Written by Mark C. Pederson, Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church
Joseph has a dilemma. His fiancé is pregnant, and they have not yet been physically intimate. In that society men held all the power. All Joseph would have to do is make this information public and Mary would be totally humiliated and perhaps killed. But Joseph is a kind man, a gentle man, and despite everything, he has compassion for Mary. One of the huge themes of the Gospel of Matthew is that of righteousness. Joseph, by deciding to deal with things quietly does the righteous thing. This action makes it possible for him to hear God’s word about this baby.
And yet, the whole story would have come to a screeching halt if Joseph hadn’t listened to his dream. This detail of the story worries me a bit. I do not remember my dreams. I’ve tried. I’ve kept my journal next to my bed and tried to write them down, but I just never have a clear picture of what I’ve been dreaming. If God is trying to reach me through my dreams, I’m in trouble.
Several times in the course of Jesus’ young life dreams are going to save his life. Here Joseph is convinced to take Mary as his wife. Later they will pack up and leave Bethlehem because of a dream. Later they will return and settle in Nazareth. All because of dreams.
Today’s passage marks the start of the narrative of the birth of Jesus. Before this we’ve had a list of the predecessors of Jesus. It’s an interesting list. There is a prostitute in there, and a woman whose husband was murdered by the father of the baby. It follows the people of God into the promised land and out again into exile. The people of God are still in exile at this point. They are living under the boot of the Roman government and they are waiting for deliverance.
And it does come. In the least likely way one can imagine–through the birth of a baby. Born to a young, unwed, poor woman. God shows up, but not in the way anyone is expecting. God shows up when Joseph decides to be a decent human being. God shows up in Joseph’s dream, and in his obedience to the commands he was received. God shows up in Mary’s obedience and faith in God. Joseph must still be shaking his head, wondering what in the world God is up to. He did not see it coming, but now it is on the way. Perhaps for God to be present we must first be faithful in the little things of our lives. Maybe God’s not going to show up in the grand gesture, or the flashy show of might and power. One person decides to be decent to another–despite how they assume they have been wronged. And God shows up. Quietly, unexpectedly and without any real fanfare.
Quotes for the Week
Dreams digest the meals that are our days. Astrid Alauda, Dyspeptic Enlightenment
Pay attention to your dreams – God’s angels often speak directly to our hearts when we are asleep. Angels’ Little Instruction Book by Eileen Elias Freeman
All the things one has forgotten scream for help in dreams. Elias Canetti
Dreams are illustrations… from the book your soul is writing about you. Marsha Norman
”Yet it is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top.” Virginia Woolf
”I slept and dreamt that life was Joy.I woke and saw that life was Service.I acted, and behold, Service was Joy.” Rabindranath Tagore
”The other night I dreamt I went to the gates of heaven. And St. Peter said ‘Go back to earth. There are no slums up here.” Mother Teresa
“I dreamed I was buying new shoes last night,” said Ron. “What d’ya think that’s gonna mean?”
“Probably that you’re going to be eaten by a giant marshmallow or something,” said Harry.” J.K. Rowling
Lesson: Matthew 1:18-25 (The Message)
The Birth of Jesus
18-19 The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced.
20-23 While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus—‘God saves’—because he will save his people from their sins.” This would bring the prophet’s embryonic sermon to full term:
Watch for this—a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son;
They will name him Immanuel (Hebrew for “God is with us”).
24-25 Then Joseph woke up. He did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream: He married Mary. But he did not consummate the marriage until she had the baby. He named the baby Jesus.
Questions for the Week
Do you remember your dreams? What is one that sticks in your mind?
Is there a small, decent thing you sense God might be calling you to do?