Sermon for Sunday, January 19, 2029 – “Translation”

Second Sunday after Epiphany
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Decorah, Iowa
Luther College Pastor Anne Edison-Albright

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer, Amen.

I’m drawn to the layers of translation in the story we just heard

from the Gospel of John.

The text gives us these helps, these translation notes,

pieces I’m used to seeing in margins or footnotes of study Bibles

more often than right in the text itself:

Rabbi, which translated means, “teacher.”;

Messiah, which translated means, “anointed”;

and Cephas, which is translated, “Peter.”’

Suddenly, I find myself aware of the many layers of translating

going on in the Bible,

On a much more conscious level than I usually am when I’m reading it.

Because when a text is in front of me, and it’s in English, I read it,

And it feels like a fairly uncomplicated task.

When I read this text though, the fact of translation is unavoidable.

I can’t forget about it.

And it helps me slow down and wonder at all of the steps,

all of the layers of translating,

the many languages and cultures and authors and editors and scholars

and councils and theologians,

this text passed through to get to you and me this morning.

As we peel back all those layers,

We get to a Gospel writer, an Evangelist,

Who knew this Good News was so important

That it needed to be shared,

And it needed to be shared with the whole world,

Across cultures, and languages and distance and time.

It needed to be translated.

Another layer: the content of the text itself is full of people with

A deep desire to communicate:

John pointing to Jesus: “Look, Here is the lamb of God!”

Jesus calling his first disciples saying, “Come and see!”

Andrew telling the soon-to-be-renamed Peter: “We have found the Messiah.”

There is urgency, here, because of another layer:

We peel it back  

And we find the Good News motivating this translation

Is itself an act of translation:

God has come to live with us.

God is revealed and made known, incarnate as Jesus Christ.

There is still so much about God that is beyond human understanding,

But, from the beginning, Scripture reveals God as so deeply committed

To God’s relationship with creation,

That God translates Godself, again and again,

Through covenants, through prophets, through angels and messengers,

And through this embodied act of translation that is Jesus Christ.

What I love about this text,

And the way it calls attention to the layers of translation in Scripture

The translating work of sharing the Good News,

And the translating incarnational work of God,

Is that embedded in the act of translation is some profound motivation:

This message—God With Us–is important. It is urgent.

This relationship is important.

There is a deep desire to connect and communicate,

Even across significant barriers or differences.

But here’s where it gets tricky, for us humans, anyway.

When you think about translation,

Times when you’ve needed to translate something

or had something translated for you,

How many of you can call up a memory of a time that’s gone wrong?

I can. Here’s just one:

My year of pastoral internship was in Slovakia,

And I had an incredible experience learning, working

and living in Bratislava for a year.

When we first arrived, we started to learn a little Slovak, and I was

Especially excited to learn the word prepáčte, which means, I’m sorry.

I knew I’d be making many mistakes as I learned a new language, a new culture,

A new city … I wanted to be ready to politely apologize.

My first stage of learning how to say prepáčte was to use it the way

I would in the US; that is, all the time.

I apologize to inanimate objects when I bump into them,

I apologize to people who have bumped into me,

I apologize when situations are mildly awkward and I don’t know what to say.

I probably apologize too much, even in the US, but in Slovakia this was magnified,

Because my second stage of learning how to say prepáčte was to

Learn NOT to say it all the time.

My Slovak colleagues in the religion department at the bilingual high school

Helped me with this and other areas where I was getting stuck on the

Cultural aspects of translation.

They told me that overuse of the word comes across as fake and insincere:

prepáčte is reserved for when you have done something seriously wrong,

are repenting and genuinely asking forgiveness.

“Is there another word for I’m sorry?” I asked, “One that’s less formal and more casual for everyday use?”

“This is what we’re telling you,” they said. “we don’t casually apologize, here! We take it seriously.”

It took some work, but I adapted and got much better at translating

Not only to the new words, but to the new cultural context.

One day I was on a very crowded bus to work and I accidently stepped on the foot

Of a woman next to me.

I made eye contact with her and, with genuine sincerity, said, “Prepáčte.”

She scowled at me, which I figured was appropriate; I’d just stepped on her foot.

When I got to the office I said,

“I think I finally used it correctly” and recounted the story.

One of my colleagues shook his head. “Ohhhhh, Anitčka.

Did you just beg forgiveness from a stranger for walking on a crowded bus?”

“Yes!” I said, “And I’m not going to apologize for it!”

We had a good laugh and decided I would keep trying,

And maybe also try harder not to step on people’s feet.

