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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Matthew 1:18-25 "Dreams (Part 3): Directions"
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)
Sunday, December 23, 2007

Joseph - the dreamer - who shares his name with his ancestor, the Old Testament Joseph of the Coat of Many Colors who also was a dreamer and an interpreter of dreams - Joseph of the New Testament, Joseph the dreamer, is visited in a dream by an angel. And Joseph does just as the angel tells him to do. Joseph follows direction.

But back up. Joseph - the dreamer - is also Joseph the Righteous. Joseph is a good man, the Bible tells us, because he is a righteous man. Joseph is a righteous man because he follows the Bible. Joseph follows the Bible's direction. Joseph obeys the rules. In Joseph's time, righteousness meant looking up a rule and doing what the rule said to do. In this case, the rule said to "dismiss" Mary. An angrier man might have chosen the rule that gave the option of public capital punishment.

Which puts Joseph in a bind. He is Joseph the Righteous; but he is also Joseph the Dreamer. Joseph comes from a long line of both righteous people and dreamer-people. Which is what the previous Bible verses that we didn't read - and for good reason - attest. The first seventeen verses of Matthew (the genealogies we use to torture Sunday School students) are all about Joseph's lineage, as it progresses one final step, to Jesus. This one begat that one who begat another one. And there they all are for the public record - generation after generation of righteous people and dreamer-people lined up like a gauntlet, with Joseph at the end. So, on his bed one troubled night, having finally drifted off into sleep, a thousand years of righteousness and a thousand years of dreams come crashing together in poor Joseph's head. Here are the rules, and here is the dream. "Joseph, dismiss Mary." "Joseph, take her as your wife." "Joseph, remember the rules." Joseph, remember your love." Which will Joseph choose? What will Joseph do?

From the standpoint of what's written in the Bible, this is pretty much Joseph's fifteen minutes of fame. The only other mention of him in the gospels is when he's angry at the teenage Jesus (and what father hasn't been angry at a teenage son?) angry at his son for lagging behind at the temple, causing his mother and father to leave him "Home Alone." Some writers have speculated that Joseph must have died while Jesus was still young, because there's no mention of him during the ministry years. These two references and the biographical note that Joseph was a carpenter - that's all we know. Setting aside all speculation, it may be that the reason we get all the genealogical buildup just before the angel appears in his dream is to say one thing. And that one thing is this: whatever else happened in Joseph's life, he was born, he was placed on earth for this one moment. It could be that this one moment, this one night, this one choice, is the highlight and the purpose of Joseph's entire life. If so, there's a lot riding on the interpretation of one man's dream. Knowing what we know about Joseph's choices, there was. Had Joseph chosen differently, well, suffice to say the world would be a different place.

We all have those moments when we have to make hard choices, choices between what the rules say -- or what our family says, or what our guidance counselor says, or sometimes even what the Bible says -- we all have these moments when we have to choose between what the rules say and what our dreams tell us. In that respect, Joseph lives on far beyond his fifteen minutes. Joseph lives on in the eternal battles between our hearts and our minds. When everything and everyone is telling us to do one thing, but our gut is telling us to do something else, that's a Joseph Moment. Angels show up in the strangest of places. In Joseph's time, dreams were their media of choice, the Angel Channel. But angels and their directions to us can show up in an infinity of other places -- the voices of strangers, the words of a book, an unexpected phone call, a Christmas card. And suddenly, you get this heavenly Instant Message from God that rocks your world. You went to bed, thinking you had everything figured out, you had everything decent and in order, but you wake up with this incredible vision that you could never have come up with on your own. It's a Joseph Moment. Now, unlike Joseph, the salvation of humanity probably won't rest on your decision. It's important to keep these things in perspective. But it could be that the results of a Joseph Moment will be just the thing to divert the trajectory of your life. It could be that God wants to send you a direction you never would have chosen on your own.

God wants to send you a direction. Think about that. God wanted to send Joseph a direction, and I believe God wants to send you a direction, too. What does that mean, God wants to send you a direction? "Direction" is a funny word. It can mean direction as in, follow the directions. Such as, "O, bring us some figgy pudding and bring it right here." (The most demanding of Christmas carols.) That's direction as in rules you must follow to do something right or to avoid punishment. But, direction can also mean the general direction you're headed. As in, "college." Or, "to find myself." Or, "retirement." Or, "oblivion." That's direction as in life path. We all know people who have no "direction." They might be able to follow directions pretty well, but they're not able to come up with direction, or some purpose, some point for what they do. On that night of dreaming, Joseph was given some directions by the angel, but more than that, he was given direction. Joseph chose a direction that night for his life, and for all our lives. I believe it's the same for all of us. God wants to send us directions. That's why we have the Bible; that's why we have the church; that's why we have rules of conduct and a general sense of decency and order. But I believe more than that, God wants to send us direction; God wants to send us in a direction that benefits not just our personal sense of achievement, but a direction that benefits the people around us, and maybe even the world. In other words, God wants your life to have purpose. God wants your life to have meaning. God wants you to be able to look back some day and say, "I may not have been famous, may not have been rich, may not have even done much right, but by the grace of God my life has meant something." God wants you to be able to say, "By the grace of God, I was used by God to achieve some greater good." To get that sense of divine direction, you have to do more than just follow the rules; you have to listen to the angels.

I often wonder what might have been going through Joseph's mind on the night when Christ was born. So much has been said about Mary and her connection to the Christ Child; I wonder what Joseph thought. I wonder how Joseph felt when he looked at this infant. Was he scared by the baby? Did he feel a sense of sacrifice? Did he feel the burden of responsibility? Did he beam with pride and joy?
Did he see the baby as a stranger? Or did he look at the child's face and feel as though he'd seen it somewhere before? In a dream, perhaps?

When you think of the grown-up Christ who has adopted the relatively infant you as a sister or a brother, and a friend -- what do you think He feels when He looks at your face? Does he feel shame or regret for the choices he made on your behalf? Does he beam with pride and joy? Does he squint to make out the face of a stranger he vaguely remembers seeing somewhere? Maybe in a dream?

Today we lit the candle of love. Love. Love goes beyond the drama, and the melodrama, of our social conflicts. Love goes beyond the worry of what the relatives and neighbors might think. Love sees through the pale excuse of blind obedience to the rules. Love dreams. Love believes. Love gives us direction. Love gives us direction through the murky present and to a future unknown. The Apostle Paul wrote, "But now we see through a glass dimly; then we shall see face to face." The dream of Christ doesn't come true; the dream of Christ is true. The dream of Christ is true as it's seen in your face, in your actions, and in your heart. In a way, I suppose you could say Joseph didn't dream of the baby; the baby dreamed of Joseph, of Joseph opening his heart, his home, his life to a tiny child he didn't yet know. The Word of God dreamed. And the dream became real.

The Apostle John wrote, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.... And the Word [the Dream] became flesh [became real] and dwelt among us." (John 1:1, 14)

As the boy Jesus grew, Joseph the man must have given him directions on how to do certain things. Here's how you hold a hammer. Here's how you drive a nail. Ironically, the child had already given Joseph direction to his life, direction far more valuable than any day's lessons. All because of a dream. And a choice.

God wants to send you a direction. God wants to give you a dream. God wants to give you meaning and purpose and love. God puts each of us in Joseph's shoes. What direction will your choice lead you?