Dreams and The Christmas Story

December 20, 2010 - 12:03 pm 19 Comments

The Dreams of Christmas- A Homily for Christmas Eve

The Reverend Peter Edward Lanzillotta, Ph.D.

How do the phenomena of dreams connect to the Christmas Story? As I see it, the Christmas Story would be a very different story if you excluded the power and influence of dreams upon its outcome. When we delve into the mythic story, and study the experiences of its archetypal characters, we are shown a series of personal lessons for our spiritual development that are based on the wisdom found in following or heeding one’s dreams. 

We find these instructive dreams early in Matthew’s Gospel. There are four important dreams that occupy a central place in this version of the Christmas story. These dreams reveal the soulful lessons that can come from our Deep Self, or if you prefer, that come from God or from a messenger of God, an angel. Dreams, in this context, reveal what needs to appear; what needs to be given attention, what needs to manifest or what changes are now necessary. Dreams beckon us towards transformation or signal what is creatively birthing or being born spiritually within us.

The first of these four dreams comes to Joseph by way of an angel speaking to him, and that tells him to change his mind about Mary, her baby, and his relationship to them! Quietly, he had already made up his mind that Mary was a disgrace; and he was going to send her off to live as an outcast, or to live with distant relatives. However, this adamant dream shook him to his very core- for you see, it changed his heart …

Its message made him more open, loving and trusting so that he could forget about his wounded pride, and to accept that his purpose in life was to be a dedicated step father who would care for a special child- a savior- a child who would grow to become a teacher, and through his compassion and wisdom, save or teach …

As an adult, he would be able to save his people from themselves- to save or release them from their ingrained ignorance, egotism, and sin. When Joseph awakened from this first dream, he knew the answer to “What child was this?” This conviction gave him a strong sense of certainty and clarity about what he was supposed to do. He would act in a way that went beyond common sense, beyond tribal social customs, beyond patriarchal rules. …

He would act on faith; faith as surrender and as acceptance.

The second dream was given simultaneously to the Wise Men. As you remember, the Wise Men had stopped to see King Herod, and to ask if he had seen the star in the heavens that pointed to the birth of a new, royal child. The Wise men were priests and astrologers who saw, in the revealing patterns of the heavens, signs of special child and the experiences that were to come. Herod was startled. Quickly, he called for his own priests and scribes concerning this event, and they informed him that there was such a prediction in their Scriptures. In Micah 5, there is foretold the birth of a child in the lowly, small city of Bethlehem. There would be born a new kind of leader- a shepherd who would care for and lead his people toward a new way of life. Herod called the astrologers back in, to learn all about the details. He asked them to return to him, and tell him about everything they find out. As the story unfolds, the Wise Men found the child in the manger, there they bestowed their three symbolic gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. That very night, each of them had the same dream; which told them not to trust the motives of the King towards the child, and to returned quickly to their homes by another trade route, avoiding Herod’s henchmen…

Their collective dream was a wisdom dream; they were given insight that discerns and discovers truth from falsehood, sincerity from deceit, and how to delay the King’s actions.

The next two dreams belong to Joseph, and pertain to his role as guardian. Directly after the Wise Men leave, Joseph receives another inspired visitation in his dreams. This time, the angelic instructions declare that he must take his newborn child and Mary to Egypt to escape King Herod’s wrath. Obedient to the dream, Joseph quickly led Mary and the newborn child across Israel, to Egypt. This was a dream where faith becomes protection or deliverance.

In the last dream for Joseph, comes to him after some years of living in Egypt. King Herod dies; Then Joseph receives another angelic visit in his dream that instructs him to return home to Israel. Still fearing for the life of his young son, Joseph balks at this instruction. His desire to protect his child was strong.

So strong that it required another visitation, another dream that assured him of where they could live in safety and security: the small, remote city of Nazareth- away from the new royal threats.

This was a dream of faith expressed as recalling or returning…

Four dreams of faith: Acceptance; Wisdom; Protection; Returning. In the time remaining, I will cover the lessons that could be found in the first two dreams….

Joseph, I believe, is the forgotten, unsung hero of the Christmas Story. He is asked to act in a way no less incredulous than Mary; He was to act confidently in going against all of his cultural training, to follow intently an angelic dream message!