So, that’s a situation where the people involved have good intentions

Know that there’s a communication barrier and

are trying their best to communicate across it with respect and care.

There are many times when we enter into the work of translating,

The work of communicating, really,

Without that care, without that respect for each other,

And sometimes without good intentions.

There are plenty of examples in history of translation being

used to manipulate or harm.

There are everyday examples of people talking to each other

But not communicating and not connecting,

And language barrier or significant cultural difference isn’t even necessary for this

Failure of translation to occur.

Where is God in this?

How does God enter into the very real messiness of the way we try,

And often fail, to communicate with and be in relationship with each other?

The prophet Isaiah speaks to this with honesty and hope

In the passage we heard this morning.

Isaiah’s relationship with God is depicted as a dialogue:

Isaiah can share everything with God,

including his feelings of inadequacy and frustration,

And know that God is actively listening and will respond.

Isaiah writes about his strong sense of call:

He knows he was called to be a prophet,

And even has a sense that God was forming the gift he’d need to communicate

With kings and leaders from before he was born.

God gave him a tongue that’s sharp as a sword,

Which makes those kings and leaders angry.

Facing that anger makes Isaiah

Wonder if all his work is for nothing,

if he’s actually making a difference and getting through to anyone.

God responds that he is, and that moreover, he needs to widen his audience.

I always laugh a little bit when I read the line, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel,”

Like, maybe God has a wicked sense of humor,

Or maybe that’s Isaiah adding a sarcastic twist to the message as he translates,

But clearly the work Isaiah’s been doing as a prophet up to this point has not been

A light or easy thing.

And now Isaiah is charged with bringing the message to the nations—to outsiders.

“Listen to me, O coastlands,” he says, “Pay attention, you peoples from far away!”

To me, this is a miracle:

That through layers and layers of translation,

Through languages, cultures, distance and time,

We can hear God saying, “Listen up!!”

This is important!

You, both you individually and all y’all, are important to me!

Our relationship is so important that I will

Cross every barrier,

I will translate myself and my love for creation

Through all these means and even into human form

To connect with and communicate with you, with y’all.”

Isaiah speaks truth to power, it is not too light a thing, but God is with him.

John the Baptist points to Jesus, both literally and metaphorically, saying

“Here is the Lamb of God.” Jesus’ first disciples hear this and

connect with the image, the message and the promise they’ve been waiting for.

The writer of the Gospel of John translates not only the words

Rabbi, Messiah, and Cephas, but everything we read in this account

of the Good News: the writer had an audience in mind,

And we’re … not it, and yet here we are, hearing and seeing and tasting

That Good News: it has been translated. It is being translated, still.

God hasn’t stopped communicating with creation.

God is truly present and communicating with us through

Holy Communion and Baptism,

Through the layers of translation we hear in Scripture and the Word proclaimed,

Preached and sung,

And when we pray, like Isaiah prayed in his dialogues with God,

God is there, too, actively listening and responding.

In my experience, the responses aren’t always clear,

But I find assurance in God’s motivation of connection

Based on deep and abiding love.

It is a point of assurance and hope, too, that God chose to be translated

And revealed in Jesus Christ and actively and continually

Chooses to enter into relationship and communication

with all of us and all of creation,

Even though communication and relationship with humans and among humans

Is messy and difficult.

Human metaphors and human experience may be limiting when we speak of God,

But helpful, too:

A good translator is in communion with the content, with language and culture,

And with the audience, both as individuals and as a large and diverse group.

A good translation conveys truth and beauty beyond the limits of the word

itself or the limits of language.

God gives us all many different vocations,

But one of the callings we all share is this one:

To connect with each other,

Across all our differences,

Knowing that we are all made in the Image of God.

It is not too light a thing.

It is really quite difficult.

But even so … Immanuel.

Translated, that means: God is with us.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

Sermon for Sunday, January 12, 2020 – “Signs of New Creation”

Baptism of Our Lord – First Sunday after Epiphany
Haiti Remembrance Service
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Decorah, Iowa
Rev. Amy Zalk Larson

Click here to read scripture passages for the day.

Beloved of God, grace to you and peace in the name of Jesus. Amen.

In her book, A Witness, Renee Splichal Larson reports that when Haitians speak of the earthquake they say, “Everyone lost someone, and some lost everyone … some people lost their entire families, including their houses and whatever future they had planned.” This great loss of life was caused not only by the severe earthquake but by chronic issues facing Haiti after centuries of colonialism and oppression, racism, poverty and climate change.

