is coming.  I’m just the warm-up band.  I dunked you in water.  He’s going to marinate you in the Holy Spirit.”

A voice cried out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord!”

A voice cried out! “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord!”

There is no punctuation in the ancient languages.  So the translators try to make sense of it for us.

Is it a voice in the wilderness calling us to prepare?  Or is it a voice calling us to prepare a way in the wilderness?  Isaiah has it one way, Mark has it the other way.

Either way the message is clear: this is a time to prepare.

Sue Monk Kidd wrote about how when she was younger she would take time during Advent to sit next to the nativity set under her Christmas tree and think about the past year and then think about the coming of Jesus and what she might do to prepare herself for a meaningful Christmas.  One year she decided to visit a monastery for a day.  As she passed one of the monks she greeted him with, “Merry Christmas.”  He replied, “May Christ be born in you.”  His words caught her off guard and she found that she had to sit with them for a long time. It was in those words from that monk that she realized that Advent is a time of preparation and transformation.  A time of metanoia.  It is a time, she wrote, “of discovering our soul and letting Christ be born from the waiting heart.”

What kind of metanoia do you need to open the path for Christmas, to make way for Christ to be born anew in your waiting heart?   

This has in many ways been a wilderness year for all of us.  Sometimes it has seemed that the way of Christ, the way ahead is not clear.  Except for this: the way of Christ is the way of love.  Love God. And love our neighbors as ourselves. 

It’s been hard to love our neighbors when we can’t be with them in person, when we have to wear masks, when we can’t hug, when we have to maintain physical distance.  It’s been hard to understand that those things are, in fact, acts of love.  

It’s been hard to stand together when we have to stay so far apart.

But this, too, is part of our Advent.  This has been part of our wilderness where we have heard the voice cry out, calling us to prepare the way of the Lord.  This is where we are preparing the way for Christ be born in the waiting heart.  This is where we are transformed.  This is our metanoia.

We’ve all had conversations about “when things get back to normal.”  But maybe this Advent, this Prepare the Way of the Lord time, this metanoia time is a good time to ask if we really want things to get back to normal.

Sure, we want to be done with the pandemic and the restrictions and protocols.  But do we really want to go back to the kind of hectic lives we were living before?  What have we been learning during this time?  We have a chance to make things new, different, better.  So what is Christ calling us to make of this life?  As we make a new path through the wilderness, what is our collective metanoia?  What is our new way, our better way?

There’s an old John Denver song, Rhymes and Reasons, that I’ve had stuck in my head for weeks now.  Sometimes I think, “Oh there’s that dumb song again.”  But other times I just let myself fall into it.  And you know, it really has brought me more than a little hope and comfort.  For weeks now.  Especially at times when I’ve felt really sad.  Or really angry.  Or both.

So you speak to me of sadness and the coming of the winter

Fear that is within you now and it seems will never end

And the dreams that have escaped you and the hopes that you’ve forgotten

And you tell me that you need me now and you want to be my friend

And you wonder where we’re going, where’s the rhyme and the reason

And it’s you cannot accept it is here we must begin

To seek the wisdom of the children and the graceful way of flowers in the wind.

For the children and the flowers are my sisters and my brothers

Their laughter and their loveliness can clear a cloudy day

Like the music of the mountains and the colors of the rainbow

They’re a promise of the future and a blessing for today.

Though the cities start to crumble and the towers fall around us

The sun is slowly fading and it’s colder than the sea

It is written from the desert to the mountains they shall lead us

By the hand and by the heart and they will comfort you and me.

In their innocence and trusting they will teach us to be free.

For the children and the flowers are my sisters and my brothers

Their laughter and their loveliness can clear a cloudy day

And the song that I am singing is a prayer to nonbelievers

If you come and stand beside us, we can find a better way.

As I said, that song has been running through my head for weeks now.  In my more cynical moments I think it’s kind of insipid and puerile.  I mean really, “the children and the flowers are my sisters and my brothers.”  But then I stop and listen again.  And I realize that that cynical critic in me, that inner voice that wants to disparage the simple honesty of these lyrics and even the healing joy of my own experience of the song is one of the places where I need metanoia.  This is where I need to clear a path in the wilderness.  My own internal wilderness.

So.  This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God.  This is the beginning of the story.  Get ready.  Jesus is coming.  Christmas is coming.  Prepare the way.