born in dreams
Rev. Jen RudeUniversity Pastor | Pacific Lutheran University
From Matthew 1:18-25
It seems unfair. We’ve barely left the manger and singing Silent Night by candlelight, and now the nightmares come. They come in a dream, but the nightmares are true. Herod is furious. Lacking solid intel but captivated by his own fear, Herod is seeking to kill Jesus. He orders all children in and around Bethlehem two years and younger killed. Murdered. Joseph and Mary take their child and flee to Egypt.
The story sounds more like an action adventure script made for the big screen and less like a poor family desperately crossing a border seeking refuge. The story is told with forward momentum, with barely a pause to look back at the carnage in Bethlehem.
I, too, am tempted to quickly follow the family to safety, without glancing back. I, too, am eager to escape the nightmare and pursue the next dream. But let’s pause in Bethlehem. Perhaps in facing the horror, we might be able to transform the journey from one of escape to one of solidarity with all those who suffer the unspeakable.
We wonder what can we possibly do with such heartbreak. Maybe we avert our eyes, stuff it down, blame those killed, return the violence, numb out. The writer of Matthew is also at a loss for words and instead borrows from Jeremiah:
A voice is heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.
This nightmare has happened before. This nightmare happens now. Another mass shooting, the detention center in Tacoma filled with families, environmental destruction, a family living in a tent in Wright Park instead of in a home with heat this winter, a college student who can’t imagine a way forward after sexual assault, and on and on.
It’s become a cliche to offer thoughts and prayers in the wake of tragedy. And yet, as people of faith, don’t we believe prayer does matter?
On campus we’ve struggled with how to respond to such heartbreak that inundates us faster than we can possibly process. So this semester we added a gathering on Fridays during our campus “chapel break.” We call it Prayers for the World. We stand outside each Friday morning circled around a large canvas map of the world, a bowl of water, and leafy plant anchoring the world, and light candles mapping our prayers. The sung prayers name nations of the world and those living as refugees and exiles. Trees and whales, honeybees and mountains are named along with the tribes of Washington. Soloists sing the complicated parts, and all those of us who are gathered need to remember is our refrain, Peace be Yours. Some Fridays it seems celebratory, like “Wow! Urban squirrels are amazing. And I’m studying away next spring in Namibia. Peace be yours, world!” But often it feels more like lament, as in “God, please grant Your peace to our heartbreak.”
Are we changing anything? I don’t know. But I feel changed. More open, somehow.
Matthew’s story reminds us that the God who put on flesh to live among us knowingly enters our beautiful and broken world. To pause, to lament, to pray, to open our eyes and hearts to the beautiful and the broken in our world, in our city, in ourselves, feels like a sacred response. Maybe in this holy pause we can then be open to the dreams of God guiding our next steps.
Dwelling Among Us
Is there a word or phrase stands out to you? What is it calling forth?
Do you encounter God in your dreams? How so? Are there nightmares that God is trying to address? How?
Drop by the Tacoma Rescue Mission or the Nativity House at St Leo church. No need to stay long. Just visit. Become aware of those who are fleeing persecution. Become aware of your own flight to Egypt. Pray this prayer: Emmanuel, born in dreams, come. Transform our dreams for a city of peace for all people into reality and show one thing I can do to participate.