Today we remember and we lament.

Today we also lament with dear Tabita and her family, with all who grieve Mary Herman, Dylan Delany, Spencer Douglas, Grace Erickson, and those killed in the Ukrainian jetliner shot down over Iran. We also lament over escalating tensions in the Middle East, the plight of refugees, children detained on our southern border, and so much more.

There is so much that is so wrong in our world. We lament and bring this all to you, O God. We long for your saving help; we long for you to make things right.

As we lament and pray, we need to pay attention when Jesus tells how all righteousness will be fulfilled – that is, how things will be made right in our world.

What Jesus says about this in our Gospel reading today is really surprising. Jesus says that he needs to be baptized by John in order to fulfill all righteousness, that his baptism is part of the way that God is making things right in the world. How can that be? How can one baptism make things right?

It appears that John is surprised by all this as well. John also longs for God’s righteousness and justice. Just before Jesus’ baptism he rages against all that is wrong with the world. He attacks the religious leaders saying, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”

John calls people into a baptism for repentance. And he says that Jesus is coming to make things right, that Jesus will come with a winnowing fork to separate the wheat and the chaff and burn the chaff with unquenchable fire. John seems to think Jesus is going to come in a bold, angry way to set things right. Yet just after all that, Jesus shows up to undergo John’s baptism for repentance. When John objects to this, Jesus says, “Let it be so now”, and explains in this way all righteousness is fulfilled.

Instead of coming with vengeance and power, Jesus wades deep into the River Jordan. As he does,

Jesus wades deep into our human condition with all its misery, sin and suffering. There Jesus stands with all of us who are in need of mercy and healing and new life. He takes on our humanity fully and completely, even receiving a baptism for repentance.

And this is just the beginning. Right after his baptism, Jesus is sent into the wilderness to undergo temptation and testing. As his ministry continues he suffers, feels forsaken, and is killed.

In Jesus, God stoops down to meet us where we are, descending deeply into what it means to be human, even unto death itself.

In Jesus, God becomes one with us. God takes on everything that could separate us from God, everything that is wrong with the world. Beloved, there is truly nothing that can separate you from God. God shares in it all with you.

But that’s not all. Jesus also enters into the waters, into the world, to raise up a new creation from the waters of the old. Jesus enters deeply into our world to transform it and all of us from within, to make all things new.

Jesus’ baptism is the beginning of this new creation. In the very beginning, the Spirit of God moved over the waters and God spoke creation into being. So, too, in Jesus’ baptism the Spirit moves over the waters and God speaks a new creation declaring, “This is my Beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.”

These words echo God’s ancient promise spoken of a servant who will bring a new creation not with power and might but by entering human suffering, a promise spoken through the prophet Isaiah, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.”

Jesus, God’s suffering servant, is the one who will bring justice and righteousness, who will make all things new.

God’s new creation has begun in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and is now breaking into our world. It can be so hard to see this, but there are signs and glimpses of it everywhere. We see them in the hope and resilience of the people of Haiti, in the music offered last night in a glorious con- cert and this morning, in the way the Decorah community is supporting Tabita and her family. Here today there are signs and glimpses of God’s new creation in bread and wine and water and in each of us.

We are all drawn into God’s new creation through baptism and holy communion. Through bread and water and the word, God speaks a new creation into being over each of us, saying, “You are my beloved child in whom I delight. Your sins are forgiven. You are raised to new life. I am with you forever and nothing will separate you from my love.”

We are drawn into God’s new creation through these sacraments and we too are made into signs of this new creation for the sake of the world.

As we hear in the prophet Isaiah …5Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretch- ed them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people up- on it and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations,7to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.
We become signs of the presence and promise of God, signs that God is at work to make all things new.

This is how Ben Splichal Larson lived and died – as a sign of God’s presence and promise in the world.

When he died Ben’s family wrote this about him: “As an infant Benjamin Judd Ulring Splichal Larson was wrapped in the arms of God in the waters of baptism, and from those waters his life was an outpouring of love and joy, laughter and play, music and song, in response to God first loving Ben.”

Even as Ben died, he was singing of God’s presence and promise in the world. Even in his death, he helps us to see the new creation that God is bringing about through us for the sake of the whole creation. So today, we lament and we sing. For our Hymn of the Day today we will join the song Ben sang as he died; we’ll join our voices with his as witnesses to what God is doing in Christ Jesus.

Thanks be to God for Ben’s witness.
Thanks be to God for each of us, each of you, who are drawn into God’s new creation through baptism and holy communion.

