Category Archives: Faith

Reflections on the Second Sunday of Advent: the Story of Joseph

Today is the second Sunday in Advent. Today, let’s read the story of Joseph and how he was visited by an angel in a dream.


The Gospel of Matthew 1: 18 – 25. Joseph’s dream experience.

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.

19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet[e] did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.


That’s a pretty powerful story, isn’t it?

If you can, tonight, as the sun sets, find some place where you can be quiet. If you like, light a candle, or light two candles for the 2nd Sunday in Advent.

Joseph was blessed with clear and unequivocal spiritual guidance when facing a difficult decision, but we are rarely in so fortunate a position when we have to make decisions that could change our lives. Not that his path was an easy one.

It occurs to me that so much in life is showing up. Working, making sure our loved ones are fed, warm and safe. The day to day things we do for love. By themselves, they may not seem that earth-shaking. But what Joseph did enabled a miracle. Joseph showed up. He worked, paid his taxes, and made sure his loved ones had what they needed. Does that sound familiar to you?

I’d like to share another illustration from The Christmas Story, illustrated by Eloise Wilkin. Perhaps this image will help you meditate on the story of Joseph.

Has there been a time when the wise words of another helped you see another perspective? What role does prayer play in your life when facing tough choices? What meaning does Joseph’s story have for you?

Here is a carol for this evening.


When Joseph Was an Old Man – (Traditional)
When Joseph was an old man, and an old man was he
He wedded Virgin Mary the queen of Galilee
He wedded Virgin Mary the queen of Galilee

When Joseph was married and brought Mary home
Mary was with child and Joseph hadn’t known
Mary was with child and Joseph hadn’t known

As they went a-walking through the garden so green
There were cherries and berries hanging from a tree
There were cherries and berries hanging from a tree

Up then bespoke Mary, so meek and so mild
Saying, “Joseph, pluck some cherries, for I am with child”
Saying, “Joseph, pluck some cherries, for I am with child”

In anger spoke Joseph, in anger spoke he
“Let the father of your baby pick cherries for thee”
“Let the father of your baby pick cherries for thee”

Then out spoke baby Jesus, from his mother’s womb
“Mary shall have cherries and Joseph shall have none”
“Mary shall have cherries and Joseph shall have none”

Then down bowed the cherry tree all down to the ground
And Mary plucked cherries while Joseph stood around
And Mary plucked cherries while Joseph stood around

As Joseph was a-walking he heard angels sing
“This night shall be born our heavenly king”
“This night shall be born our heavenly king”

Reflections on the First Sunday of Advent: Mary’s Story

Today is the first Sunday in Advent. As you know, the four Sundays in Advent before Christmas Day recount various messages from the Bible, not just the Christmas story. But I am going to depart from that tradition, because, after all, I am not a minister or priest. I would like to share some sections of the Bible that relate to the Christmas story. Perhaps it will give you something to ponder as we approach Christmas Day.

Today, let’s read the story of Mary, and how she learned that she was to have a baby.


The Gospel According to Luke 1:26-38 – The Annunciation

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be calledthe Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.


I have always liked this story. I remember first reading about it in the Little Golden book, The Christmas Story, illustrated by Eloise Wilkin. I have it; here is the illustration that shows Mary talking with the angel Gabriel.

Tonight, as the sun sets, find some place where you can be quiet. If you like, light a candle; the first candle for the first Sunday in Advent. White roses and lilies are symbolic of Mary. Perhaps, add some next to your candle, or leave some at a statue honoring Mary (there is one on Broad Street in Falls Church).

Meditate on the story of Mary and how it may relate to your life or inspire you.

  • Mary was meek but brave. Think about a time when you showed faith and courage in the face of uncertainty.
  • Has there ever been anyone who has played the role of Gabriel in your life?
  • Did you ever come to a path in your experience where the direction you were to take was abundantly clear? What was that like?
  • Does any part of this story resonate with you today?
  • How can you honor Mary in your heart?

Here is a carol for today.


Gabriel’s Message  (Basque carol, traditional)

The angel Gabriel from heaven came
His wings as drifted snow
His eyes as flame
“All hail” said he “thou lowly maiden Mary
Most highly favored lady,
Gloria, Gloria

“For known a blessed mother thou shalt be
All generations laud and honor thee
Thy Son shall be Emanuel
By seers foretold
Most highly favored maid,
Gloria, Gloria

Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head
“To me be as it pleaseth God, ” she said,
“My soul shall laud and magnify His holy name.”
Most highly favored lady,
Gloria, Gloria

The Tradition of Epiphany Celebrations

Today, January 6, is Epiphany. It is the last day of the Christmas season and is also known as Three Kings Day and Twelth Night, depending on the country and custom. To celebrate this day in a meaningful way, in this post, I will share information about the three kings, an excerpt from the Bible about their visit to the Christ child, some customs associated with Epiphany, a short story about one of these customs and a carol. Enjoy!

Origin of Epiphany

Like many Christian holidays, Epiphany has ancient origins. In pre-Christian times, Egyptians drew water from the Nile for holy water, as it was considered to be purest on January 6. This festival became associated with the baptism of Christ when Egyptians converted to Christianity. Four hundred years after Christ died, the date of December 25 was fixed as the date of his birth and Christmas began to be celebrated as an important Christian observance, heavily influenced by existing stories and customs, and the date of January 6 soon became marked as the finale of the Christmas festival.

The Gospel According to Matthew

The Biblical account of the journey and visit of the three wise men is as follows:

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the King, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem.

Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

When Herod the king heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

And when he had gathered the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should  be born.

And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet.

And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.

And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

When they had heard the king, they departed, and lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.

