“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know.” Who among us isn’t dreaming of a Christmas just like the ones we used to know? A Christmas without Omicron! If only we could throw away our masks, forget about who is vaccinated and who isn’t and never have to take another rapid test again. I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know. Dreaming of a simpler time when all was merry and bright. The very word Christmas has the power to transport us beyond time itself to a place where one Christmas melds into another and our memories adopt a kinder gentler view of what was. Christmas can be, if we let it a Thin Place were the membrane between what is and what can be is stretched so thin that we can see beyond the ordinary to the sacred. I don’t know about you, but I was planning to forget about last Christmas and dash into this coming Christmas with visions of sugar plums dancing in my head. I dreamed of waking up Christmas morning like Ebenezer Scrooge, having survived the ghosts of COVID, to happily sing and dance and greet the new morn, ready to keep Christmas well. Instead, I find myself in danger of descending into a pre-Christmas funk, where I am tempted to abandon my dreams of a Christmas just like the ones I used to know and pulling the covers up over my head and settling into a long winter’s nap until the world returns to a more even keel. Ba humbug! Ba humbug I say! Damn you COVID and damn your evil spawn OMICRON.
Forgive me, I just can’t help it, I’m dreaming of a white Christmas just like the ones I used to know. I can’t quite hear the melody of White Christmas. There’s another earworm playing in my ear. The song playing now in my head is not what most people would consider Christmas music. It is a song that I remember from my childhood. It is a song my Granda used to sing when he was in his cups. It’s an old, World War II classic made popular by Vera Lynn: When I grow too old to dream I’ll have you to remember When I grow too old to dream Your love will live in my heart So kiss me my sweet And so let us part And when I grow too old to dream That kiss will live in my heart
My Granda could make me weep when he sang that song. I was too young back then to understand the myriad of meaning in this song, but even so, the very idea of being too old to dream, brought tears to my eyes. Perhaps it was just childish of me to have believed that the ability to dream would last as long as life itself. Somehow the very thought of being too old to dream seemed like an impossibility. As I’ve grown older, I can well imagine life without dreaming. Life in the world can shatter dreams and sometimes even rob us of the desire to dream. Over the years I’ve known more than a few people who have given up on their dreams, and others who refuse to waste their time dreaming, and even some who are too weary to even bother dreaming. I understand that in the darkness of this long COVID nightmare many of us are struggling to summon up our collective courage to dream. Or even worse, so many of us aren’t prepared to dream big, as we content ourselves with selfish little dreams. So as Christmas is coming and the goose is getting fat, let’s look to the Christmas story, and to the myth which has sustained generations of dreamers, to see what we might learn from a dreamers’ dreamer about the power of dreams.
Listen to the Parable of Joseph as it is told by the anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as Matthew: “Now this is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah happened: When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to have a child in her womb from the HOLY SPIRIT. Joseph her husband was a just man and unwilling to shame her, he wanted to divorce her secretly. But when he deliberated this, suddenly an angel of the MOST HIGH GOD appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, child of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for in her is conceived a child from the HOLY SPIRIT. She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this happened to fulfill what had been spoken by the MOST HIGH GOD through the prophet: “Look now! The young woman shall conceive a child in her womb and give birth to a son, and they shall call him Emmanuel,” which translated means, “GOD is with us.” When Joseph got up from sleep, he did as the angel of the MOST HIGH GOD commanded him. He took Mary as his wife, yet did not know her sexually until her birthing of a son and they named him Jesus.”
Across the stage of many a Christmas pageant, this character Joseph whose dreams saved the child whom we long to embrace marches each and every Christmas. Just as the year grows to the apex of darkness, the character of Joseph the dreamer appears in the birth myth which we celebrate as the coming of the LIGHT. Scholars remind us that the character of Jesus’ father, known as Joseph, does not appear in Christian writings until the ninth decade, some 50 to 55 years after the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. Joseph’s appearance in the anonymous gospel-storyteller’s beautifully crafted Jewish myth is ever-so brief. Joseph wanders onto the pageant stage in a stumbling and bumbling fashion. The literary character Joseph is well suited to the pageant stage. Generations of little boys in bathrobes that are just long enough to trip them up has embodied this rather comical vision of a father for generations. For who but Joseph would load a woman great with child upon a donkey to set off unprepared, without so much as a hotel reservation, only to find themselves forced to give birth in a stable, without adequate provisions. To our modern eyes Joseph is a bit of a bumbling fool who is hopelessly ill equipped to be a father. Poor Mary. Poor Jesus.
But wait I’m getting ahead of myself. First there was the dream. But then isn’t that just like us, we 21st century audiences, fast-forwarding to the good bits, eager for the heavenly hosts so that we can join in their singing? We are so unlike the first century audiences of this grand literary pageant. Remember, our pageant writer was a Jew, who created his drama for Jewish audiences, audiences eager to dream, audiences sick and tired of the horrors of life in first century Palestine, audiences who were eager to share in the dream of salvation, salvation from their wicked oppressors. Audiences would have heard the name Joseph and known, like all ancient audiences that everything is in the name. Jewish audiences knew their own stories and to their ears the name Joseph foretells the presence of a dreamer. Joseph the hero of old; a dreamer of sorts who was pivotal in saving the Jewish people by engineering their escape from famine by enticing them to safety in Egypt.
