The Christmas Dream
I was in Starbucks a few hours ago, getting coffee for the weekend and getting some beans, and I heard something that I guess I didn’t expect. It was busy, it was crazy, it was loud in Starbucks. But over the PA it was Elvis Presley singing Silent Night, and it just sort of struck– it was like, (IMITATING ELVIS) Silent night. And it’s like, OK, there’s the King of rock and roll singing about the King of Kings, and it’s a very silent, quiet night, and it was crazy pandemonium in Starbucks. It’s just not what I expected.
Speaking of what you don’t expect, there was a woman in Australia who woke up to something very odd for Christmas. And it wasn’t a gift under the tree, it was a snake under the tree. It was a snake that’s very venomous, highly poisonous, indigenous to Australia, and it was curled up on the branches amongst the tinsel. It shocked her and she, of course, had to call the authorities and get the snake removed. It’s not what she expected for Christmas. Nobody would expect that.
For Joseph and Mary it was also very unexpected. It’s not what they expected in their relationship with each other. Suddenly they’re confronted with an unexpected pregnancy. They are not certain what to do. It requires special Revelation from God in order to deal with it.
What they did know is that there had been a snake for centuries underneath the tree of humanity, so to speak. Back in Genesis when Satan showed up and beguiled Eve, and a prophecy came forth in Genesis 3 that a woman would one day have a child, and that child would have the power, the authority to crush the serpent’s head with its heel. To take it completely out of the picture.
Well, this is all new to Joseph and Mary. And so Joseph has a dream about what is happening with his girlfriend, whom he is engaged to, and what to do about it.
I’m going to read the story. It’s familiar to you. It’s out of Matthew, chapter one. This is Christmas through the eyes of Joseph.
Now, the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows. After his mother, Mary, was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph, her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her public example, was minded to put her away secretly.
But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream saying, Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary, your wife. For that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit, and she will bring forth a son and you shall call his name Jesus. For he will save his people from their sins.
So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son. And they shall call his name Emmanuel, which is translated, “God with us.” Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took him his wife. And did not know her until she had brought forth her firstborn son, and he called his name Jesus.
Experts tell us that every one dreams. You do it every night. You don’t remember them all, but you dream. You go into a period of sleep called REM, R-E-M, rapid eye movement. That’s where you are more likely to have a dream than any other period during the sleep cycle. Your dreams last anywhere from just a few seconds to up to 30 minutes, and you typically have between three and five dreams a night.
Again, the problem is always the recall, but sometimes they’re very vivid and you remember them. My wife, when she dreams, she communicates to me in her dreams often. And it’s very sweet and very articulate. She’ll say the sweetest things. I’ll carry a conversation on with her and she will have no recollection the next day that any of that took place.
So a few years ago, in the middle of the night, she turned over. She was in her dream but she said, honey, I love you so much. And I told her I loved her. And we had a little conversation and it was sweet. And then a few minutes later she turned around and she said, OK, now shut up and go to sleep.
It was a dream, or so I’m told. She had no remembrance at all the next day that that took place. We dream as a means of our subconscious dealing with what goes on during our conscious, normal activity of life. Sometimes we go through a very difficult period of time and we try to sort it out in our dreams, we are told.
At other times we get the weirdest, wildest dreams that seemingly are unrelated to anything at all. Am I right? It’s the result of a late night pizza with red chili. And so you’ll get some kind of a response in your brain. You’ll get a dream.
But sometimes God uses dreams. He uses them to communicate to people, and he did throughout the Bible. In the Old Testament Abraham received a dream that confirmed the covenant that God made with him and with those who would follow after him, in Genesis, chapter 15.
A man named Abimelech, who was the King of Gerar, received a dream not to touch Abraham’s wife, Sarah, in chapter 20 of Genesis. Jacob received a dream when he ran away from his brother, and he saw a ladder stretching up to heaven with the angels of God going down and going up, all in a dream.
Joseph is one of the most famous dreamers in the Bible. Remember, he received a couple of dreams, and he didn’t win any points with his family because of those dreams. He went to them one day and he said, hey guys, I had a dream last night that there were 12 stars, the sun, and the moon, and the sun and the moon and the 11 stars all bowed down to my star. And they didn’t really like that dream all that much.