When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshiped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.

And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

And when they were departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.

When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt.

The Three Kings

Three Magi, or wise men, were said to visit Jesus. In the early Christian times, they were deonoted as Kings although they were not known to have dominions. Magi were Persian priests, scientists and astrologers who had observed the stars on the night of Jesus’ birth. Legend has it that they brought three gifts to the Christ child.

  • Balthazar, from Ethiopia, brought frankincense. Frankincenes is an incense that was used in relgious rites. The symbolism is that the child was acknowledged as a future priest.
  • Melchior, from Arabia or India, brougt gold. Gold was a tribute to a young king.
  • Caspar, possibly Greek, brought myrrh. Myrrh was an incense and ointment. It was a symbol of a healer.

Although I do not know if it is still done today, in some countries, it was the custom in the past for boys or men to dress up as the Three Kings and process or deliver gifts. We are accustomed to our children receiving gifts on Christmas Day but in those countries, Kings brought the gifts, just as they did to the Christ Child, on January 6. In Italy, La Befana, an old woman, delivers the gifts that day.

We Three Kings

One of my favorite carols is We Three Kings. I like how the melody sounds like the slow plodding of camels and kings on their way to Bethlehem. Listen to the carol as sung by the great jazz singer and Virginian Ella Fitzgerald.

Three Young Kings

The beautiful and moving short story, Three Young Kings, written by George Sumner Albee in 1956, describes the procession of the Three Kings in a Cuban town. You can listen to it here or read the text here.

The King Cake

In France, they still celebrate Epiphany with a King Cake. A delicious pastry is topped with a golden crown. Whomever finds the baby inside is king for a day. This tradition has continued in New Orleans, although now King Cakes are more associated with Mardi Gras.

You can order and buy delicious, French-style King Cakes or King Cake slices at the franchise restaurant, La Madeleine, typically through January 6, while supplies last.

Farewell until November!

For many years, my Christmas has extended past New Year’s until January 6, when I wistfully take down my tree and put away my Christmas decorations. Epiphany also marks the last day of the season I post on Cool Yule. Please visit often and come back for new content about the winter holidays in November 2022. May God bless you and keep you all year. — Mary

The story of the birth of Christ

On Christmas Day, one year, I listened to a rector talk about the beautiful story of the birth of Christ in his sermon. Whether or not it is completely true was immaterial, he said. He referred to the meaning of the story and its timelessness.

I agreed with him, but all my life, even when I doubted the existence of God himself, I believed this story happened. It seems too wonderful to not be true. But as the rector stated, that isn’t truly the point. We don’t know the exact date Christ was born and other details are lost to history. The point is that the wrondrous story of the birth of Christ is a story of love, reverence, faith, difficulty, sacrifice and miracles. And that is a story that every person can relate to on some level.

Let’s remember the night the angels sang…

Let’s remember what happened in a little town, as related in the Gospel of Luke. Merry Christmas.

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.

(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of Davdi, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David: )

To be taxed with Mary, his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known to us.

And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

The Observance of Advent

You may have heard of Advent, and you may have had an Advent calendar as a child. But do you know what Advent means?

Advent is a Christmas tradition and liturgical practice that marks the days of waiting before the birth of Jesus Christ.

Since early Christian times, it has taken place on the four Sundays before Christmas. The first Sunday of Advent is the first day of the Christmas season of religious observance and also the first day of the Christian liturgical year.

That day is today. Today is the first Sunday of Advent.

The last day of the Christmas celebration is Epiphany, in many traditions, which is January 6, and celebrates the day the Wise Men came to visit the baby Jesus.

You have heard of the 12 days of Christmas? Those are the 12 days between Christmas and Epiphany.

The Advent Candles and Wreath

Some families have an advent wreath at home. When they do, it’s traditional to gather reverently to light a candle on the evening of each of the four Sundays preceding Christmas. Candles also appear at Sunday services in the churches of many denominations. The candles are often placed in a wreath of greenery and represents God’s never-ending love.The wreath is a custom that comes from Germany, like the Christmas tree.

On the first Sunday you light one candle, the second Sunday, two candles, and so on.

While the traditional colors of Christmas are red and green, Advent candles are often purple (the first two and fourth Sundays) and pink (the third Sunday). The clergy’s vestments during Advent are also purple and rose on these days. But there are different colors and customs. Some candles are all red, all white or other colors.

Meanings of the Four Advent Candles

The candles have different meanings and tell, sequentially, the story of Christmas.

  • The first candle is called the “Prophet’s Candle” and represents hope. The prophets of the Old Testament waited in hope for the arrival of the prophesied Messiah. The first, second and fourth candles are often purple, but in some denominations, they are blue. Purple represents penitence (and is also used during Lent), while blue represents hope and expectation.
  • The second candle is “Bethlehem’s Candle.” The candle represents the faith that Jews held that a Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
  • The third candle is the “Shepherd’s Candle.” It represents joy, the joy the shepherds had when the angels came to them to tell them that Jesus was born. This candle is pink. It is pink, because in liturgy, the color pink stands for joy. The joy is the anticipation of the birth of Jesus and the arrival of the Messiah. This service or Mass is also usually a joyful one.
  • The fourth candle the “Angel’s Candle.” It represents peace. The angels told that Jesus had come to bring peace to all people.
  • Sometimes, people or churches add a fifth candle, in the middle of the wreath and light in on Christmas Day. This one is usually white and is is called “Christ’s candle.” The candle represents the purity of Christ. It is also the color of celebration in the church, so vestments are white on Christmas and Easter.

Advent is a lovely, quiet and reverent tradition to add to your celebration of Christmas.