The Civic and Parish Church of Bournemouth

Dec 22nd 2019 – Any Dream Won’t Do!

I closed my eyes, drew back the curtain

To see for certain what I thought I knew

Far far away, someone was weeping

But the world was sleeping

Any dream will do

Jason Donovan’s song was about Joseph, with the techni-coloured dream coat.  We read about him in Genesis 37:19-20 when his brothers see him coming and say,  ‘Here comes that dreamer! ‘  But for Joseph it wasn’t any old dream that would do.  He had very specific and focused dreams about what God was doing with his people.  Joseph learned that dreams take time and trust to come true.

Not all dreams have to take 1700 years to come true – but, in our Gospel story, here we are again with another Joseph who dreams.

We are told that:  “An angel of the Lord appeared to this Joseph in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit …” (Mt 1:20-24). 

This can not have been a dream that Joseph wanted – any old dream would not do! What had Mary been up to? – and with whom?!  Joseph must have asked himself seriously if this dream really was from God.

Matthew, the Gospel-writer, is the story-teller here, and, if we step back from that unexpected and startling dream of Joseph, and look at the big picture that Matthew is painting, we see that this is Matthew’s literary device for explaining to us, his readers, that God is trying to get some rather important truth through to us.  Through night dreams, the Magi – the wise men from the East – were guided not to deliver baby Jesus into the hands of the tyrant king who meant to kill him. Through a dream, Joseph was guided to take the holy child and Mary into safety in Egypt. Through subsequent dreams, Joseph was instructed that it was safe to return to Israel – but not to Judea, where Jesus was born. The testimony of Matthew, read literally, is that the Jesus was spared to fulfil his mission because of a series of dreams. And so it is not ‘any dream will do’, because dreams may be messengers from a deeper reality…  God using our sub-conscious dreaming to communicate to us what we are, otherwise, too busy, too deaf, too blind, too preoccupied to notice.

This dream of this Joseph is not just a message about Mary for one moment in time, but it is also for all times. Rembrandt saw that clearly; we can feel the shimmer of his angel’s wings in our hearts as we gaze on them in some of his paintings.  And that’s intended, because that momentous message, whether from an angel, or in a dream, is for each of us as much as it was for Joseph and Mary.

George Appleton, pondering on this momentous message from his sharpened perspective as Archbishop of Jerusalem (sadly, cut off from easy access to Bethlehem), summed it up like this:

The incarnation was not an isolated event, wonderful though it would have been if it was that and nothing more.  It was the beginning of something new, perhaps rather the manifestation of something that had never been recognised, but which could now happen in a fully conscious and effective way.  The Spirit of God, incarnate fully and supremely in Jesus, wishes to indwell every person, not only as an immanent force, but as an invited personal guest.

And that is the challenge to us today.

Don’t go down the ‘any dream will do’ road of unreconstructed individualism, rather, be alert and attentive to our deeper yearnings and aspirations, to the wild winds of our Godly imagination, which give us dreams like that of Martin Luther King in 1963:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!” –  “I still have a dream, a dream deeply rooted in the American dream – one day this nation will rise up and live up to its creed, “We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal.” I have a dream …”

Often we dream at night, and often, although we don’t always realise it, we dream and reflect, as RS Thomas did, of ‘The Other’:

There are nights that are so still

that I can hear the small owl calling

far off and a fox barking

miles away. It is then that I lie

in the lean hours awake listening

to the swell born somewhere in the Atlantic

rising and falling, rising and falling

wave on wave on the long shore

by the village, that is without light

and companionless. And the thought comes

of that other being who is awake, too,

letting our prayers break on him,

not like this for a few hours,

but for days, years, for eternity.

May we, as we approach this Christmas, dream exciting and enticing dreams of ‘the other’, who strives, ever so gently and resiliently, for peace and justice, and who yearns to be invited more fully into our hearts and lives. +