But God was setting it up, and he was speaking through a dream. This is a dream where the Lord is speaking through his angel to this man, Joseph. Now, I find something interesting. Basically the same information that Joseph gets is what Mary gets earlier from the angel Gabriel, when the angel Gabriel appears to Mary in real time. Not a dream, but more of a vision. She actually sees the angel and hears the angel while Mary is wide awake.
Joseph, on the other hand, gets it in a dream. I can’t tell you why, except sometimes guys are just harder-headed and they need to be put out to get a message. By the way, sometimes God does his best work when he puts a man to sleep.
And I don’t say that facetiously. Adam was asleep when God fashioned out of his side, Eve, and then brought the woman to the man.
This story of Joseph is a story of what I call the forgotten man of Christmas. There’s a lot of Christmas songs and there’s a lot written about Mary and Jesus. Joseph is there, we know, but he’s sort of the background guy because he didn’t have anything at all to do with the pregnancy of Mary, but he is part of this family.
This forgotten man– in fact, did you know that in the Bible there is never a single recorded word that Joseph spoke? We know he spoke, but there is no recorded word in the Bible of what Joseph said. And then somebody, just for fun, decided to take their church hymnal and go through it and they found five songs, five references by name, to Mary and not a single reference in any song to Joseph.
But he’s in this story. And in the verses that I just read to you, there are eight verses that tell the story. I read to you eight versus. The first two verses deal with what happens before the dream, then there are four verses that tell what happened during the dream, and then the last two verses tell what happened after the dream when Joseph woke up. And there are three words that sum it all up. There is confusion, there is clarity, and finally there is compliance.
It begins with confusion. Joseph is just plain confused at the news that the girl that he loves and wants to marry suddenly turns up pregnant. It broke his heart. We are told this, the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows. After his mother, Mary, was betrothed– I’ll explain that in a moment– to Joseph, before they came together– that is in marital, physical union– she, Mary, was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph, her husband, being a righteous man, or a just man, not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.
In two verses Joseph goes from excitement to bewilderment. From planning a wedding to filing for divorce. We don’t know when Joseph got the news. We don’t know how the news was presented about Mary, but his world came crashing down the moment he got the news.
Now, in those days, there were two levels of a relationship before marriage. There were two stages. The first stage was called, in Hebrew, the kiddushin, which was the engagement, the betrothal. Typically it lasted a year. And then that was followed by the crescendo, the event itself, the chuppah, which was the wedding ceremony, the party.
So there was a year engagement followed by a wedding. When couples were engaged or betrothed in those days, they couldn’t decide to break it off unless they got a divorce. They were legally married in simply signing the promise, the contract, usually arranged by parents, not by the couple, and you couldn’t break it up unless you got a formal divorce.
The other catch was, there was no physical contact during that one year of betrothal or engagement. They rarely saw each other. They were too busy working, planning the wedding. No physical contact at all. Joseph was excited about that. Until he gets the news. Because he immediately thinks, and rightly so, wait a minute, that’s not my baby. And purity was, in those days, highly regarded– and, by the way, it still is by God. Sexual purity was highly regarded as something to be aspired to by every couple. So Joseph is confused.
And we know what Joseph did. We typically call him a carpenter. He was a craftsman. I can just hear what His buddies must have said when they found out the news. Listen, I worked around builders, and I can just imagine they said, yeah, Joseph, you had nothing to do with it. Right. We believe you, buddy.
Or they might have said something– you ought to just dump her. She’s a loser. If she would do something like that before a wedding, you could never ever trust her again. It was a sad day for Joseph. I’m sure even this man’s man cried.
Now, Mary had an advantage. She was told by the angel Gabriel what this was all about. The angel appeared to her and said, you’re going to have a child. And she asked the right question. She goes, wait a minute, how can these things be? I’ve never been with a man in my life. This is impossible.
And so Gabriel gives the explanation. Not much of one, not a long one, but sufficient. The Holy Spirit will come upon you. The power of the highest will overshadow you so that that which is born will be the son of the highest, the Son of God.
Now, Joseph didn’t have that visit. Mary did. So Joseph hears the news. My girlfriend’s pregnant. He panics. He decides, I need to put her away, give her a divorce privately. Now, when I read this I go, oh, Joseph. Hold on, buddy. Just wait until– you need to read Luke, chapter one, man. You’re still in Matthew 1. Just give it a little bit of time.
