A dialogue between Joseph and an unnamed friend. (from Spill the Beans Narrative Lectionary Curriculum)
Friend: Still not sleeping, Joseph?
Joseph: Worse than that…
Friend: Worse? Nightmares?
Joseph: Not exactly… I don’t know… I had a dream…
Friend: A dream? But you don’t know if it was a nightmare? Usually there’s quite a difference, Joseph. Nightmares are the scary, bad ones. Was it a scary, bad one?
Joseph: Scary… yeah… but not bad, exactly. Kind of good, in a weird way, but definitely scary…
Friend: Right. What was the good bit then?
Joseph: I think I’ve made up my mind.
Friend: Because of the good bit in an otherwise scary, weird dream?
Friend: Right. This is making perfect sense. So what are you going to do?
Joseph: I’m going to take her back. We’re going to get married, just like we planned.
Friend: Brilliant, Joseph, that’s fantastic! What a turnaround! You really mean it? Even after yesterday?
Joseph: Don’t remind me… I’ll have to go back and undo that quiet word I had with the rabbi. I can’t believe I did that now. I can’t believe I was ready to walk out on her.
Friend: So what was the divine intervention?
Joseph: I don’t know if I can call it that… it was just a crazy dream…
Friend: I seem to remember Jacob had a few of them…
Joseph: I’m no patriarch.
Friend: …and Joseph and Solomon and Daniel…
Joseph: I’m no prophet.
Friend: Joseph, you’re about to be something just as important!
Friend: A Dad.
Joseph: Well, he’ll still be half-mine…
Friend: It’s a boy? Brilliant! See, you always wanted a boy! Um, what do you mean “half-mine”? Is your boy going to be a prophet? Is he to be dedicated to God, like Samson and Samuel?
Joseph: I… I don’t know. But we’re supposed to give him the name Jesus.
Friend: Jesus? I love it…! Jesus—that means “God delivers”—beautiful! God delivers Mary from abandonment; God delivers you from tormented indecision, and that’s even before God delivers the baby to the pair of you!
Joseph: What have the pair of us let ourselves in for?
Friend: Oh, the gossiping will soon stop, man! Don’t be afraid of that!
Joseph: Don’t be afraid? Don’t be afraid… that was it. That was the good bit, in the dream: Don’t be afraid.
Friend: There you go then. You’re going to be a Dad, and your boy’s going to be something special. What’s to be afraid of? God delivers! Brilliant! C’mon, let’s go!
Friend: To deliver Mary from my sister’s cooking. With a quick visit to the rabbi on the way.
Have you ever had a dream that left you feeling anxious or worried when you woke? When I have those dreams it tends to take me hours to shake them off, and I find myself wondering about the source of the anxiety that caused them. Is the dream trying to tell me something? Is there a message there for me?
How about happy dreams? Do you ever wake up just feeling wonderful, knowing you’ve had a brilliant dream?
Have you ever dreamed as clearly as Joseph, and known for certain what the message was in it? I can’t say I ever have. Such dreams must be a rare and precious gift – yet this particular story of Jesus as told in Matthew’s Gospel has 5 dreams, and 5 scriptural fulfillments marked by those dreams. (Take a look at the first couple of chapters of Matthew to see them all.)
Such dreams are rare, perhaps, but we all have other kinds of dreams. We have dreams for the future: the scary dreams we call nightmares, or the hopeful, joyful dreams of a future filled with good things, healing and harmony. The curriculum we use with the children, Spill the Beans, asks the question: What happens when the dreams we dream for the future are so strange we can’t get our heads around them?
I think many of us find themselves in that situation these days. We dream of world leaders who place peace and the well-being of their people above posturing and protectionism. We dream of a planet that has, incredibly, been saved from the worst ravages of global warming – where the Islands and coastlines that now seem destined to be covered by the ocean are saved, where the hoards of potential climate refugees are able to stay safe in their own homes, where the collective will of the planet is so aroused that we save each other from the devastation. We dream of a country where there isn’t a single hungry, neglected or abused child. We dream of being able to see each other, not as the suspect Other, but as truly a potential friend and sister or brother. We dream of children who are not anxious and depressed and struggling, but happy, enjoying life, able to contribute from the best of who they are.
We have dreams that are so big, so strange, so seemingly unreal that we can’t imagine they could ever be fulfilled. So what do we do with those dreams? I wonder if we might take a cue from Joseph, and focus on the words he heard: Don’t be afraid. God will deliver.
Now I don’t mean by that that we should all sit back and just wait for God to rescue us. What I do mean is that we shouldn’t let our fear that our dreams are impossible keep us from acting on them. Do you remember what the Scripture says? “If God is on our side, who can be against us?” What can be against us? What could possibly defeat us?
I believe we work together with God for the future we will see. God sends prophets to point us in the right direction, gives us the capacity to dream of different ways of being in the world, and gives us the courage and strength to live into that dream, while the Spirit does its own work in the world – changing minds and hearts, prodding and coaxing and luring creation into the way we need to go. The key to the path we need to be on is, of course, love – that short, simple, but profound word that shapes the whole of the Christian message and the Christian life.
It was God’s love for the world that brought Jesus to us. It was Mary’s love for God that allowed her to accept her calling, and Joseph’s love for Mary that kept him faithful to her in trying times, and it was their love together that raised the child that showed us all the extent of God’s love for us.
Keep dreaming your dreams, friends, no matter how crazy and improbable they may seem, and may they be dreams shaped by love – the powerful, life-changing love of Emmanuel, God with us, for the world and all that dwells upon it. May this be so. Amen.