"Dreaming," by The Rev. Fred Kinsey
Everybody dreams. We just don’t all remember our dreams.
How about you? Are you a dreamer?
Many researchers that have studied dreams, say that dreaming occurs during the REM cycle of sleep, usually at the end of your nights sleep, usually in the 8th hour of sleep. That’s a problem for us, as Americans. On average our sleep hours have declined a full hour, from 8 hours a night to 7, just when the dreaming REM cycle begins. So, if you’re one of these average sleepers who only sleep 7 hours a night, that would mean you wake up just when your deepest sleep and dreaming cycle is about to begin. Of course that’s just an average. Actual results may vary! And Researchers do not guarantee dreaming even in the 8th hour. Nor that you will remember them. So, sleep at your own risk!
Why do we need dreams anyway? What are they good for? Long before Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung’s social scientific interpretations, dreams were considered sacred, and dream interpreters were revered for their gifts. Dreams were always recognized as messages from the divine, or from the world beyond. They were warnings or predictions of what was to come, here in this life. They were much more than REM cycles, regulating restfulness and a good night’s sleep.
Joseph, youngest son of Jacob in the book of Genesis, who was sold into slavery in Egypt by his jealous brothers, became a dream interpreter for Pharaoh from prison, and saved Israel from a terrible famine, after he correctly interpreted Pharaoh’s dream about the seven bountiful years followed by seven lean years, which none of Pharaoh’s courtesans were able to do. What a life changing dream that was! And Joseph always insisted his talent was a gift from God, not to be misused or profited from.
Another Joseph, the one engaged to Mary in our gospel today, is also someone who listens to dreams! Joseph hardly does anything in Matthew’s gospel – without a dream. The only other thing we really know about him is that he is a righteous man – according to Matthew’s gospel – which means that he lives justly, as a model of the Christian life, a life fulfilling God’s law, not just the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law as inspired by the Holy Spirit.
And so, because Joseph is “a righteous man,” he is “unwilling to expose Mary to public disgrace”, and “plans to dismiss her quietly”, that is, to divorce her.
Engagement was much more formal in Joseph and Mary’s culture. Engagement was a legal binding contract between two families, not a decision that two people reach after falling in love. The couple may or may not even know each other, but was the time for the families to negotiate and haggle over, the Dowry. And the betrothed husband and wife were legally as good as married, though they continued to live with their families of origin until the negotiations were complete and the marriage finally took place.
Now, in the case of “unfaithfulness”, which is what Joseph assumed when he first heard that Mary was “with child”, the Law of Moses required stoning, the same capital punishment as for adultery. That’s how serious the institution of Engagement once was. But by Joseph and Mary’s time, Rabbinic law also allowed for divorce, though usually full of shame for the woman’s family. And so Joseph, being a righteous man, in Matthew’s estimation, resolves to divorce her “quietly”, wanting to avoid a “public disgrace”. But for some reason, he decides to sleep on it first.
In Joseph’s REM cycle that night, he dreams quite vividly. Mary’s child is conceived from the Holy Spirit, an angel of the Lord tells him. Do not be afraid, Joseph! You don’t have to divorce her! I need you to be brave, to stand up to the ridicule you may face. I want you to have this child, and to name him Jesus. Go ahead and, marry, Mary! And finally the angel of the Lord tells Joseph, this is a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, that he shall be named Emmanuel, “God with us”.
When Joseph wakes up, he recalls all that the angel of the Lord told him. And being a righteous man he takes Mary home as his wife, and he names the son Jesus. Joseph will also have two other dreams, one that warns him of Herod’s plan to kill the baby Jesus by slaughtering all the infants in Bethlehem, with instructions on his escape route to Egypt, where the other Joseph also saved the people of Israel, once upon a time. And then a 2nd dream that tells him Herod has died, and the coast is clear to come back to Israel. Joseph doesn’t do anything without a dream, without the word of the Lord to guide him.
The Holy Spirit is the director in this drama. And, thank goodness Joseph likes to get a good night’s sleep! Both Mary and Joseph are the righteous and holy actors.
The Holy Spirit, according to our Evangelist today, sees to it that Joseph will do the naming of Jesus, adopting him into his family, the family of David, and the royal line of Israel’s greatest king, from whom many predicted the Messiah would come. And the Holy Spirit sees to it that we know Jesus’ other name, Emmanuel, “God with Us”. As the Holy Spirit conceived Jesus in Mary, so the divine nature of Jesus is, “to be with us”. As St. Paul said in our 2nd Reading: “God’s Son, [is] descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness.”
This is only the beginning of Jesus story. But it bears a remarkable resemblance to the end of Jesus story. There too, the drama and passion of Jesus is in the hands of God and the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ power resides in his willingness to be vulnerable to the powers of this world, trusting completely in the power of the invisible God. Jesus allows himself to be vulnerable to human flesh; vulnerable to the Law, and our temptation to use it to our advantage.
Joseph too, is this kind of a vulnerable character. He is vulnerable to what others will think of him, but overcomes his fears and is willing to let the word of God speak to him and change his mind. He is vulnerable, even to death, in answering this call from God, by taking Mary as his wife, and thus garnering the attention of King Herod.
Do we dare to dream and be open to the H.S? Like the prophecy of Peter on Pentecost who quoted Joel, “your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams”.
In this increasingly sleep deprived nation, where the voice of the divine is sometimes forgotten, sometimes used to produce fear, can we honor the Holy Spirit, and the voice of God that is breaking in on us and our vulnerability, offering to guide our lives, and produce mercy and justice? Do we dare to dream dreams? Do we dare to follow the Savior who became vulnerable to flesh, the law, and death itself in order to show us the way?
Sleep away, all you dreamers! Yet be warned, the best laid human plans may evaporate under the pillows of the Holy Spirit – who may turn and transform us towards the kingdom and realm of the holy.
Dream away! The Advent of the Lord is upon us, and God is about to do a new thing!