By Pamela Lewis
A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew 2:13-23
13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the magi. 17 Then what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20 “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazarene.”
The Gospel of Matthew is full of dreams that serve to fulfill God’s purposes. Jesus’ infancy narratives alone contain five of these dreams, four of which occur to Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father.
Jesus is yet to be born when God first appears to Joseph in a dream, instructing him to not divorce Mary, despite her being pregnant with a child who is not Joseph’s (Matt. 1:18-20). Joseph’s obedience to God prevents Jesus’ being born illegitimate.
The second dream is given to the Magi after their having visited the infant Jesus and presented their gifts. God warns them to circumvent Jerusalem (and thereby Herod) on their return home (Matt. 2:10-12).
In the third, but Joseph’s second, dream, an angel instructs Joseph to escape with his young family into Egypt. Here, mindful of his writing to increasingly marginalized Jews, Matthew quotes from Old Testament Scripture and draws a parallel between this flight into Egypt and Israel’s history, when as an infant nation it went to Egypt, but subsequently was led out of its captivity there (Hos. 11:1). Fulfilling prophecy, God will also bring the infant Jesus out of Egypt after Herod’s death (Matt. 2:15). Warned again in a dream that Herod’s son Archelaus is in Judea, Joseph flees to Galilee, finally settling in Nazareth, resulting in Jesus’ being called a Nazarene.
Jesus began his earthly life under threat from evil powers. Yet the voice of what Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann calls the “Holy Other” spoke in dreams through his angels to Joseph and the Magi to spur them into action to protect Jesus and secure his future. They not only heard the holy voice, but were obedient to it and helped to ensure the Messiah’s survival, which made his salvific ministry possible.
How attentive are you to your dreams? Perhaps God is trying to tell you something.
Pamela A. Lewis taught French for 30 years before retirement. A lifelong resident of Queens, New York, she attends Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue and serves on various lay ministries. She writes for The Episcopal New Yorker, Episcopal Journal, and The Living Church.
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