May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer.  Amen.

 

I shall be brief this morning, since we have already added two dimensions to this liturgy.

 

I want to talk about Joseph because we rarely say much about him and we do not have a very clear picture about him—who he was, what led him to make the choices he did.  And we have no intimate details of his relationship with Mary or even with Jesus.  He’s like the mother of the groom at a wedding, the least of the principals, except, we hope, to her son.

 

We know Joseph was older than Mary and was already established in his trade as a carpenter, for that is how they referred to him: Joseph the Carpenter.  But that is about it.

 

We also know from the portion of Matthew’s gospel for today that Joseph thought there was something wrong in staying in a relationship with Mary, for though they had never “known each other” in the Biblical meaning of that phrase, Joseph had no idea how she became pregnant, but she definitely was.  He was ready to end the relationship because the child was not his.  He also did not want to make a public fuss to shame or dishonor Mary.

 

That was Joseph’s resolve as he went to sleep on the night of this story.  Then something totally unexpected happened: an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and told him the child was from the Holy Spirit.

 

We could spend days discussing the use of the term Holy Spirit this early in this gospel, more days talking about whether Joseph might buy a certain bridge if it were available, and even more days discussing whether it is essential that Mary was and remained a virgin at his conception.  We are not going to do that, because most of those discussions would lead nowhere.  How do we second-guess God?  If you want to try, go ahead, but that is not my task this morning.

 

Just remember that there are stories in many contemporary eastern and middle-eastern religions where gods consort with human beings, again, in the Biblical language, “where gods know human females carnally.”  [I trust that will not shock your sensibilities, which is why I use such brazen language.]

 

Within that middle-eastern confluence of religions and beliefs, it would not have been unusual even for a good man and a devout Jew, which certainly describes Joseph, it would not have been unusual to believe that “the other gods did that with humans,” so there is a lot of openness to the idea that the God of the Hebrews might do this too.  And while Joseph who is described as a good and devout Jew, he very well might have had less than a clear view about monotheism.  So many cultures, so many religions, so many gods.  Joseph tried to be faithful to his.  He  believed in the God of Israel, but he knew many believed in other gods as well.

 

Leave it to an angel: the angel went further, saying this child to be is a son and tells Joseph to name him Jesus.  The angel tells Joseph this, not Mary.

 

When Joseph awoke from that dream, it was clear he believed this and did exactly what the angel told him.  It was Joseph who gave Jesus a home and took Jesus as his son.  That was an act of faith.

 

Let’s skip ahead a couple of weeks in liturgical time and a couple of years in historical time.

 

The magi or wise men or three kings or astronomers or all of the above or whatever they were had dreams, too.  One dream about following a star changed their lives and led them on a journey.  Of course, they visited a king’s palace to see a prince, and may have been taken in by the king’s interest in this new child.  The star led them to Jesus, and after seeing him, they had expected to go back to Herod on the way home and share with him the name of Jesus, his parents and where they lived, as Herod suggested, so Herod might make a visit.  They had a dream.  Was it one of them who shared the dream and everyone else bought into the meaning of it? Or was it that they each had a dream but the message was essentially the same: do not go back to Herod; go back a different way.  Whatever, they did.

 

Joseph had three more dreams and each one told him to do something for Jesus, something to protect him and keep him from harm.

 

Joseph’s second dream came after the wise men left and an angel warned Joseph to get up and take Mary and Jesus to Egypt, for Herod was seeking to kill Jesus when he found Jesus.

Again, Joseph listened to the dream and went to and stayed in Egypt until Herod died.  When Herod died, Joseph had a dream in which an angel told him, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.”

 

Sorry to say, but this third angel did not have the whole picture.  S/He was wrong.  Even Joseph had a strong hunch about that when he found out that Herod’s son Archelaus was the new king.  However far they got on the journey back to Israel, one night, in a fourth dream, yet another angel came with a correction or revision of the message: don’t go there, so he went to the district of Galilee and made his home in a town called Nazareth.  (A side note, the prophets had prophesied that this Son of God/Son of Man would be called a Nazorean, so this fulfilled more prophecy and helped the generation just after Jesus understand and welcome this news better than most of us do.)

 

For a long time, I have been fascinated by Joseph.  Jungian psychologists and psychiatrists consider him the most clear example in Christian and other myths of the one who personifies the care of the Being of Christ.  (If any of you want to play with this on Jungian terms, ask me and we can do an adult forum on this.)  Basically, I am fascinated by Joseph because he listened to his dreams, attributed at least four of them to God, and staked his very life on them, and even more importantly, at some point, Joseph’s “yes” to God about being Jesus’ earthly father was similar to Mary’s powerful claim: “Be it unto me according to your word!”  They were both obedient servants, obedient in terms of listening to revelations that were personally directed to them, and overwhelming to simple peasant folk in the culture of that time.

 

Let’s get back to us, because all these stories and events are spectacular, but I am always concerned about how we take them in.

 

Have you ever had an experience like this?  It is about dreams that help us to understand who we are and what it is that God is calling us to be and to do.  It may be very direct and basic, like “get over yourself and forgive someone.”  It may be much broader like how to invest the rest of your life, whether you are 17 or 77.  There may have been an angel in the dream, and probably not, especially since so few of us imagine angels from day to day.  I have had dreams that have called me to change the course of my life, whether to begin something new or to let go of something that was diminishing or defeating me.  Sometimes it was a single powerful dream and  at other times it was a series of dreams because I would never have understood the message in a one-time event or occasion.

 

This is not just about me.  I cannot tell you how many times people have shared some of their most powerful dreams that caused them to change their lives—perhaps a new direction, perhaps a powerful and wonderful letting go, perhaps a simple recognition and sudden realization of the gift that one is to the world in which one lives.

 

I deeply believe that God relates to us in our dreams, especially those dreams in which we see ourselves bringing goodness and grace and health and help into the world.  That is not a dream of grandiosity.  That is a time when HOPE transcends fear and doubt. That is a dream of our soul having a healthy influence on the world/society around us.  This is an area or arena in which we, who are taught modesty to the nth degree, need to affirm with the psalmist (139): “lo, I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”   Wonderfully: “full of wonder.”

 

Sometimes we learn this in a dream, because our daily conscious lives are not big or broad enough to take such wonders in.  Sometimes we learn this when a good friend says something unexpected to us, which may be either a compliment or a complaint or criticism.

 

Sometimes God speaks to us when we look in a mirror and see some dimension of ourselves for the very first time, and recognize that as a call to be brave enough to be bigger than we have been.

 

The themes of Advent are Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell.  The spiritual emphasis of Advent is about practice: Stop!  Look!  Listen!  Watch out!  (Doesn’t that sound like first grade?)

 

The challenge is: be prepared!  {Doesn’t that sound like scouts?)

 

If we practice these dimensions of Advent well during these four weeks, we may listen more deeply all year.

 

We have two more days of listening before receiving the greatest gift we ever receive.  AGAIN.  Amen.

 

+James L. Jelinek, Interim Rector

Trinity Church