Dreams and Visions

Isaiah 7:10-16    Matthew 1:18-25

Fourth Sunday in Advent    December 19, 2010

We don’t often contemplate Joseph’s role in the drama of Christmas.  He is there, of course, in any creche, standing in the stable with Mary, looking over the baby Jesus with protection and love.  But what did it take for him to get there?  What did it take for him to stay with Mary?  This morning’s reading from Matthew gives us a small glimpse into Joseph’s story.  Joseph was a good man, a quiet and gentle carpenter, who wanted to offer Mary the best he had.  But when she told him that she was pregnant, he faltered.  He wasn’t sure what to make of it.  He could have had her stoned to death, as was the custom at that time, for those accused of adultery, but he didn’t want to hurt her.  He contemplated his options, and was about ready to dismiss her quietly, when he had a dream, and that dream changed everything.  As a way of coming closer to the heart of Joseph’s experience and how the dream changed his thinking, I’d like to share with you “Joseph’s Letter Home,” a thoughtful piece by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson of Joyful Heart Ministries.

Dear Mom,

We're still in Bethlehem--Mary and I and little Jesus. There were lots of things I couldn't talk to you about last summer. You wouldn't have believed me then, but maybe I can tell you now. I hope you can understand. You know, Mom, I've always loved Mary. You and dad used to tease me about her when she was still a girl. She and her brothers used to play on our street. Our families got together for supper. But the hardest day of my life came scarcely a year ago when I was twenty and she only fifteen. You remember that day, don't you? The trouble started after we were betrothed and signed the marriage agreement at our engagement. That same spring Mary had left abruptly to visit her old cousin Elizabeth in Judea. She was gone three whole months. After she got back, people started wondering out loud if she were pregnant. It was cloudy the day when I finally confronted her with the gossip. "Mary," I asked at last, "are you going to have a baby?" Her clear brown eyes met mine. She nodded. I didn't know what to say. "Who?" I finally stammered.

Mom, Mary and I had never acted improperly--even after we were betrothed. Mary looked down. "Joseph," she said. "There's no way I can explain. You couldn't understand. But I want you to know I've never cared for anyone but you." She got up, gently took my hands in hers, kissed each of them as if it were the last time she would ever do that again, and then turned towards home. She must have been dying inside. I know I was. The rest of the day I stumbled through my chores. It's a wonder I didn't hurt myself in the woodshop. At first I was angry and pounded out my frustrations on the doorframe I was making. My thoughts whirled so fast I could hardly keep my mind on my work. At last I decided just to end the marriage contract with a quiet divorce. I loved her too much to make a public scene. I couldn't talk to you. Or anyone, for that matter. I went to bed early and tried to sleep. Her words came to me over and over. "I've never cared for anyone but you.... I've never cared for anyone but you...." How I wished I could believe her! I don't know when I finally fell asleep. Mom, I had a dream from God. An angel of the Lord came to me. His words pulsated through my mind so intensely I can remember them as if it were yesterday.

"Joseph, son of David," he thundered, "do not fear to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit." I couldn't believe my ears, Mom. This was the answer! The angel continued, "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." The angel gripped my shoulders with his huge hands. For a long moment his gaze pierced deep within me. Just as he turned to go, I think I saw a smile on his shining face. I sat bolt upright in bed. No sleep after that! I tossed about for a while, going over the words in my mind. Then I got up and dressed quietly so I wouldn't wake you. I must have walked for miles beneath the moonless sky. Stars pricked the blackness like a thousand tiny pinpoints. A warm breeze blew on my face. I sang to the Lord, Mom. Yes, me, singing, if you can imagine that. I couldn't contain my joy. I told Him that I would take Mary and care for her. I told Him I would watch over her--and the child--no matter what anyone said. I got back just as the sun kissed the hilltops. I don't know if you still recall that morning, Mom. I can see it in my mind's eye as if it were yesterday. You were feeding the chickens, surprised to see me out. Remember?

