Will We Be Dreamers Or Searchers In 2021? – A Sermon On Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

Flight to Egypt, Sermon, henry Oshawa Tanner, Matthew 2:13-15 19-23, New Year, Future, Joseph, Herod
The Flight into Egypt by Henry Ossawa Tanner - Metropolitan Museum of Art, online collection (The Met object ID 20018739), Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22435347

The Second Sunday After Christmas – Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23 – The Flight to Egypt

We’re three days into the new year, a time of change and transition often marked by the calendar more than the circumstances of our lives or world. Regardless, the 2020 year end reviews are well underway with commentaries, assessments, and judgments. For some, maybe most, “Goodbye 2020,” could just as well be “Good riddance, 2020.” And “Hello, 2021,” could just as well be “You couldn’t get here soon enough, 2021.” We’ve quickly greeted the new year with predictions, wishes, and prayers.

I read it in the news, op eds, and on social media. I hear it in the conversations I have with others and in the silence of my own heart. Will 2021 be different from and better than 2020? I suspect all of us, at some level, are asking and living with that question. 

I don’t know the answer to that question. Maybe it will be. Maybe it won’t be. But what if the answer to that question is less about the year to come and more about us? 

Will we be dreamers in 2021? Or will we be searchers? 

What are you dreaming about these days? What are you searching for?

I am asking two very different questions. Dreaming and searching are not the same thing. They’re two different ways of being in the world. And I think they are often two main ways by with we deal with times of change and transition, interruptions, and significant events in our life and world. And in today’s gospel (Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23) those two ways are embodied and personified by Joseph and Herod. 

Joseph is a dreamer. Herod is a searcher. 

Flight to Egypt, Sermon, henry Oshawa Tanner, Matthew 2:13-15 19-23, New Year, Future, Joseph, Herod
The Flight into Egypt by Henry Ossawa Tanner – Metropolitan Museum of Art, online collection (The Met object ID 20018739), Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

“An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife’” (Matthew 1:20). After that an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in three more dreams. In the first the angel says, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt” (Matthew 2:13). In the second the angels says, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel,” (Matthew 2:20). And in the final dream, after warning him, the angel sends Joseph “away to the district of Galilee” (Matthew 2:22). 

Herod, the searcher, however, sends the wise men to Bethlehem, on his behalf, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word’” (Matthew 2:8). The angel tells Joseph, “Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him” (Matthew 2:13).   

Dreams come to us unbidden, unannounced, unexpected. They bring us something fully new, unfamiliar, unknown. They invite and call us to get up and go where we’ve never gone before and do what we’ve never done before. Dreams initiate us, whereas we initiate searches. Dreams come to us but we go on searches. We only search for that which is already familiar and known – a possession we have lost, the life we used to have, or a goal we have set for ourselves. 

Joseph dreams of a life yet to be revealed. Herod is searching to keep the life he already knows. Joseph dreams about what might be. Herod searches for what was.

Joseph is willing to get up and go, leave behind what he has, and change his life. Herod is afraid, grasping for and holding onto his life, unwilling to change. Joseph leaves home. Herod stays home. 

Joseph is forward looking and open to the future. Herod is backward looking and closed to the future. Joseph has faith in come-what-may. Herod has a belief in the way things are. 

Joseph acts out of concern for others. Herod acts our of concern for himself.  Joseph wants to protect and preserve the child’s life. Herod wants to protect and preserve his own life. Joseph puts himself at risk. Herod puts others at risk. 

Joseph exposes himself to the risky business of life. Herod is in the business of managing the risks of life. 

Joseph is a dreamer. Herod is a searcher. 

I know Joseph and I know Herod, and I’ll bet you do too. They’re not just characters in a story, they’re aspects of ourselves. They are ways of being in the world and facing the future. I’ve been a dreamer and I’ve been a searcher, and I’ll bet you have too.

When I’m a dreamer my eyes, ears, heart, and spirit are open and receptive. I find and discover things about the world, others, and myself that I never knew before. All paths are open and life becomes a daring and holy adventure. I feel safe in the uncertainties, led by the unknowing, and drawn by a goal I did not set for myself. Each day offers the possibility of the impossible.

When I’m a searcher, however, my eyes and ears are closed, my heart is hard, and my spirit is resistant. I stand in opposition to the world, others, and even myself. There is only one way, my way. I set goals for myself and agendas for my life, and no one, not even the Child, better get in my way. There’s no room for surprise, spontaneity, or the possibility of more life. I’m more interested in the ways things used to be than how they might be. I feel afraid, abandoned, angry, and at risk. 

