Sermon For December 23, 2012 ~ Fourth Sunday of Advent

Matthew 1:18-25

“Divine Encounters: Meeting God In Dreams (Joseph)”

Today is the fourth of a 7-sermon series entitled “Divine Encounters” looking at the diverse ways the persons of the Christmas Story met God.

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher

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For the jokes that were part of the Prayers Of The People, look for the next post in this blog!

Dreamers are misunderstood individuals in our world, but they are as necessary as the air we breath or the food we eat.  Irish writer and poet, Oscar Wilde once said, “A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”  We need dreamers to look for the dawn in our world in the midst of the many gloomy shadow-filled nights of our souls, our societies, our human story, even if that spells trouble for those who envision it.

Joseph the Dreamer (Jacob's Son), serigraph by Shraga Weil, 1976. Safrai Fine Art, Jerusalem

Joseph the Dreamer (Jacob’s Son), serigraph by Shraga Weil, 1976. Safrai Fine Art, Jerusalem

Joseph was a dreamer.  If that statement is ambiguous for you, it should be, for there were two Joseph’s in the Bible who were led by their dream life.  In the Hebrew Scriptures Joseph, one of the sons of Jacob, is the son sold into slavery in Egypt.  He is the one who, through his dream interpretation for Pharaoh as well as his own dreams saves not only his own family, but the nation of Egypt from starvation and devastation during times of famine.

The Dream of St Joseph, Georges de la Tour, 1640. Web Gallery of Art

The Dream of St Joseph, Georges de la Tour, 1640. Web Gallery of Art

But then there is Joseph, the carpenter, who had several decisive life-changing dreams.  In today’s scripture reading an “angel of the Lord” appeared to him and reassured him that it was right to take the pregnant Mary to be his wife and to name the son she would bear “Jesus,” and claim the child as his own.  But his dreams do not end there, for after the baby is born he will receive two more visitations in dreams; one telling him to flee with his wife and child to Egypt to escape the bloodthirsty and power-crazed Herod, and a final dream to call them back to the safety of Israel following Herod’s death.

I strongly suspect that neither Joseph was understood fully nor appreciated for the dreams they had nor the dramatic actions they took based entirely upon their dreams.  Wilde also ironically noted, “Society often forgives the criminal; it never forgives the dreamer.”  Why is that?  Why is it that those who dream and dream big are misunderstood, maligned, and mistreated?  The playwright, George Bernard Shaw came close to explaining why when he wrote, “You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?’”

Dreamers are by their very nature malcontents; they cannot find comfort in the way things are, but are

The Dream of St Joseph, Rembrandt, 1650-55

The Dream of St Joseph, Rembrandt, 1650-55

always imagining a future that is better, fuller, richer, and oftentimes more just, fair, equitable, and hopeful.  Which is to say, dreamers point to the way things are and insist that there is another way, a better way.  Like the little child pointing to the emperor who wears no clothes, the dreamer is often the one who points out the obvious truths that no one else has the nerve to notice, or at least, speak out about.

And yet, following our dreams is not for the faint of heart nor the weak of spirit!  As poet and social critic Langston Hughes pined, we must, Hold fast to dreams, For if dreams die, Life is a broken-winged bird, That cannot fly,” and “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up Like a raisin in the sun? Or does it explode?
”  Hughes knew full well that there are mighty forces which seek to maintain the status quo, which not only delight in but benefit from having things remain the way they are and always have been.  Following a dream is no “yellow brick road,” it is a tough and trying set of stairs that demand our full commitment and deep courage.

Even so, if we are honest and think of our own experiences of dreams and dreaming, we must admit that are dreams, and then, there are dreams!  What is the difference between my dreaming noble and earth-shaking dreams like Don Quixote’s Impossible Dream and dreaming about a stalk of broccoli chasing you through the pink pudding forest and eating you whole?  Likewise, how can we discern when we are dreaming divine dreams in which God is truly meeting us face-to-face and when we are dreaming horrible, twisted and perverse dreams like those that tragically take over individuals like an Adam Lanza or a Saddam Hussein?

That’s a tough call, because one person’s noble dream may very well be another person’s folly, or even nightmare.  T. E. Lawrence, who was immortalized in the 1962 film “Lawrence of Arabia” distinguished dreams in this manner:  “All [of us] dream: but not equally.  Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity:  but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible.
”  For Lawrence, daydreaming was an act of visioning new, more virtuous possibilities for life.  Dreams during the sleeping hours were simply passing fancies and frivolity.

But in talking with my friend, for whom this sermon series owes it’s debt entirely, the Rev. Mary Kay Totty, she suggested that if we pass all dreams through the filter of fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – Gal. 5:22-23), we would discern wisely what dreams have divine inspiration and which ones are “vanity.”  That made me think of two other biblical “tests” which might also prove worthwhile for people of faith to differentiate between dreams divine and dreams more passing: The “Beatitudes” and the “Greatest Commandment.”

Jesus described the character of those whose dreams we might take seriously and follow when he preached, Blessed are the poor in spirit…, Blessed are those who mourn…, Blessed are the meek…,  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…, Blessed are the merciful…, Blessed are the pure in heart…, Blessed are the peacemakers…, [already we have weeded out the Adam Lanzas and his ilk!] Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake…, Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account….” (Matt. 5:3-12).  And, echoing the ancient words of the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus gave us the ultimate evidence for any divine dream when he instructed, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 22:37-39).  Only divine dreams pass such loving and stringent assessments!

We are all called to be dreamers, for, as Joseph – and Joseph – both realized, one can encounter the divine in profound and life-changing ways in dreams.  They both also realized that people can be saved, the course of nations and creation itself can be shifted, and your own world can be turned upside down and inside-out… for the better… if you seek, discern, and follow your dreams.  And we would do well to help others and ourselves to use the tools of scripture, especially the fruit of the spirit, the beatitudes, and the greatest commandment.

And, then we will confirm, in the eloquent words of Eleanor Roosevelt, that “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.



Many of the jokes and quotes came from: