by David Phelps
“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa
Last time, I wrote about Christmas traditions. Another one—at least for me—is watching animated “Christmas specials” like “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Some of the more fanciful ones are based on songs, like “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer,” which is a real song and a real animated Christmas special. These shows tend to be fanciful because of the need to expand a three minute song into half an hour or more of viewing. This past Christmas saw the return of the 1964 classic “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” In addition to Rudolph, Santa Claus, and the other reindeer, the writers added a girlfriend for Rudolph named Clarice; an elf named Hermy, who wants to be a dentist; the dreaded Abominable Snowmonster; and a prospector named Yukon Cornelius. There’s also “The Island of Misfit Toys” who weren’t given away by Santa.
In one particular scene near the end, two of the “misfit” toys are dismayed that they aren’t going to find homes again this year. One, a Jack-in-the-box, says, “I’m going to go to sleep and dream of next Christmas.” The other, a rag doll, replies, “I’m afraid I’ve run out of dreams.” Of course, the next minute, Santa arrives, led by Rudolph.
In Biblical times, dreams, sometimes called “visions,” were given special significance. They were thought to be revelations from God (Dan. 2:27-30). When the prophet Samuel was a boy, “ the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.” (1 Sam. 3:1b ESV). But God spoke to young Samuel one night (1 Sam. 3:2-10). His mentor, Eli, realized that Samuel was a prophet (1 Sam. 3:8b-9a, 16-18). And over time “ the word of Samuel came to all Israel.” (1 Sam. 4:1a ESV). Samuel shepherded Israel through some of its most tumultuous times: War with the Philistines (1 Sam. 7:2-12), the anointing of Saul as Israel’s first king (1 Sam. 9:15-10:27), the subsequent rejection of Saul (1 Sam. 15:10-28), and the anointing of Saul’s successor, David (1 Sam. 16:1-13). When Samuel died (1 Sam. 25:1a), there were still unsettling times but he knew the nation was on the right path.
Solomon wrote, “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint,” (Prov. 29:18 ESV). The phrase “the people cast off restraint” can also be translated “the people are discouraged.” The King James Version renders it somewhat more bleakly: “the people perish.” The author of Lamentations wrote of a time when Jerusalem’s “. . . prophets find no vision from the Lord.” (Lam. 2:9b ESV).
John the Baptist came into a world that had not seen a prophet for a very long time, hundreds of years. He came
“. . . proclaiminga baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1:4b ESV). He proclaimed good news to people who had run out of dreams, who were discouraged and perishing, a message of one who was mightier than he (Mark 1:7-8). He came quoting Isaiah, one of the great prophets of old: “‘“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,”’” (Isa. 40:3a, Mark 1:3b ESV).
Peter declared on the day of Pentecost:
“‘“But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:
‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;’”’” (Joel 2:28, Acts 2:16-17 ESV).
It’s up to us to “keep the dream alive,” the gospel that has been entrusted to us (1 Thes. 2:3-4), the dream of a world of peace, hope, and love. Every new year begins with dreams, that this year will be better than the last, that we will be better than we were. With God’s help, we can make those dreams come true.
“Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.” (Prov. 29:18 ESV.)