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Fourth Sunday of Advent Reflection

Dreaming the Divine Will

December 20,  2010

When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him...

Matthew 1:24

Dream Divine WillFor three weeks now we have preparing for the Lord’s coming.  Beyond the historical remembrance of the birth of Jesus that is to be soon celebrated, we have been reminded of the Lord’s continuing desire to be born in our souls and, as Emmanuel, to be close to our world.  Whatever is happening to us, around us, and within us this last week of Advent, wherever we find ourselves in our Christmas preparations and in our expectations and apprehensions for what the coming days hold for us, the  Divine Child continues to be born, continues to come to us all to save us.  

     Often with the pressure of Christmas preparations and the heightened complexity of human relationships that the sentiment and nostalgia of the season evokes, the Reality of Divine presence and intimacy, of the promise of reconciliation and redemption seems even more remote than usual.  The events and demands of our lives these last days of preparation and anticipation can most readily distance us from consciousness of the presence and the workings of God, of the Divine Mystery of Formation and the loving and saving utterance of God’s Word.   It is into the midst of this not unfamiliar experience of alienation from life’s depths born of our stress and anxiety that the person of Joseph enters through the words of Matthew’s Gospel. 

     As we are introduced to Joseph, it is clear that this good and righteous man has made the decision, with careful and caring deliberation, to divorce Mary, his betrothed, who is pregnant with a child that is not his.  His intention and direction are clear, until, like his patriarchal namesake, Joseph is addressed in a dream by an angel.  The resonance for Matthew’s audience is unmistakable.   Here again a Joseph, facing impossible circumstances, is given direction from a realm that can reach him only in a dream.  The deeper truth of things, the Mysterious source of transcendent Reality, is available to us, but access to it requires abandoning ourselves to a capacity that is beyond the powers of our focal consciousness.  Adrian van Kaam recognizes an aspect of the human unconscious that he calls the transconscious.  It is our potential to receive the inspiration that enables us at times to know the Way in a direct and immediate apprehension.  This occurs for Joseph “in a dream” for the busyness of immediate concerns and focal consciousness must be stilled for us to receive these Divine inspirations.  Joseph has made a decision and has a clear intention, and he has these based on his fidelity to the Torah and to his culture.  Yet, what is really happening cannot be understood in this way.  It can only be known as a gift of grace given when all of Joseph’s other ways of functioning are at rest.

     “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.”  So begins the Gospel of Matthew.  Without the “obedience of faith” of Mary and Joseph, God’s design would not have come about.  Perhaps for many of us as we are worn and frazzled by these days of preparation for our Christmas celebration, the ways of God seem more distant and mysterious than ever.  Yet, this day we have the gift of Joseph to invite us to find some time for rest and some moments of stillness in the days ahead.  It can be well to remember the words of Psalm 127, 2:  In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat — for the Lord grants sleep to those he loves.”  In many earlier translations of this psalm we would say:  “For the Lord gives to the Lord’s beloved in sleep.”  It is clear that for Joseph his sleep truly allowed him to awaken.  “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife to his home.”  Beyond all the work and worry that consume us these days, what does the Lord want from us?  During these last few days of Christmas preparation may we find time to be still, to rest, and to attend with our deepest and most distinctively human capacities that we may dream the Lord’s will for us and our world.

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Last updated: 11/24/10.