This is the point in the season when we need Advent the most. The kids are wound up. Your cookie calculations were off and now you don’t have enough for the office Christmas party tomorrow. The suitcases are sprawled all over the floor. You’re trying to figure out how to pack wrapped gifts, fancy holiday clothes, and bulky toddler toys without having a mental breakdown.
Here’s the perfect escape: the fourth week of Advent begins on Sunday, December 18. Go ahead and light all four candles on your wreath. The first candle is the Hope candle. The second and third are the Joy and Peace candles. For this fourth and final week, light the Love candle. Look at how much brighter the Advent wreath is. Jesus is coming soon. Read aloud Matthew 1:18-25.
Advent is a time of waiting. We are waiting for Jesus to be born. We are also waiting for him to come again in glory to redeem the world once and for all. Today’s reading gives us a glimpse into what it was like for Joseph and Mary to wait for Jesus’ arrival.
As Matthew explains, when Joseph found out Mary was pregnant and he was not the father, he was planning to call off their engagement. But then an angel of the Lord intervened. He told Joseph in a dream what God was up to with this child. The angel even saved the couple the trouble of trolling through baby books for a name. “‘You are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins,’” the angel told Joseph.
The Lord had also spoken through the prophet Isaiah long before Joseph’s dream, long before the Holy Spirit gave Mary the child in her womb. Matthew makes sure we know the backstory. “‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us.’”
Those four words—God is with us—overflow with love. That baby in the manger is God’s love in the flesh. Jesus is coming into our broken, sad, and conflicted world. He is the only one who can bring us the hope, joy, and peace our hearts so desperately need.
Joseph and Mary probably waited for their son’s birth with a mix of apprehension and excitement. They probably waited and watched throughout his life to see how the angel’s message from God would be fulfilled, how Jesus would save his people from their sins. At the time of his nativity, they probably couldn’t imagine the cross or the empty tomb. They couldn’t foresee how God would surprise them and the world with something even more amazing than his birth, by raising his crucified Son to new life.
Joseph and Mary didn’t know the end of Jesus’ story as they counted down the days until he was born. But we know how God’s love overflows from the manger, to the cross, to the empty tomb, and to you and me, gathered around our Advent wreaths, praying, “Come, Lord Jesus.”
Be encouraged. Be at peace. Jesus hears your prayer. It is almost Christmas. He is coming soon.
After reading the passage from Matthew and reflecting on it together, talk about any or all of these questions for a few minutes:
- When is a time that you have been surprised by God’s love for you?
- How can you share God’s love with others?
- Think about the four Advent themes we’ve talked about during this season: Hope, Joy, Peace, and Love. Which have you felt or experienced the most during the past four weeks? Which have you seen reflected in the lives of others? Share your stories.
After some time of conversation and reflection, sing this verse of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” together. “Emmanuel” is another name for Jesus, as we heard in the Matthew reading. It means, “God is with us.”
- O come, O Branch of Jesse, free your own from Satan’s tyranny; from depths of hell your people save, and give them vict’ry o’er the grave. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel.
At the end of your Advent wreath lighting, pray together. You can use this prayer to get started. Children can read it and lead your family in prayer or repeat it after you. Include prayers for people you love, and for people who are neglected and are in need of love.
- Come, Lord Jesus, and bring your love to us. Let it heal our brokenness, cast out fear, and bring us peace. Help us share your love with others, especially (names). We are keeping watch for you. We are waiting for you with hope and joy. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen
Advent Everyday: Each night, at dinner or whenever you can fit it in, light all four candles on your Advent wreath, the Hope, Joy, Peace, and Love candles. Get ready for your Christmas traditions that pass on faith, such as worshiping together on Christmas Eve, saying a table grace at a family meal, or placing the baby Jesus in the manger of your nativity set.
Since we’re a clergy family with lots of worship services on Christmas Eve, we don’t have a big dinner that night. Instead, my kids decorate cupcakes. You could have a birthday party for Jesus anytime around Christmas. We put one candle in each cupcake and sing happy birthday to Jesus. I try to get a picture every year since the decorating looks pretty funny, and more importantly, because I want my kids to see themselves growing up in faith as the years go by. My two-year old son loves to sing “Happy Birthday.” Who better to sing it to at the end of Advent than Jesus?
Paige Evers is a Lutheran pastor, a mom to two young children, and the wife of a Lutheran pastor. She thanks you for joining in her Advent celebrations this year!