Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | December 29, 2013

2013.12.29 “Joseph Dreamed a Dream” – Matthew 2: 13 – 23

Central United Methodist Church
Joseph Dreamed a Dream
Pastor David L. Haley
December 29th, 2013
The 1st Sunday after Christmas
Matthew 2: 13 – 23

After the scholars were gone, God’s angel showed up again in Joseph’s dream and commanded, “Get up. Take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt. Stay until further notice. Herod is on the hunt for this child, and wants to kill him.” Joseph obeyed. He got up, took the child and his mother under cover of darkness. They were out of town and well on their way by daylight. They lived in Egypt until Herod’s death. This Egyptian exile fulfilled what Hosea had preached: “I called my son out of Egypt.” Herod, when he realized that the scholars had tricked him, flew into a rage. He commanded the murder of every little boy two years old and under who lived in Bethlehem and its surrounding hills. (He determined that age from information he’d gotten from the scholars.) That’s when Jeremiah’s sermon was fulfilled:
A sound was heard in Ramah, weeping and much lament.
Rachel weeping for her children, Rachel refusing all solace,
Her children gone, dead and buried.
Later, when Herod died, God’s angel appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt: “Up, take the child and his mother and return to Israel. All those out to murder the child are dead.”
Joseph obeyed. He got up, took the child and his mother, and reentered Israel. When he heard, though, that Archelaus had succeeded his father, Herod, as king in Judea, he was afraid to go there. But then Joseph was directed in a dream to go to the hills of Galilee. On arrival, he settled in the village of Nazareth. This move was a fulfillment of the prophetic words, “He shall be called a Nazarene.” – Matthew 2: 13 – 23, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson

Flight Into Egypt by He Qi

Flight Into Egypt by He Qi

One of the most memorable and enduring songs to come out of the hit musical Les Miserables was the song, I Dreamed a Dream. Don’t worry, I’m not going to sing it, but I probably should, as the song seems to propel those who sing it to greater fame and stardom. That’s what happened when Susan Boyle sang it in England, and that’s what happened when Anne Hathaway sang it in the film version of Les Miserables; it helped her win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

In the musical, the song is sung by the character Fantine, at a point in the story where she is alone, unemployed, and destitute. Part of what the words say is this:

I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving
Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used and wasted

Towards the end, she continues:

I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I’m living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.

If there is any character in the Bible who might sing I Dreamed a Dream, according to today’s Gospel, it is Jesus’s earthly father, Joseph.

In our study The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem, we learned what a humble hero Joseph – the earthly father of Jesus – was, even though he didn’t get a speaking part.

But it’s also possible to imagine back before everything began, of the dream Joseph must have dreamed. That he would marry sweet young Mary, that they would have children, and that they would have a long, fruitful, and PEACEFUL life together. In short time, however, that dream turned into a nightmare, or so it seemed. Mary was pregnant but not by him. While in Luke’s gospel we never find out how Joseph came to terms with it, in Matthew’s Gospel, it’s a different story.

Over and again in Matthew’s Gospel, an angel speaks to Joseph in a dream. First, when he found out about Mary’s pregnancy, and agonized about what to do. In a dream, the angel reassured him, and told him to go ahead and marry, because the child will be a holy Child, whom he should name Jesus. All of which he does.

Then, as much as two years after the child is born, when we imagine they are living happily together in Bethlehem, comes the story we read next Sunday, about the visit of the mysterious Magi (Matthew 2:1-12), who come bearing gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Joseph must’ve pinched himself when they showed up, for sure he must’ve thought he was dreaming again.

But then, after the Magi leave, comes the most frightening dream of all, a nightmare which turns out to be real. The angel’s warning to Joseph that Herod was out to murder the child. Can you imagine what that would have been like? It would be enough to wake any father in a cold sweat, to set your heart pounding, to make you gasp for breath, to make your body quake with the question: will we escape in time? One can only imagine them grabbing what they could carry, what’s most important – specifically the child – and heading out under cover of darkness, as quietly and as quickly as possible. Every shadow, every stranger, every soldier, must have appeared a threat.

May I remind you this is not an isolated incident? Always, since the beginning of the world, fathers and mothers would leave everything behind for the future of their children. Because an army or a plague or an earthquake or a tsunami is approaching, and your only hope is to run and to run fast and far. Sometimes, it is true: those who move, survive; those who stay, die. We have heard those stories during the European Holocaust how a family might be told they have an hour to leave their house: what would you take? The children, if nothing else. As if the Holy Family had not already suffered enough in many ways; this was the situation Joseph and Mary and Jesus found themselves in. I find very evocative those paintings that portray this; one can almost feel their fear, their haste to get away.

