Sunday, Dec. 18, Advent 4

Isaiah 7:10-16
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
Romans 1:1-7
Matthew 1:18-25

“… an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid…” (Matthew 1:20)

This is the season of wishes… and wish lists. With our inboxes overflowing with advertising and our mailboxes jam-packed with catalogues, we practice the Christmas tradition of gift-giving that started with the Magi. From Black Friday onward, the Christmas season is a parade of possibilities for everyone on your shopping list; great gift ideas and great bargains are everywhere. Those trendsetting Wise Men might not recognize the mania they started, but in our best moments of gift giving, we still seek to bring joy to the hearts of those we cherish.

But if Christmas is about giving, perhaps Advent is about receiving.

In Advent, we receive dreams. Joseph dreamed of a messenger from God proclaiming the fulfillment of the community’s hopes for a Messiah. The dreams of a father-to-be and dreams of the people of God were intertwined and would be inseparably met. Advent has us looking ahead, yearning, dreaming of the reign of hope, peace, joy, and love we know is coming. Advent has us imagining, discovering our own role in that future.

In Advent, we receive instructions. Joseph didn’t write off his dream as mere fantasy, the tricks of the subconscious mind. Instead, he trusted the messenger and trusted the message. He saw the way forward for his troubled family; he understood how his own actions would impact not only Mary, and not only the Child, but the ongoing life of his people. Advent has us listening to the callings that move us forward, the call to righteous–if unexpected and even unpopular–redemptive action in a reactive and retributive world.

In Advent, we receive promises. Christmas is coming! Messiah is coming, the Kingdom is coming. New life is coming, God is coming to be with us always. The promise comes to us through prophet and through gospel and through star and through dream: Emmanuel is coming, to save his people from their sins. To save us from our sins. Advent has us reaching out to touch this intangible gift and believing in this invisible sign, for the substance of our hopes and the evidence of the things we cannot see are at the very heart of God’s promise of salvation.

This week we’re winding down our gift-giving preparations for this season, taping down the final corners of wrapping paper, tying the last few bows. May we find moments of silence in the nights ahead, when we can look, and listen, and receive the gifts of Advent. May we look, and listen, and receive the gift of our dreams.

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is an ordained Baptist minister, at-home mom, and military spouse living in South Carolina. She blogs at One Faithful Step.