But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream... (Mt 1:20a)
Reading through the first two chapters of Matthew, I have been struck by the way God spoke to Joseph. To Mary and to Zechariah the angel turns up when they are awake. But to Joseph he turns up in his dreams while he was sleeping.
It made me stop and ponder the faith of Joseph in this situation with a new admiration. How did he know that God had really spoken to him, and he had not just... um... dreamt it!
This was a huge decision for Joseph, and what he had heard was something totally unprecedented in the whole of redemptive history... and God was asking him to believe and obey on the basis not of a waking vision or visitation, but a dream!
I wonder how that would go down today, in this cerebral, empirical-data driven society which can pervade even God's people. How many today would be confident to base a life-changing decision on the basis of an unprovable, totally subjective dream.
Today there is much caution and scepticism of making decisions based on emotions or imaginations. We should not be led by such things they say - and they are right.... but neither should we be led purely by what we can grasp cerebrally from the empirical data. It may be very scientific, very intellectual, very respectable - but where is the faith needed for that? If Peter had waited for the water to become solid, he would have never stepped out of the boat.
What we need to be led by is the Spirit of God. And he will communicate with us, the way he chooses - not necessarily the way we would find the easiest. There is always a requirement of faith whenever God speaks. Those who are waiting for the iron-clad indisputable, totally verifiable word will be waiting a long time!! If God chooses to stir our emotions, we need to be those who have the faith to respond to those emotions. If God stirs our imaginations whether awake or asleep, then likewise we must respond. What matters is not how the message comes, but who sent it. If the source is God then we can be confident no matter how foolish we may seem to the cerebral mind.
God still has miriads and miriads of angels at his disposal. There is no indication that these heavenly messengers all hit the dole queue the moment the Scriptures were completed. That tells me something - God still has a lot to say!
I admire Joseph. Like his namesake in the Old Testament, he learned the power and significance of responding in faith to dreams from God. It was a lesson that was to save his life...
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, 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.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt (Mt 2:13-14)