"Sit down," I said to you. "I've got to tell you something." I took your arm and helped you find a seat on the big rock out back. "Mom," I said, "I'm going to bring Mary home as my wife. Can you help make a place for her things?" You were silent a long time. "You do know what they're saying, don't you, son?" you said at last, your eyes glistening. "Yes, Mom, I know." Your voice started to rise. "If your father were still alive, he'd have some words, I'll tell you. Going about like that before you are married. Disgracing the family and all. You... you and Mary ought to be ashamed of yourselves!" You'd never have believed me if I'd tried to explain, so I didn't. Unless the angel had spoken to you, you'd have laughed me to scorn. "Mom, this is the right thing to do," I said.

And then I started talking to you as if I were the head of the house. "When she comes I don't want one word to her about it," I sputtered. "She's your daughter-in-law, you'll respect her. She'll need your help if she's to bear the neighbors' wagging tongues!" I'm sorry, Mom. You didn't deserve that. You started to get up in a huff.

"Mom," I murmured, "I need you." You took my hand and got to your feet, but the fire was gone from your eyes. "You can count on me, Joseph," you told me with a long hug. And you meant it. I never heard another word. No bride could hope for a better mother-in-law than you those next few months.

Mom, after I left you I went up the road to Mary's house and knocked. Her mother glared at me as she opened the door. Loudly, harshly she called into the house, "It's Joseph!" almost spitting out my name as she said it. My little Mary came out cringing, as if she expected me give her the back of my hand, I suppose. Her eyes were red and puffy. I can just imagine what her parents had said. We walked a few steps from the house. She looked so young and afraid. "Pack your things, Mary," I told her gently. "I'm taking you home to be my wife." "Joseph!" She hugged me as tight as she could. Mom, I didn't realize she was so strong. I told her what I'd been planning. "We'll go to Rabbi Ben-Ezer's house this week and have him perform the ceremony." I know it was awfully sudden, Mom, but I figured the sooner we got married the better it would be for her, and me, and the baby. "Mary, even if our friends don't come, at least you and I can pledge our love before God." I paused. "I think my Mom will be there. And maybe your friend Rebecca would come if her dad will let her. How about your parents?" I could feel Mary's tiny frame shuddering as she sobbed quietly. "Mary," I said. I could feel myself speaking more boldly. "No matter what anyone says about you, I'm proud you're going to be my wife. I'm going to take good care of you. I've promised God that." She looked up.

I lowered my voice. "I had a dream last night, Mary. I saw an angel. I know." The anguish which had gripped her face vanished. She was radiant as we turned away from the house and began to walk up the hill together. Just then her mother ran out into the yard. "Wait," she called. She must have been listening from behind the door. Tears were streaming down her cheeks. "I'll get your father," she called, almost giddy with emotion. "We," she cried as she gathered up her skirts. "We," she shouted as she began to run to find her husband. "We ... are going to have a wedding!"

That's how it was, Mom. Thanks for being there for us. I'll write again soon.

Love, Joseph

Dreams are powerful communication tools.  Dreams help to clarify things we are muddled about, sift through information that we receive during waking hours, and help us discern what is primary and what we don’t need to give much credence to.  They draw on our subconscious, helping us tap into the deepest wisdom and evaluation skills we have, so that we can make good decisions using everything we know - even the things we don’t know that we know.  Dreams also are a doorway to communicating with something beyond ourselves, with God and the angels, as was true in Joseph’s story.  Throughout the Bible, there are many stories of people having powerful and life-changing dreams.  But, something we may not know or talk about much, is the fact that many people today receive messages from God through their dreams, also.  God continues to communicate to us, and dreams are one of the avenues for this to happen.  What dreams or visions have come to you recently?  What is God saying to you in ways you may not have recognized yet as being of God?  This is the season when our hearts and minds can best tune in to miracles, to God’s voice, to everyday amazing gifts.

God of dreams and visions, God of miracles and mystery, we welcome you into our lives.  We pray that we might be attuned to your messages that come to us in all kinds of ways, via varied and wonderful means.  We are grateful that you still speak to us, even today.  Amen.

"If you live the life you love, you will receive shelter and blessings. Sometimes the great famine of blessings in and around us derives from the fact that we are not living the life we love; rather, we are living the life that is expected of us. We have fallen out of rhythm with the secret signature and light of our own nature."   - John O'Donohue