Narrative Lectionary Year 1, Fourth Week of Advent
December 21, 2014
But just when he had resolved to do 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 as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:20-21
We’re not talking about dreams of sugarplums dancing in Joseph’s head or long winter naps with reindeer clatter on the rooftop in some quaint North American Christmas poem but rather angelic appearances, difficult decisions, honor and shame, and life in the shadow of empire dreams. Our Lord and Savior was controversial from the way he entered this world until the day he refused to stay dead, and both of his parents would make decisions that would forever change the course of their lives and history.
You have to give Joseph credit. He had wrestled with this decision about Mary’s “untimely” condition. As with Mary’s side of the story, there is much we do not know about Joseph. We are simply told that he is a righteous man and that he cared deeply enough about his betrothed to not want her publicly shamed and perhaps even stoned to death. No, he had determined an honorable path to walk away from a dishonorable situation. Then the angel shows up in his dream and changes everything.
This is so like God, however, to show up at an inopportune time to change the carefully plotted direction and map of our lives, compelling us to choose the divine road less traveled. Yes, dreams can be dangerous things; just ask Joseph. Sure, our lives can be changed in the shadowy rhythms of sleep, but by the grace of God our lives are really not our own anyway. We are made by God, for God, and to be in relationship with the Triune One who breathed everything and everyone into existence.
Joseph’s divine dream changed everything for him, and it changes everything for us. Quietly, simply, and obediently this man from Galilee determined to do as the angel instructed. Talk about a witness and a ripple effect!
Matthew tells us that the birth of Jesus, the birth of our Savior, happened in this extraordinary way to two ordinary people. It makes sense, doesn’t it? We know from scripture that God has been using ordinary people to do extraordinary things all along–people who form the interwoven family genealogy that will lead to this moment in time, and to a dream that was life-changing, life-giving, and life-saving. That’s pretty amazing when you stop to think about it.
So fellow preacher, faithful teacher, and ordinary follower of Jesus, how will you take Joseph’s witness, this small sliver of a story about the man and his pivotal dream-decision, and plant a seed of hope and discomfort into the minds and hearts of those whom you serve this Sunday? Perhaps you simply cast it out there, trusting your divinely-inspired words will seep (by the work of the Holy Spirit) deeply into the hearts of those otherwise distracted by the season and its commercial trappings. Perhaps the deep dreams of sleep will bring angelic directives to all of us that reorient our lives toward Bethlehem, toward the baby who changes everything, and toward a deeper discipleship. Who knows? Of course, God knows. And that makes all the difference.
Go, tell Joseph’s unlikely story of dreams, of decisions, and of righteous intentions. Invite us all to dream a little dream of Christmas–not of sugarplums and reindeer clatter but rather of peace, of justice, and of salvation. Set the stage for the real work of Christmas to begin. Blessings on your preaching and teaching this Sunday and throughout the week of Christmas.
If you could dream a little dream right now…
what would the angel say to you that you need to hear, that would change your life and plans? Invite worshipers into a brief discussion with those around them about this question. Then cast the conversation wider. If you could dream a little dream right now, what might the angel be saying to the congregation? What change of course might need to happen for your community of faith to better bear the Good News of Jesus to your community? Perhaps work these questions into your sermon. You might even set up a dream table in an open space with a large roll of butcher paper on which people can write their answers with crayons or colored markers. Dream big! Dream radically! Dream hopefully!
If you have a crÃ¨che in your sanctuary, have a child go and carefully bring Joseph to you (or meet by the crÃ¨che). Talk about Joseph as a dreamer, as one who listened to God in a dream and rearranged his life to follow God’s will. What other Joseph in scripture had his life changed by what he dreamed? You may have to remind them of Joseph, son of Jacob and how his dreams changed the course of not only his life and his family’s life, but the lives of many others. Dreams in the Bible remind us to spend time listening to God. They remind us that God speaks to us “slant”–in dreams sometimes, yes, but in community, in word, in the waters of baptism, and in the bread and wine of communion. The point is this: God is active in our lives even when we don’t realize it. One of our jobs is to learn to be better listeners because listening to God can be life changing. Joseph’s faithful response to his dream made all the difference. Not all of our dreams will be God’s words to us, of course, but God is still speaking. So listen! Finish with a simple prayer for the children to listen for God during this very busy and exciting week.
Photos: Ted and SeetheHolyLand.net, Creative Commons License. Thanks!)