The Dreams of Christmas

Posted: Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Christmas story is in so many ways the story of dreams. Dreams of expectation, dreams of affirmation and warning, prophetic dreams and dreams fulfilled.

The birth of Jesus was the fulfillment of the hopes and dreams of many generations of faithful men and women, who lived and died in expectation God would send a Messiah to save and redeem his people. God spoke to kings, priests, prophets and holy men and women in dreams and visions. They in turn proclaimed the vision of a people and a world ordered by justice and peace, as in the vision of the Prophet Isaiah that dreamed of the day of the Lord when swords will be turned into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.

Within the scriptural narrative of Christmas itself, dreams figure prominently in the story. In St. Matthew's gospel Joseph, the husband of Mary and the foster father of Jesus was visited three times by an angel of the Lord in his dreams.

The angel warned Joseph because King Herod sought to kill his newborn son, to save his family he must quickly take the child and his mother, leave his native land and flee to Egypt. After the death of Herod, the angel directed Joseph to return home to the land of Israel with the child and his mother.

Although we may not be visited in our dreams by an angel of the Lord, like Joseph, like the prophets and the saints, we continue to be guided and directed by our dreams - our dreams for ourselves and our families, our dreams for our country, our dreams for a more just and peaceful world.

Our country is the embodiment of the dream in the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." In the midst of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln spoke of that dream, "of a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." One hundred years later his words were echoed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who stood before the Lincoln Memorial and spoke eloquently of his dream of equal treatment for Americans of every race, ethnicity and religious faith; of reconciliation and brotherhood between the descendants of slaves and the descendants of slave-owners and of a society that judges a person based not on skin color but on the content of their character.

The American dream is rooted our shared vision of personal and social equality: As a people we believe with hard work, sacrifice and perseverance, any person, regardless of their race, class, gender or ethnicity, whether born in this country or a newly arrived immigrant, can create a good life for themselves and their family. While some may fear that supporting the Dream Act may threaten the security of our country, it is my perspective that supporting the unity of the family will make our country much stronger and more secure.

As I write this column, I am mindful that the U.S. Senate is preparing to vote on the Dream Act. This Dream Act would provide a way for young people, (who were brought to this country as young children but do not have legal immigration status), to earn their citizenship by graduating from college or serving in the armed forces. By the time this article is published, the Senate may have already made its decision. But regardless of the outcome of their vote, it is vital for our society that we act to safeguard the family and work to keep the family together.

During the Christmas season, we remember not only the birth of Jesus but also how the Holy Family sought to do what was best for their infant son by leaving their homeland and settling in a foreign land in search of safety and a better life. Today is no different; each of us are called to do what is best for our families. I think this means doing everything possible to keep families together and to work together to support enactment of laws and public policy that promote the safety, welfare and unity of families.

The angel who came to Joseph in a dream instructed him to do what was best for the child. It is my earnest prayer that in this season of hopes and dreams fulfilled, guided by the example of St. Joseph and led by our dreams, we, as a nation, will do what is best for our sons and daughters.

• Burns is the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Juneau and Southeast Alaska.

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