Growing up in the Midwest, the song “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” never made much sense to me as a kid. We didn’t have to dream about a white Christmas - snow in Chicago was pretty much a given in December! And we had to shovel it off the driveway every time it snowed! (one of the many reasons I like living in the Pacific Northwest) “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” obviously isn’t just about powdery precipitation; the song captures a sense of nostalgia for an earlier period of time when life seemed more picturesque, tranquil, even magical - full of Christmas “spirit.” It’s a good dream. Like a scene in a snow bubble.
And then there’s the Christmas story recorded in the gospel of Matthew. As I re-read the birth narrative of Jesus, it has none of the “feels” of a Bing Crosby holiday tune. It begins with a deeply troubling unplanned pregnancy. The story continues with a frightened and jealous king secretly stalking an infant. A father, mother, and baby are forced to flee as refugees to a distant land in order to escape from the bloodthirsty king. In the meantime, this same king slays multitudes of babies in an attempt to eliminate potential rivals. Finally, there’s more family relocation, as baby Jesus’ parents seek refuge from yet another violent ruler. No angelic choirs singing “Glory” appear in this account. Instead, the story highlights the prophetic fulfillment of mothers weeping like Rachel for her lost children.
This is the Christmas story we are given in Matthew 1-2. No wonder we long for Bing Crosby’s version of Christmas! The “origin story” of Jesus sounds more like a nightmare and too much like real-world news: disrupted families, tyrannical leaders, fearful refugees, victimized children, and weeping mothers. Is this traumatic story the same one that we actually celebrate every December? There may be a disconnect between Matthew’s Christmas story and “White Christmas” nostalgia, but this gritty story reminds us that God comes to us not in a snow bubble but in the real-life strain of a sin-torn world.
Matthew’s gospel may not include dreaming of a white Christmas, but it is literally packed full of dreams. In less than two chapters, there are five significant dreams recorded. At every turn in Jesus’ birth story, God communicates through dreams. During Advent, we will explore the significance of these dreams, and most of all, highlight God’s dreams for us and for the world. Though it comes with a dark backdrop, there is good news in this story. Ultimately, the gospel presents a different kind of dream: a dream of God’s Son named Jesus, born to save his people from their sins; a child named Emmanuel, God with us not from a distance but in the harsh realities of a vulnerable and violent world. Jesus enters our real world to bring real redemption. May our dreams align with God’s dreams for redeeming the world. And may we know the depth of our Savior’s love and the nearness of God’s presence during this Advent and Christmas season!