December 22, 2019
Saint John’s United Church of Christ, Union, Illinois
Today's gospel lesson is about a dream: the dream of Joseph. What have you been dreaming about lately? I’ve been dreaming about having more time to spend with family and friends, and of how nice it would be just one or two things were a little bit different from how they are.
Joseph dreamed something wonderful. God would enter the world. God would be born to the woman he planned to marry, as crazy as that was to understand. If only there weren’t any complications. If only it didn’t seem as though she were carrying the child of another. Joseph had some serious trusting in God to do. But Joseph had to trust someone else, too. Joseph had to trust Mary.
They were betrothed, engaged as we might say, and surely Joseph must have loved Mary. But, still, this took a lot of trust! And for Joseph, the way of salvation meant trusting someone else. It meant trusting that even though things were not quite how he might wish for them to be, things would work out alright. More than alright. In his dream he’d learned that the child of Mary “will save his people from their sins.” It may be that trusting in our own plans, and our own righteousness, is not enough to save us. It may well be that true salvation comes through someone else.
That is a lesson for us, too. Like Joseph, sometimes, we are supposed to trust God and then get out of the way. Trust that God is working through our spouse, and then get out of the way. Trust that God is working in our children, and then get out of the way. Trust that God is working.
Trusting is hard, you know. I mean, take God, for example. Why doesn’t God speak to us directly? Wouldn’t it be great if an angel appeared again? Like the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary? I suppose it would be a little too easy. I mean, if you knew it was an angel, there’d be no room for doubt. There would be no room for faith.
God continues to come into the world, and we have to trust not angels but people – the people we love – if we are to encounter God. We have to believe, not only in God, but in others. We can’t know for sure what another will do or say until it has happened, so we have to trust in the goodness of others.
Trust works like gift-giving. You let go of something precious when you trust, and give it to another. What gifts are you giving for Christmas this year? The greatest gift you can give this year might be to believe in someone’s dreams. The greatest gift you can give is to have faith in someone else; believe in their dreams. Believe in the dreams of the person you love. Believe in the dreams of your spouse. Believe in the dreams of your parents. Believe in the dreams of your children. Believe in the dreams of your friend. Believe in their dreams!
One reason we have relationships is so that we will have someone who will believe our dreams. God works through relationships of love in order to help us realize our dreams. God works through Mary and Joseph. God works through our families, our friends, and through our churches. Our dreams can be realized if they are based in the love of God and the love of our neighbors.
God believes in us. God believes in our dreams. God loves us like Joseph loved Mary and Jesus. I’m not a big country music fan, but there is this one song by George Strait that illustrates the kind of love God has for us:
Let me tell you a secret about a father's love,A secret that my daddy said was just between us.
He said, "Daddies don't just love their children every now and then.
It's a love without end, amen.
It was Jesus who taught us what the love of God looked like in human form. We are disciples of the embodiment, the incarnation of love. Our own devotion to God and to Jesus is shown in our love for others.
In the story of Joseph, we learn about trust and the kind of love that looks beyond all the things that might not be just the way we’d like them. We learn about the kind of unconditional love that people are capable of, love that goes beyond anything that might push us away from another.
John Dorhauer, the President and General Minister of the UCC, wrote: “This baby Jesus whose birth we will soon celebrate inspires in all of us an impulse to love. Borne of God’s love for us, we extend that love daily to those most in need of our acts of compassion and kindness. Our own lives are daily transformed by the kindness and compassion of others. This Christmas, love wins.”
May the joy of this season inspire you to believe in the dream of love, alive in the trust of Joseph, alive in the mercy of Jesus, and alive today in your own acts of love —your love of neighbor, your self, and all creation. Amen.