“Birth Prep (3 of 3) Dreaming into God’s Dream
Isaiah 7: 10-16 & Matthew 1: 18-25 ~ Northwood UC ~ December 11, 2022
Poor Joseph! If we were paying attention to the Matthean scripture reading, we have quite a soap opera on our hands. An unwed couple and a pregnant bride to be! Questions of paternity. A righteous man; a pregnant virgin; a scandalous story, indeed! As we unpack the scripture before us, we know that history has not been particularly ‘kind’ to Joseph. To be sure, Joseph IS an essential character in the biblical story. And here we are verging ever so close to the birth and Joseph takes the stage front and centre. And, yes, he is essential because for Matthew’s gospel, he wants to line up the lineage of Jesus’ birth through Joseph. And Joseph’s lineage, of course, goes all the way back to the divinely inspired rule of Solomon and David. Yet, as we meet Joseph, we meet a man who does not want to marry int the changes of shame and disgrace. Scripture remembers him as “a righteous man” who was unwilling to expose Mary to any disgrace. No marriage plans in his mind. Joseph loved her and did not want others to think poorly, but he didn’t plan to marry. The question of the child’s paternity…it was very messy. So, Joseph makes a plan and resolves to end things quietly and not disgrace poor Mary in public. As I said, we have a scandalous story ready for the tabloids brewing!
Finding love and choosing a partner has always been an interesting process, hasn’t it? The TV network, Netflix ran an interesting show recently about finding love and taking a marriage partner. Similar to “The Bachelor” or “The Bachelorette”, the show had an odd twist. In “Love is Blind”, 15 male and 15 female contestants dated one another on the television show. The twist was that they could not visually see the potential mates whom they were courting. They could only hear them and speak to one another by speaking through the sound systems into each other’s rooms. Interestingly enough, two marriages from each of the three seasons resulted from these auditory connections. As a pastor who has the honour of presiding at weddings, I note that wedding veils are not as popular as they once were. However, they occasionally still pop up. And, I always smile (inside of course) when the non-veil wearing member of the wedding party peeks past the veil to ensure they are actually marrying the correct person. And on the matter of taking a husband, comedic icon Jerry Seinfeld once commented on the unreliability of men saying ‘well that’s why women dress us men up in tuxedos on our wedding day…if the groom doesn’t show up, then the best man can just shuffle over one position and take the groom’s place’. As I said finding love and a marriage partner is an interesting process.
In Joseph’s case, marriage did not occur as a leap of faith in the hope that his beloved was behind the wedding veil; marriage wasn’t a leap of faith taken through the charming voice of a soul mate …marriage (for Joseph) was a leap of faith taken in a dream at the encouragement of an angel. And, it is hard to say this in a simple way, because that angel brought a tremendous wave of change into Joseph’s life that has echoes through the centuries unto us today. The angel announced a change that was coming; the angel announced a change that would turn the world upside down; the angel’s challenging words in the dream allowed God’s change to be birthed into the world!
We have been speaking about change over these past few weeks in Advent. Beginning on ‘hope’ Sunday as we were embraced by the Advent reality that ‘a baby changes everything’. And along with that change yearning to be birthed into the world was the reality that we are not people who actively welcome change. We are hard-wired, status-quo seeking people and the changes that God brings threaten our levels of comfort, they threaten the established rules of order in the world, God’s change is threatening. Last Sunday, on ‘peace Sunday’, we branched out and dove a little more deeply into the changes that God yearns to birth through the coming Kin-dom. Isaiah’s vision of sheep and lamb, cow and bear, lion and ox all living in harmony. A vision of change that would turn the world upside down; a vision of change that would threaten the established basis of power and control; a vision of change that will threaten us – in our areas of privilege and comfort. And we concluded last week, that God’s very essence is ‘change’.
This morning, (if we are brave enough), we join Joseph in his dream. We join Joseph in being touched by change and being challenged to trust in God’s wisdom and grace in providing through the changes ahead. I think, perhaps, a dream is a fitting place for God to meet us. Think about your dream state. You are in your favourite PJ’s, nestled under the warm covers…you feel safe and comfortable. And that is where God meets Joseph. An angel, one of God’s messengers, comes to Joseph in his sleep and calls forth all the change that he is to take on. Joseph feels safe, comfortable, trusting…and he listens to God in that famous dream that would change the world, forever! For Joseph to take Mary as his wife; and for Joseph to name the child was to fully accept that child into family – the birth lineage that goes back to Jesse, and David and Solomon. If Joseph did not take that risk, things would not unfold as they did! All because Joseph took that risk, trusted God and took on the change in which God called him forth to be part of.
I wonder what changes God is calling you to make in your life? Could we imagine that we are in the ‘trust-like’ state of a dream as Joseph was and trust God’s call to change in our lives. I’m sure the change God is calling each of us each to is significant and necessary. Perhaps changing the course of a relationship we are in? Perhaps finding forgiveness with another? Perhaps forging peace with another? Perhaps changing what we do with our time? Perhaps changing the way we live out our faith? How is God calling you to change something, and do you have the trust to follow God’s call to change?
Here are Northwood, of course, we are deep into the considerations of change. Many have adding their comments on stickie notes on the bulletin boards over the last few weeks about how we you see us changing our building and changing our ministry for the future as we seek to be “a ministry to serve all” and “a building to serve all.” I had a question from a well-meaning congregation member about the timing of my sabbatical amidst the considerations of change. They asked ‘aren’t you worried with what we will come up with while you are gone?’ I paused and thought about that, and I responded, I am EXCITED with the changes that the membership of this congregation will come up. Because any great church is grounded in the faithful members and the ways they see the church expressing its faith. Northwood has never been driven (entirely) by the ministry team. And, you have had some great ministers over the years! No, Northwood is powered by the people who faithfully listen to God’s challenging voice to continue to be the changing church amidst the times we live. I am already seeing comments on the board about enhancing staffing to appeal to the broad ethnicities in the neighbourhood where we are planted. To appeal to a greater range of ages – toddlers, children and youth. To have services that will draw young families to explore and grow in their faith. Every great church is made up of the dreams and visions of change that its members heard. These dreams and visions honour our past, but live well beyond our physical presence here.
May we have the deep trust, that Joseph had for God who met him in his dream. May we hear God’s call to change. And may we live them out.