4 Advent A 18 December 2016 — And Joseph Said “I have a dream!”
A long time ago, while teaching a religion class at Cardinal McCloskey high school (now Bishop Maginn HS, Albany, NY), I noticed some students looking out the window. It looked like they were daydreaming. Maybe they were thinking about school work or a ball game or the end of class. At first, I thought, how can I get them to listen to me? Then I recalled something I once read — if you do not have daydreams you will have no dreams to come true. 
Dreaming is a popular theme in literature, music, plays. We dream when we sleep and when we are awake. Studies suggest that dreams can play back for us what may have already happened. And, they can trigger our imaginations with ideas, help us wrestle with fears and anxieties. They also tap into our yearnings. For example, the 1943 song “I’ll be home for Christmas if only in my dreams” was written about a soldier stationed overseas during World War II.
In Matthew’s gospel Joseph had four dreams. We heard one this morning where an angel tells him it was OK to take Mary as his wife because she was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Imagine Joseph sitting on the edge of his bed thinking about this puzzling situation. Maybe he remembered something his parents told him or what he may have heard in the synagogue about the prophecies of Isaiah.
He could have thought maybe Mary’s baby is the one who will bring about justice. Maybe Jesus is the one for whom John the Baptist prepared the way. Maybe Jesus is the savior that Isaiah hoped for when the earthly kings he admonished failed to trust in God and, instead, built alliances with powerful nations.
Perhaps the evangelist Matthew and the apostle Paul also recalled the text from Isaiah and then said the same thing in their writings. The Rev. Beverly Bingle suggests that Matthew repeats Isaiah’s prophecy as if it were a 700-year old prediction of Jesus’s birth.
Time after time the Israelites waited for someone who would bring real peace and prosperity to them. Isaiah dreamt about such a leader. John the Baptist had a hunch that his cousin Jesus would be the One. A courageous Mary of Nazareth said yes to her surprising pregnancy and Joseph agreed to become her partner.
Time after time we, too, look for leaders to surface in our religions and in our governments. Take a moment to think of someone who had dreams and hopes for humanity. Dorothy Day dreamt of a time when all people would have jobs. Martin Luther King Jr dreamt of overcoming racism. Over 1.5 million children who are undocumented in our country are dreaming of the Dream Act becoming law.
There are organizations whose mission is prophetic, for example, the Parliament of World Religions. This group is committed to bridging religious, cultural, and ideological divides. The Parliament has issued this challenge: “Don’t distance yourself from the issues because they don’t touch you, or remove yourself from the challenge of making this world better because it seems like a futile effort.”
Other prophetic voices work to make dreams realities in our local communities. Family Promise of the Capital Region envisions a time when all families will have permanent housing and lasting independence. The Religion-Labor Coalition envisions a minimum wage and fair contracts for all workers. Our own food pantry along with other city-wide pantries and kitchens envisions a time when there is no more food insecurity.
We cannot all be prophets. But, like Joseph we often dream of what may be unimaginable. Like other prophets we, too, know that dreams come true with hard work and a little luck. We can sing and pray for peace and justice believing that God will come to the rescue and save us. But in order for God’s merciful and generous plan for humanity and all of creation to come true, God has summoned you and me to help out.
We do not hear much more about Joseph in the bible. He did not accompany Jesus on his missions like Mary did. Joseph did his part by adopting Jesus and helping him grow up.
As daylight begins to lengthen it is a time for us to bring about the radiance of Christmas joy. It is the gift we give to one another — to take action to make dreams come true. Eleanor Roosevelt said it: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
- I think it was Oscar Hammerstein who may have said this about dreams.