31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
December 9, 2018
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream of a day when our nation and our world would “be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.” (MLK Jr. “I Have a Dream”, 1963)
Your neighbor might have a dream of buying a yacht and retiring to Tahiti.
And last night, you might have dreamed of being chased through your childhood home by giant gingerbread men while they sang Jingle Bells. (Which might be the result of eating too many cookies and falling asleep listening to Christmas carols.)
Joseph had a dream, too. What kind of a dream was it though? Was it wish fulfillment like your neighbor’s retirement plans? Was it his subconscious trying to work out this dilemma he was struggling with, in the way that “sleeping on it” often gives you the answer to a problem? Or was Joseph’s dream actually God’s vision? God’s message as to the role Joseph would play in the coming of God’s kingdom of peace, justice, and freedom for all.
Those raised in the Christian tradition would say the latter. It’s what we were taught to believe – without question. While Joseph was sleeping at night, God’s angel came and visited him and told him about God’s plans to save all of God’s people. In this dream, the angel proclaimed the coming of the Messiah, Immanuel, “God with us”.
While those raised in the Christian tradition believe that Joseph’s dream was God’s vision, long prophesied coming true, imagine how this “dream” would sound to someone hearing it for the first time though. Someone not raised in the Christian tradition or even one of Joseph’s contemporaries.
Joseph finds out that his betrothed wife is pregnant, and it is definitely not his child. Joseph wants to do right by God and do right by Mary, but they seem to be mutually exclusive. As much as Joseph might care for Mary, he loves God more. So he has it in mind to divorce her, scripture tells us. Another translation says he was resolved to divorce her, because divorce is what it would take. They are not formally married however their agreement is just as binding.
Joseph has just made a very challenging decision to divorce his betrothed wife and although he meant to do it quietly, he still must have worried about the disgrace that would come upon her. And just when he had made that difficult decision, then he dreams about an angel saying “do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife”. (Matthew 1:20) Then?, Joseph dreams of God’s angel coming to tell him Mary was pregnant from the Holy Spirit and would bear a child who would “save his people from their sins”, a child who would be “God with us”. (Matthew 1:21, 23)
Those raised in the Christian tradition might say this was a vision, a message from God; however plenty of people might call this “dream” Joseph’s subconscious working itself out. Others might call it plain and simple wish fulfillment. Clearly, Joseph felt guilty about his decision; clearly Joseph did not really want to divorce Mary; clearly Joseph needed justification to take Mary into his home as his wife – and what better justification could there be than an angel told him to do it.
Imagine if you told someone that an angel visited you in a dream and told you to do something. Maybe someone has told you that very thing. And what do we think about that person? Crazy!
There are numerous stories of someone with schizophrenia or bi-polar disease saying that God or God’s angels told them to do something. This does not necessarily make the person crazy though. There is a very easy litmus test to discern if a “dream” is a message from God or a delusion. If the “messenger” says that we should act in any way other than one that brings love, builds community, and creates unity, justice, and peace, then the message cannot be from God.
Because God’s vision for the earth and all people has been very clear from the beginning of time. God is seeking peace and justice for all; for every valley to be lifted up and for every mountain and hill to be made low, for swords to be beaten into plowshares and spears made into pruning hooks that nation shall not lift up sword against nation and neither shall they learn war any more. (Isaiah 40:4, Isaiah 2:4).
God is love; God is peace; God is justice. And anyone who uses God’s name for any other purpose is dreaming their own agenda.
As people of faith, we believe in God’s Word as found in the Bible and we believe God is still speaking to us – so why wouldn’t we believe in angels? Why wouldn’t we believe in dreams? Why wouldn’t we believe God continues to send messengers to help us discern our role in the coming of God’s kingdom?
I had gotten to just this point in the message when I felt stuck – not sure what the right next words would be, so I put it away to come back with fresh eyes and a fresh heart.
And in that time between when I closed my computer up and opened it a few days later, I met a woman who, not knowing what I was writing about, not knowing what our Sunday scripture was, told me God speaks to her in her dreams. Sometimes about good things that are going to happen; sometimes about bad things that are going to happen; always about something significant.
Does God speak to us through angels? Yes. Does God come to us in our dreams? No doubt. Is God still speaking, sharing how God’s kingdom might come, God’s will be done? Absolutely.
There are just some people who are more open to God’s still speaking voice than others. There are just some moments when we are more open to God’s still speaking voice than others. Sleep is definitely one of those moments. But then we wake up and we discount dreams as wish fulfillment or our subconscious working itself out in crazy ways.
I love this translation of Matthew because “Joseph woke up.” Joseph woke up from sleep, and Joseph woke up to an awareness of God. Joseph woke up to the fact that if he was going to truly love God, truly follow God, then he had to listen to God – no matter how crazy it sounded.
How can we “wake up” to God’s voice and God’s dream? How can we cultivate hearts and minds that can hear God, can see how we are being called to partner in the coming of God’s kingdom of peace and love?
Think of all of those places where you feel more open: sitting with a cup of tea in front of the Christmas tree, yoga class, in those drowsy moments right before you fall asleep, in those quiet moments when you just awake.
God’s angels are all around us; God’s messengers are all around us; telling us how to create God’s kingdom of hope, God’s kingdom of love, God’s kingdom of peace.
Dream with God of the day when all people will know peace in their lives and peace in our world. Then, wake up and make it happen.
18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about[a]: 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[b] 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,[c] 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”[d] (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.