Zephaniah 3:14-17 #101 “O Little Town of Bethlehem” (1st tune—vs. 1-3)
Luke 2:8-16 #104 “It Came Upon The Midnight Clear” (vs. 1-3)
Rev. Kit Billings
December 14, 2003
I'm feeling deeply thankful, and happy, this Advent Season that the Christmas story is more than a tale of annunciation with Angels sharing glad tidings of joy with humble shepherds. Indeed, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and Elizabeth all received personal and profound announcements of the birth of our Savior before the actual event happened at the humble manger scene. But then, all of these people were led by God to EXPERIENCE the Lord Incarnate in order to bring the full and beautiful meaning of Christmas to life.
There are many very, very special ingredients to the Advent Season—such as our tradition of giving gifts to one another, singing Christmas carols, observing holiday lights and Christmas trees, that wonderful Mistletoe, and the list goes on. However, it all would come up a bit short I feel without some kind of personal experience for me of encountering the presence and Spirit of Jesus Christ in my heart.
Have you felt the presence of the Lord, or perhaps one or more of His angels, this season? How about in past Advent seasons?
The first Christmas 2003 years ago is about many things, but it was surely built most deeply upon people and creatures of many varieties (kings, simple shepherds, a young peasant couple, and lowly yet beautiful animals) having their own PERSONAL EXPERIENCE of the Divine-Humanity and tremendous spiritual holiness of the Lord as He entered our lowermost level of life, here on earth, bringing undying hope with Him in His midst.
When I think about the basic nature of God, of our Lord Jesus Christ, the great importance of people like you and me having experiences of what it feels like to be touched and blessed by the light and warmth of God in His Divine-Humanity, it all falls into place. For the holy Scriptures and our theology teach so beautifully that the Lord's essence or nature is Divine Love, and I'm sure you know the only real way to understand what love is, is to FEEL IT and EXPERIENCE IT.
Yesterday, after first spending some good time in discussion about Christmas with our youth, after singing Christmas carols with them at the Brooks View Nursing Home, and then after having some prayer time with God not long before officiating a wedding, it happened to me again—I felt the living presence of the Lord once more. And, there is nothing more wonderful, peaceful and amazing in life for me than being blessed by experiencing Jesus Christ for real…in my heart.
As Swedenborg discussed so well in his theology, there come these times in life when Biblical and doctrinal ideas and stories enable the Lord to lead us from simple truth into living truth, married to the GOODNESS of that truth! Our Lord is essentially Divine Goodness and Truth joined in One—this is what God is. Our theology calls this Love Itself. And it just amazes me what happens to me every time I encounter the Lord by experience each time it happens. A sense of universal “oneness” pervades my heart and mind; connecting with people is a joy, pure and simple; prayer is enormously important…as an opportunity to talk with God. And all of life's seemingly endless pieces and issues fall into place—and trust and faith in God is as easy as blinking an eyelid. And, the importance and soundness of Jesus' name, which means “Jehovah saves”, grows within my mind from a little three inch pine tree into a gorgeous, marvelously odiferous ten foot tall Christmas tree full of soft Christmas lights, tinsel, and other decorations.
Indeed, having your own, living experience of the Lord, just as shepherds and Wise Men did, makes it so plainly clear why the name “Savior” fits so well with the Lord God. For being in the Lord's presence, the deep and pervading holiness of the energy of Divine Love, and feeling what it is to be surrounded and infilled by Goodness Itself makes it completely clear to me…again and again…that the Lord is distinct from me and that He is my Savior because His life and energy can conjoin so deeply and intimately with every fiber of my finite humanity and sense of self.
Then, you see, the theme of the third Sunday of Advent, “spiritual joy”, comes to life for me within the annunciation of the angels to the shepherds watching their flocks by night. Quote: “…for there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Notice the awesome phrasing the angel used, “…for there is born to YOU this day in the city of David a Savior….” From the beginning the Lord was meant to be a personal experience, a true and Divine Friend—Someone for you to feel—the Bringer of deep and saving good will and peace toward all men, women and children everywhere!
