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Summary: Walking in a dream…surreal, unbelievable…is this really happening? That must have been what God’s people experienced when the captivity was over in Babylon.

1When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. 2Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” 3The LORD has done great things for us, and we rejoiced. 4Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like the watercourses in the Negeb. 5May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. 6Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves. Psalms 126: 1-6 (NRSVA)

There have been a number of times in my life when something was happening that was so surreal I wondered if I was dreaming:

• At 16 being rushed to the hospital in the back of our football coach’s old station wagon – listening to the assistant coach talk about my injury as if I were not present, and how a ruptured spleen could be life-threatening…unreal!

• Standing three years later in front of a Methodist minister and his church flock, saying “I do” in answer to all his questions.

• Sitting in an airplane 9 days after that circling the landing strip in South Vietnam.

• Looking through the thick hospital window at that little wrinkled package – the one with exceptional expertise in projecting her voice when hungry, knowing she was going to come live with us.

• Standing in front of that child some years and piano recitals later, as she said “I do” in answer to all my questions.

• Hearing the first sounds as that child became a mother.

• The sensation of a minister’s hands placed upon my head, and the words of ordination; words that said I must speak for God to men.

• Watching a surgeon stitch me back together after I had done my level best to sever the big toe on my right foot.

Walking in a dream…surreal, unbelievable…is this really happening? That must have been what God’s people experienced when the captivity was over in Babylon. Released from serving in a foreign land, they traveled back to Palestine singing this song of Ascents…The Lord has been good to us! And in the midst of it they cannot imagine being free, being able to go back home. Their prayer turns to the plea of someone who is hoping against hope, thinking, This is too good to be true…is it really true?

The night Mary gave birth to Jesus the shepherds must’ve felt that way. It was surreal that angels from God came to them on the Judean hillside to announce this wonderful news that Messiah had finally come. How could this be? They were nobodies! Nobody respected shepherds – they were poor, not a part of religious society; and frankly, spending days and nights with sheep, they didn’t smell too good either. Why would God give this news to them? It was like a dream.

The night the angels came to them, they were probably engaged in the mundane tasks, chasing strays, keeping warm around the fire, telling jokes, and removing thorns from small hooves. Suddenly there is a man standing before them; he glows! And there is a strange message: GOOD NEWS! Can you imagine the first thoughts, "Good news - here? Give me a break – nothing ever changes. There’s nothing that changes here; there’s only dust, cold winters, endless bleating of these sheep, and death. What do you mean, good news?"

Can this be real? The shepherds had to know if this vision was true. They did what shepherds hardly ever did – they left their sheep and went into town to search for the baby. Dream or not, they had to see for themselves. If it was true, everything had changed.

What’s shown here is a video clip from “The Nativity Story” when the shepherds come to Bethlehem and see the Christ child.

New Line Cinema, © 2007, Rated PG for some violent content

Choose Your Dream or Nightmare

The shepherd approached Mary and the baby with the dream of touching eternity; he drew his hand back in the nightmare of declaring himself unworthy. Mary reminded him that, “He is for all mankind.” Shepherd or king, Jesus was for every person! Everything had indeed changed; everything was new. God had spoken!

It happens time and again on the pages of Scripture and in the life of God’s people. God speaks, and we are called in a new direction; we start out and then look back. Our dream turns into a nightmare because we won’t embrace it.

• It was so with the release from Egyptian bondage. The people made a good start, believing Moses was leading them to the Promised Land; but soon their faith faltered and they went around in circles for forty years in the desert.

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