Sermon for the First Sunday of Christmas
29th December 2019 – St John the Baptist, Felixstowe
‘an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream.’
God give you peace, my sisters and brothers.
In a previous parish my day off began on Thursday night at 9pm when I often compèred the Pub Quiz. The best part of this, besides the oddity of a vicar being behind the bar with a microphone in his hand, was that each week I got to choose 20 songs from my own music collection for the Music Round. One point for correctly guessing the title of the song and one for naming the pop group or singer.
This was great fun when making a connection between the songs. It’s quite easy to do. Girls names in the title, Boys names in the title, the names of different Nations, Days of the Week, Colours in the title. Get the idea.
So, I give to you the music round for the Joseph of Nazareth quiz – all of the songs have dream in the title…
Fingers on buzzers everyone. When I give the song title you tell me the original artist for the song. The winner gets first dip into the box of Quality Street our friends from Trinity Methodist Church gave to the churchwarden for us.
In Dreams – Roy Orbison
I Dreamed a Dream – Susan Boyle
I Have a Dream – Abba
Dreams of the Everyday Housewife – Glen Millar
Teenage Dream – Katy Perry
Sweet Dreams – Eurythmics
Dream On – Aerosmith
Dream a Little Dream – The Mamas and the Papas
All I Have to Do is Dream – The Everly Brothers
The Impossible Dream – Peter O’Toole
But top of the Dream Song Charts is ‘Daydream Believer’ by The Monkees
Perversely, Freddie and the Dreamers sang no song about dreams at all. However, the one about clog wearing mice in an Amsterdam mill does make one wonder what they had been smoking!
Joseph the Carpenter had dreams. Four of them in the first two chapters of Matthew’s gospel alone, throw in the one with the Magi and I reckon the archangel Gabriel must have put in a chit for some serious overtime after the first Christmas.
Imagine breakfast with the Holy Family.
Joseph is quiet hunkered down over a copy of Ha’aretz munching silently and sullenly on his cornflakes.
Mary, feeding Jesus his Cow & Gate porridge, tries to lighten the mood and says gaily, ‘Did you sleep well last night darling?
Joseph grunts back. ‘I had a dream… again.’
Mary sighs, puts down the baby’s porridge, takes off her apron and says, ‘I’ll start the packing then.’
Dreams are dangerous, ask Joseph and Mary.
They will make you change your mind and marry someone you shouldn’t. They will warn you and send you off to a foreign land which your people celebrated leaving. They will call you homeward and, just as you reach sight of it, turn your steps to god-forsaken places like Nazareth where neither you nor your wife have any connection or family.
For reasons such as this we do not often speak of our dreams, or we discount them, or we blame them on eating too much cheese before bedtime.
Dreams are hard work and they mean we will have to change our lives. But until we follow them we will be perpetually discontent, especially if God is the one who came to us in a dream!
Following dreams, and even talking about them, will get you into trouble. Ask people such as Martin Luther King jr. what happens when you speak of your dreams too often and too loudly. It is enough to give you nightmares.
Dreams will ruin your life… or perhaps they will make it
But dream we will and follow them we must or else we are lost. After all, if Joseph had not obeyed the angelic messenger in his dreams the whole Bethlehem project would have been a non-starter.
The writer of the book of Proverbs is correct
‘where there is no vision the people perish’ (Proverbs29v18)
If we have no dreams to follow, no goals to achieve, we wither and die.
At this time of year, our nation honours people. The great majority of them are ordinary folk who are persistent dreamers who turn nightmare situations into opportunities for mutual flourishing. People who saw a need and met it regardless of opposition from the nay-sayers, the jobsworths, and those whose only comment seems to be ‘We’ve never done it that way before’.
Sunday by Sunday we worship God in buildings, some grandiose and some not so, which were built by people who had a dream, a vision for a different kind of community. And, by God’s good grace, on weekdays those same buildings are also used to serve the community our founders cherished so much that they turned their wealth into bricks and mortar for you, for I, and for others yet to be welcomed into our fellowship
Every time we enter one of the churches in our parish, or any church anywhere for that matter, we into the sanctuary of someone else’s dream and eat the fruit of their faithfulness.
In a few days time the world will turn another year and everyone is given a moemtn to pause, to reflect and to start again. Many will make New Year Resolutions, some will not, having been disappointed by themselves and others too often in times past.
What will we be doing? What resolutions will we be making?
I’m not speaking about the easy ones, a few pounds weight lost here, a little more recycling there, an attempt to not always have to have the last word in every discussion or argument. These, and others like them are commonplaces and should be the daily meat and drink of the faithful pilgrim who has renounced all to follow Christ.
No, what dreams will we allow ourselves to have in the year ahead?
How often will we turn our ear to the message of the angels?
We know God is always speaking to us but we are often found to be a little deaf preferring the comfort of our own voice to the disturbance of God’s call.
We have a few days left until the next decade dawns.
Days and nights for dreaming.
Days and nights for quieting our own ‘safety-first’ voices within us to listen deeply to the voice of the One Who Loves us Best.
Days and nights to offer ourselves as a blank page on which God may write our future.
We will not shirk the call of these dreams, be they large and ambitious or seemingly small and insignificant; for once having heard God speak them to us they will burn within us as did God’s word burn inside the prophet Jeremiah.
We will not think our dreams are any more, or less, worthy than another’s; for that is to give up on our call and became a spectator of the faithfulness of others.
We will not tell others of these dreams with others, save those who need to; for fear that they will become our personal fiefdom rather than God at work in us.
To do this we will need to be very gentle, as the Marriage Service reminds us, with each other’s hopes and dreams.
We will need to be a more listening, and consequently a less chatty, community so that there is space for everyone to hear God’s dreams.
We will need to become a community that is more deeply prayerful, offering prayer before advice, wisdom before aphorisms, and deeds above criticism.
Remember what I said to begin with?
Dreams are hard work and they mean we will have to change our lives.
But who wants to live a life that is the boring same old, same old anyway?
A New Year is about to begin, take this prayer of Ignatius of Loyola with you. And if for now you find your dream is not yet a grand one, make using this prayer everyday one of them.
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.
Amen. (Ignatius of Loyola)
[This blog ‘Daydream Believers’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2019 and may be reproduced without charge on condition that the source is acknowledged]