Luke one’s coming up. Of course, they didn’t have the Bible back then. He was just living this out. He hears the news, and in verse 19 it says, being a just man, not wanting to make a public example of her, he was minded to put her away privately.
Now let me explain that Joseph had three options. Option number one, he could have exposed her publicly, and in the Old Testament, years before this, that would have meant public stoning. Public shaming and public stoning. Death in public. That had long been not practiced, but it would still be very shameful to expose her publicly.
The second thing he could have done was a private divorce. This is what he opted for. That is where you take two witnesses, bring a certificate, something you write down, ending the relationship, presenting that to the bride to be or the bride that used to be with two witnesses, and it’s over.
The third thing Joseph could have done is just said, I’m going to bite the bullet and I’m going to marry this girl. He couldn’t get his head around that one, so he opted for number two. Of course, today there would be a fourth option, unfortunately. A guy would hand a girl $200 and say go get an abortion.
But Joseph, it says, was a righteous man. He was a just man. And though he cared about his own personal life, he also cared about Mary. He’d loved her deeply and he cared about her reputation.
So in that quandary, at the lowest point in his life, he goes, I’m going to give her a private divorce. This boy needs a dream. This boy needs to be put down, put under anesthesia by a divine surgeon. And that’s what happens in the next few verses. We go from confusion to clarity. That’s what the dream brings while he thought about these things, I’m sure very emotionally, behold an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream.
Now, I love this. He gets a personal pep talk by an angel in a dream. But there are a few components to this short little dream of Joseph. First component was recollection. The angel wants Joseph to remember a promise that happened and who Joseph was. Listen to what he says. Joseph, son of David– stop right there. Reminding Joseph that he was of the lineage of the house, the royal house of King David and that God made a promise to David that somebody would be born from his lineage that would rule the world one day. He wants to remind Joseph, you’re part of that picture. You will provide for the child that is not really your child, the legal right to the throne of David. So there is first that recollection.
The second component is an exhortation. The angel says, do not be afraid. Or literally, stop. Stop being afraid. You know, sometimes you have to tell a person who’s freaking out, stop. And so the angel does this exhortation. Don’t be afraid.
You know, when I first asked my wife to marry me, I was so scared just to ask her. I was so scared, I still to this day don’t really remember how it all happened. I remember being at her dad’s house, I remember standing up, I remember saying words that she tells me made no sense at all. She goes, you were talking about street lights and them turning green and then red and driving a car and going left and going right, and I had no idea what you were saying, and suddenly it dawned on me, she said. Oh goodness, he’s going to ask me to marry him.
This I do remember. I remember when she said, honey, I said yes. I said, what? I said yes. You just asked me to marry you, and I said yes. And then I said this. Now, wait a minute. And I walked away, just like this. I said, wait a minute.
Uh, we’ve got to talk about this. This is– this is big stuff here. And she thought at that moment, he’s– I mean, this is the worst proposal in the world. I was just so frightened of what I was getting into. I think some single guys are. Joseph was afraid of what this would mean for Mary and what this would mean for him. This was news he just did not expect.
And so there’s now an explanation. That’s the next component. The angel says this, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. I gotta tell you, Joseph had no idea what that meant. He didn’t get it. He didn’t understand that. He was just going, oh. OK. In other words, Joseph, you can’t figure this out, but God did this. This is a God thing. But, listen, to this day I can’t fully explain to you the virgin birth. I believe it, but I can’t explain it.
Larry King, years ago, who used to be an interviewer on CNN, you may remember, he was once asked, Larry, if you could interview anybody, any person from history, who would you interview, and what would you ask that person. He said, I’d interview Jesus Christ and I’d ask him one question. Were you really born of a virgin? Because if the answer is yes, he said, for me that changes everything. You may know, Larry King is Jewish. And if he discovered that Jesus was indeed born of a virgin as his prophet Isaiah predicted he would be, that changes his whole view of history and the future.
So there is that explanation that that is indeed the case. Followed by another component, instruction. Listen to what the angel says. She, Mary, will bring forth a son. You will give him the name Jesus. He will save his people from their sins. You get those 1, 2, 3. She’s going to have the baby, you’re going to name the baby, the baby’s going to save the world. How’s that for a solution to our ills? She’s going to have the baby, you’re going to name the baby, baby is going to save the world. You got the easy part, here, dude.
You don’t even have to think of a name. Here’s the name.
