At Christmas we think about the great miracle of God becoming a human, born of a virgin.

But as I heard last week's Gospel from Matthew, the "Christmas" account which features Joseph's dilemma, I was struck by another miracle. For some reason I've often passed it by, probably because there are more Biblical characters spoken to in dreams than children born of virgins. Some might propose a "natural" explanation for his dream's origin, perhaps something like this: Joseph was in a conflicted situation. By all rights he should divorce Mary. On the other hand, he still loved her. Putting her away quietly would be a loving way to handle the matter rather than execute a public divorce. But it would still result in being separated from the one he loved. The dream his mind created resolved the conflict by declaring God's "OK" to go ahead and marry her because the child was of the Holy Spirit. Mary had not been unfaithful after all. Conflict resolved! But of course, this is not how the text explains his decision. Those who accept a natural explanation of the dream are the same gang willing to say that Jesus fed the 5000 by inspiring them all to pull out their concealed sack lunches and share with each other. A bit later Matthew will tell us that Joseph had another dream. This time the angel told him it was safe for him to take his family back to Nazareth. If that dream were of the "wishful thinking" variety, it would have been dangerous advice for Joseph to follow, for wishing does not make something true.

So we are left with what the text leads the reader to conclude – God intervened in the human mind's normal dream process in REM sleep in order to communicate with the dreamer. Science still ponders how and under what circumstances the mind dreams. Some say it is a natural phenomenon designed to protect the mind. Does God insert himself into the dream process today? In an earlier post this year I mentioned the number of Muslims who have been directed to Christian churches via dreams in which God or Jesus spoke to them. Some Christians claim that God has spoken to them in dreams. I would remain skeptical of any dream that presented a teaching which conflicted with Scripture, and Paul's advice is sound: "test the spirits to see if they are from God." Paul's dream of the Macedonian man calling for help offered no new teaching. His experiences once in Macedonia confirmed that the dream was genuinely from God and not from the creative mind of a frustrated missionary. That not many Bible characters received divine communication through dreams should help us maintain a sober expectation about the phenomenon today.