Those of us who have been privileged to be parents probably have our children’s safety as our number one priority. Consequently as one parent I have particular admiration for Joseph and his decisiveness in protecting Jesus and his mother.
I wonder how much Joseph dreamed before he became engaged to Mary. We just won’t know from the existing historical record but we do know how important dreams were in Joseph’s actions surrounding the birth of Jesus.
First he went ahead and completed his marriage with Mary even though he had learned she was already pregnant. He was convinced by an angel in a dream.
Now he learns in a dream that King Herod seeks to destroy the little one called the King of the Jews by the three wise men.
There is no waffling. He knows he is to go to Egypt with Mary and the child, and he does.
When we made a study of Mary two years ago in Food for Thought, we learned that the Christian church of Egypt venerates a number of sites that by tradition they believe were places the Holy Family lived.
By tradition the wise men brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These probably funded this exile as well as any work that Joseph could pick up as a trained carpenter.
Then in another dream Joseph receives word that Herod has died and it is safe to return. But he learns that a son of Herod rules over Judea and as a safety measure moves to Galilee to Nazareth.
Reflecting on the aspects of this story, I thought it would be helpful to spend some time regarding communication from God.
Traditionally communication from God can come in a vision while we are awake as Isaiah experienced, a dream like Joseph, a direct visit by God or one of God’s angelic representatives like Gideon or Mary, and by prophecy.
These modes of communication continued to be the principal methods in the Early Church and into the Middle Ages in the lives of the saints.
Those of us who’ve seen “Oh God!” or “Bruce Almighty” know that Hollywood at least thinks God speaks through the car radio or in person wearing a very attractive white suit.
But how do ‘real’ people get communications from God today? One way is through scripture. Many specialty bibles and those provided by the American Bible Society often recommend verses to provide guidance or assurance by concern. I would not recommend the following techniques. Closing one’s eyes and sticking a finger in the Bible and take guidance from the verse the finger is on or holding the Bible and letting it fall open.
God can give us a message. Someone or a situation may pop into our minds. It may be accompanied by a directive—give them a call; go to the hospital. Those messages come when we’re not overstimulated by noise or experiencing too much stress.
Sometimes God speaks to us through dreams. When my daughter’s two best friends died in a tragic accident during the Christmas break of their freshman year, she was devastated. Some time later in two separate dreams her friends appeared to her to assure her that they were all right and in the right place and not to worry.
Many times, I believe, God speaks to us through incidents and conversations. We may be troubled and suddenly be provided the answer by a friend’s insights. We receive the consolation of the beauty of God’s creation or the kind act of another.
And finally we receive communications from God while we are in prayer. Meditative and contemplative prayer can offer the best opportunities but we can receive insights when we have offered an issue to God in prayer.
Communication may come some time after we have been concerned about an issue. After all we are working on God’s time in these situations.
We believe as Christians that God is active in history and in the present so we need to pay attention to what God communicates. Jesus is the incarnate God and lives. Wait upon the Lord as the psalmist writes. Wait and listen.