Advent 4 Year A

December 18, 2022


We are once again, deep into the Advent season,

Lighting the fourth of our Advent wreath candles this day

The week ahead has us all doing last minute plans for Christmas AND….

May are scrambling to send out the family Christmas cards again.

I’ve told you before of the Robb-Family annual Christmas photos saga

How each year when the kids were little, we tried to get the perfect photo for our card

One where kids all smiling, dog sitting still, and my eyes are open,

Most of the time before we’d end the trial and error session,

With Rob setting the timer and running to get in the photo frame

we’d all be in tears because we were laughing so hard.


As Paul Harvey said, here’s the rest of the story…

When the kids were in their teens, for a couple of years,

I decided to go the opposite direction of having a perfect photo

Mostly because the opportunity presented itself so well.

One year a huge tree fell down in our back yard.

I thought it would be a lovely shot to have the kids

pose between the limbs of the fallen tree,

The children dutifully put on their Christmas outfits

and we corralled our golden retriever Chessie to sit with them.

Only Chessie just wanted to play. Licking & frolicking, she would not behave.

Thus, the intended Christmas photo was a disaster.

You could hardly see the kids:

Chessie was tackling Hudson, Jenny was knocked head over heels, and Hayley is falling sideways, howling with laughter. We sent our card anyway. 


The next year we were getting some work done on our house.

Our contractor put the obligatory porta potty on the front lawn

just in time for Christmas.

With no other intention than just for fun,

I had the kids put on their best overalls and plaid shirts

and pose in front of the porta john.

That photo became our Christmas card on which, I wrote “Merry Christmas:

What’s Santa bringing you? we’re finally getting indoor plumbing.”


No matter how good it is to see us all dressed up and looking festive,

to celebrate our favorite time of year, the truth is,

almost all of the rest of the year, almost all of the time,  

we are just our ordinary selves.  

Dressed in jeans or sweats or heels, whatever we feel comfortable in,

Doing something much more interesting or hard or fun

than posing for a camera.


I love seeing all our family and friends’ Christmas cards,

especially those with photos

It reminds me of one of the important lessons of Advent—

that God came to be with all of us          in our ordinary lives,

Year in year out, Day by Day

not just when we’re dressed and ready,

but also when we’re disheveled     and uncertain      and busy.


God is with us.

These words are the meaning of the name Emmanuel: God with us.

As we read in Isaiah today: the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the young woman will be with child and will give birth to a son, and she will call him Emmanuel.

We also read today from Matthew

who quotes from this prophesy in his gospel,

and tells the story of Joseph, an ordinary man,

who surely dreamt of having an ordinary family with Kids, Family reunions, times of laughter, times of saying goodbye,

and of passing down his trade to his son.

But God upended this plan.

God asked Joseph to consider a different path,

to raise a boy who would not stay in the family line of business,

who would not marry and settle down,

who would turn the world upside down.

It was not the life Joseph dreamed of.


Joseph could have walked away from this,

And rejected the proposal; instead, he decides to own it.

Joseph did as God asked;

he accepted the whole messy business;

he trusted that God was present in it;

naming the child Jesus, as the Angel of God had told him

and thereby adopting him into his own family lineage—David’s line.

Jesus he names the baby, which means, God saves.


A friend called me this week and asked,

Wait, I thought Joseph was supposed to name him Emmanuel.

Isn’t that what the prophesy said?

“It’s a bit confusing,” I replied, “I’ll admit.”


So I explained that in the Hebrew tradition

of designating children by their God-given vocation,

that is, their calling—”who they are to be”

Isaiah tells the people that a savior will come

and he will be called Emmanuel.

“God with us.” 


You’ll remember that Jacob was called cheater – which he did, before wrestling with God.

And Leah, was called, one who is weary – which she was, poor thing.

Jesus had a bigger calling. Much bigger.


The angel who visited Joseph, told him,

you will name the baby Jesus, which means “God Saves.”

Putting these names together (as one bible commentary said,)

means Jesus’ full name is, “the God who saves is with us.”


When we think about Joseph, we often marvel at his decision–

His obedience, in accepting God’s proposal.

Yet, we should know    that in Hebrew     the words

Obedience and Hearing are intrinsically linked.

To hear God is to heed God’s word.

Joseph opens his heart to hear God ask him to,

Love his wife and take the child in his arms,

Be ready to hold this child’s hand as he grows

and in doing so, he finds the blessings of his new life.


Beautiful painting from 16th century, by German painter,

Adam Elscheimer, depicting Joseph and the now young boy Jesus,

walking hand in hand. Moving tribute to Joseph as father.


This week

my niece  and her family

took their family Christmas photos.

My sister shared some previews with me.

Which makes me excited to get their card.

You see, in the photos

my young niece and her husband are holding their new

seven-week-old baby, Peyton, between them.



The photo is precious AND so is Peyton, their first child.


Peyton is special too; she was born with Down’s syndrome.

I daresay it was not the photo my niece dreamed of

when she was imagining her future family,

but she is now

unquestionably in love with the child God gave her.

I cannot imagine a more wonderful family for Peyton


Joseph’s story is part of all our stories.

My family and yours.

No matter where God leads us in this life,

No matter what God asks of us,

God is with us.


Joseph’s grit and determination under scary and uncertain circumstances,

tells us more than what he did,

It tells us who he is.

Joseph is a friend of God.

So too are we, when we listen with the ears of our heart and follow in love.


Thanks be to God.