“Those Who Dream … Are Not Alone”
Rev’d. Tanya Stormo Rasmussen
The Congregational Church of Hollis, U.C.C.
20 December, 2020
Advent 4B, ‘Those Who Dream’ series
2 Samuel 7:1-11
If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we need other people in our lives.
As Christians—the faith-filled believers who embrace the Incarnation, the idea that God came to us clothed in our own human flesh and blood, and, as those who are spending these days of Advent watching and anticipating Christ’s coming again to us—it makes sense that we are feeling deeply the pain of not being together.
Because it’s largely through other people that we discover, or are reminded of, Imanu‘el; it’s through fellow human beings that we are reminded or discover that God-is-with-us.
It makes sense for us to notice and reflect on the genuine suffering that’s growing more pronounced the longer we have to stay apart. We need to keep dreaming up new ways of being together, of communicating divine love and presence, especially to those who are hurting profoundly from the effects of isolation.
Which isn’t to say we should abandon caution, because our practices of keeping healthy physical distance and staying masked is a small demonstration of Christ-like self-sacrifice. It’s a gesture of our concern for our neighbors, especially for the most vulnerable. (As we’ve discovered: it’s not always obvious who might wind up being vulnerable.)
And that willing sacrifice of our own comfort or preferences as we move through the world is, in itself, a manifestation of holy love, of God-with-us. Thank God for human minds that have developed the technology we have today, that allows us to meet and “be together” even in remote spaces.
But none of that diminishes the fact that people can die of broken hearts and loneliness despite the technology, whether because it’s not sufficient to meet their needs, or because not everyone has access to it. Without meaningful human connection, our souls wither. Without meaningful human connection, many people have no way of knowing that God is with them.
Both of our Scripture passages this morning bear the Gospel/Good-News message that we are not alone in this life.
David, a man who spent a lot of time communing with God personally, also had a confidant and sounding board in the prophet Nathan, another man who listened carefully for the voice of God. Sometimes, in spite of our deepest desires and best attempts to hear an explicit word from God’s own voice, God answers our questions or concerns through the voice of another human being. And that’s why we’ve got to remain curious and attentive, to remain alert as we’re waiting for God to come to us, to speak to us: because God has a penchant for speaking to us through other people.
Sometimes, as King David had discovered, it’s helpful to share our notions of what God might be saying to us with other people—because there have been plenty of individuals throughout history who have gotten an idea that, to them, seems so brilliant it must be divinely inspired. But sometimes, the visions we see can be more ego-driven than God-given. And in those moments when we can’t personally recognize our own self-interested agenda, it helps to have others to whom and through whom God can communicate with us more persuasively.
That human tendency to self-interest may have been something Mary feared about her own dream. Imagine, for a moment, what it might feel like to be addressed by someone you’ve never seen before with the words, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” And that’s just the prologue. A 14- or 15-year-old girl, with all the bewildering experiences and common identity issues that accompany adolescence, has a vision or dream in which she’s told that despite being a virgin, she will bear a child out of wedlock. That she’s pregnant with God’s own son. That her son will be called Son of the Most High, and that God would give him the throne of their ancestor David.
Of course she was afraid. Of course she thought her grip on sanity might be slipping. Of course she questioned what was seeing and hearing. And yet, her response was, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) How? Why?
I believe it’s because the angel told her, “And your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and in three months, this woman whom no one believed could ever have a baby, will give birth. Nothing is impossible for God!”
There it was—the Good News, the evidence of God-with-us, Imanu-‘el, that Mary needed in that moment. The sacred reminder that those who dream are not alone. God does not impart divine dreams without providing reassurance that the Source can be trusted. Although pursuing God’s dreams can be lonely work at times, God does not bestow isolated dreams; they’re always connected to God’s eternal and universal vision and agenda of love.
Mary departed immediately for Elizabeth’s house—because there, she could test whether she was in fact attuned to God, or whether it was another force at work in her mind. And glory be, the moment the young woman greeted her older relative, Elizabeth cried out to Mary, “God has blessed you more than any other woman! He has also blessed the child you will have. … As soon as I heard your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. The Lord has blessed you because you believed that he will keep his promise.” (Luke 1:42-45, CEV)
It was all there: confirmation that Elizabeth was about to give birth despite her old age. Confirmation that, although she was not yet visibly expecting, Elizabeth sensed that Mary was also pregnant. And, confirmation—from another woman who was devotedly attentive to God’s activity and word in her world—that what Mary had dared to believe was possible, and that what she’d heard from God was true.
And, while it wasn’t part of the lectionary passage that was read this morning (you can read it in the verses immediately following today’s lesson), Mary’s response to the confirmation of all these things was to sing a song of another divine dream. It’s come to be known as Mary’s Magnificat, and paints pictures of the proud, the haughty, and power-hungry being brought low, and of the humiliated being raised up; of the needy being fulfilled and the greedy being sent away empty-handed. It’s a song of defiant hope, of justice being accomplished, of possibilities that may not be realized under the current system operating in this world … but as more and more of God’s people respond with confidence and faith of the sort that Mary and Elizabeth demonstrated—well, for God, nothing is impossible.
What are your dreams—the dreams that seem too big or too insane to talk about? The dreams that demand confidence in a God who can do impossible things? Dreams that bring healing to hurting places in your own heart, as well as in the world around you?
How do your dreams amplify God’s enduring dream of deeper connection with you and me, with all of us—and between all of us as beloved children created in God’s own image? How are our actions, individually and as a community, helping us to realize the divine dream that every individual should know of God’s love for them?
On this final Sunday of Advent, as we make room for the One who—despite being the power that creates universes—nonetheless unthinkably, impossibly, came to us in the awkward, vulnerable, world-altering form of an infant born to an unwed teenaged mother: on this final Sunday of Advent when the world is in the grip of a viral pandemic, as well as pandemics of injustice and ignorance, of greed and fear, let us dare to dream big, bold dreams of all these things overcome. Because the God for whom nothing is impossible knows: we do not dream alone. Amen.