Life

Fr Gerry McFlynn: Advent is a time for big dreams

The invitation of Advent is to seek the will of God, writes Fr Gerry McFlynn

Mary and Joseph were dreamers who had hope and trust in God
Mary and Joseph were dreamers who had hope and trust in God Mary and Joseph were dreamers who had hope and trust in God

APPARENTLY, when once asked about his future plans, Bob Dylan is reported to have replied: "I'm looking forward to some dreams."

"Excuse me," said the puzzled interviewer. "It says it right there in the Bible," Dylan explained. "Your young men and women will see visions and your older men and women will dream dreams. I'm ready for my dreams."

Good for Dylan for knowing his Bible and the prophet Joel in particular. He's right, of course. The Bible is filled with dreamers and visionaries. And thinking of dreamers brings to mind two celebrated dreamers: Mary and Joseph, two of the main characters in the Advent story, along with John the Baptist.

However, when I think of them, I think also of today's migrant dreamers who are prepared to risk everything in search of a better life. Whether Christian or Muslim and whatever else they may have left behind or lost, they cling for dear life to their most precious possession - hope.

Mary and Joseph's most precious possession was also hope - hope and trust in God. The few references to them in the Gospel narrative portray them as devout people seeking only to do the will of God.

And both have visions. Joseph's vision comes in two extraordinary dreams where he learns from an angel that Mary's child is the Holy One of Israel and that his task is to care for both mother and child.

Mary also has a vision which includes a neighbour in need - her cousin Elizabeth - and so she reaches out to her by staying with her until her time has come. By way of gratitude, Mary prays what is undoubtedly the most intensely political prayer in the Bible, the Magnificat, a prayer about putting down princes from their thrones and rescuing the poor and hungry.

That's the Advent story in a nutshell: saying 'yes' to God.

Bob Dylan, pictured in 1965, told an interviewer he was 'ready for his dreams'
Bob Dylan, pictured in 1965, told an interviewer he was 'ready for his dreams' Bob Dylan, pictured in 1965, told an interviewer he was 'ready for his dreams'

Sadly, our dark times of violence, injustice and greed, blind us to the possibilities of seeking the God of peace. We live in a society saturated with the pursuit of money, celebrity, power, fame, worship of the military - everything, in fact, that is in direct opposition to Gospel values. And this despite the fact that our Advent texts tell us that this is not the will of God and offer us a different way.

Both Mary and Joseph are people of prayer who live in relationship with God. Although confused and worried at first, both are told not to be afraid. So they listen to his angels and say 'yes'. Their bold 'yes' comes from a lifetime of saying 'yes' to God and 'no' to all that is not of God.

These thoughts lead me to ask some basic Advent questions: what is God's angel saying to me? Dare I let God enter and disrupt my life and plans? What makes me afraid? How do I move on from where I am?

The nightmare of our violent times are destroying us - personally, physically and spiritually. We desperately need to dream dreams and see visions if we are to find our way out of this darkness and into that Light.

And this is the invitation of Advent - to seek the will of God. The biblical dreamers invite us to open our eyes even in this darkness, to listen to our angels, to let go of control and to practise saying 'yes' to God and 'no' to just about everything else.

Like Dylan, I too, am tired of the nightmare of violence, injustice and greed. I want a life that offers hope and meaning. That's why, this Advent, I'm looking forward to some dreams.

Fr Gerry McFlynn is a Down and Connor priest and project manager for the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas. He is based in London with the Irish Chaplaincy.