When we read Matthew’s story of the birth of Jesus, it’s really very different from the only other story we have, the one in the Gospel According to Luke. Normally we happily mash them up, with Luke’s shepherds and Matthew’s wise men jockeying for position around the manger.
But it’s important to read Matthew and Luke separately, so we can see what they’re trying to tell us. We need to hear what they are saying that no one else is.
Well, it’s Matthew’s turn today. His Joseph and Mary are ordinary people who already live in Bethlehem, by then a small place but one with a great history.
But extraordinary things happen to them. They are swept up into the purposes of God, and their lives are forever changed.
In Luke, Mary is the central character; but here in Matthew, it’s Joseph. God gets through to Joseph in his dreams.
They say we all dream at night, but I hardly ever remember my dreams. Sometimes I come out of sleep with a dream in my mind but it evaporates away as I wake up.
But all the same, I have been helped enormously through my dreams. How do I know that?
I know it because I often go to bed with a concern or a problem on my mind, and I wake up with the problem solved. Or I realise it doesn’t matter. Either way, my mind has worked on things while I’ve been unaware of it. I suppose it’s what people mean when they say ‘Sleep on it’.
Dreams come from the deeper parts of us, the parts we’re not normally aware of. Even our true dreams for the future, our dreams for a better future, come from deep within.
Joseph identified where his dreams came from—from God, who was within the very heart of his being.
Dreams were very important to Matthew. And I want to venture a guess that L’s dreams are very important to her too. Dreams of serving God in Asia, dreams of connecting with people whose life experiences are very different to hers, dreams of being the presence of Jesus himself where he may not be known.
It’s important to test our dreams, to discern if they are from God or not. If our dreams are from God, we need to follow them.
L, we are excited to be here as you are commissioned for work with Servants to Asia’s Urban Poor. But there’s one more thing for us to glean from Matthew today.
Joseph dreamt, Mary conceived. This is how the Spirit works today: those who dream God’s dreams also conceive. They conceive just what Mary did!—they conceive Jesus within them. Lisa, your dream has allowed Jesus to grow within your being. He is taking shape within you, as he takes shape within everyone who dreams the dreams God gives. And that’s the most exciting thing of all.
Friends, we’re just about at the end of Advent; the true goal of Advent is for Jesus to be conceived within us, for him to grow and take shape within us—and for each one of us to be shaped into his likeness.
It is good, very good, to bring Advent to its completion by commissioning L, by being reminded that God has dreams for us that will form Christ within us, now and into eternity. Amen.