  I  ask: How many of us would or could do this? How many of us would risk a lifetime of social difficulties in order to follow one’s conscience or inner voice?

1 How many of men can go beyond the wounds to our pride, in this case, to care for a woman and her child he knew was not his own? Think about how many serious doubts, and anxieties he had to release so he could let go, “let go and let God,” direct him through his dreams?Excerpts from The Birth Story According to Matthew 

Verse 1:18: Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother, Mary, was engaged to Joseph, and before they lived together, she was found to be with child. (from the Holy Spirit). Her husband, Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just as he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, and said, ” Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him, Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins….

V24: When Joseph awoke from his sleep, he did just as the angel of the Lord commanded; he took Mary as his wife, and the child as his guardian.] 2:1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?” For we have observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage. When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of his people, he inquired of them where this Messiah was to be born. They told him, in Bethlehem…

Herod called for the wise men and learned of the exact time when the star appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem, saying search diligently for the child, then report back to me so that I can go and pay my homage.”


The wise men left, and traveled until they stopped where the star was rising, over the place where the child was. They were overwhelmed with joy. On entering, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And after having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another route. Now after the wise men had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in another dream, and said, ” Get up, and 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 to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod…

When Herod died, an angel of the Lord again appeared to Joseph in a dream, and said, ” Get up, take your child and his mother, and go back into the land of Israel, …but when Joseph heard that Archelaus was on the throne, he feared for his son’s safety. Another dream directed him to live in the province called, Galilee, in a small town called Nazareth.]











In a Whisper and in a Dream

God of our hearts, and the Spirit of our Days:

In the darkness and wonder of this night, we pray that a whisper or a dream will come to our hearts-

A whisper that slips gently past all our harsh skepticism,

And is clothed with the radiance of poetry;

A dream that comes to our hearts, and that plays with our souls, inviting as candlelight, but that upon our awakening to it, contains a insistent glow…

A whisper and a dream that come when we least expect it; where we least expect it; how we least expect it…

A whisper and a dream that attests to hope in a world of uncertainty, to faith in an age of despair, and to love when loving seems too difficult…

A whisper and a dream that is heard and felt in the depths of our being, reaching out to the stars, and warming our souls with its ever-present light…

God of our lives, God of our transformation, and God that waits for us beyond our waking awareness, May our hearts and souls be open despite the season’s darkness, and life’s coldness- open to receive, and to wonder at Your gifts, and to reveal that you are again born in our midst.

Amen. Blessed Be…. So Be It








Pastoral Prayer: On Being Unprepared for Christmas

On this night of nights, when our hearts are a little more open, and the sentiments of the season are heightened, we have to be aware and honest, that we never can be fully prepared for Christmas… If we were fully prepared:

Then every gift we thought about would be bought and wrapped

If we were fully prepared:

Then every one we love would be there; there would be no losses, no one would be left out, there would be no disputes,

nothing hurtful would be said, and harmony would reign through dinner, and even desserts!



Holy One, who is the bearer of all good gifts, and who grants to us the grace of presence among us; We recognize that Christmas is often the most necessary of seasons; Its gift is to remind us each year, that love does not depend on perfection, but on the willingness to risk or reveal our connections.

Holy one, love’s reality, represented in a babe, come and be born in the unready manger of our hearts, and give flesh to the promise of our hopes and dreams… Come to us, even though our preparations are incomplete, and bring healing and the gift of peace into our world.

Come Christmas; Come to us in Love; Come with Hope; Healing; and Peace… Be born of needful grace in our unready hearts,

on this very silent and very holy night … AMEN


Faith can ask many things of us- not the least of which is that we are to trust that God dwells within each of us, or is the Deep Self, and once recognized, (made conscious or made manifest) it has a mission or a purpose for our lives that goes beyond what is comfortable or secure or what you expected, beyond what you want or desire ….

In the second dream, the Wise Men receive a collective dream of guidance or discernment. They are informed through the wisdom of the dream that they need to avoid Herod and not tell him about the child’s whereabouts, and return home quickly.

