The surprising number and importance of dreams in the biblical nativity account.
Have you ever noticed how, when you are thinking about something, it suddenly seems to pop up everywhere?
The same was true for me – and dreams.
I approach dream interpretation from a biblical perspective. My belief is that our dreams can come from God, and understanding them is best understood within the context of an ongoing relationship with Him.
Dreams are everywhere
I can still remember the first time I noticed there were dreams in the Christmas story.
It was about 15 years ago, not long after I had taken some training in biblical dream interpretation, and I was pretty new to the idea of dreams being from God.
If I’m honest, I was still a little suspicious. I secretly wondered whether I might be mad and chasing down the proverbial rabbit hole with the whole dreams thing.
I secretly wondered whether I might be mad.
But, then, I had to help at our annual church family carol service, and I was down for doing the talk. As I prepared my message, I pondered over the nativity accounts in the bible, looking for an interesting new angle on an over-done story.
And then… it struck me: Dreams are everywhere!
Dreams are vital to Christmas
In fact, not only are dreams a big part of the story, they are vital to the success of the whole thing! It was an eye-opener. How had I never seen this before?
It was an eye-opener. How had I never seen this before?
Dreams don’t often get a mention in the school nativity play. But they are a wonderful, delightful part of the biblical account. There are angels appearing right, left and centre – and dreams are central to the action.
So, lets take a brief tour of the dreams that are so evident in this much loved Christmas tale – and see what we can learn from them about dreams – and how God could use them in our lives too.
Dream 1: A bumpy start
Mary had already had a dramatic encounter with the angel Gabriel and become pregnant by the Holy Spirit. As a result (and who can blame him), Joseph – her intended husband – wanted to call off their forthcoming marriage. It was at this point that Joseph had this dream:
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”Matthew 1:20-21, NIV
This dream was letting Joseph know that it was OK for him to marry Mary! In fact, it was an honour for him to be chosen to marry her.
Joseph would have known the words of Isaiah (below). So how wonderful it must have been for him to truly understand the meaning of Isaiah’s words: to realise that they were about a literal baby who would be Immanuel, ‘God with us’.
- Isaiah 7:14, NASB Behold, the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and she will name Him Immanuel.
The angel gave Joseph the responsibility of naming the child Jesus. How precious for him to have this personal confirmation that raising the Messiah was his destiny too, not just Mary’s!
The outcome has been the subject of nativity plays ever since; Joseph did marry Mary and followed the angel’s instructions. He was able to protect and support Mary in raising Jesus. He was able to take on the responsibility that was his destiny.
I think Joseph’s dream was pretty important for Mary too. She must have been so worried about being deserted; about being disgraced and left to raise a child without a husband – which would have been extremely difficult at that time in history. But God did not let that happen. He lovingly made sure she was provided for, was affirmed, and had the practical support she needed.
What we can learn about dreams
This dream tells us that God uses dreams to communicate important messages about our purpose and destiny. He uses dreams to bring revelation relating to our life, sometimes about things that nobody else knows yet!
We also learn that angels in our dreams can be real angels. Real encounters with the spiritual realm happen while we sleep. That is exciting! My experience has been that we are much more receptive to the spiritual world while we are asleep. So, maybe Joseph would not have been able to see the angel while he was awake, but he was able to see it while asleep, and hear the message it was bringing.
Dream 2: Danger lurks
We are very familiar with the magi, or ‘wise men’ as they are also known. These men had visited King Herod in Jerusalem, before continuing onwards to find and worship the baby Jesus. Herod was particularly interested in their quest to find this baby who would be the Messiah, so he asked them to report back to him once they had found him. (Matthew 2:1-11, NASB).
After they had visited Jesus, one of them had a dream:
And after being warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.Matthew 2:12, NASB
This was a guidance dream to stop the magi inadvertently putting the baby Jesus in danger. They were directed to take a different route home and not go back to King Herod. The magi listened to the dream and went home a different way.
What followed is a terrible moment in history: Herod took drastic action. It turns out that his intentions were not pure at all; his plan was to kill the baby all along. He was so angry after he discovered that the wise men were not going to help him – that he ordered all the boys in the Bethlehem area under the age of two to be killed.