You too are signs of God’s presence and God’s promise.

You are how God is making all things right, all things new.

Let’s take a moment for silent prayer.

Sermon for Sunday, January 5, 2020 – “No Excuse Sunday”

Epiphany Sunday
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Decorah, Iowa
Pr. Tom Buresh

Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12

So, tomorrow is January 6 which is the day of Epiphany. Today, the Second Sunday after Christmas, is Epiphany Sunday. The word Epiphany comes from Greek and means ‘to show’, referring to Jesus being revealed to the world. It marks a visit to the baby Jesus by Three Kings or Wise Men or Magi. The three Kings, from what I read, represented Europe, Arabia and Africa. Epiphany is celebrated twelve days after Christmas, so thus on January 6.

So, I could go on and on about the facts about Epiphany. In fact, I found ten facts about it that I could share but am not, so you can look them up yourself if you want. Instead, I decided to go quite a different direction concerning the wise men. I have always been amazed about how pastors choose what to talk about from a scripture reading. If I was out in the congregation today and listening to my sermon, I am sure I would be thinking, “Wow, how did he come up with that idea!” Well I did, so this morning I want to talk about what excuses the Magi might have given to King Herod as to why they went home a different way – kind of. Really, I want to talk about excuses in general. In fact, I would like, with permission from Pastor Amy of course, to declare today “No Excuse Sunday”.

(The ushers passed out “No Excuse” signs.)

Yes, I would like to talk about excuses today as we start another new year. You know, all those New Year’s Resolutions everyone makes, well some of you make anyway. It doesn’t take long to find excuses for not keeping them, does it? But for me, after teaching school for 33 years, when I think of excuses, I think of all the excuses I heard for not having homework done or even not coming to class. My favorite is a letter from a parent- Please excuse Jennifer for missing school yesterday. We forgot to get the Sunday paper off the porch, and when we found it Monday, we thought it was Sunday.

Then, when I became a pastor after retiring from teaching, I started hearing excuses for not coming to church. The music isn’t their style. Not a good service time. Kids are fussy in church. Just too busy. Just to name a few. So today, please raise your banner high to help me declare today to be “No Excuse Sunday”. Now, I know that I am “preaching to the choir”, as they say, because all of you are here. But yet, that is exactly why I am preaching to you, because you are here, you are the choir that sings and prays and worships God in church most Sundays. And, YOU are the ones who care about Good Shepherd Lutheran Church! But, most importantly, since other people aren’t here, well, you are the ones who need to carry today’s message to them.

Let me tell you a little story that I love to tell about a little country church about 35 miles southwest of here. It’s the church my wife, Connie, grew up in and we were married in. Anyway, the foundation of the old church was getting bad so it was fix it or build a new one. You know the saying, “build it and they will come!“ Well, they built a new one and people came and came and came. Why? Because the members asked others to come and join them. It wasn’t the pastor, Dan Christensen, who invited them. It was the members who did. I have filled its pulpit a few times and 30-some kids came up to the children’s time.

As you might expect, my message is not just about inviting others to Good Shepherd, although that is certainly part of it. The message is also about the excuses we give for not doing lots of things – like following God’s call to us. So, what’s your excuse? We all have them. Certainly our ancestors in the faith had their excuses. Moses is high on the list. He kept coming up with excuse after excuse as to why he couldn’t follow what God was asking him to do. Who am I that I should go? I am not a very good speaker. What if they don’t listen to me? Oh Lord, just please send someone else!

Or how about Jonah? When God asked Jonah to go preach to Nineveh, Jonah ran the opposite direction to try and get out of it. He ended up in the belly of a big fish before he realized it would have been easier to just do God’s will. Just one more example you may not be as familiar with – Jeremiah was a young boy when he was called by God. Of course, Jeremiah used youth as an excuse. “I’m only a boy, I’m too young!”, he told God. I guess in a way, we can’t blame him. Besides that, the ministry God is calling him to is one that will start with destruction, long before he will get a chance to build, which he does.

So, what is your excuse? What excuse do you give instead of following God with YOUR life? – too old, tired, poor, busy, weak, scared, bashful, depressed, angry, overwhelmed, too …? Ephesians 1:4, which is in the lectionary for today, not for Jan 6 which we used today, tells us that God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. Yes, Moses, Jonah and Jeremiah were all called before they were even formed in the womb. And you know what, so are you and I. God has a purpose and God has a plan for each of us. And, it is a plan that when we say yes to God, Jesus promises to help us along the way. And better yet, promises us an abundant life both now and into eternity.