From this wisdom dream, I ask these questions: Have you ever felt that you have need to drastically change direction? Have you ever received a message about someone you trusted that reveals that their motives are not what they appear to be?

At different junctures and crossroads of our lives, such dreams or compelling messages manifest from deep within us.

They call out to us to transform our lives and turn our loves upside down so we can make a new start. Similarly, we can also receive disturbing messages about someone such as when they are trying to control you, or that he or she has been insincere, shallow, or even malicious!


In my experience, we ignore those inner messages at our eventual peril- whatever insecurity or upset heeding these deep messages might create, it pales in contrast to robbing your soul of its freedom, its full and rightful expression.

As I have found it, the necessities for change, while appearing more difficult, risky and uncertain are far more healthy than remaining wounded or stuck in fears, rehearsing our negativity, or remaining in any of our addictive CO-dependencies.

As I approach this Christmas Eve, I know that the next six months are going to require a lot of faith and courage from me. In my search for usefulness and self reliance, and in my desire for a beneficial expression of my gifts and abilities, I know that I will have to rely on my inner resources, God’s grace, and some unexpected blessings to see me through this year and move me beyond my fears. So like Joseph, I will have to dream, and then follow, doing what is necessary and essential for my life and my soul.

These dreams of wisdom we have can be unsettling and scary. They will require great courage, faith and trust in their new directions. Yet, I believe wholeheartedly that each of us has a star we have to find, a star we have to follow, one that leads us to God, or the inner truths we hold within us.

We dream our dreams at all stages of our lives. Briefly, in childhood, we might dream of gifts, toys, pleasure and the excitement of some adventure. In maturity, we dream of another kind of fulfillment- to answer deeper relational needs or to find solutions for our financial insecurities or as a whole, to know how to compassionately, ethically, and effectively satisfy our inner aches and soulful yearnings so that we have or claim an


Authenticity for our lives- our inner desire for having sufficient faith, and trust so that we can take our next needful steps. We have to make room and time in our lives to dream: We will have to slow down, to be more intentional and allow ourselves to stop and listen, so that we can take the fragments and messages of our dreams and give them power and authenticity in our lives.

As our fearful egos soften, our freeing souls can ripen,..

It becomes our essential task to listen and to commit to these new paths for our lives- paths that lead us towards greater wholeness and integrity, deeper purpose, and lasting peace.

We can learn from Joseph and the Wise Men who listened to their dreams; listened with their hearts to overcome social awkwardness, personal insecurity, and false trust- and then acted faithfully to empower change in themselves and their world.

These dreams of Christmas can be ours, too. May you be blessed and inspired by your angelic visitors within your dreams. May you be graced and impelled to give birth creatively to a holy child that lives within you, so that you will begin to live your lives that allows you to further unfold their deep promise, their truth and their beauty. Amen. So Be It!








Opening Words:

Faith Hope and Love, I offer you this season.

A faith that affirms, a hope that illumines, a love that matters more than anything.

Faith, Hope, and Love, these three… Not as gifts can I offer them, for they are not only mine to give. They are yours and mine to share, humbly, gratefully, with one another.

Fumbling, we hope their promise in our hands,

Faintly, we speak them with trembling words.

Faith, Hope and Love, I offer you this season.

The Rev. Richard Gilbert

Selected Readings:

Messiahs We Need

{… There are Messiahs we want, and there are Messiahs we need: The Messiah we, as humans, most often want is someone who will do it all for us. The ones we need however, are those who will point us towards our own strength– the strength that comes from our sharing, our compassion, our responsible interactions.

The Christmas Story is the story of a God who refused to send us what we wanted, and who opted to send what we needed, instead.

…. In his little book, Psychoanalysis and Religion, Eric Fromm wrote, “God is not a symbol of power over [humanity,] but a symbol of humanity’s powers.” That is really the image of God I have in mind when I speculate on the Christmas Story. It is a story of a God who indeed did refuse to play the part or be a symbol of a God who wields power over us, but that becomes a God who is One with you, as the power of love and life among us. As Christmas beckons, may we all tell the story of a God who refused to do anything more than live among us, and to be like us, sharing the power of love with us..] Widely adapted from The Rev. Stephen Edington Rockland, ME 1981

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