Rev. Kit Billings
January 8, 2006
Psalm 72:1-4, 16-19
Doctrinal Lesson: Heavenly Secrets n. 9293
By “gold, frankincense, and myrrh” are signified all things of the good of love and of faith in the Lord; by “gold” those of the good of love; by “frankincense” those of the good of faith; and by “myrrh” those of both in moral action and behavior. The reason why the Wise Men from the east offered these things, was that among some in the East there remained from ancient times the knowledge and wisdom of the men of old, which consisted in understanding and seeing heavenly and Divine things in those which are in the world and within creation. For it was known to the ancients that all things in God’s creation correspond and are representative, and consequently have significance. This is also evident from the most ancient books and monuments of the Gentiles. Consequently they knew that gold, frankincense, and myrrh signify the goods that are to be offered to God within living a heavenly life. They also knew from their prophetic writings, which were of the Ancient Church, that the Lord was to come into the world, and that a star would then appear to them.
Have you ever felt really lost in life, lost or wandering upon a long and lonesome spiritual desert where you really were not sure of just who or what or where God is? Perhaps at times, like me, you have found yourself in such a place and state of being when God’s presence, radiance and glory felt distant.
Life is really a great, long and sometimes dark journey, but when we walk it with even a little bit of faith, opening our hearts toward our Creator who loves us and all people as His very own, the journey can become something special. You know, I surely do relate to the great story of the Wise Men traveling from the Far East, following a good yet faint point of light in the sky of my life, toward the promise of something precious, holy and Divine…God, in other words. There was a time in my seminary journey after four months of very, very difficult “sledding” as we say when my training and development were arduous to say the least, which took place after two very nasty betrayals from a couple of folk who I thought really loved me. In short, I was devastated and torn apart, and then came some of the greatest and toughest growth of my life. But through it all, because of what I had already learned by means of God’s Word, I still saw a faint bit of spiritual light in the dark sky of the night, which I trusted. And like the Magi, the Lord led me home—He led me onward, gradually, with hope toward a new revelation of not only who and what He is, but also of who and what I am and can become with the Lord in my life.
Traveling. Promise. And God’s Light helping us to find our way. These are but some of the spiritual meaning I find in the celebration of Epiphany with you today.
This morning we are blessed to celebrate and delve into some of the spiritual meaning in Epiphany Sunday, remembering the great journey, and also that fantastic moment, when those traveling Magi, the Wise Men from the East, finally came upon the infant Christ being held by His mother in Bethlehem of Judah. For today we get to honor one of the real hallmarks of life in this world, life as spiritual beings having an earthbound experience: that life is a tremendous spiritual journey of deep drama, growth, and of being led in many creative ways by our loving God who gives us the truth we need to seek Him, and most of all to find Him in life!
Do you see yourself as a seeker? Do you look upon yourself, and perhaps others, as on an epic spiritual journey? If the answer is yes, then one word of encouragement I have for you is simply, welcome to the club! When we look at the story of God’s people in the Old and New Testaments, not to mention the literal story of God-incarnate in Jesus Christ, we find a real story of people and of the Messiah who were journeyers, who led a life that was often on the go. As we know in our theology of this New Church, the Bible was written providentially by God’s inspired writers in such a way that it conveys both a literal and an inner meaning. That is, your Maker intended from the beginning that you be able to see yourself dramatically imaged by the story in the pages of the Word. And so, given that we find great stories in the Scriptures that show Abram and his family traveling from Ur to the Land of Canaan, and the young tribes of Israel journeying from Canaan down into Egypt and then back into Canaan again, and then back down to Egypt reveals something to us of what we can expect in life. We find in the Book of Exodus an epic story of Moses and the Israelites traveling out from bondage in Egypt toward the Promised Land, and then taking a long detour in the Sinai desert. We find God’s people often on the move, journeying from here to there, and then back again. And we find much later, in the greatest story ever told, the birth-entrance of the Almighty Himself into the arms of a poor peasant Jewish couple, and then again story upon story of people traveling and riding and walking to find their Lord, their Messiah. We see Mary and Joseph journeying from Nazareth down to Bethlehem, and then down into Egypt, and then on northward back into Nazareth to raise their little Jesus according to the Law of Moses.
Yes, SO MUCH journeying is found in the literal story of the Bible. Why do you suspect? Well, that kind of drama is there for spiritual reasons as well as practical and worldly ones (within the historical movement of God working through the Hebews). That active drama is there in part to reflect to us what we can expect to be a part of our own individual experience of living life in this world—that we will be spiritual beings walking a spiritual path, albeit uniquely our own, but certainly one with common elements and dynamics.
