"In a dream"-Sermon for the Second Sunday of Christmas, Matthew 2:1-12
A star and a dream are both important features in this familiar story of the visit of the Magi. These Magi were stargazers or wise people from a distant land…that is distant from Israel…likely a 3-year journey by foot and camel back…the only modes of transportation in those ancient of days. So, the encounter described in Matthew…that is the Magi offering worship, adoration, and three gifts to the new born king, Jesus, likely took place when Jesus was a toddler and not a baby. I have a good friend, in the spirit of historical accuracy, who when setting up her nativity at home…always places the three Magi…somewhere on the other side of the room from the rest of her creche. When I asked her why here Magi where separated from the rest of the scene…her response was simply…cause they are not there yet…duh…and she was, of course, correct.
These Magi like many ancient people…and really many people still today…looked to the stars for wisdom…when to plant and when to harvest…when provisions needed to be stored for coming dry months or winter months assuring the community the food they needed when the crops were not producing. And they looked to the stars for inspiration…for God to speak…portents from the heaven…signs of glad tidings…God at work in a new or wondrous way in the lives of God’s people…or ill-fated omens…foretelling seasons of great challenge or great want facing God’s people. Either way, these signs where a gift, God speaking to God’s people, whether they led to celebration or preparation. And, these particular star-gazers noticed a star at its rising that hearkened the birth of God’s anointed one…one who would change the course of human history…the beginning of the story of setting this world to rights…the one who would place love back on top…and they had to gaze upon and give homage to the one to whom this particular star points…thus beginning their long journey across the highways and byways of the ancient near-east till they arrive at their destination…falling to their knees in wonder and adoration before God’s own Son…Emmanuel…God with us.
And then at the end of the story, God speaks again…this time through a dream rather than the cosmos. Matthew tells us that God spoke to the Magi in a dream warning them not to return to Herod for his desire was to the destroy the child. Just as is played out in just about every fantasy or medieval movie or tv show you can stream today, if Jesus is king…then what about Herod and his offspring. If he just offs this peasant boy his power and succession is assured…better safe than sorry. Bad behavior…unconscionable behavior…is so often about getting or keeping power in this world. But, heeding the dream…listening to God’s voice…the Magi depart by another way that does not take them back through Jerusalem on their long trip home…keeping Jesus and his family safe, at least, for the time being.
Stars and dreams…the living God…the source of love…the great ordering principle in the universe…speaking to humans…communicating with earth bound…flesh and blood people.
My father died of cancer in 2007. He had a lovely soul and a big heart and he loved me and my brother so very much. But, he had lived a hard life and it caught up to him…cancer brought on by years of alcohol abuse. At its end, we celebrated his life…that big heart and friendly nature. I was blessed to preach and officiate at his funeral…we were with him when he died…and he was able to express his love to us before he took his last breath. It was a holy ending really…but it still came with many what if’s…what could have been…what would have been if different choices had been made along the way. And, of course, stepping away from the circumstances of his death, I just missed him a ton.
Well about 3 years later…and I am not comparing dad to the timing of the Magi’s visit…but still about 3 years after my dad died…I received an email from an old friend of his. A woman he had gone to High School with in Dallas. They had been good friends in High School and then floated apart…but still connected from time to time. She thought of my dad fondly, but she didn’t think about him that much really…their lives had just flowed in different directions. She had heard about his death three years before and was sad to hear about but…but overtime it was not something she thought about regularly. Then one night, out of the blue, she had a dream about my father…and she wanted to tell his sons about it. So, she did what we do now a days and turned to google where she found our St. Julian’s website…3 versions ago. There she discovered my email and sent me a note introducing herself and asking if I would be willing to chat with her on the phone. I responded and we planned a conversation.
So, the day arrived. I really didn’t know what to expect…what she wanted to say about my dad. And, the conversation started out a bit unexpectedly…as she began by saying this was not a usual experience for her and that she was entirely sane…and I certainly believed her. And what followed was the description of her dream. She said that my father was seated in a chair next to a bed. She said he looked good…happy, bright eyed and healthy…full of life. And in the bed next to him was a young child…a girl…who though sleeping…also looked happy and healthy…sleeping comfortably. And my dad was looking upon her adoringly. She said the scene felt as real as walking into an actual room and encountering the two people…perhaps a grandfather delighting in his sleeping granddaughter. Again, she said if felt so present, so real…and it felt important and that she needed to share it with me…and that was it.
And, what this sweet woman did not know and could not know was that my wife Ashley was pregnant for the first time with, of course, our daughter Amelia. The living God…the source of love…the great ordering principle in the universe…communicating with earth bound…flesh and blood people. For me God was saying that my dad was good…better than he had ever been…whole, healthy and healed…living with the saints in light, and that my child who was coming to us would also be whole and healthy and full of life. And, that my dad was with still us…always with us…watching over us with adoring eyes. And that’s exactly what I needed to hear.
Stars and dreams…intuition and wisdom…scripture and song…poetry and literature…answered prayer and sermons that speak to our hearts. Does God still speak to us today…communicate with earth bound…flesh and blood people…like the Magi, Like Joseph and Mary, like the prophets before them, like Jesus as he walked this earth as a flesh and blood person? I believe so…with every fiber of my being, and it bursts my heart wide open.
As we come to the beginning of a new year and consider what will be those things we prioritize in our own lives as we start afresh once more, I would like to suggest for your consideration that we create intentional and regularly schedule time to tune up and tune in the ears of our hearts to hear God speaking afresh to us. That we might more and more discern God’s presence among us and will for our lives…and hear God sweetly speak words of grace and hope and wisdom and revelation and love to us…for the ordering of our days and for the benefit and blessing of those who have so graciously been entrusted into our care. So, come Holy Spirit come. Take our lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think and listen with them. Take our hearts and set them on fire with love for you. In Christ’s name, we ask it. Amen.