I love noticing within the Christmas story in the Bible that both the Wise Men and the shepherds couldn't stand to stop with the annunciation of the birth of the Messiah—no, they were compelled within to go and find the newborn Savior for themselves and see and feel what this miracle was like in the flesh. For truly, as John's Gospel reveals so beautifully in the greatest poetic verse on earth, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not comprehend it. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Charles L. Allen noted in one of his sermons that he lives just around the block from one of our astronauts who was one of the few men ever to walk on the moon. What a thrilling thing it must be even to be so near to someone who participated in this historic event. "The greatest event in human history, however," writes Allen, "was not when a human being walked on the moon. The greatest event in human history was when God became a man."
No wonder these first seekers of Christ had to do more than hear the good news from the heavenly host; they had to go and see and feel the revelation of God in human form for themselves! This, for me, is also why Christmas is never complete until I attend or participate in a service that retells the story of our Savior being announced and then born into our world in the humbleness of the manger scene, wrapped in simple swaddling clothes, visited by gentle farm animals. Every year, for my joy to be complete, I need to hear and experience the full story of the most important news ever told on earth—that Christ our Savior was born in the city of David for our healing and spiritual regeneration, glory to God in the highest! Hearing and singing about God's birth into our flesh is part of how I return each year to that peaceful manger scene with the shepherds and Wise Men.
Our theology reminds us that as we each grow and change through life, God will need to advent or come to us personally numerous times. I never know each year Advent comes whether or when the Lord God may come to my conscious heart and mind. But I have learned to trust in the truth of Advent, that it is within the spirit and goodness of giving to others while I pray that the Lord would come into my inner life, which prepares the way for God's deeper entrance into my heart.
This season is truly about the blessing of giving, because God Himself gave all humanity of Himself the greatest gift we could ever receive—Infinite Love and Wisdom, born into our natural world and into our natural human condition, so that God might reveal Himself to us in all grace and truth! And, so that God might take on and deal personally with the dark and hellish impulses and thoughts that feed into the natural degree of our minds, and overcome them with goodness and truth. Glory to our Savior indeed!
To be sure, the many, many selfish impulses and false ways of thinking we all struggle with at times, the very kinds that Jesus overcame while on earth, are the very sort of temptations people have been burdened with for thousands of years before and after Christ's birth—and this is the “darkness” of which John wrote about in his first chapter in his Gospel.
It is spiritual goodness and truth coming to life within us that saves us, which is God's handiwork at play within us as we live life in step with God's commandments—which enables us to see everything with a deeper, more penetrating light. In one of the All In The Family episodes that aired some years ago Edith and Archie are attending Edith's high school class reunion. Edith encounters an old classmate by the name of Buck who, unlike his earlier days, had now become excessively obese. Edith and Buck have a delightful conversation about old times and the things that they did together, but remarkably Edith doesn't seem to notice how extremely heavy Buck has become. Later, when Edith and Archie and talking, she says in her whiny voice: "Archie, ain't Buck a beautiful person." Archie looks at her with a disgusted expression and says: "Your a pip, Edith. You know that. You and I look at the same guy and you see a beautiful person and I see a blimp.” Edith gets a puzzled expression on her face and says something unknowingly profound, "Yeah, ain't it too bad."
Experiencing the goodness and truth within Christianity, in worship and in daily life, opens our eyes to see more than the inner beauty of others and ourselves, but also the presence and footsteps of the One who saves. Clearly, it is the POWER we receive from the Light of The World, from the Love and Wisdom pouring through the Lord at Christmastime and throughout the coming New Year, which overcomes the darkness inside of every one of us that can blind us to the beauty of God in life. Isn't it wonderful that the Light of Jesus Christ shines triumphantly into the darkness—like outdoor Christmas lights which transform the night!
Experiential Christianity is so much of what it's all about—encountering the Lord in moments of inspiration, understanding life from the Light we find in God's Word, and walking with the Lord each and every day of our lives. This is where spiritual joy is found and felt—knowing and feeling the truth, which sets you free!
May your walk through the rest of Advent help you to further find the baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes, which symbolizes the many simple ways that God's Infinite Love and Truth accommodates into forms that reach your finite heart and mind perfectly and beautifully. Thanks be to God for His greatest gift to us, Himself, born into human form into the loving arms of a simple peasant family in Bethlehem of Judea.