Year A Christmas 1 Matthew 2B
Back to Real Life
A few days after Christmas one year Presbyterian pastor Jon M. Walton was noticing that all the Christmas decorations at one of the local pharmacies had been removed. These decorations already had been replaced with Valentine's Day trinkets and cards. Red boxes of candy, teddy bears with big hearts on them, red candles for romantic lighting. The clerk behind the counter was complaining to another of her co workers, "I hate Valentine's Day," she said. "I never have a boyfriend and I hate Valentine's Day."
Then Walton goes on to comment with these words, "Nothing is as over as Christmas when it's over. The empty boxes, the pretty paper on the floor, the stray tinsel from the tree with which the cat has played and left abandoned on the sofa, the empty cartons of eggnog stuffed into the trash bag. Life has come back to normal, whatever that is, and it means that the diversion of the past few weeks, the frenzy and fuss, the lights and glitter are packed away once again like the star at the top of the tree; taken down and carefully wrapped, padded and protected in its ample box. And what is left? A war in Iraq [and Afghanistan], homeless people sleeping in door stoops, hungry people begging for food, worries about health, kids that concern us, jobs that wear us down. We're back to where we left off before the holidays . . . Like the folks who were left in town after the Lone Ranger had been for a visit, we may ask out loud, "Who was that masked man?" Or better said, "Who was that babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, left lying in a manger?"
Well, we haven't moved that far from Christmas yet. We're just one day away from celebrating Christ's birth. But there is the inevitable letdown. So much was packed into the four weeks of Advent. We can talk about keeping Christmas all year long, but who could handle it? We don't want the clogged streets around the mall all year. And who could maintain the pace of eating? In fact, many of us are already planning our diets to begin January 2.
Actually, we need a little respite from all the busyness, don't we? Mary and Joseph weren't allowed to reside permanently in Bethlehem and neither can we. It's back to the real world...
One-third of our lives is spent not having any idea what we are doing.
Why? Because we are sleeping.
Sleeping is required by every creature with even the most rudimentary or remedial brain stem. Yet we really don’t understand why we sleep or what sleep is for.
All we really know about sleep is that if deprived of it for just ten days, we’re dead. That’s right — dead. Three minutes without air. Three days without water. Ten days without sleep. These are the physical limits of life.
Sleep isn’t just a big shut-down, a turn off, The Great Reboot. Sleep has degrees of depth. Sometimes we are all but comatose. Other times we are right on the edges of consciousness. But no sleep cycle is complete until we get a dose of REM-sleep. “Rapid Eye Movement” sleep is characterized by the shifty, darting back-and-forth movement of our eyes and by the electrical brain activity that reveals we are dreaming.
We do not just need to sleep. We need to dream. If we are awakened before we reach REM sleep, there will be no rest of body, no refreshment of spirit. Our bodies are set up to get the deepest sleep as soon as we slip into our sleep mode. But as our sleep progresses, our rested brains require some down time to themselves. That is dream-time.
During REM or dream sleep, our brain pulverizes and paralyzes the rest of us. That is why in our dreams we can jump out of planes, or run away from monsters, or fly off of mountain-tops. All that our sleeping body does is slightly twitch or flinch. Our brains keep our bodies safe while escaping in amazing dreams. Far from being a time-stopped stupor, our mandatory sleep-dream cycle puts us into a heightened anabolic state that promotes good growth and rejuvenation. In other words, a “beauty sleep” is a real thing! Dreaming boosts the immune system, and promotes the optimal functioning of the nervous skeletal and muscular systems.
So yes! You do need a good night’s sleep before the big game.
Long before electroencephalograms told us about our sleep cycles, human beings have known dreams were important. While only a select few may have been “called” to be shamans, or prophets, or seers, we have all been “called” to be sleepers. And all sleepers dream. Every night. Sleepers all dream.
In this week’s gospel text Matthew finds and features the power and promise of dreams...