That’s followed by a clarification. Matthew said, all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet saying– quoting Isaiah– “behold, a virgin shall be with child.” 900 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a prophet said, a virgin is going to have a child and call his name Emmanuel, which is translated, God with us. In other words, Joseph, this is all part of God’s plan. He predicted this from the beginning. It’s going down exactly like he said.
Now, why a dream? Well, the dream is going to help Joseph understand not only the situation but it’s going to help Joseph understand what Mary has been going through these past several months. Remember, when Mary was told that she was pregnant she goes away for several months, down to Judea, to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Then she comes back, great with child by this time, no doubt.
So she’s been carrying the information in her head and Joseph thought, that sounds crazy. You say, how’d you get pregnant? God did it. That sounds nuts. Well, that didn’t sound any more nuts than, an angel appeared to me in a dream and said, God did it. So now it’s going to help Joseph understand what she’s been wrestling with. So we begin with confusion and then go to clarification. It’s clarified in the dream, and the third is compliance.
The last two verses tell us what he did after the dream. Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife. And did not know her, did not have physical, normal marital relations with her until she brought forth her first born son, and he called his name Jesus.
Joseph woke up, Joseph obeyed. And you know why he did? Because that dream was such a relief to him, giving him the necessary information. He woke up from that dream– what a good dream that was. He woke up refreshed, going, oh, man I’m so humbled that I get to be a part of this incredible plan that God has had from eternity past.
Takes Mary, who’s probably in maternity clothes at this time, finds a rabbi, they get married, they go through the marital ceremony. Something quiet, no doubt. And he says to Mary, I’m not going to touch you until after you have this baby. I’m not going to have any physical relations with you. I don’t want anybody even having a rumor that I had anything at all to do with the birth of this baby. So he backed off until after Jesus was born.
But listen to that little phrase that says– it says, Joseph, being aroused from his sleep. That is, Joseph woke up from the dream. You know, that is always the problem when you have a good dream, it’s waking up.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had a dream where when you wake up, the alarm goes off, and you go, man, I want to push snooze. I need 10 more minutes. I need to finish that dream. Have you ever done that? It’s like, it’s so good I want to see how the story ends. I’ve done that. And a few occasions I’ve gotten right back into it. And it’s cool when that happens.
But Joseph had this great dream and he woke up from it. It’s over now. Listen, the dream was easy. What’s going to follow is going to be hard. For Joseph, the easiest part of this whole thing was the dream. The reality that’s going to be his future is going to be difficult because now he’s going to take that pregnant girl to Bethlehem because of a mandated census. That’s going to be hard on her and on him.
Then, because of a threat from Herod, the Grinch, they’re going to have to leave and flee to Egypt where they’ll be protected by God. And then he’s going to move that family back up to Nazareth. And by that time, people have heard the story and they have figured out the time, the dates, and tongues are wagging and gossip is flying. And Joseph and Mary and Jesus will have to live with that for years to come. But he obeys. He obeys.
The dream was the easy part. The reality would be the hardest part. But I want you to think about this. The hardest part is the best part, because that baby will grow up from the manger, say some very controversial things, but always with the view of going to a cross where he will be mistreated, spat upon, beaten up, hung on a cross, and left to die.
And anybody who has some of this background would look at the cross and go, oh no, how could this happen? This is horrible. This ruins the plan. I mean, there was an angel and a dream, and now this? This is the end of the plan. No. This was the plan from the beginning. You will call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sin. That’s what he’s doing right now on that Roman cross.
You see, that prediction, way back in Genesis, that the head of the serpent is going to bruise the heel of the Messiah, but the heel of the Messiah will crush the head of Satan, the serpent. That took place on the cross. The easy part was the dream. What followed was the hardest part, but the hardest part is the best part.
Because of what it meant for you and for me. Jesus on the cross would crush that serpent so that nobody has to wake up on Christmas and have that snake bothering him ever again. It’s done with. It’s over with. Now, Joseph woke up physically. But you might say he also woke up spiritually. When he woke up from that dream it was as if Joseph said, I get it now. I understand. I don’t understand it all, but I get what’s happening.
It is our prayer that not will you just enjoy a Christmas presentation and hear a few words about Jesus and feel good inside, but it’s our hope that you’ll wake up from whatever sleep you’ve had to the reality of life itself, that Jesus came for you. That he’s alive and he loves you. That he has a plan for you. That you will wake up and you will let him save you. Because that’s why he came, to save people from their sin.
