Joseph’s Wonderful Life

Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel. – Isaiah 7:14

Every year, the readings for the fourth Sunday of Advent remind us of the good news that the Jewish people had/have long known because it was foretold by the Hebrew prophet Isaiah – a savior was going to be born of a virgin, and he would be king of all.

And each year when I hear these readings, I immediately think about Mary, and her surprise visit from the Angel Gabriel telling her the shocking news that she was going to be the mother of this Emmanuel. Because I have a granddaughter who is 13-1/2, I can easily picture the look on Mary’s face because I can picture the look on Addie’s face. And I always remind myself that rather than saying, “Let me think about it,” or “Let me look at my calendar and see what I have going for the next nine months,” Mary just said, “Yes.” Oh, she expressed an appropriate amount of confusion about the fact that she was going to bear a child even though she was a virgin, but after getting angel-based clarification, she said, “Yes, I will take on this responsibility.”

But while I use Mary as my model for how to turn my life over to God, I rarely think about Joseph, and his role in this marvelous story of grace.

Last week, I mentioned in a post that I watched the movie It’s a Wonderful Life for the first time ever. In the movie, George Bailey – played marvelously by Jimmy Stewart – had his life planned out. He was going to travel. He was going to make lots of money. He was going to leave his crappy little town and live a rich and elegant life with his wonderful wife someplace new and exciting. But, things just kept creeping up that prevented his imagined life to happen in the way he had planned. And finally, just as he had given up hope, he learned the valuable lesson about what is important in life.

At Mass yesterday, our homilist reminded us that Joseph, too, had quite a rude awakening when he learned that his bride-to-be Mary was pregnant, and he knew HE wasn’t the father. But rather than publicly humiliating her, he quietly set out to end the relationship in a way that would be less embarrassing to her and her family. And then, the Angel Gabriel (who seemingly had quite a busy few days) told Joseph in a dream to not freak out because she is with child via the Holy Spirit, and in fact, she is going to give birth to the Son of God and the savior of all.

Like George Bailey, I would imagine that Joseph had his life planned out as well. He and his young bride would marry, kids would soon come along – maybe some sons who could learn the carpentry business and help him, and a daughter or two who would help his wife with her hard work – and they would live a quiet and joyful life in their community of Nazareth. Maybe he would run for mayor. Eventually their children would marry and have kids, and he and Mary would be grandparents, at which time they could feed their grandkids all of the sugary figs they wanted and send them home on a sugar high, like all good grandparents do.

But just as soon as he had that dream, Joseph knew his life wasn’t going to go the way he wanted it to go. God had other plans for he and Mary. And, like Mary, he didn’t Google flights out of Jerusalem, but instead, said, “Whatever you say, God.”

The children from Wellshire Presbyterian Church performed a living nativity Sunday night in the frigid weather. The little shepherd kneeling in front is Maggie Faith. The shepherd behind her wearing glasses is Dagny. Addie is the wise man wearing the gold robe. Dagny and Maggie chose to be shepherds because, well, live goats were involved.

The children from Wellshire Presbyterian Church performed a living nativity Sunday night in the frigid weather. The little shepherd kneeling in front is Maggie Faith. The shepherd behind her wearing glasses is Dagny. Addie is the wise man wearing the gold robe. Dagny and Maggie chose to be shepherds because, well, live goats were involved.

According to St. Matthew, Emmanuel means God is with us. And so the very name of Jesus means that he is with us always, even when it seems he couldn’t possibly be further away. He is within us. We just need to get out of his way and let him lead us.

This post linked to the GRAND Social

Wonderful Life

As I have been madly crocheting this holiday season in preparation for gift-giving, I have watched all manner of Christmas movies. I have seen Miracle on 34th Street (the newer version), White Christmas (in which Rosemary Clooney makes being distraught an art form), Love, Actually (yes, yet again), A Christmas Story (which is now and will be forever more be my favorite Christmas movie), Holiday (in which Jack Black is an odd love interest for Kate Winslet), Last Holiday (there’s probably not another Christmas movie that leaves me feeling happier than this), and Holiday Inn (I could watch Fred Astaire’s Fourth of July solo dance a million times).

And Sunday, when I decided I couldn’t stomach watching the Broncos not have an offense any longer, I watched It’s a Wonderful Life. Shockingly, it was the first time I had ever seen this movie.



Oh, don’t get me wrong. I have seen bits and pieces of the movie throughout my life. Really, how could I not have ever seen the ending where Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed are embracing and all of the people are dumping cashola on the table to save his butt and the bell rings, indicating that Clarence had finally gotten his wings? I feel comfortable not having indicated SPOILER ALERT because I’m pretty sure I’m the only living person of reading age who hadn’t seen the movie.

But I had never sat down and watched the entire film from beginning to end. I had never, in fact, seen the beginning of the movie, which of course sets the stage for the whole point of the film – that George Bailey had wanted and planned on a much more exciting life than the one he ended up having. That’s pretty important context to have known about for the ending to make any sense. But Christmas movies really don’t need to make sense. Is there any universe in which Jack Black would be a love interest for Kate Winslet except in a Christmas movie?

However, it’s true that hardly anyone’s life turns out exactly as planned, mostly because as of yet, we aren’t able to see into the future. What’s that old Yiddish adage? Man plans and God laughs. Ain’t it the truth? It’s interesting to think about how I would have imagined my life in 50 years if asked to predict when I was 10 years old. I certainly wouldn’t have guessed that I would live in Denver, Colorado and have a second house in Mesa, Arizona. Since at that point I hadn’t been any further than Omaha, I undoubtedly wouldn’t have guessed that I would have been on two transatlantic cruises and seen such things as the Parthenon in Greece, the pyramids in Egypt, climbed to the top of St. Peter’s in Vatican City, and sat on the grass at the base of the Eiffel Tower.

In fact, I would have been expecting and frankly, wanting, a life just like the life of ol’ George Bailey.

We all get caught up in the preparations for Christmas. I have awakened at 3:45 a.m. on a couple of recent mornings unable to go back to sleep because I’m mentally counting the gifts I have purchased so that I don’t make that fateful mistake of having one more present for one grandchild than I have for the rest. Did I remember to set aside enough cookies to share with the neighbors who faithfully keep an eye on our house while we’re in AZ? Will Bill’s gift arrive in time?

STOP! It’s Advent. The time for quiet reflection and preparation, not for the gifts that we are going to give or receive, but for the birth of the one who is sent to save us. Advent gets lost in the sea of Christmas frenzy. Like George Bailey, we need to remember to be grateful for what we have and for those who make our lives special.

The one thing that all of those Christmas movies have in common is that life is full of surprises, and it’s not what happens to us, but who we share our lives with and how we accept our life as it has played out.