We have heard the directives to Watch, Turn, and See over the last three weeks.  Today we are called to Dream.

There are dreams which are mini-movies in our sleep, sometimes waking us with a jolt as we struggle to figure out if they are real.  Dreams so vivid we might go check on the children in the other room or make a phone call to a friend just to make sure everything is Okay.  There are dreams in which we have the pointed discussions with others or with God which we have been avoiding.  Dreams in which we see what could be if only …   I expect most of us dismiss our “while sleeping” dreams as just our brain bringing bits and pieces of our experiences together in strange configurations while we sleep.

Experience has taught me that sometimes the truth in those dreams is something we need to hear.

There are dreams which come while we are awake.  These dreams surface scenarios of how we want things for this to be a wonderful Christmas, how we see the ideal high school experience, what it will be like when we can drive, the perfect family situation, how our children will thrive, the perfect job or retirement.

Those dreams sometimes seem unattainable, but can create a series of goal oriented decisions which shape who we become.  These dreams often need to change as the circumstances of life reveal necessary modifications.

Both kinds of dreams have the potential for profound changes in how we look at things.

Joseph has a dream.  No tangible in your face, while you are awake, message from an angel.  A while you are sleeping, appearance of a messenger of the Lord telling you everything will be okay and you are going to parent the Son of God.  An easy to dismiss “I wish this was the case,” message.

His somewhat surprising response is belief and obedience to the dreamed message from God.

Just as in last week’s Christmas play, Joseph says “Oh, OK!”

There is nothing simple about that response, it can only come from a deep relationship with God and work of the Holy Spirit in Joseph’s life.

In the time that Joseph and Mary lived, when two people became engaged to be married, at the point of their engagement, they entered into a legal contract that, for all practical purposes, was no different from the contract they would hold once they were actually married. There were three steps to marriage.

  1. First came the engagement, which was transacted between the fathers of the bride and the groom. This transaction often took place while the couple were still children. It was an arranged marriage.
  2. The second stage was betrothal. This took place when the couple were older and getting closer to the actual time for marriage. Once they were betrothed, they were legally bound to each other, and the relationship could be ended only by legal divorce. Betrothal lasted for about a year. During this time of betrothal, the couple lived separately, and they did not consummate the relationship.
  3. The final stage was the marriage itself, when there was a huge festival and the groom took his new wife to come and live with him in his home.[1]

With such a long period of knowing it was Mary with whom he would build a life, Joseph must have had many of the “while awake” dreams in which he thought about their life together, working together to create a home to raise a family.  As they were in the time of betrothal they may have had some time to get to know one another, learn each other’s favorite food, share stories of growing up and hopes for the future, even if there was never alone with one another.  Joseph’s consideration of how to handle the situation of Mary’s expecting indicated they had developed a level of concern for one another, even though they lived separately.

As Joseph tries to sleep that night we can only imagine his emotions: any trust he has in Mary now shaken if not shattered, the future he planned impossible, the social stigma set to follow him for years if he stays in his small hometown.  There is also the letter of the Law which allows him to have Mary stoned to death.  He knows he isn’t responsible for the baby she carries, none of this makes sense, but he believes he has developed the best plan possible for all concerned as he falls asleep.

We don’t know as much about Joseph’s family faith background, as we do for Mary, yet we are told he is a righteous man indicating he studied the Law, worshiped, and loved God.  We also see a glimpse of someone who was open to God moving his people into directions of grace, following the intent of the Law rather than the letter of the Law as we learn that he was unwilling to expose Mary to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.  In the midst of his private and anticipated public pain, he is prepared to extend love.

Then the dream, an angel telling him go ahead and build a life with Mary, the child is of God, there isn’t any betrayal.  You are called to parent the Son of God with Mary, his mother.  There isn’t any reason to be afraid.  The Holy Spirit is with you.  You are part of God’s plan to bring salvation to the world.

This is definitely a radical way to look at the situation.  It would be easy to dismiss it as just a dream and stick with his plan.  Yet, Joseph hears God’s dream for the world in the words and plan outlined by the angel in his dream.  He is open to God’s change of direction for his life, accepts the dream, and acts.

He grasps God’s vision shared by the angel and takes Mary into his home, knowing they will not truly be together as husband and wife until this Holy child is born.  He takes the risk, empowered by a dream which connects what he knows of God through the prophets to what he knows of Mary and their covenant relationship.

As we prepare to welcome the Christ-child anew this week, we have an opportunity to enter God’s dream of a world in relationship with God and each other through this baby – fully human, fully divine.  It is a dream which forces us to move from what the world expects of us to what God expects.  It is a dream which calls us to action.  It is a call to Love.

It is not a cautious dream.  It requires us to consider how we are: responding to God’s call on our lives to be more and more Christ-like, of actively participating in the faith community, building up one another in love, giving more of our resources and time than what is convenient, of trying to offer grace more than judgment, of living joy-filled lives in the midst of difficult situations.

It is a risky dream God offers us.  A dream of loving God with all our heart, not following the expectations of those who have forgotten how to dream.  It is a dream where jealousy and cynicism are abandoned and we only offer words of kindness to one another.  It is a dream of a church family which always has room and welcomes more to the table.  It is a dream of a church filled with diversity, with saints and sinners gathered to thank God for the amazing gift of Jesus.

It is a dream of a world where people take chances to help others and discover that God is not only our hope, but that God has placed that hope within us.  It is a Dream of God waiting for us to take one step in the direction of grace and discover the love that’s always with us.[2]

Some of the circumstances of our lives may have us wondering what dreams warrant our action, our change in direction, our response of “Oh, Ok.”  There may be feelings of hopelessness, betrayal, hurt, abandonment, personal dreams of “what should be” crushed under our reality.

Yet as we move toward Christmas Eve, God calls us to a Dream of a Kingdom where God’s will is done on earth.   We respond to the dream as we change from looking for solutions that evolve from our human perspective, to acting on the Angel calling us to not be afraid to embrace God’s perspective, to center our lives in the truth that “God is with us.”  To dream how we as a faith community are called to Love God and our neighbors in new ways in our church, our neighborhood, and the world.

I encourage you to listen to God’s Dream, and then, just as Joseph, to act as we serve the Lord together in the coming weeks and months.

[1] Rev. Dr. Dawn Chesser [Douglas E. Wingeier, Keeping Holy Time: Year A. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001, page 33.]

[2] Brett Younger, http://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/440/josephrsquos-dreams

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