Rev. Kit Billings
January 4, 2004
This morning we celebrate Epiphany Sunday!, as we honor and reflect upon three very special men, the Magi, who were in search of the promised Savior of the world, Jesus Christ. And thanks to God's star in the east, which the Lord provided so beautifully up in the sky, they found Him! And that wonderful star led them to an even greater Light……the One Light that lightens the lives of all men, women and children everywhere—our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who was to them the Holy Babe lying in a manger in Bethlehem.
The three kings were open to the spiritual signs that would take them to the Prince of Peace, and they were willing to travel many miles through dangerous lands to see and worship Him. In so doing they desired to know God more deeply and more personally, and were willing to trust in the great star that lit up their night and day which would lead them to the newborn King. As mainstays of the Christmas story in God's holy Word, the three Magi may very well reflect real aspects of our own inner workings inside of us. These three kingly characters (who are depicted so well by the way in a Christmas card given to the church by Joanna Caldwell and Mike Hays, which is pinned up on our board) reflect the great and royal affections within us that LOVE to UNDERSTAND the Lord and find Him with more than our hearts, but also our minds. The Magi also represent the part of us that would also desire to better understand ourselves as well since they were searchers for Light, and therefore of spiritual truth in general.
Have you bumped into such real and determined affections and needs within yourself lately, which want very, very much to search for God and to know and worship Him in a heartfelt spiritual way? That part of you that will stop at nothing to find the Lord again…and again…and again while your awesome spiritual development takes you to new and greater heights and plateaus of growth in your journey of life…ever encounter such good affections within you?
We are all on an epic journey of our own. Even though you may very well be quite deeply convinced of God's presence in life, isn't it true to say that you find yourself on an ever-moving search for the Lord—to know Him more fully, to love Him more deeply, and to worship and serve Him more consistently during your days on planet Earth?
I LOVE the way the story of the Magi riding on camels through the arid Middle Eastern landscape following their God-given star poignantly connects us each to this special part of our spiritual growth and regeneration--------the truth that we too are “in search of,” as Leonard Nemoy used to say during that good PBS series by the same name. We are each on a vital journey of spiritual development, which is as AWESOME and dramatic as the Bible story itself!
Allow me to speak for myself at this juncture, I am in search of Jesus Christ each year of my life in a certain sense, since I continue to change and grow, and also since He is Divine…..and therefore Infinite Love and Wisdom Itself! There is always more of Christ to be found, more of God's Divine-Humanity to find and explore------in my relationship with Jesus, with others, and in the tremendous exploration of my own heart and mind.
And the awesome story of the three Persian Kings actually finding and experiencing the Christ Child is a powerful reminder that as long as we search diligently for the Lord, and follow the vital stars of truth and knowledge within our church doctrine and theology that can guide us through the dark nights of the soul, then the search brings us all that we really need. Indeed, our searching will bring us to find the Lord in the warmer, more innocent places of life and of the same within our own hearts and minds.
In the historical sense, Bethlehem was a little out of the way place, situated just south from the hustling, bustling Jerusalem. The searching we do for Christ throughout our lives will undoubtedly bring us, too, to unsuspecting places within us and around us…yet it is there, in those special places within you, that the Lord is often found anew, in humble yet blazing love and glory.
The three Wise Men brought the precious gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh—which are accurate and precious symbols of the three vital aspects of ourselves that we need to give to the Lord as we search for Him within deeper levels of our lives. Gold represents our warm, shimmering love for God. Frankincense our aromatic faith in Him, and myrrh the sometimes bitter reality of what it takes for us to bring God's love into life through our daily choices and struggles. As we now start a brand New Year together, the story of the Magi calls you to first of all honor that you have within you the most precious gifts God could ever want, and to always try your very best to follow in the Wise Men's footsteps to bring not just one but ALL THREE of their gifts to the Lord this year—what each one represents that is.
In the Lord's New Church on earth, you're encouraged to take the time necessary to feel and embrace the deep and tremendous wellsprings of golden affection you're blessed with by being a child of God. These are those really, really warm, steady, precious feelings of love that Mr. Rogers may have been able to tap within you, if you were lucky enough to have the pleasure of joining Fred Rogers in his neighborhood of reality and of make-believe on PBS. During my vacation in Iowa this past week, I was blessed to do and experience a variety of things, such as opening Christmas gifts with my lovely fiancée and future in-laws. We played several kinds of card games, watched some movies and football games, and I had the blessing of reading a fantastic new book on the New York Times Best Seller List, titled The Five People You Meet In Heaven, by Mitch Albom.
While watching TV one evening on vacation with Penny, we happened upon a documentary on PBS one night on Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, hosted by Michael Keaton, the actor who played Batman in the late 1980's. This excellent documentary revealed many things.
