SERMON Advent 4A Matthew 1 18 25
Phew….. It was only a dream….
So often today, we are quick to dismiss dreams as meaningless nonsense… the result of too much late night eating or late night TV seeping into our subconscious. But throughout the Bible, God uses dreams as one of many ways in which God communicates important messages to God’s people. Perhaps in dreams, we humans are more receptive to messages we may not want to hear, or for messages which are too amazing for us to fully understand while in our rational, fully awake mind?
Take Joseph, for instance: he was a humble carpenter from small town Nazareth. He was simple man, with hopes for a simple, uncomplicated life. His dream in life was the dream of every faithful, first century Jew: to get married, have kids, to raise them in the faith, to work with his hands and to provide service to his family and community.
He was a humble carpenter in 1st century Galilee. But, twenty-eight generations prior to Joseph, his family was royalty –the house of King David in Jerusalem! God made an everlasting covenant with his servant, David, saying “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established forever.” A Davidic king ruled in Israel for 14 generations, but after the people were sent away in exile to Babylon, a descendant of David never again sat on the throne in Judea.
The prophets kept God’s dream alive by reminding the people of God’s everlasting covenant with David. They taught that the Messiah would come –the descendant of David who would rule not just for a few years, but forever and ever! The Messiah, God’s anointed one, would come and save God’s people from their enemies and would usher in a kingdom of peace and justice.
Now Joseph, as a faithful Jew, was waiting for Messiah to come, but never in a million years would he have imagined that the Messiah would be raised in his house! Joseph seemingly had nothing in common with his royal ancestors besides the love of God.
Kind David was favored by God, but deeply flawed. He was notorious for having stolen Bathsheba from her husband, Uriah, and then sending her husband off to battle to die to cover up his adultery. Joseph, on the contrary, was so righteous that when he learned that his fiancé, Mary, was pregnant before they had lived together, he made up his mind to divorce her, for divorce seemed to be the only faithful way forward in this very painful scenario. He could not possibly marry a woman who had been unfaithful to him before they lived together! He was a righteous man! He lived according to the law! That being said, he was a kind man and did not wish physical harm to come to her, and he did not wish to shame her any more than she had already been shamed by what he assumed were her own actions, so he decided to divorce her quietly. It was the only possible way to obey God’s law and to hopefully someday achieve his dream of a quiet, uncomplicated, holy life. There were no great options in this situation, but Joseph made up his mind to do what he felt was right for everyone involved.
He had it all figured out when he went to sleep, but then a dream came to him while he slept. This dream revealed a way forward that was nothing like what he had planned for his life –this was nothing like what he thought God would have wanted for him. Instead of maintaining his righteousness, his purity, God wanted him to dive right into this holy mess and embrace the scandal of raising a child not his own. Joseph was not a passive bystander in this dream, he played an important role. He was charged with the responsibility of naming the child in Mary’s womb, thus taking on the vocation to be his father. The scripture says, “An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”’
which means, “God is with us.”2
God’s dream for our world is Emmanuel. God’s dream is to be “with us” and to “save us.” God’s dream is to be “with us” in the peak moments of life –like the birth of a child, or achievement of one’s academic or career goals. But God’s dream is also to be “with us” in those moments when we’re not sure how to go on…. When we’re not sure what to do…. When we have no good options. God is with us when we feel betrayed, with us when we feel ashamed, with us when we’re angry, with us when we’re depressed or despairing. God is with us in those moments like Joseph himself experienced –when we’ve found out that our fiancé is pregnant and we know we couldn’t be the father. God is with us when we feel like Joseph –when our dreams for a normal, simple life come crashing down, and we have to adjust ourselves to “plan B.” God is with us. And God makes holy the road ahead of us, which we would not have chosen for ourselves.
Joseph’s obedience to God’s will –to be the father of the Messiah, t0 name him and claim him as his own heir- Joseph’s obedience to God’s will makes God’s dream a reality. Because of Joseph’s great love of God, of Mary, and eventually of Jesus, Joseph sacrificed his dream of a normal, simple life, and Emmanuel survived to be born into our world through Joseph’s wife. Emmanuel was protected and instructed in the faith by this faithful earthly father. Emmanuel survived and grew strong and fulfilled the mission of the name Joseph gave him –Jesus saves us all. Because Joseph gave up his dream in favor of fulfilling God’s dream, God IS with all of us forevermore. Amen.