Joseph was a character which Jewish audiences would have known so well, standing proudly in the tradition of their ancestors. This founder of the Jewish people, Joseph understood oppression. First the oppression of his older siblings who sold him into slavery. This Joseph whose life is intimately woven around dreams, went on to become an interpreter of dreams. This Joseph who had a habit of being visited by angels in dreams would have been so familiar. This Joseph who after his father dies becomes the protector of his father’s children. This Joseph who finds it in his heart to protect and nurture his wicked siblings. A first century audience would have had no trouble transferring their ancestor Joseph’s characteristics onto the father of Jesus. Angelic visitors would not have surprised these first audiences, any more than Joseph’s eventual flight into Egypt for safety would have; for it is all in the name “Joseph.”
The anonymous gospel storyteller we call Matthew was skilled in the art of mixing the extraordinary stories of his ancestors with the hope of new birth. An unexpected, inconvenient pregnancy, in an occupied land, whose people are longing for a liberator, a saviour. Joseph the dreamer is just the kind of character to safeguard the babe born to realize the dreams of the people. In our dreams we can see visions not of what is but of what might be. In our dreams we can see a more enlightened version of ourselves. In our dreams we can travel beyond our abilities to bear the darkness into the light. But have we grown too old to dream? I wonder?
Cast your minds back to last Christmas when we were dreaming of a vaccine to protect us from COVID. I can see myself standing and shivering on front porches of the homes of loved ones, exchanging Christmas gifts and dreaming of the day when we could go inside to be together. I can see myself weeping for joy right after receiving my first dose of the vaccine we had longed for. Yeah, I know that this Christmas won’t be just like the ones we used to know. But this Christmas, like every Christmas will be a Christmas for dreamers. This Christmas as we gather in small, safe, vaccinated, rapid tested, groups of loved ones, to feast, to celebrate, and to enjoy one another’s company, let’s raise our glasses and toast our dreams for this big, beautiful world of ours. Let us open ourselves to the possibilities which can thrive in the fertile ground of our many blessings.
When I consider the myth of Joseph the dreamer, I can’t help but marvel at Joseph’s role as a refugee displaced by Empire, fleeing danger in order to keep his family safe. The literary character of Joseph symbolizes the millions of refugees who have been displaced by various empires, empires which are tribal, national, or economic. These millions of refugees, like Joseph need to find refuge from the terror inflicted upon them by forces beyond their control. As we celebrate the birth of LOVE 21 centuries ago, can we spare a dream, a really big dream for those who are seeking shelter now. Today, 80 million people around the world have been forced to leave their homes. Each day that number grows by over 44,000. Here in Canada our own government has set a goal of settling 400,000 new immigrants each year. To reach this goal, we need to be welcoming 81,000 new immigrants every year. Unfortunately, the pandemic has cramped our style and this year only 7,800 new immigrants have been landed in Canada. We will have to dream bigger in order to welcome enough families to meet our modest goals. My dream for this year is that you do not settle for small selfish dreams, or dreams limited by our fears. For we are richly blessed. Blessed with homes. Blessed with political and financial privileges. Blessed with vaccines, with boosters, with hospitals, medical insurance, doctors, nurses, scientists, delivery workers, and freedom from the fears which the violence of empire inflicts upon the least among us. Dream of ways to support radical policies of welcome. Dream of ways to welcome new immigrants. Dream of ways to reach out beyond our borders to care for the refugees, the displaced people fleeing violence, oppression, and climate disasters. Dream of ways to live selflessly sharing our many blessings. Let us celebrate LOVE’s birth by opening ourselves to the transformation which is possible when we allow ourselves to dream, to dream big. In the midst of all the uncertainty of this Christmas, let’s muster up the courage to dream big! When I grow too old to dream I’ll have you to remember When I grow too old to dream Your love will live in my heart kiss me my sweet…
I can my Granda singing. This Christmas, it won’t be just like the ones we used to know. But this Christmas we are blessed by LOVE’s birth in us, among us, and beyond us. Let dreams inspired by a newborn babe laying on a bed of straw, open us to the possibilities of LOVE; the LOVE which is DIVINITY. In our visions of LOVE lie the hopes and dreams of all the Earth. It is the LOVE which lives in our hearts that fills our dreams with visions of the LOVE our world longs for.
I remember after a particularly heartfelt rendition by my Granda, I asked him: “Granda when will I be too old for dreaming.” The question took my Granda by surprise and after a long silence, Granda insisted that I wouldn’t be too old to dream until I became the dream itself.
I have come to believe that dream itself is LOVE, the LOVE which is DIVINITY. My dream is that when I grow too old to dream, when you grow too old to dream, we’ll have LOVE to remember, and in that LOVE I will be held, tenderly, compassionately, eternally. In the meantime, dear friends, let’s dream big dreams, big dreams inspired by our many blessings and filled with visions of hope, justice, peace, joy, and in, with, through and beyond us all, the ONE that is God, our LOVER, BELOVED and LOVE itself will flow endlessly. Dream Dear ones. Dream Big. Dream selflessly. Dream well!