Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sermon for Year A Advent 4

Dream a little dream

Here we are at the end--well, almost the end of the season of Advent.
We started with being told to stay awake,
to get ready.

The next Sunday we heard prepare.
Prepare the way.
Make the paths straight.

Last week we were told to go and tell.
John the Baptist was sitting in prison and could not help but wonder,
maybe even doubt,
if Jesus was the true Messiah.

And Jesus told the disciples
Go and tell John what you have seen and what you have heard.
Go and tell John that the news is good indeed.

Now we arrive at Advent 4.
We have lighted three purple candles and one rose colored candle.
On Christmas Eve we will light the white candle in the Center.
We know we are getting close to Christmas.

Today we hear in Matthew’s Gospel
that Joseph is about to walk out on his fiance Mary.
She’s going to have a baby
and he doesn’t think it is his baby.

But before Joseph can disappear,
and essentially make Mary disappear from his life,
as he intends to do,
he has a dream.

And in the dream an angel comes
and tells him
that Mary will bear a son and they will name him Jesus,
God is with us.

And Joseph knows that he will not leave Mary.
He will not abandon her or this baby who soon will be born.

He awakes from the dream
and everything changes.
Joseph listens to that dream
and bravely steps forward into fatherhood.

All because of a dream.
All rational thought aside,
Joseph changes his direction, his intentions,
because he has a dream.

To him this dream is a divine revelation.
Throughout scripture
dreams lead and change the course.

Throughout scripture people listen to their dreams
because they believe--
they deeply believe--
that God is speaking to them through their dreams.

As early as Genesis we hear --

God came in a dream by night and said ..(Genesis 31:24)

...the angel of God said in a dream (Genesis 31:11)

The prophets are filled with dream imagery,
and of seeking God through dreams--

My soul yearns for you in the night,
my spirit within me earnestly seeks you. (Isaiah 26.9)

These are just a few of the Old Testament references to dreams.
There are many.

There are also numerous dream references in the gospels,
especially in Matthew.
And in the dreams in the Gospel of Matthew,
there is always an angel.

...the angel of God said in a dream.

Now the word angel is a Greek word (angelus) which means messenger.
Angels are often God’s dream messengers.

But even in ancient times
they did not see all dreams as from God.
Sometimes dreams were seen as fantasies of the ego.
Sometimes as ridiculous.
Sometimes as just a distraction.

But we cannot deny the plethora of dreams
that are used to reveal a message from God.

And how about us?
How do we know when to listen to our dreams?
What might be a holy message from God
and what might be just a fanciful distraction?

Perhaps it was not so much that Joseph trusted in his dreams
but that he trusted in God.
He knew how to listen--
both awake and asleep.

My father was diagnosed with a brain tumor,
had surgery,
which confirmed that the tumor was malignant
and that no treatments were going to be effective,
the hospital nurses and social work staff
told my mother she would not be able to care for my father at home.
She needed to find a facility that could provide the care he would need.
This was not the news we wanted to hear
but it was the voice of realism.

My mother and I spent several days visiting
assisted living places
and nursing homes
and still, at the end of those long and wearying day,
we were no closer to a decision, a solution.
I knew, as did my brother and sister,
the decision belonged to my mother.
We were there to support her.
My mother said, “I just need to sleep on this.”

And the next morning,
the very first thing the next morning,
my mother said,
“Jack [my dad] is coming home.”
No discussion.
No need to question.
She was bringing my father home.
Against medical advice,
against the unexpressed concerns of her children,
against choosing the easier path.
She was crystal clear.
“I am bringing him home.”

Did God speak to my mother in a dream?
I have no idea.
I never asked.
She never told.
But she woke from sleep and knew exactly what she was going to do.

My father came home.
Hospice and other caregivers came to help my mother
and my father died at home 6 weeks later.

There was nothing easy about those 6 weeks
but my mother--and my father--
were content.
She never once questioned her decision.

I just need to sleep on this.

What a gift that Joseph, too, took the time to “sleep on this.”
What a gift that Joseph listened to a dream that told him
what he needed to do
even though his actions were more counter-cultural
than we can possibly imagine.
To marry a woman who was having a baby that was not your child
was just something men did not do.
Not then, and most often, not now.

Don’t for a minute think the people in the village
where Mary and Joseph lived didn’t know.
Just like any small town,
everybody knows.
I can just see the heads shaking
the fingers pointing.
the whispered comments.

Yet Joseph’s strength and character are clear.
It is a powerful example to do the right thing,
to act with care and with love,
even when it means that you yourself will suffer.

The writer Frederick Buechner has been my companion
for much of this season of Advent.

Here’s just a bit of what he has to say about dreams:

Freudians and Jungians, prophets and poets, philosophers, fortune-tellers, and phonies all have their own claims about what dreams mean. Others claim they don't mean a thing. But there are at least two things they mean that seem incontrovertible.

One of them is that we are in constant touch with a world that is as real to us while we are in it, and has as much to do with who we are, and whose ultimate origin and destiny are as unknown and fascinating, as the world of waking reality. The other one is that our lives are a great deal richer, deeper, more intricately interrelated, more mysterious, and less limited by time and space than we commonly suppose.   (from Whistling in the Dark)

This gospel story is not just about dreams.
This gospel story is not just about trusting in our dreams.

This is a story about profound and unwavering trust in God.

Whatever the truth about that baby that Mary was carrying,
this is a story about love,
the deep and mysterious womb of love.

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The image at the top of this post is a painting by artist Laura James. Check out her amazing artwork:

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