We’re three days into this new year and I wonder, in what ways are you a dreamer and in what ways are you a searcher? 

Dreamers like Joseph are grounded in a reality more real than the illusions of searchers like Herod. It’s the reality of faith, hope, and love. It’s the reality that the future is always better, not because it necessary will be, but because it might be. It’s the reality of Emmanuel, God with us. 

Will 2021 be different from and better than 2020? I don’t know but maybe that’s the wrong question to be asking. Maybe we ought to be looking at ourselves instead of the year to come. Will we, in 2021, be different from and better than how we were in 2020? Will we be dreamers or will we be searchers? 


  1. Thank you for this I liked it very much – I am interested in the way you have divided dreaming and searching though as it seems there much in the Bible about searching as a positive and important part of the journey towards the Lord! I wonder what you think 🙂 Also, If you are interested, I wrote a piece for Epiphany a while back thinking about searching. https://buildingbiblicalbridgeshome.wordpress.com/2019/01/04/epiphany-reflection-for-january-6th/?preview=true

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Andrew, I appreciate your comment and post. The distinction I am making between dreaming and searching is really between being open and closed. Are we open or closed to the unknown, the unexpected, the unimaginable? In the gospel story I see Joseph as the object of the dream, God is the active one, calling and asking for a response. Herod, however, is the subject and active one in his search, and God in Jesus is the object. Herod has set the goal.

      As you point out in your post scripture speaks of searching for God. Yes, I agree but I don’t think it is the kind of search made with a description and last known location so that it’s just a movement from A to B (and I don’t hear you suggesting that). It’s much more a way of unknowing or the dark night.

      Merry Christmas and may God’s peace be with you,

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Martina. I think dreams come to us in lots of ways. Some are the night dreams of our sleep but others are those events, insights, happens that intervene and break in during our waking hours. Either way they come unexpected and unannounced calling and inviting us to something unknown and unplanned for.

      Peace be with you,


  2. This was an interesting sermon, but I was a bit put off by the black-and-whiteness of it. This tendency to see only two paths, often black or white, I think limits our possibilities in many ways: My way or the highway. I’m a good version of myself when I dream and a bad one when I search. For sure, Joseph and Herod fill the roles you set for them: in this bit of history, it is very important that they fill their roles as you have described them. But dreamers (like me at times) often let life pass them by. Searchers find and rescue among other things.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Esther, thanks for your insights and challenges. I appreciate the opportunity to think through and hopefully clarify what I was trying to say.

      I agree with you it’s not simply one or the other, it’s always both. I am a mixture of dreamer and searcher. I’m not asking us to judge one as good and the other as bad but to become more aware of how those two ways play out in our lives. One tends to be an opening and the other a closing to possibilities, options, the future.

      Searchers, like Herod, set the goal for themselves. For Joseph, however, the goal was set by another and given to him. That’s not to say that we should never search. Sometimes that’s exactly what we need to do – a lost ring, a missing hiker, a more fulfilling job. But I am not sure that applies to the religious, the spiritual life, the mystic way.

      And you are correct dreams present something and await our response. Sometimes, like Joseph, I get up and go, but other times I don’t. I let it pass me by or i pass it by.

      I think being open to and responding to the dreams (the calling and invitation) are about faith but searches are about good planning and preparation.

      Merry Christmas. God’s peace be with you,

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Dreaming brought me to the point where I am today – searching in longing for the dreams I once had – or better – the daring to dream the dreams I did that set me on the journey to today. Now I find myself grounded in a reality more real than the illusions of what I dreamed of – broken, broken-hearted, lost, and searching for the hopeful, faith-filled, purpose-driven, and truly happy woman I once was.
    I appreciate you holding a mirror for me to see the dilemma I have put myself in – searching for what can never be again – the past instead of dreaming for what God has in store for me next. A hard reflection to find me in at the moment – but a positive goal to work towards in 2021.
    Thank you for this epiphany of sorts. What else will the coming light reveal??

    Blessings to you, Father Mike.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for such an honest and beautiful reflection on your life Erika. Your words reveal an openness – to the light, the new, the as yet unknown. My sense is that Epiphany light/dreams take to new and foreign lands (as it did for the Magi and the Holy Family). You travel by yourself but are not alone.

      God’s peace be with you,

      Liked by 2 people

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