I remember the night I said yes to Jesus, and he saved me from my sin. Last week I saw people come forward at a church service. Jesus saved them from their sin. And on Christmas Eve I’m going to give you an opportunity, as we sing this final song, I’m going to pray with you, and then we’re all going to stand up and I’m going to give you an invitation to come and make Jesus the savior of your life.
Father, we want to just bow for a moment in prayer. We want to thank you for your plan. It wasn’t willy-nilly. It wasn’t just some myth or some favored tale that God passed down and then things added to. We have the record of scripture that shows the hundreds of predictions made about who that child was, what he would do, when he would do it, where it would take place, how would happen. It’s unfolded in our midst. It’s not a dream, it’s a reality.
[GUITAR MUSIC SOFTLY IN BACKGROUND]
It’s a reality in time and space. It happened in history. And life change can happen in our history, and this could be the time for many of us. Because I believe that people are here tonight with family members maybe invited, maybe for the first time. Maybe they’ve been here many times, but their hearts are broken. They’re hurting. Christmas is not what they expected this year.
And it’s funny how every year we just sort of try to reconstruct a feeling of Christmas that we had when we were young. The truth is, we approach this season, many of us, with broken hearts, hurting hearts. Things have happened to us during the year that have rendered us in great pain, and walking with a limp.
You are here for us. You are here for anyone who fits that description. You are here to save and to change and to invade a life and bring transformation. And I pray that you would. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Would you stand please, to your feet? I’m going to give you an opportunity. We don’t do this to embarrass you. You’re going to find out. We do this to celebrate with you. If you are willing, in this family of believers gathered, to say yes to Jesus– maybe you have never, ever in your life, personally turned to Jesus as your Lord and Savior. You’ve been wondering about the meaning of life. You’ve wondered if there would ever be anything better than what you’ve already experienced. You have this nagging emptiness, some of us, in our hearts, in our lives. We want that filled.
Others of you, far from that. You’ve been to church your whole life. Sadly you have looked to church or religion to fill that empty spot. It never will. It never can. Only Jesus, the person, can because he is alive. He is God. He died for you. He was raised to glory for you. His blood is enough payment for your sins. And if you give him your life, he’ll come in and change you forever. But you have to do that.
Then some of you may remember making some kind of pledge or you sang some song, maybe you even threw a pine cone in a fire at a camp one time and thought, oh, that feels so good. But the truth is, tonight, you’re not walking with Jesus. You’re not following him, and you need to come back home to him.
As we sing this final song I’m just going to ask you, no matter where you’re standing, balcony, middle of an aisle, way in the back, right up front, family room, over-flow, I’m going to ask you to get up from where you’re standing, find the nearest possibility, aisle, and stand right up. I’m going to lead you in a word of prayer to say yes to Jesus on this Christmas Eve, to receive him as Lord and Savior into your heart, to make you a brand new person. As we sing this song, you get up and come. We’ll wait for you.
(SINGING) Oh, come to the alter. The Father’s arms are open wide. Forgiveness was bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ. Oh come to the alter. The Father’s arms are open wide. Forgiveness was bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ.
We’re just about over but, you know, I know what it’s like to wrestle with this decision. I know what it’s like to listen and to evaluate and then say, another time, another time. So I want to give you the opportunity. This is why you were created. You were put on this earth to know God, to have a relationship with God.
The only way a person can have a relationship with God is through the Lord Jesus Christ. Not through any religion, not through any church thing. In fact, I’ll just say it. Religion is one of the biggest barriers between humanity and God. Always has been.
It makes people think they’re OK with God just because they get religious or attend a service or light a candle or get on their knees or say a prayer. And that won’t make you right with God. Only Jesus, the person, Jesus, who died for you can make you right with God.
So I don’t want to get you religious. I want you to be saved. He came to save people from their sin. You’re going to wake up tomorrow and you’re going to probably open a present or two and, you know what? You’ll forget about him probably the next day. A present can’t change you. A gift can’t change you. But there’s a gift that God gave, and that can change you. He, Jesus. For God so loved the world that he gave– that’s the gift. That’s the gift you need to receive, if you haven’t personally done that yet. You get up and come. It’s Christmas Eve. It’s your time to get up and make a decision for Jesus.