On January 8, 1940 he handed his secretary the 48 measures of a song he wrote and told her, “I want you to take down a song I wrote over the weekend. Not only is it the best song I ever wrote, it’s the best song anybody ever wrote.”
Originally written as a satire its first verse began with the words: The sun is shining. The grass is green. The orange and palm trees sway. There’s never been such a day In Beverly Hills, L.A. But it’s December the twenty-fourth, And I’m longing to be up north.
You’ve probably never heard that verse. The song’s composer ordered it cut. He was the hit maker of Tin Pan Alley, a Jewish immigrant from Siberia who penned 451 hits. His song was married to the voice of another hit maker of singing for the movie Holiday Inn. The movie has been all but forgotten. But not the song.
It was released four months before Christmas of 1942 and immediately shot to the top of the charts. America was almost a year removed from Pearl Harbor and millions of young American men were serving their country abroad for the first time in their lives and missing their families and homes.
And so a song that started as satire became the standard for all Christmas dreams. A yearning of being where you want to be rather than where you are. A dream of something different than what you know.
Together Irving Berlin and Bing Crosby connected on the song “White Christmas” that still holds third position as one of the most performed songs of the Christmas season. And why not? It has a dream: one for “a white Christmas just like the ones we used to know.” And it has a wish: that all “your days be merry and bright and all your Christmas’s be white.” It was a dream to be home.
Joseph dreamed of home. As a tekton or one who “creates” he worked in wood and stone. He knew a hard day’s work and a small paycheck. (He and Mary will later give the offering of the poor when Jesus is presented in the Temple.)
He came from a ragtag lineage and we know little about him other than what Matthew tells us. But one thing we know. He was a dreamer. As he was thinking about how he would dismiss Mary quietly an angel came to him in a dream.
And what a dream! He is told Mary is with child from the Holy Spirit and he is to name the child Jesus or “Yahweh saves.” He is Immanuel or “God with us.”
And that’s what Joseph needed. Of all people Joseph needed to be saved. His world seemed to be falling apart. He had dreamed of a simple life with a wife and family. (Imagine the whispers he heard at work about Mary’s pregnancy.) His heart was breaking. He needed saving in the deepest way.
And he needed God. Not distant. Not untouchable. Not uncaring. But “with” him. When dreams die our first response is often to blame God. Our first feeling is that he is far away from our cries. We need him near. A God who is with us.
There will be moments when we realize our dreams are not going to happen. But just as God called Joseph, God will call us to a new dream that has been born in a child named Jesus. Like him he dreams of a day when we set sin aside and love our neighbors as ourselves. Like him he dreams of a day we will be with each other in redemptive ways as Jesus was.
And he will watch to see if we obey like Joseph did. Joseph did not weigh his options. He simply obeyed. God’s dream may be costly to us. We will be asked to give grace when wronged. We may be asked to move when we’d rather stay. Following Jesus is all about God’s dream and not so much about ours. We will be called to lay down our dreams and take up God’s.
Joseph never forgot his Christmas dream. May we never forget God’s.