So, what happens when we say, yes? When Moses finally said yes, he helped to form the 12 disorganized tribes into the nation of Israel. After Jonah rode in the belly of a fish and finally said yes, his preaching was so effective that the whole city of Nineveh repented! And when Jeremiah said yes, he helped guide the southern kingdom of Judah through its exile in Babylon and gave it the vision of a new covenant from God. Yep, here we are, the “choir”. What is God calling us to do? And then, when God calls, and I truly believe God has called or will call each and every one of us, what excuse might you use to stop you from saying “yes” to God? Maybe you need a brother to walk along with you like Aaron did with Moses. Fine, use one! Do you need to ride in the belly of a fish for a while before you say “yes”? Well, go ahead and jump in!

So in closing, as we think back to this past Advent season, it almost seems like someone must have given a “no excuse” sign to several people involved – to Mary, to Joseph, to the innkeeper, to the shepherds, to the Magi. And now today. Today is our turn! Today is our turn to listen to what God has to say to us and then if we become hesitant to follow that call, remember, “No Excuses!”

Sermon for Christmas Eve, December 24, 2019 – “Our Manger Moments”

Nativity of Our Lord
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Decorah, Iowa
Rev. Amy Zalk Larson

Click here to read scripture passages for Christmas Eve.

Beloved of God, grace to you and peace in the name of Jesus – God with us.

This month I’ve seen many Facebook posts with a picture of a manger and the holy family and the words, “The first Christmas was simple. It’s OK if yours is too.” I love that permission to celebrate in whatever way you most need. I pray you experience a simple joy and wonder in worship tonight.

However, I don’t know that I’d say the first Christmas was all that simple. It strikes me as a pretty complicated, stressful situation.

When things feel anything but simple and easy at Christmas – in our country, in our families, in our lives – we actually have a lot in common with Mary and Joseph.

They are young and unwed and yet expecting a child. An emperor wants to count them so that he can tax them more heavily, which means they have to undergo perilous travel at the end of the pregnancy. When they arrive, there is no room for them. A powerful man’s words have created upheaval for common people who’ve had to crowd into the towns in order to be counted. The only place remaining for Mary and Joseph is among the animals; there she gives birth. She has to lay her child in a manger, the animals’ feeding trough.

A manger is no place for a child. As Mary places him there, I imagine that she and Joseph worry:

Will he be warm enough, will the animals wake him, will he be safe? I imagine they feel a fair bit of anger at the emperor for putting them in this situation in the first place. I imagine they long for home.

Yet, the very thing that likely feels most troublesome to Mary and Joseph – their child lying in a manger – that becomes a sign of God’s presence. When the shepherds are told that a Savior has been born for them, the angel says, “This will be a sign for you. You will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” I imagine the shepherds are perplexed when they hear this.

A savior in a manger? Shouldn’t a savior be lying in luxury in a heavily guarded palace?

After the angel and the multitude of the heavenly host depart, the shepherds go with haste to see this thing that has taken place. They find Mary and Joseph and the child lying in the manger. When they see that strange and unsettling sight, a child in a feeding trough, then they know God has shown up – in the last place you’d expect to find God. What likely feels most troublesome to Mary and Joseph becomes a sign of God’s presence.

Conventional wisdom is that we will experience God in peaceful, serene settings. When all seems right with the world, then we’ll know God’s presence.

Yet in Jesus, God shows up through an unwed peasant couple, living under Roman occupation, who are far from home, who have to place their child in a manger.

Things are difficult, messy, and complicated for Mary and Joseph and it is in the midst of the struggle that God is born through them. God enters into the hardship and brings new life for them and for all the world. Love is born, hope is born for them, for us, for you.

In Christ Jesus, God enters deep into what is most painful. This is where we find God – in the manger, among the poor, on the cross, places you’d least expect to find God. God enters into these places to transform our world from the inside, to bring new life from within.

This is where God still shows up today in unlikely, humble and fragile places – in broken bread and wine poured out, in communities of imperfect people, in those the world considers last and least, in our tenuous faith. God is here. And God is present in our own lives amid those things that feel most worrisome and troublesome to us. God is present for you in your own placing a child in a manger moments, whatever they may be. God is there, love is there, hope is born for you even there.

With this promise for us, we, too, can be signs of God’s presence.

