What does it mean to dream God’s dream?
Today is the fourth and final Sunday of the beginning season of the Christian year, the season of Advent. During the three preceding Sundays of Advent, the appointed scriptures have guided us on a biblical journey that has called us to:
Stand as sentinels looking for signs of God’s presence as we live with faith in Jesus
Listen for the sound of God’s voice that echoes throughout the 23,145 verses of the Bible and is heard through the water of Jesus’ baptism: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Remember the grand scale of the biblical story of Jesus’ birth through the reading of scripture lessons and the singing of Christmas carols.
Next Sunday, Christmas Sunday, the appointed scriptures will guide us to Bethlehem where a choir of heavenly angels and a band of befuddled shepherds will join in wonder and praise at the birth of Jesus. Before we celebrate the birth of Jesus next Sunday, there is a biblical story (Matthew 1:18-25) that is appointed for our hearing on the fourth Sunday of Advent. It is a story that befuddles human logic as Joseph receives a divine message that his fiancée Mary “was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.”
To appreciate this moment, it is important to realize that according to the custom of that time there were two stages a couple went through in a marital process. The first part of the process was called “betrothal” which was a marriage contract, typically arranged by the parents, that could be broken only by divorce.
When I was in India, I had the opportunity to witness a betrothal process when I accompanied a young man and his uncle to visit at the home of a young woman and her father. I did not know what was happening as I sat in a room with the young woman and man as they talked with each other while the father and uncle went to a different room to talk. The young man was noticeably nervous as he held a handkerchief in his hand. After some time, the father and uncle came back into the room and we left.
After we left, I asked the young man’s uncle, whose name was Chacko, what had happened. He told me that this was the first time this young man and woman had met each other and that he had met with the young woman’s father on behalf of the young man’s father to discuss the possibility of their marriage and the details of a dowry. If they were able to work out the details, the young man and young woman would be married.
Mary and Joseph had already completed the betrothal process that was part of the marriage custom of their time. This betrothal was followed by a second step considerably later (sometimes a year later) often including a marriage feast, after which the groom took his wife to his home. The befuddling moment Joseph faced in receiving the godly news about Mary placed the second act of marriage in jeopardy. According to the law, Joseph had no alternative but to divorce Mary as witnessed in Matthew 1:19 where Joseph planned to dismiss Mary quietly. It is in the midst of this reality of the law that the angel tells Joseph, “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20).
It is in the reality of God’s dream that law and grace intersect as Joseph awakes from his sleep and does what God instructs. Taking Mary as his wife into his home and naming the child born to Mary, Jesus, which in effect to Jewish custom of his time meant that Joseph adopted Jesus as his own child. It is in the reality of Jesus that Joseph allows God’s grace-filled dream to become his grace-filled dream.
Bishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1984 for his witness against apartheid in South Africa, wrote a book entitled God Has a Dream in which he defines what it means to live God’s grace-filled dream.
“I have a dream,” God says. “Please help Me to realize it. It is a dream of a world whose ugliness and squalor and poverty, its war and hostility, its greed and harsh competitiveness, its alienation and disharmony are changed into their glorious counterparts, when there will be more laughter, joy, and peace, where there will be justice and goodness and compassion and love and caring and sharing. I have a dream that swords will be beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, that My children will know that they are members of one family, the human family, God’s family. My family.”
On this fourth Sunday of Advent, we do not forget Joseph because God’s dream for Joseph is also God’s dream for us. God’s dream is that we shall know that the child to whom Mary shall give birth, and the child whom Joseph shall give the name, Jesus, is Emmanuel, “God with us.”
God is with us when we, like Joseph, yield our dreams to God’s dream. God is with us when, like Joseph, God tells us to not let our hearts fear. God is with us when we, like Joseph, face the befuddling times of our lives when the questions we face have no ready answers. God is with us when, like Joseph, we face befuddling times in our lives. God is with us when, like Joseph, God’s grace is the only path forward to Bethlehem.
Today if you find yourself wondering about God’s dream for your life, don’t forget Joseph.
Don’t Forget Joseph
by Pastor Marc Brown
December 18, 2022
Accompanying Scriptures: Matthew 1:18-25
Fort Hill United Methodist Church
Order of Worship for December 18, 2022
Scripture Lesson Matthew 1:18-25
The Good News “Don’t Forget Joseph”
Music “The First Noel” Hymn #245
Closing Music “Joseph’s Lullaby” arr. Melody Bober