Joseph gets the message loud & clear

I have been thinking about the angelic appearances in the Christmas story, particularly the angels who appeared to Joseph in 4 separate dreams.

Of course, Mary was not dreaming when the angel Gabriel appeared to her in person! She may have thought she was dreaming, but this angelic appearance was up close and personal!

I love this painting by Nigerian artist Paul Woelfel. It’s fun to see how Woelfel depicts the angel appearing to the virgin Mary.

This painting is featured in a book of Advent devotions by my long-time friend Carolyn Butler. Her book is titled “Under African Skies,” and comes out of her experiences as a 50-year missionary in the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa.

(Have your ever seen a painting featuring an African virgin Mary and a black angel Gabriel?)

Notice Mary’s corn-rowed hair. Look at the heavenly light encircling Mary’s head, reflecting her bronze skin. Look at how artist Woelfel has Mary pointing to herself with one hand, with something of a “Who, me?” gesture. But notice how her other hand already is raised in apparent humble acceptance as she prepares to receive the message given to her on a forked stick by the kneeling angel. The message is so precious the angel Gabriel dare not touch it. See how the angel has removed his sandals in Mary’s presence? He is on sacred ground, and he knows it!

Though I have read the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke’s accounts of the Christmas story many times, one detail popped out to me this morning. An angel appeared to Joseph in 4 separate dreams.

In the first dream, an angel told Joseph to take Mary as his wife.

In a second dream, an angel told Joseph to take Mary and the baby Jesus and immediately flee from Bethlehem to Egypt.

In a third dream, an angel appears and tells Joseph it was safe to return to the land of Israel.

And finally, in a fourth dream, an angel appears to Joseph and tells him to return to the district of Galilee and specifically the town of Nazareth.

Each time, Joseph does exactly what the angels says.

I have read enough stories to believe there is no question that God used dreams and angels to make his message to Joseph absolutely clear.

And I think he can do the same for us, too.

Still, most of my dreams I don’t remember. They seem mostly convoluted.

The dreams I do remember often seem to have strange circumstances with meanings, if any, that are weird and baffling, and well, ridiculous. The other day I dreamed I was the head basketball coach in a nearby small town. We were playing in the state championship game. Because of the pandemic, we couldn’t use a gym. So the state high school officials decided the game would be played in a nearby restaurant, since the restaurant was closed too because of the pandemic.

And there were no baskets. All the tables had been pushed against the walls. During the warm-ups, I told my team to not worry about having baskets. “Just do your best, play hard and have fun,” I said. They all just nodded.

Their parents were puzzled and were screaming at me, saying, “Coach, you can’t play a state championship basketball game in a restaurant. This is ridiculous. And how can you play without baskets?”

I was very calm and simply responded, “I didn’t set up the venue. It is what it is, folks. Don’t worry about it. It will all work out.”

And then I woke up.

I once had a guy tell me to keep a pad and pen on my bed stand so that if I awoke from a specific dream I could write it down immediately and the ponder its meaning.

Joseph had 4 clear dreams with 4 angelic visitations.

Do you think God has ever used dreams in your life, or in the life of those you love, in meaningful ways?

What was that like for you? I’d love to hear about a dream you had in which you felt God spoke to you.