Our complicated, messy lives can bear witness to good news of great joy for all people. The good news is that God doesn’t wait until everything is calm and peaceful, but rather comes amidst the chaos to work new life from within it all. Just as God showed up through Mary and Joseph and their manger moment, through us God shows up in courtrooms and meetings, in war zones and hospital rooms, in bedrooms and kitchens, in simple, painful or joyful Christmas celebrations. God is there, God is here. New life is happening for us and through us often where we least expect it.

“Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

This message comes to us tonight as it came to the shepherds long ago.

There is good news of great joy for all people.

Let your song of joy arise. Share in the wonder of this night. God is here.

Thanks be to God.

Sermon for Sunday, December 22, 2019 – “Wake Up and Dream”

Fourth Sunday of Advent
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Decorah, Iowa
Rev. Amy Zalk Larson

Click here to read scripture passages for the day.

Beloved of God, grace to you and peace in the name of Jesus.

Advent is a wake-up call, one we’ve been hearing all month. Yet Advent is also an invitation to dream along with Joseph and the prophet Isaiah, along with God.

Joseph’s story is full of dreams. It starts with a young couple who have hopes and dreams about their future. They’ll have a wedding feast and then live together. Joseph will be a carpenter, they’ll have children. They’ll be respected members of their community because they are righteous and faithful people.

All of a sudden, everything changes.

Mary is pregnant. Joseph is not the father. And Mary is saying the child is of the Holy Spirit. He’s got to assume she must be lying or delusional. What a nightmare.

I picture Joseph up all night pacing, stewing, thoughts swirling, unsure how to proceed. Finally, he decides to dismiss Mary quietly and be done with it all.

Just as Joseph resolves to do this, God’s messenger appears to him in a dream. He assures Joseph that what is happening for him and Mary is not a nightmare – it is the fulfillment of Israel’s hopes and dreams. The angel says, “do not be afraid” to hold on to Mary. She has been faithful. You can be faithful. God will be with you.

This message of promise gives Joseph the courage to take his part in God’s dream for the world – God’s plan to redeem the whole world. He takes Mary as his wife. She bears a son. Joseph names him, adopting him as his own. Joseph can sleep more easily again. Yet, that’s not the end of Joseph’s story.

After the child’s birth, the whole country faces a horrific nightmare. King Herod is threatened when he learns a child has been born King of the Jews. So, he orders the death of all infants under two years old. God’s messenger again appears to Joseph in a dream to tell him his family should flee to Egypt and escape Herod’s violence. They stay there until Joseph learns in a dream that they can return home. Still another dream guides him not to go to the area of Judea, but rather to Galilee.

In the midst of confusion, turmoil and violence, God guides Joseph with dreams and helps Joseph to take his part in God’s dream for the world.

How does what you dream form and shape your life?

Dr. Craig Nessen, professor at Wartburg Seminary, asked this question in a recent presentation.[1]  Nessen points out that what changes us as people are not arguments, but rather what we imagine about ourselves, about others, about the world. It is our holy work, he says, to imagine the dream of God.

We’ve been hearing about the dream of God throughout Advent in the promises from the prophet Isaiah.

God’s dream is that swords will be beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks; that the wolf will lie down with the lamb and no one will hurt or destroy; that the wilderness will burst forth with abundance for all people, all creation; and all will know Emmanuel – God with us.

In Advent, we are called to imagine God’s dream, to let it form and shape us as God’s people. We’re called to open our eyes to how God’s dream is already breaking into our reality right now in Christ Jesus who is, who was, and who is to come.

Sometimes when I hear Joseph’s story, I long for the clarity he got in his dreams. I long to fall asleep and get messages like he did that will help form and shape me. Some people do get dreams like that. I never have.

Yet, all of us are given Christ Jesus, who is Emmanuel-God with us. Christ Jesus is how God’s dream for the world is happening and will happen. Christ Jesus is how God guides us, shapes us, forms us, and how God helps us to take our part in that dream.

Christ Jesus is present today in bread and wine, word and song, in the gathered community. He is here for you today to say what was said to Joseph long ago, “Do not be afraid.” Look at what I am doing for you, through you.

Your life and the world might sometimes feel like a nightmare, you may struggle to sleep, you may struggle to get out of bed. But, Christ Jesus here and God’s dream is breaking into this world. And, you have a part to play in God’s story. This story isn’t just about Joseph, Mary, the angel Gabriel and people who get clear guidance in dreams. It is you and me and all of creation.

Let’s wake up, open our eyes and dream.

And, let’s take a moment to pray.

[1] Dr Nessen asked this question recently during a presentation at the Grace Institute for Spiritual Formation. Learn more about Grace Institute at https://www.luther.edu/grace-institute/.