The Reverend Kathleen Killian
January 3, 2021
Christmas 2 2020
Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a
Hopes and Dreams
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you (Ephesians 1:17-18).
What better words with which to begin this new year: a prayer from St. Paul, that we may know the hope to which God calls us; hope that is known by those who have gone through the desolate valley of 2020, yet whose hearts are set on the pilgrim’s way (Psalm 84:4-5); hope that is seen with the eyes of the heart enlightened; hope that is known with a spirit of wisdom and revelation, gift of our Father of glory.
What is the hope of Christ is the triumph of redemptive love and the mercy of peace not of this world that surpasses all understanding. I have found this to be true; that at the frayed bottom of a great unraveling of self and circumstance, there is God—here is God— gathering up the remnants of our lives and fragments of our faith into fullness of trust. Mary and Joseph must have come to know this through and through; for God’s uninvited advent into their lives came at the cost of their private hopes and most personal dreams. Yet God gave them other dreams to dream, dreams that were indeed costly to Mary and Joseph, yet priceless as a share in God’s life and dream for the world.
At the very beginning of my official process toward Holy Orders or becoming a priest, I had an interview with the Archdeacon of my diocese at the time. He was a large and rather imposing man whom I’d not previously met. No sooner had I sat down, with nary a moment to settle in, did a question come hurtling across the desk at me: how do you hear from God, in prayer or in dreams? For a second or two, I wondered if this was a “trick” question, or if there was a “right” answer. A stern silence ensued as he awaited my response. Well, I said, slightly holding my breath, I often hear from God in my dreams . . . to which the Archdeacon gave me a warm nod, a deep and provocative conversation to begin.
There is, of course, no one correct way or authorized means by which God speaks to his people; God communicates to us through an endless array of channels and circumstances; and there is no one person or type of person that God speaks to but prophets, wise men, and ordinary folk alike, like Joseph. Old Testament Joseph dreamt dreams that caused his brothers to try and kill him, and then was an interpreter of Pharaoh’s dreams (Genesis 37, 41). St. Joseph of the New Testament also dreamt dreams of biblical proportions, three of which we hear of in our gospel today, and on which hang no less than life and death.
After the wise men had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said: Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt; for Herod is about to search for the child Jesus and destroy him (Matthew 2:13).
King Herod had heard of this newborn Messiah, but so feared the birth of a rival king, that upon not finding the baby Jesus, ordered the massacre of all male children in Bethlehem under the age of two. The “slaughter of the innocents” may not be historically accurate—there is no record of the incident other than in Matthew's gospel—though it is in keeping with Herod’s murderous character—he killed anyone he thought in his way, including his wife and three of his sons.
As Joseph was warned in the dream, he and Mary escaped with the infant Jesus to Egypt—that very night—a journey of about 150 miles. When he eventually returned to Israel with Mary and Jesus, he is prompted by a dream to do so, and once back, settled in the town of Nazareth in the region of Galilee, as guided by yet another dream.
I can imagine that some of you are thinking, all well and good, but that was then and now is now: things like Joseph’s dreams don’t happen anymore. Besides, I can’t remember my dreams! Or if I do, they’re either all mixed-up or simply mundane. Many of our dreams are indeed mixed-up or simply mundane, but as it is written in the book of Job: dreams [can also be] visions of the night that come when sound sleep falls upon us; this is when God opens our ears and seals our instruction (Job 33:14-18). The Holy One is as present now as then—and as present in our dreams as anywhere else in our lives. Our Father of glory seeks to give us a spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that we come to know and remember his instructions and words. My hope for this new year is that we are open to Spirit-led dreams, and like Joseph, are as willing to listen and hear God’s voice, and then respond to it with reverence, respect, and humility—be that through action, contemplation, service, art, music—any obedience according to the good pleasure of God’s generative and creative will.
Something else that strikes me is that while our Christmas scriptures speak to the absolute wonder and promise of the birth of God into the world, so too they speak of dark clouds already gathering on the horizon. Jesus enters into a world that festers with “Herods” who are alive and well, then and now, out there and in here, in our hearts. As Jesus teaches later in Matthew (15:19): it is out of the heart that come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, and slander. We must be alert to the where, when, and how of our resistance to and even refusal of the Light, which in and of itself is a kind of collusion with the darkness of sin and evil. May our hope be so bold as to dream God’s dream for the world, and to embody our faith as did Mary and Joseph— heart and flesh rejoicing in the living God (Psalm 84:1)—while offering everything— every spiritual blessing and every hard trial, every private wish and personal dream—to God in Christ Jesus.
Lastly, God’s hopes and dreams always concern “larger realities and possible futures” (Walter Brueggemann). May we commit to creating and cultivating space this year for the becoming of God’s larger realties and possible futures in our own lives, and world; for it is never too late—we are never too old, too young, too poor, too rich, too thick-headed or too broken-hearted—to be transformed by God’s most awesome and wondrous love.
Our scriptures this morning are full of this promise: that our mourning will turn to joy, the sorrowful will be comforted, and the weeping consoled. The great company of God’s people will be led in straight paths to brooks of water, and the place of springs and watered gardens (Jeremiah 31:7-14, Psalm 84). May such a path be travelled by all.
From priest and theologian Karl Rahner: A new year has begun. During this year, too, all the paths from east to west, from morning until evening, lead on and on as far as the eye can see, through the deserts of life, with all its changes. But these paths can be turned into the blessed pilgrimage to the absolute, the journey to God. Set out, my heart, take up the journey! The star shines. You can’t take much with you on the journey. And you will lose much on the way. Let it go. Gold of love, incense of yearning, myrrh of suffering - these you certainly have with you. He shall accept them. And we shall find him (The Great Church Year).
What better way to begin this year, called to hope by God—and for the Christmas season to end—but a few days left until Epiphany—the divine promise fulfilled. The Messiah is born. Christ the light of the world has come to dispel the darkness of our hearts.
May it be so, amen, and alleluia!