- Matthew 2:16, NASB Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent men and killed all the boys who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi.
But Jesus survived. Christmas lived on for another day.
What we can learn about dreams
We don’t know what the content of the dream was, or how the magi understood the message; we just know that they took it seriously and appreciated the importance of dreams.
So, we can see that God uses dreams to guide us. And we can see it can be greatly to our advantage to listen and take notice of the messages they contain. Like the magi, we should take them seriously.
Dream 3: The night dreams saved Christmas
Unbenown to them, Jesus and his family were still in grave danger. At this point Joseph received an urgent dream message:
Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to kill Him.”Matthew 2:13, NASB
The dream gave Joseph specific guidance – to urgently flee Bethlehem and take the family to Egypt for a while. The specific direction it contained enabled Joseph to protect Mary and Jesus – and to save Jesus from being killed by Herod. It was so urgent that they actually left in the middle of the night!
The dream also provided Joseph with inside information; he was warned that Herod was going to try and kill the baby. This meant that he could make informed decisions and understand what was going on.
What we can learn about dreams
As in the previous dream, we can see that dreams can contain very specific guidance. But additionally, God gives understanding and explanation so we know why things are happening – and why we are being asked to do certain things.
I find that very encouraging because I also like to understand what is going on. I find that many of my dreams are explaining things I’m going through, so I understand. For me, that is one of the reasons I am so dedicated to interpreting my dreams; I love the inside heavenly information I glean from them.
Dreams 4 and 5: Safely home
There are actually two dreams here:
But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, and said, “Get up, take the Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child’s life are dead.” So Joseph got up, took the Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel…Matthew 2:19-21, NASB
Then after being warned by God in a dream, he left for the regions of Galilee, and came and settled in a city called Nazareth.Matthew 2:22-23, NASB
Those were days without the internet or telephones. Mary, Joseph and Jesus were far from home in Egypt. Joseph was totally dependent on God to help him make good decisions. These dreams gave him inside information and specific direction for the family.
I love how closely God guided Joseph through those difficult years, and I find it inspiring how God used dreams to do it.
He may have had more dreams from God – and more angelic appearances – that aren’t recorded by Matthew. I have a suspicion that the angel was probably assigned to protect their family full time, but Joseph was only able to perceive it in dreams.
And they made it safely home. Christmas survived!
Summary of the Christmas dreams
Here is a summary of the five dreams that we have considered from Matthew’s gospel:
|Bible reference||Purpose of the dream|
|Matthew 1:18-21||Telling Joseph that he should marry Mary|
|Matthew 2:12||Telling the magi not to go back to Herod|
|Matthew 2:13||Telling Joseph to take his family to Egypt|
|Matthew 2:19-20||Telling Joseph to take his family back to Israel|
|Matthew 2:22||Telling Joseph specifically to go to Galilee.|
Of course, there may have been more dreams involved in the story that are not recorded by Matthew.
So, the story has been told; danger was avoided; Mary, Joseph and Jesus survived – and Christmas was saved!
All this because of five dreams and a night escape. Maybe you are also feeling surprised to find out there are so many dreams in the story?
Christmas was saved – through five dreams and a night escape!
We have seen how God used dreams to enable Joseph to see angels and hear the messages they were bringing; He guided the magi. These dreams provided essential information, understanding, and direction – in the midst of difficult circumstances.
Where would the Holy Family have been without them?
- Mary would have been left to raise Jesus on her own.
- Herod would have found baby Jesus and killed him.
- Joseph wouldn’t have known when it was safe to return.
So… dreams saved Christmas… and dreams are most definitely condoned by the bible as a way God speaks to us. And maybe… dreams could be vital in saving your destiny too!
Can you afford to ignore the messages God sends you in your dreams?
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The purpose of this blog is to provide solid biblical foundations for interpreting dreams, change mindsets in the church, and encourage others to make their own dream journey. I am primarily a writer and bible teacher – who loves dreams, and I hope you will be inspired to learn to interpret your own dreams.
It is not currently my aim to routinely engage in dream interpretations or provide training, except through writing blog posts. You can read my most up to date position on interpreting dreams here: Requests for dream interpretations.
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