In the Gospel of the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we hear that Joseph had learned the news of Mary’s pregnancy. What would have been going through his mind as he tried to work out what to do? The desire to keep his honour wrestling with his desire to protect this young woman from any more disgrace than she was already facing…How many nights had he tossed and turned – before a fateful night on which, it could be said, the history of salvation depended. The Word had become Flesh but was infinitely vulnerable – and would be for many years. How was the Child to be protected in the long years of childhood if this good man rejected the woman who he thought had so seriously betrayed him?
And God sends a messenger to speak to this man in a dream… to enter his troubled sleep with words of comfort – of reassurance.But words that made no sense -what on earth does a child having been conceived by the Holy Spirit mean?
Joseph – like his namesake hundreds of years before – was a dreamer. Like the earlier Joseph, he trusted the dreams – and would have known that dreams are not always sweet – and their interpretation not always comfortable.Hadn’t the first Joseph ended up in Egypt because of his dreams? But then, hadn’t he ended up as Pharaoh’s right-hand man because of his skill in dream interpretation?
And don’t we now know that this Joseph’s dreams were not prophesying a quiet life?
Yet he took Mary into his home and brought up the Child with such love that when Jesus came to try to express something of what God was like, he used the childhood word he would have used for Joseph: Abba.
What was in that dream that led a Jewish carpenter to stake the rest of his life on it?
An angel told him not to be afraid – that all these strange circumstances fall within God’s plan – within God’s great Dream for humanity. For a short time the dreamer catches a privileged glimpse into the Dream and for the rest of his life will play his part in its unfolding.
Those we accompany of their journey come with their own dreams – those glimpses that draw them to God – to enquire ‘what does this mean?’ – to question ‘is it real?’ Perhaps our role as catechists is to act as angels – as messengers of God. We listen to their stories – to their dreams – and we say “don’t be afraid. God is with you.” And we share from our experience of living out our part in the Dream. We speak of other players in the Dream – the great and the small – the ones who sought to interpret and the ones who simply gazed in rapt awe upon the mysteries within it. We tell of those who also staked their lives on the Dream – who gave and give their lives for love of it. We lead them into rites which earth the Dream in sight and sound and touch and taste and smell – for it is the Dream of the Word Incarnate – en-fleshed – a Dream to be lived out in human bodies. We feed the mind – the imagination – for it is here that the Dream takes root and heart.
Like Joseph, we are keepers of the Dream – but not its owners. We have heard our own angels calming our fears and encouraging us to faith – to hope and to love. Joseph’s charge was the protection of the Child Jesus and his mother – ours to retell their stories. His privilege, it is said, to die with Jesus and Mary at his side – ours to know that his adopted son broke the barriers of death and made real the yearning dream of eternal life. His faith was to face the shattered dream of conventional marriage and family life and to trust the greater Dream through long journeys and exile. Ours is to stand with others in their broken dreams and to brave the journeys and the exiles that form our part of the Dream.
For we have glimpsed the Dream. We have sensed that before we were formed in the wombs of our mothers, God was dreaming of us and of the part we would play in the unfolding of his Great Dream. Our parts may be small – but are no less important for that – for without them the Dream is incomplete.In witnessing our faith, others learn to trust the dream planted in them and to let God’s Dream take root – and grow closer to its fulfilment through those who, like Joseph, dare to dream their dreams and to stake their lives on the truth of the greater and eternal Dream.