The Flight Into Egypt by Vittore Carpaccio

The Flight Into Egypt by Vittore Carpaccio

And so the Holy Family hits the road again, becoming like so many before and after them, right up to today, refugees on the roads of the world. I’m quite certain, in all our ancestries, there are such people. Without the risks they took, and the courage they displayed, we would not be sitting here today.

Fortunately for the sake of Jesus and the future of the human race they made it, but those left behind, those not warned in a dream, paid the price. In what is called the “Massacre of the Innocents,” all boys two and under were murdered. Like me, you may find cold comfort in those who have estimated that in a small village of 500 to 1,000 people, as Bethlehem was at that time, this would be a small number of children. Like me, you may feel that even one would be too many. And honestly, if I were one of those parents, I would want to ask God why – if God could send an angel to appear in a dream to Joseph to warn him – why God couldn’t send an angel to me in my dream as well – I sleep too. At least I did, until I lost my child.

Perhaps the most haunting detail in the story is not a sight – such as the Holy Family fleeing – but a sound – the sound of Rachel weeping – refusing to be comforted for her children, who are no more.

I’ve heard the sound of Rachel weeping, have you? Once you ever hear it, you never forget it. I’ll never forget 27 years ago in February, when my older daughter Melissa was born, she was born premature and was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for 3 months. Every day we would go there to hold her and rock her. One day as we sat there rocking our child, there was a curtain drawn around another child, and from behind it came the sound of people weeping: their child was dying.
Since then I’ve heard the sound of Rachel weeping too many times; parents weeping for a child who of died of SIDS. Parents weeping for a teenager killed in a car crash. A mother weeping for a child dying of malnutrition in a refugee camp. Just last year, the weeping of the parents of children who died in the New Town massacre, who even now – understandably for those of us who are parents – are still in mourning. Some of us may even have lost children ourselves. Still, we hear the sound of Rachel weeping.

After you have heard it, it doesn’t matter whether the particular Rachel who is weeping is rich or poor, African or American, Israeli or Palestinian, if there is anything in our power we could do – not just not to hear it – but for it NEVER to happen again, we would do it.

And so – what have we done – what can we do, to stop children dying? What can we do about gun violence – not only in places like New Town, but right here in Chicago? Support organizations like CeaseFire Chicago or Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, two efforts out of many working to stem the tide. What can we do to stop infant mortality, especially in developing nations? Food, through such organizations as Bread for the World; clean water, like the Shoeman Water Project; efforts against the terrible toll malaria takes in tropical countries, such as Imagine No Malaria, our church through the Northern Illinois Conference will be supporting. Anything we can do to stop the sound of Rachel weeping, not by shushing her, but to stop whatever it is that is killing her children, our children.

After Herod’s death, Matthew tells us that Joseph was again notified in a dream, that it was safe to return to Israel. And Joseph does, but afraid of Herod’s son and successor Archelaus – again in a dream – God directs his steps to Nazareth. Matthew appears to know nothing about Mary being from there, but instead quotes an Old Testament quotation about a special breed of elite prophets, known as Nazorenes. (Shaky, if you ask me.) Whereas Luke has to get Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem; Matthew has to get them from Bethlehem to Nazareth, via Egypt. Surely Mary’s parents must have thought Joseph was no good; as often as he had poor Mary and Jesus out on the road, refugees wandering through the world.

It’s not time to put the Nativity scenes away yet; we’re not done; we’ve still got 9 days of Christmas. We won’t be ready to put it away until after the story of the Mysterious Magi, next Sunday, Epiphany Sunday.

But when that time comes, based upon what we have heard today, Thomas Troeger suggests we ought to do it this way. We should put away the shepherds, because they returned to their fields. We should put away the Magi, who have returned to their distant homes in foreign lands. But we should keep out Joseph, Mary, and Jesus out, just the three of them, all alone. No sheltering barn. No cuddly sheep. No friendly oxen. No visitors. Then maybe we should move them to another location in our church or in our home, perhaps to a window looking out on the larger world, where there is still violence and repression and terror, where there are refugees on the road, fleeing, needing our protection, a world where Rachel still weeps for her children. (Thomas Troeger, Feasting On the Word, Year A, Volume 1, p. 169)

I Dreamed a Dream, Joseph could say. But let us also dream a dream, the one Joseph would like to have – the one all fathers, mothers, and children would like to have – of a world where – instead of having to flee – refugees like Joseph, Mary, and Jesus might find themselves welcomed, safe and secure. Can we dream that dream, and then work to make it happen?

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