Fred Rogers was the TV psychologist of children's feelings. He helped millions of children and adults to honor and deal with many of the wide variety of emotions that we have within us, and the important choices we can make with them. He did so well to demonstrate and reveal what a truly caring and loving heart looks and sounds like. He helped millions of children to know that they are loveable and are capable of really loving others, as well as themselves. He honored the great realm of imagination, and used song and lyric to speak easily and deeply to the little boy or girl sitting near their TV set. He was an unhurried, kind, and wonderfully intelligent man who honored the goodness and beauty within everyone. He honored our precious uniqueness, and yet didn't turn a blind eye to the dark side of us either. Instead of doing so, Fred Rogers helped little and big kids alike to work purposefully with the tough and painful side of being a human being and helped us get control of it-------while at other times he just acknowledged the hurt feelings we can have when someone important to us dies, or when our parents divorce, learning that children are not responsible for the end of a marriage.
Mr. Rogers helped us to look at ourselves in the caring and shy little Tiger puppet Daniel, who had no stripes, as well as in the pompous King Friday who loved to control things too much and who's ego needed deep change. And in his own special way, the man with his cozy sweater and sneakers always ended his programs letting us know how good it was to have that time together, again sharing his warm smile and pleasant way of saying, “Thank you for being my neighbor. See you next time!”
As I read our theology, which is depicted so well in the life of Jesus Christ, the fullest goal of regeneration is to bring together inside of a person both the truly warm and loving aspect of the soul with the intelligent, wise side of us. Mr. Rogers was a real example of this I feel—so incredibly warm and good and able to relate with love, but also very smart and keen in how he understood things.
In his own way Mr. Rogers helped us to search for the essence of the Lord inside our own hearts—within the awesome “houses of bread” within us, which Bethlehem represents. Often we can find and understand both ourselves and the Lord within the FEELING-BASED places within us. As you may know, Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister. His mission was to help the children of America to know they are loveable and cared for, and to help them to more deeply understand their feelings and to hear that it's okay to have them. Clearly, in a roundabout way, Mr. Rogers helped us all to search for the living Lord within the little Bethlehems inside our growing hearts. He helped us unearth much more of the spiritual gold, our core of goodness and love, which the Lord has placed inside our souls back when we were little babies too.
On Epiphany Sunday, we can rejoice that God has given us so much SPIRITUAL GOLD to present to the Christ Child. I rejoice this morning in calling you to bring your own, beautiful, heartfelt love for God as you come to His Holy Supper today.
For in this vision of Christianity, in the Lord's New Church on earth, we honor such good and marvelous feelings within your heart throughout this New Year. Yet here you are not only welcome and invited to bring your personal and unique LOVE for the Lord, you are also encouraged to bring growing faith in Jesus Christ, who is “God with us” and among us and inside of us-------your faith being more than your deep trust in the Lord but also your perceptions of high things, your growing understanding of Him and spiritual life. Such faith and understanding brings good smelling incense to your mind, like that of Frankincense.
Also, in this church, throughout the New Year you are welcome to bring your best efforts to live your faith and your understanding in your everyday life, empowered by God's Love at work in you! And in the New Church we understand how bitter it sometimes feels to take your spiritual affections, beliefs and philosophies into our natural world, which is clearly a place of both heaven and hell. We also understand how bitter it can be to allow the Lord's birth inside the natural degree of one's own will and thinking and behavior, since the hells are present in us too from the inheritance we receive from our human family.
The Wise Men who searched devotedly for Christ correspond to the parts of you that want passionately to find the truth—and therefore to find the Lord. They illustrate the spirit in you that loves to worship Him and bring Him gifts in response to your growth in understanding. They represent the spiritual intelligence within you that is willing to go to Bethlehem, the little, backwater places in life and in the human heart where Jesus Christ is often found.
The name Bethlehem means in Hebrew “house of bread.” What more fitting place for One to be born who would be known as the Bread of Life? One day, during His adult ministry, the Lord Jesus fed thousands of people with the lunch of a child. Soon afterward, He taught the people the meaning of the miracle. "There is a bread that endures to eternal life," He said. He Himself was the living and true Bread from Heaven, "which a man may eat and live forever." [John 6] Jesus is the fulfillment of prophecies given hundreds of years earlier. Jesus Christ is the Son of David, born in the City of David—He is the Bread of Life, born in the House of Bread.
The Lord now welcomes you to His table of bread and wine, which represent His Divine body of love and wisdom. As you continue your search for the Lord, let Him nourish you with His love and truth—bring your spiritual gifts to Him too as you remember the One who Redeemed you. Amen.