Dream Joseph, Dream

Frederick Beuchner in his book Peculiar Treasures tells a story about Jesus’ daddy — the Dreamer. Thank you very much Fred. Let me paraphrase it here.

After hearing Mary’s news and confronted with a nightmare of a marriage,  Joseph does what any self respecting man would do.  He decides to hit the hay and catch some ZZZZ’s.  As his head hits the pillow, Joseph muses: How could Mary dream up such a story? Just when the wedding plans were all in place. The invitations had gone out. The synagogue was booked. The rabbi was ready. The caterer all lined up. Mary comes home pregnant by who????? By the Holy Spirit, she says. In your dreams, Mary!

Joseph rolls over and blows out the candle hoping to sleep it off and feel better in the morning. Settling into sweet dreams, Joseph snoring softly comes face to face with the Angel of the Lord. “Hail Joseph full of fear, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among men and blessed is the fruit of Mary’s womb, Jesus.”  In sweet dreams, Joseph had sought sweet escape. But Joseph’s guard was down and God slipped into his dreams.  “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.”

Into that holy  place — that place between waking and sleeping — God, the Dreamer watches and waits. 

The Dream of Joseph, Rembrandt

Against all Advent admonitions to stay alert, to stay awake for we know not the hour when the Messiah comes, Joseph drifts off to sleep and dreams the dream of God.  Heaven seemed so much closer to earth then. Dreams and visions were not rationalized and psychologized. Dreams and visions were the very language of God.  Joseph the dreamer woke up and took Mary for his wife. The Gospel of Matthew does not tell us much more but what we do know is that the angel’s message moved Joseph deeply — the Mystery of it.

In the Apocryphal Gospel of James, Joseph awakes from the dream to go and to find Mary a midwife (such a helpful husband!) He leaves his wife so great with child and stumbles out into a world all caught up in heaven:

As I was going (said Joseph) I looked up into the air, and I  saw the clouds astonished, and the fowl of the air stopping in the midst of flight.

And I looked down towards the earth, and saw a table spread, and working people sitting around it, but their hands were upon the table, and did not move to eat. And all their faces were fixed upward.

And I beheld the sheep dispersed, and yet the sheep stood still.  And I looked unto a river and saw the goats with their mouths to the water, touching it, but they did not drink.

Apocryphal Gospel of James

Time itself stood still — as the dream unfolded.  And Joseph, pregnant with awe and wonder, stumbles back to the cave for the birth of the child.    

Jesus’ daddy was indeed a dreamer.  After all the excitement of the Magi and their exotic gifts, Joseph and Mary and Jesus briefly set up household until once again the Angel of the Lord disturbs Joseph’s dreams. This time he hears danger in the angel’s voice: “Get up! Get up now and take the child and his mother. Go to Egypt and remain there until I tell you for Herod is about to search for the child and to destroy him.”  So Joseph rolled up the tent, packed the camel with Mary and the Baby, and the diaper bag and headed for Egypt.  

Hastily the holy family settled down in the Sinai. Imagine hanging out with young Jesus and his father Joseph: “Sweet dreams, little Jesus,” as he rocks the Babe to sleep. Building sand castles in the back yard with his brothers and sisters. Sweeping up the saw dust in Joseph’s workshop. Passing the olives and the dates around the dinner table. Helping out with his Hebrew homework by the light of an oil lamp. Joseph waiting and watching over young Jesus, waiting and watching and hoping for God’s dream to come true.  

A dream that Joseph sadly may have not lived to see.  The last time we see or hear of Joseph in the Gospel of Matthew, he is chasing down Jesus in Jerusalem after the youngster’s Bar Mitzvah.  Jesus, where in heaven have you been? You daydreamer! And Jesus replies with this smarty pants answer

“Well, Dad, I have been about my father’s business”.

Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, the family tree is traced all the way back to Mary. But in Luke’s Gospel, the evangelist “makes no bones about recording Joseph as the father of Jesus. And since Jesus did not give much weight to stuffy theologians, he would likely be very happy to see Joseph recorded as his father.” It is quite possible to have two dads you know. Both of them dreamers.

Ultimately, Jesus’ daddy was not just one who changed his diapers and taught him how to use the plane and the lathe. He was the Dreamer who dreamed up the sun and the moon; the stars and the planets; the birds of a feather and beasts of the field.  The Creator of light and dark; the Maker of night and day.  Jesus’ daddy dreamed of life and love — of man and woman — of you and me.  He dreamed of coming to walk along side us, to come among us as just as human as any human who ever graced this world.   

It was the dream of the prophets. Programmed into Jesus’ DNA, God’s dream became flesh and blood and dwelt among us.

Now as 21st century Christians, we are not naive. This dream of God is just a “once upon a time” kind of story, right? We do not believe that just by wishing and hoping and praying that our dreams will somehow come true. Who remembers their dreams? They come in fits and starts as we toss and turn in our sleep. I always want to remember mine but never quite do.

And then there is daydreaming, lost in another world, lost in the clouds. And dreams of a life time — to write the great American novel or climb Mount Everest. (I will try to do both on my sabbatical!) But none of our dreams quite measure up to the dreams dreamed up in the Mind of God.

IN 1992 Verna Dozier, a Black theologian, wrote a book called The Dream of God. She was raised in the Baptist Church and attended Howard U. She taught Biblical Studies at VTS — and sadly I regret I never got to take one of her courses. In her writing, she borrowed freely from the language of spirituals and Black poets — as she explored a deeply personal experience of the racial divide. Matthew Root, one of her reviewers, tells us that Verna concludes that “Christianity had lost sight of God’s dream.”

To wrap your heads around this dreamy Divinity, you start by reading scripture, of course. Not just with your intellect, but also with your imagination.

I think we must approach the Bible as we would a painting. First we stand back and see the painting as a whole, and then we study the details, because however great the details, they are not the painting.”

“The Bible is a book of wrestlings, not a book of answers. In each age the people have to struggle to hear the Word of the Lord for their time, and sometimes their hearing is keener than others.”

The Dream of God, Verna Dozier

The bible is a story of creation and calling, a story of falling in and out of love — real love. Love of God. Love of neighbor. Love of self.

So, as we lay our heads down to sleep, this fourth and final Sunday of Advent, let’s pay attention in the twilight, in that sacred and liminal space, for the coming of the little dreamer. Just like Joseph, dreaming of the coming of Christ.

Pax vobiscum



The Sanctified Imagination of Verna Dozier, Matthew Root

Peculiar Treasures, A Biblical Who’s Who, Frederick Beuchner


Spirituality The Episcopal Church

eecvoices View All →

The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog

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