Sermon – December 22, 2019 – Fourth Sunday of Advent

The first thing that came to my mind when I read the gospel text is the small statue of Joseph I buried upside-down in the front of my house in Detroit, that I was desperately trying to sell in 2007, when I moved here to Champaign-Urbana to be the pastor at St. Andrew’s.

  • There was a prayer card that came with it, that is surely tucked in a journal, somewhere in my house. I could not find the card and despite many searches on the internet, I did not find the prayer that sounded like the one I prayed about 730 times. My house never sold. This was in the peak of the nightmare housing crisis of 2007. The whole neighborhood and nearly the whole city of Detroit was in foreclosure. I declared bankruptcy.

Prayer to Sell a House

O, Saint Joseph,
you who taught our Lord
the carpenter’s trade,
and saw to it
that he was always properly housed,
hear my earnest plea.
I want you to help me now
as you helped your foster-child Jesus,
and as you have helped many others
in the matter of housing.
I wish to sell this [house/property] quickly, easily, and profitably
and I implore you to grant my wish
by bringing me a good buyer,
one who is
eager, compliant, and honest,
and by letting nothing impede the
rapid conclusion of the sale.

Dear Saint Joseph,
I know you would do this for me
out of the goodness of your heart
and in your own good time,
but my need is very great now
and so I must make you hurry
on my behalf.

Saint Joseph, I am going to place you
in a difficult position
with your head in darkness
and you will suffer as our Lord suffered,
until this [house/property] is sold.
Then, Saint Joseph, i swear
before the cross and God Almighty,
that i will redeem you
and you will receive my gratitude
and a place of honour in my home. Amen.

Isn’t that about the most manipulative prayer you’ve ever heard? I mean, seriously.

  • It sounds exactly like my kids promising that they will absolutely stop whining, fighting, and complaining, just as soon as I buy them an iphone 11, or else.


So this is what Joseph got from his humble and faithful response to God’s call?

  • Mary gets MAMMOTH statues constructed all over the world
  • Whole cathedrals are built to honor her
  • Billions of people pray her prayer, sing her words, and wear a necklace of her image.


And Joseph gets a 4-inch plastic statue to bury upside down in the front yard, with a manipulative, demanding prayer to sell a house, and be quick about it.  Huh.


To be completely honest, I think that Joseph might be the character we most relate to.

  • He doesn’t want to be a jerk, but what God is asking him to do is hard, and complicated, and is just not how he anticipated God using him.

I think our lives of faithf are often like the choice that Joseph had to make.

  • He accepted the situation at hand, even as it was so out of his control or understanding.
  • He isn’t ever going to get much credit for making this quiet, faithful, and humble commitment to God.

I understand his faith story in more ways than I understand the call of Mary, John the Baptist, or

Any of the disciples. Those are kind of glamorous lives of faith.

  • This is the call of the unglamorous faithful in situations not of their choosing.

To me, this is the humble and doggedly faithful response of the adult child taking care of their

elderly parent, long lost to dementia.


They are doing what they have to do. Of course they are.

  • They have accepted this call of love, nurture, and commitment.
  • And it is hard. And far beyond their control. And far outside of how they hoped to be used by God.


So, if the call of Joseph resonates with you – remember that God chose to come close to you. Immanuel  is God with us. Even in these unexpected ways that we sometimes don’t recognize.


My good friend Darla, a pastor in Seattle,

reminds me that she looks to Joseph as the Patron Saint of Step-Parents

  • She married an older man with two kids.
  • She understands having to be awkwardly on the side-line/ not sure how to fit in.
  • Blended families are complicated; emotionally, socially, and logistically
  • It is not easy.

Maybe you get Joseph because you grew up with step parents or maybe your are one now.


Or maybe like me, you didn’t grow up with step parents, but we have still had and continue to

Have complicated family dynamics – especially at Christmas time.


So, far all of us – who understand the humble, far from glamourous faith of Joseph, I offer a different kind of prayer As we head into the Magic of Christmas

  • that is almost always full of joy, disappointment, laughter, frustration, tears of happiness, gratitude, and grief.


This is called the Loving Kindness Meditation. I did not invent this and you can find a few other very similar versions of it online. I do this every week in my kids yoga class, where there are also great hand motions.


So close your eyes if that helps you focus, but if it makes the voice in your head get loud,

  • leave your eyes open but focus on a single object.

Take a big inhale & exhale through your nose.

  • Feel the floor underneath your feet and the chair underneath your bottom.

Trust that their both holding you up and you don’t need to hold yourself up.


  1. Bring to the surface of your mind someone who is, right now, easy to love.
  2. Now bring to the surface of your mind a relationship that is more complicated.
  3. And now bring you relating to you.


Loving Kindness Meditation (Metta)

May you/we/I be filled with loving-kindness.

May you/we/I be healthy in mind, body, and spirit.

May you/we/I be peaceful and at ease.

May you/we/I be happy and free.