The Second Sunday after Christmas
January 2, 2011
The Rev. Natasha Brubaker Garrison
Open with Rilke’s poem “Rest on the Flight into Egypt”
Those were the words of the great German poet Rainier Marie Rilke. It is part of a series of poems he wrote about the life of Mary. This poem puts into tale what happens in response to the dream Joseph has after his child is born. It also hints at what happens in the encounter between God and what is not God—when the not-Gods we worship meet the living God of Joseph and Mary. And at the end of it all they had to rest as in a dream. Perhaps it was a waking dream, perhaps a daydream, but whatever we think it was it was a place where reality was seen through the prism of dream-like distance. Such a dream-like state reminds me of a kaleidoscope; it allows us place to play with the pieces of our world and rearrange them, perhaps into something more good, more whole, more loving, more beautiful.
I think that the Gospel, that encountering Jesus as the Incarnation of a saving, grace-filled God, is an invitation to dream. Dreams abound in Scripture. They are constants in all cultures and often they are associated with divine communication. In some traditions people practice dream incubation to cultivate dreams that are prophetic and or have divine meaning. In our culture we look to them for clues to understanding what is going on in our life or to understand our past. In Hebrew tradition they were clearly prophetic, often future-oriented, and a way to convey important information as we see with the instructions given to Joseph to flee and why.
Whatever dreams are I think most of us sense that in some way they connect us to a deeper reality than our own. Perhaps in dreams we escape the illusion that we are independent beings that are solitary in nature and are swept up into the truth that we are social beings. I often wonder if dreams connect us to a communal conscience, a place where souls meet and share, a place where we touch our source of being, that reality that we name God. Who knows? But what I do know is that dreams are both necessary and powerful.
Dreams can give us a vision for what could be or what is possible. The reading from Jeremiah is full of a portrait of a dream come true: the people come home; there is plenty for all; people are merry and dancing with joy; the land and people are radiant for there is a restoration of the people to wholeness with God and each other. It is a beautiful vision, a dream for what can be. God is naming himself as a father to the people, a guiding hand that leads them to goodness and redemption.
I think that in Jesus people saw the possibility for dreams fulfilled. In Jesus they saw the dream of the outcast brought in made real. In Jesus the hungry were fed without condition or qualification. In Jesus people encountered a voice that spoke for the poor and lonely and that sought to heal those broken or wounded in body and spirit. It is a powerful vision and experience. It is that dream of love made manifest in our lives–that deep hope and need we all have and all need to have met.
The dream or the vision of Jesus is a simple one: all are beloved of God. And if beloved of God than no matter who we are or what we have done, there is a place for us in God’s embrace. No matter our flaws and imperfections, no matter our socio-economic status, no matter if the world flatters us or ignores us, no matter how broken or lost we may feel on the inside the dream that comes to life in Jesus is the coming true of a reality where we are received as we are.
Just as a child receives us as we are. Children, at least at first (I know this changes in time) simply accept that we are as we are and that is enough. Maybe that child-like faith is what Jesus is speaking to when he asks us to understand God as a father, a parent. Perhaps we are to view God with that kind of trust and understanding that we are simply loved. The world often fights that dream. All around us we are told it is hard and complicated to be worthy of love and acceptance. You have to be a certain way and sadly, most of us are far, far from that ideal. It is about power trips and control—as the rest of the story about Herod and his son’s rule in Judea tells us—even at the cost of killing others to maintain one’s grip over them. We kill each other physically all too often and we kill each other spiritually all the time.
Our dreams of a better world, or a better relationship, or to feel better about ourselves are, I believe, divine promptings to flee to Egypt with the Christ-child. By that I mean it is time to let our dreams take flight and be free, protect them from the world that would destroy them, give them space to breathe, and offer them as a gift to a Jesus who will reflect back a grace-filled face of God. I know that when I look in my child’s face I don’t worry about my ratings or my status. All I worry about is loving him enough and well.
I don’t worry that I am unaccepted or judged and found wanting. I find that I am freed from that and all I want is to love him wholly back. I seek to serve the holy in him without thought for my own gain or status or to prove myself worthy. Or, my deep dream that someday we can find ways better than war to solve our disputes and perhaps cultivate virtues that make conflicts less likely. (Give example of Eyes Wide Open combat boot display…) did it end the wars? No. But it keeps the dream alive within me and in the world. Each family we host in our parking lot is keeping the dream to end homelessness alive. It doesn’t solve the issue, but it is a small step towards doing so and keeps us true to our conviction to care for each other and continue to fight for that dream to be made real.
I think this is at the heart of that encounter with the Jesus that flees into Egypt with his parents. Self, in the sense of ego-driven self, fades, and in the journey that happens in response to our dreams we find an open space to receive grace and by extension begin to see the world with eyes shaded by that grace. Suddenly, every one of us is the Christ-child and every one of us is a Mary or Joseph who will do all in their power to love and protect the lives of others for all lives are vessels of the holy.
As Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians: He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. That is Paul’s encapsulation of the dream made real as knowers and friends of Jesus.
And what happens when our dreams are dark and bad? There is a Jewish practice called Hatavat Halem, which literally means “making the dream a good one”, where a disturbing dream is shared with a rabbi so that a positive interpretation can emerge. Often the positive is revealed via the negative. So, whether our dreams are good or disturbing, our dreams are meant to help us strive for the good both within and without.
In this season of Christmas and as we approach Epiphany, the season of things made manifest, let us take our dreams—daydreams, waking dreams, nighttime dreams and visions—and make these dreams good ones, let us make them be part of making manifest the incarnation of God in Jesus, a place where a tree spreads wide, as though to serve, by our sides, and bows down to embrace us.