Do you ever have dreams that seem so real, you’re not sure if they happened or not?
When I was in my twenties, I used to have a re-occurring dream. Actually, it was a series of dreams with a re-occurring theme. If I had been out somewhere that night—a party, the movies, a restaurant, a friend’s home—when I came home and went to bed, I would dream that I was back where ever it was I had been.
In my dream, I was tired and wanted to get home. And invariably, I would be delayed—either by someone who wanted to tell me something or by taking the wrong door or by not having a ride. I would be so tired in my dream, and I just wanted to be at home in my bed—which, ironically, was exactly where I was. When I finally decided that those dreams were trying to tell me that I already was where I thought I wanted to be in life, those dreams stopped.
Sometimes we’re more open to the truth when we’re sleeping. Our defenses are down. Drowsiness drowns out our objections.
In the Book of Luke, we read the story of the angel Gabriel coming to Mary in the light of day, telling her that she will bear God’s child. But in Matthew, it’s Joseph’s story, and the angel comes to him in a dream. Why the different approach?
We know that Mary was a very young girl—a teenager. She probably wasn’t old enough to have lost her sense of wonder. She probably hadn’t made up her mind about what things were possible and what were not. She was, I imagine, quite open to the possibility of angels and the truth in the messages they might bring.
Joseph was older and wiser (or at least had more life experience) than Mary. His hands were worn and calloused with hard work, and his heart had most likely known the pain of dreams unrealized. I doubt he believed in angels. So the angel of the Lord came to him while he was sleeping. When his guard was down. When he couldn’t access the skepticism that had built up over the years.
Joseph would need an open mind to receive this dream. Because its message was kind of out there. God—the Almighty, Omnipotent, God Only Wise—was going to enter the world as a baby. That in itself was almost unthinkable, but that God would be born to Joseph’s wife? Craziness! Joseph had some serious trusting in God to do. But Joseph had to trust someone else, too…the woman he was going to marry.
God works through relationships. God works through both Mary and Joseph. God needs both Luke’s story of the annunciation, and Matthew’s story of Joseph’s dream.
Perhaps the best lesson we can learn from Joseph is that we are at our most faithful when we believe in God and in each other.
Rev. Anne Russ is an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), currently based in New York City. Doubting Believer is an online, inclusive and progressive Christian community. Follow us on Facebook and get emails to keep up with all that is happening.
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