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The birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, 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. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel’, which means, ‘God is with us.’ When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.
We all have dreams. Sometimes they are the playing out of a vivid and detailed story. At other times they are like nonsense poems brought to life, or a jumble of fact and fiction that makes no sense whatsoever. Then, occasionally, our dreams seem to carry some sort of message for us. Perhaps we have been struggling with some sort of conundrum that seems to be resolved as our bodies are relaxed in sleep and our minds are given the time and space to process that which has been causing us confusion and concern.
In today’s reading from the beginning of Matthew’s gospel we hear of Joseph being beset with an apparently insurmountable problem. Joseph’s fiancé, Mary, is pregnant. Joseph knows that he is not the father of the child. Joseph also knows the disgrace and humiliation that will be rained down upon Mary as her condition becomes public knowledge. To protect Mary, Joseph has resolved to quietly call off the engagement and allow Mary to fade into an obscure and anonymous life where no one will notice what is going on. But … then comes Joseph’s dream.
In Joseph’s dream there is a visitation from an angel of the Lord. The angel speaks clearly to the troubled Joseph of the fulfilment of ancient prophecies and the bringing about of the impossible. As the angel speaks it becomes clear that Joseph has an important role to play in God’s plan and, like Mary, he is presented with a choice … to obey God’s will or to walk away.
We often find ourselves travelling through challenging times. Sometimes we are confronted with the possibility of public humiliation and vilification. Sometimes the dilemmas which haunt our daily lives become the subject of our dreams. Whether the truth comes to us in our hours of sleep or whether it is just a sudden realisation as we go about our day-to-day existence, God invariably makes clear the path he wants us to follow. Then comes the problem … do we follow that path or do we plough on in the certainty that we know best?
So often, God’s way flies in the face of human wisdom and common-sense. God’s way may take us along paths that will distance us from the rationality of social norms, causing us to stand out from the crowd. It is at these moments that our faith is being tested. We are being challenged to emulate Joseph and accept that God knows best. Our weakness will often lead us astray and yet God will not give up on us. He will look ahead and will create other ways in which we can be brought back to the path he has laid for us. It is in these times that we need to trust in the dreams God has for us, the dreams God wants to share with us. We just need to pray for the strength to stand out from the crowd and to stride out in God’s name, setting aside the freedom that will lead us to make the wrong choices and that will lead us away from the one whose love and dreams for us know no bounds.