theunfamiliarname

Homily for Advent 4A

In Uncategorized on December 20, 2010 at 3:25 pm

110 years ago, Sigmund Freud published his work,
The Interpretation of Dreams.
In it, he suggested that dreams are not the inexplicable,
incomprehensible things we might believe them to be.
There is meaning hidden
beneath the fanciful and fantastic images
which haunt our sleeping hours.

Now, if you know anything about Freud,
you can probably imagine what some of those issues
were, hidden in the dreamer’s subconscious.
Let’s not, for all sorts of reasons, go there.

What we might want to see, though,
is that Freud’s understanding
of a deeper meaning behind dreams
is nothing new.

This morning we have the wonderful story of Joseph
– good reliable, righteous Joseph,
not wanting to shame his fiancee Mary
when it becomes apparent that she is pregnant,
and he is not the father.
Joseph has a dream, and in it he hears the message of God
“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.”

Joseph, like his Old Testament namesake,
is spoken to by God, and more than once
in Matthew’s early chapters, in dreams.

Dreams in the ancient world,
as increasingly again in the modern,
are not simply dismissed
as too much rich food before bedtime.

Dreams were a rich seam of human discovery.
For all sorts of cultures this is still very much the case.
The most obvious case in point
is the aboriginal peoples of Australia
and their very strong sense that dreaming
is a point of contact with some ultimate reality,
hence “The Dreamtime”.
Matthew the gospel writer
seems at pains to have us realise
that we need to be alive to the quiet promptings of God.

The wise men, remember,
will be “warned in a dream” not to return to Herod.
Joseph is told in a dream
to flee to Egypt with little Jesus, and to return.

For Matthew, God lives, perhaps glimpsed most clearly,
in the hopes and joys and fears
and feelings of our dreams.

So, what are your dreams this Christmas season?
Do you need to be prepared, to be encouraged,
to be kept safe, to find wisdom?

Where do the echoes of the message of the prophets
about justice and peace and hope
find resonance in your being,
your conscious or subconscious?

Where might you see the name, the metaphor,
the promise made real:  “Emmanuel”: “God is with us”?
Advent has been a season of expectation and hope.
It is no coincidence
that our hopes are often described as “dreams”.
In fact the two words go together, “hopes and dreams”…
the place where our expectation,
our desires for the future,
meet our imagining and our possibilities.

Matthew the gospel writer
seems at pains to have us realise
that we need to be alive to the quiet promptings of God.

God lives, sometimes glimpsed most clearly,
in the hopes and joys and fears
and feelings of our dreams.

When we dream, in whatever sense,
we are somehow open to the reality of God.
Open to the naively expansive horizon of the possible
and the seemingly impossible.
Our over-active, rationalising mind
moves into the background,
and we are laid bare.
We might easily claim Joseph’s dream,
bearing those words from the prophet Isaiah,
as the dream of the whole Jewish people of his age.

That awareness of God
which stayed with Joseph upon waking was the
culmination of generations of expectant women and men,
looking towards the coming of the Messiah.

In the dream that stayed with Joseph when he woke,
he found his fears calmed. He found his hope renewed.
He found that voices from long ago spoke in a new and an illuminating way;

That passage from Isaiah:
“Look the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel”
– somehow, that obscure ancient passage made sense.

No doubt Joseph knew the text well.
He and all his contemporaries.
The spark which transformed his world
was in his understanding that here, in this dream,
was God breaking open the Scriptures for him.
His prayer and his pondering found an answer.
His very specific dream is a very real way
an answer to the hopeful, expectant dreams
of the whole People of God.

We discover in the Nativity story, Bethlehem,
no room at the inn, the manger, that God has
a disturbing habit of turning up in unexpected places.
Of answering our questions and our longings
with words we wouldn’t have imagined were for us.

What would have happened in the gospel story
if Joseph had not been open to the unexpected voice of God?

Joseph hears and is responsive. He hears, he is encouraged,
fears are calmed and hope renewed.
Ancient voices speak with clarity
and Joseph wakes from sleep, to take as his own,
to nurture and to name the Christ-child.

How about us?

A prayer to crown our Advent anticipation
from the Prayerbook:
God, you shape our dreams.  As we put our trust in you,
may your hopes and desires be ours
and we your expectant people.  Amen.

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