- Written by Kevin Derksen Kevin Derksen
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New Years Eve
On Sacred Journeys: Dreams
Good morning, and welcome to worship on New Years Eve. The last worship service and the last day of the year 2017. Throughout this Advent and Christmas season we have been considering the story and the experience of the Magi who followed a star that signaled to them the birth of a new king. A long and difficult quest to pay their respects and bring gifts to this child whose birth we celebrated on Christmas morning. But what happens when you finally make it to the end of that kind of journey? What happens after you finally find the thing you seek? When it’s time to cross the threshold in the other direction, to start the next chapter and the next year?
At the end of the Matthew’s story about the Magi, they turn and head back home. But instead of a star, it’s a dream that guides them along a different road. And it’s more dreams that guide Mary and Joseph as they desperately try to keep their new little family safe from the threats of a murderous king. Fleeing first to Egypt, and then back to Israel, to Galilee and the town of Nazareth. God speaks through dreams.
But on this New Year’s Eve, we think of other kinds of dreams as well. We look back at the year past, and we wonder at what could yet be. We have made it to the end of this year’s journey, but there is another awaiting us just ahead. A year not yet written, full of possibilities. Open to our dreaming of what could be different. Open also to pain and heartache and griefs that we haven’t yet imagined. But on this day at the edge of the year, we are invited to dream. And to allow our dreaming to be carried by God’s own dreams for us and for all of creation.
I have been captivated all these past weeks by the poems that we’ve read during our Advent candle-lighting. And it seems to me that poetry is perhaps more than anything, the language of dreams. So throughout this service we’ll hear a number of poems that enter us into the dreaming of this story and this year before us.
Light for the Path
Blessing of the Magi
There is no reversing
The path that bore you here
goes in one direction only,
every step drawing you
down a way
by which you will not
You thought arrival
that your entire journey
ended with kneeling
in the place
you had spent all
When you laid down
release came with such ease,
your treasure tumbling
from your hands
in awe and
Now the knowledge
of your leaving
comes like a stone laid
over your heart,
the familiar path closed
and not even the solace
of a star
to guide your way.
You will set out in fear
you will set out in dream
but you will set out
by that other road
that lies in shadow
and in dark.
We cannot show you
the route that will
take you home;
that way is yours
and will be found
in the walking.
But we tell you
you will wonder
at how the light you thought
you had left behind
goes with you,
your empty hands,
your homeward feet,
illuminating the road
with every step
- Jan Richardson
God of endings and beginnings,
As we light these candles we stand on a point between old and new.
We look back at the journey that has come to an end,
And forward to another that is ready to begin.
Give us the grace to make peace with what is
And bold dreams to inspire what may be.
Make us ready to hear your voice,
Whether waking or sleeping
As it calls us down another road.
Warnings and Nightmares
We all know that dreams come in different forms. Not all dreams are lovely and beautiful. Some are challenging and even disturbing. And sometimes dreams can turn into nightmares. Sometimes what we see in our waking hours seems like a nightmare too. The dreams in the second half of Matthew chapter 2 are certainly troubling. They warn of danger, violence and far too much death. Here's the story from Matthew 2, beginning back at verse 9:
When the wisemen had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
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.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 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.”
When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, 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 wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
“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.”
When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “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.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over 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. 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 Nazorean.”
Journey of the Magi
'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins,
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
- TS Eliot
The birth of Jesus wasn’t all gentleness and peace. This is a birth that comes with death. The death of innocent children as the rulers of the world rage in fear. The death of old ways of life as people like Eliot’s magi struggle to figure out who they are in this new world in which Jesus is Lord. And the death that will yet come to this tiny child, untimely and violent. There is much mystery to ponder here.
And yet, the birth of Jesus also opens the way for dreams of beauty in a world crying out for healing. In fact, it’s God’s dream that is birthed in the world as Jesus is born. A dream for salvation, for life, for joy, for prosperity, for relationship and for understanding. We cannot fully comprehend this mystery of life that is promised even in death, but God’s dream does emerge right where the nightmare seems darkest. And so we are also called to share this dream and live it ourselves as followers of Jesus. The dream takes all sorts of different forms through the Bible, but this one from the prophet Isaiah that captures it as well as any.
For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord—
and their descendants as well.
Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
says the Lord.
The Lord God said: I myself will dream a dream within you,
Good dreaming comes from me, you know.
My dreams seem impossible,
not too practical nor for the cautious man or woman;
a little risky sometimes,
a trifle brash perhaps.
Some of my friends prefer to rest more comfortably
in sounder sleep with visionless eyes.
But from those who share my dreams
I ask a little patience,
a little humor,
some small courage,
and a listening heart – I will do the rest.
Then they will risk and wonder at their daring;
run, and marvel at their speed;
build, and stand in awe
at the beauty of their building.
You will meet me often
as you work in your companions who share the risk,
in your friends who believe in you
enough to lend their own dreams,
their own hands,
their own hearts,
to your building.
In the people who will stand in your doorway,
And walk away knowing that they too can find a dream.
There will be sun-filled days
And sometimes a little rain –
a little variety both come from me.
So come now, be content.
It is my dream you dream,
my house you build,
my caring you witness;
my love you share
And this is the heart of the matter.
- Charles Peguy
Home By Another Road
The Year as a House: A Blessing
Think of the year
as a house:
door flung wide
a graced spaciousness
opening and offering itself
Let it be blessed
in every room.
Let it be hallowed
in every corner.
Let every nook
be a refuge
and every object
set to holy use.
Let it be here
that safety will rest.
Let it be here
that health will make its home.
Let it be here
that peace will show its face.
Let it be here
that love will find its way.
let the weary come
let the aching come
let the lost come
let the sorrowing come.
let them find their rest
and let them find their soothing
and let them find their place
and let them find their delight.
And may it be
in this house of a year
that the seasons will spin in beauty,
and may it be
in these turning days
that time will spiral with joy.
And may it be
that its rooms will fill
with ordinary grace
and light spill from every window
to welcome the stranger home.
- Jan Richardson