4th Sunday of Advent A

Follow your dreams.  It is a platitude for sure, but good advice.  It seems it should be accompanied by an inspirational bedroom poster or a meme of a cat trying to do something really difficult.  But at some level, we understand that following our dreams is serious and demanding business, one that will require all that we have.  Dreams are both our destiny and our challenge, sprung from the center of our lives. And if it is God’s dream we are following, it will ask of us all are hope, faith and love.

Joseph has a dream in today’s Gospel, one of four that in Matthew’s Gospel that serve as a thread that connects the birth and childhood of Jesus.  An angel tells Matthew that he should take Mary into his home despite her unexplained pregnancy.  He says yes despite the outrageous circumstances described by the angel.  He is not just saying yes to a dream; he is saying yes to a weird dream.

Think of the last really weird dream that you had. Would you follow it? I would not advise that.  Two nights ago, I dreamed that Fr. Leo Markert was composing a really bad poem about how much he liked Durham, North Carolina.  I don’t think Fr. Leo has ever thought that much about Durham, and I not really sure that he has ever been there.  Would it make much sense if I said, “Leo, leave everything and everyone you know at 82 years old and move to North Carolina?”  But I promise you that no matter how strange your latest dream you had, it is not stranger than what Joseph experienced.  Yet, he followed it without reservation and thus here we are on the near eve of another Christmas.

Trust me, when Joseph’s head hit his pillow that night, he was not thinking if he could somehow do more for Mary.  He was probably wondering if she had been punished enough.  The law may have called for Mary to receive the ultimate punishment, but he decided to divorce her quietly, sparing her life.  But as a righteous and pious Jew, he likely wrestled with his decision to not follow the law precisely.  Yet, when the dream comes, asking him to take on the burden and joy of raising the savior of humanity, of accepting Mary despite the ridicule sure to come, he does not hesitate.  Through his prayer, his faith and his understanding, Joseph believed the implausible was plausible.  He trusted that God had a plan to save and he was willing to be God’s instrument.  He surrendered to the strange and merciful will of God.

Of course all our dreams do not come at night.  There are those that we formulate with full consciousness.  Dreams that fill our horizons.  They are our vision and goals.  These treasured dreams are the pursuit of our lives.  But in some ways, we should be reminded that they are ultimately expectations.  They are our plans hopefully founded in life and in prayer.  But we should always remember that those expectations can be interrupted by a crazy dream of God’s destiny for us.  Do you think it made sense to Joseph that God would plant the dawn of salvation in his family and the child he would raise would save all the people from their sins?  Surely, every carpenter in Nazareth thought that the king of universe was bound to be born to them.  However, his expectations of a quiet life lived out in obscurity were disrupted and he surrendered himself to the surprising will of God.  Is our faith capable of doing the same?  Of foregoing our carefully planned expectations for the dream God might have in store for us?

I hope we can for this is Christmas week. This is not the week to believe that miracles cannot happen or that we are not capable of great things.  This is the week of heeding God’s dreams and seeing how we play a role that might surprise us as much as it surprised Joseph.  This is a week to say YES, for nothing will be impossible for God.