You have been designed from the beginning to be a spirit that grows…changes…and moves from here to there within the spiritual world that surrounds and lives within you, which most of the time we are not seeing with our spiritual eyes. In other words, life is meant to be dynamic, moving, ebbing and flowing. We are not made to just STAND STILL, in other words. We were born to travel, to develop, to discover both God and our inward being in new ways, with fresh revelations, with new and astounding epiphanies at times! The Wise Men were truly that, they were wise. And as such they help us to understand that it is good to honor the journey, the winding and amazing roads of our spiritual lives that our God is shedding His Light upon, a Light that sometimes may be felt as just a small point of wondrous Light up in the sky of our spiritual life.
Perhaps more than most church organizations in this world, our denomination, which is but a small part of the Lord’s vast and awesome New Church on earth, honors this important piece of spiritual wisdom. Why do I say that? Because, our doctrine, or rather our wonderful VISION of life, is one that sees that one of God’s highest agendas for us while we live on Earth is that we spiritually regenerate, which is a synonym for spiritual growth or transformation throughout our lifetime. The New Church vision of life sees that this awesome journey of transformation is integral to our salvation, in fact.
Why? Because we are spiritual beings actually, and we enter life being spiritually inverted, with inclinations involving worldliness and materialism and selfishness easily being at the head or top of our concerns, with God and spiritual values and principles about good living on the bottom (or feet, you might say). This is the ancient effect of humanity falling away from our higher potential, and the only way to correct and heal and change that spiritual inversion is through much, much spiritual growth…through a whole lot of spiritual journeying through life.
And so we read in Matthew this morning that “after Jesus had been born…, suddenly some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east asking, “where is the infant king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.” How wise those eastern seekers truly were. They understood, by means of the Ancient Word of the Lord that existed in our world long before Moses entered the scene, that God would be born into our world as the promised Messiah, bringing new and Divine Love and Light with Him to help us in our struggles and temptations.
So by all means, I pray that every one of us this New Year, as it unfolds day by day, will remember and honor this great and powerful truth of life—that we are born to journey, change, grow and discover vital truths and insights about healthy spiritual life in God’s Way as revealed to us through the limitless Light of the Lord’s Holy Word.
The word “Epiphany” by the way is defined as: a. A Christian feast celebrating the manifestation of the divine nature of Jesus to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi. b. January 6, on which this feast is traditionally observed. c. A revelatory manifestation of a Divine being. This final part of my message with you this morning will center upon this amazing word, Epiphany.
The Magi were good people that possessed some of the knowledges of the Ancient Church era comprised of what we know by means of the spiritual correspondence within natural things. They understood, for example, that gold represents the good of love, which is why it was so valuable to them. Long, long ago our ancient foremothers and forefathers possessed these basic principles of life, and were able to understand God’s nature and truths by means of them. But then humanity kept on choosing their downward turn away from loving and serving God first and also one another by means of our desire to serve the Divine, preferring instead self-worship and self-centeredness, which leads into evil, pictured by the building of the Tower of Babel. Balaam in the Old Testament narrative is another example of a person who still possessed the knowledge of spiritual correspondence. As humanity turned away from our loving Creator, they began to use the science of correspondence for selfish means. But God then took away our ancient ancestors’ ability to perceive the spiritual meaning of the forms and symbols of life, so that we would fall into various forms of idolatries, scattering people all over the globe. That ancient event took place, as God essentially confused humanity out and away from a purer way of grasping spiritual correspondence in life, in order to keep us from automatic eternal life in Hell. God’s people scattered, inspiring many forms of paganism to crop up. At their beginning, those pagan nations had much knowledge of the Ancient Word and its deep inner meaning. Clearly there were a few good and wise followers of God whose hearts were essentially in the right place. But over the eons, their grasp of saving truth slipped away, making the spiritual Light they perceived to be smaller and smaller. Yet still a few good seekers remained alive, aware of the Savior, who would come into our world to restore our deeply needed balance, showing us God’s love and truth, enabling us to have our own Epiphanies now and again as we develop.
The Wise Men knew by means of their ancient texts that a special star would appear, revealing the time when the infant Messiah would be born in the Land of Canaan, the land of the Jews. When the Wise Men in the East saw the star, they understood what it meant and were willing to take the long journey to the Promised Land to pay homage to the Messiah and to lay their precious gifts at His feet. They chose their particular gifts because of the spiritual meaning they represent, contained within their correspondence. Part of the reason that the Lord came into our world was to give us sure knowledge about Him and about what true heavenly life is, for us to discover the happiness that only God can give.
Stars correspond to the many, many particular points of Light, of spiritual truth and knowledge about the Lord and heavenly living that can guide us on our way. The Beatitudes in the New Testament, the Ten Commandments in the Hebrew Bible, are but fifteen or so points of Light to help us as we journey through long, sometimes dark, deserts on our way of spiritual growth. Thus, a star was the natural and beautiful symbol of the revelation that God was coming into our world to save us from utter destruction. It was not a material star, otherwise everyone back then aware of the prophecies would have seen it and therefore found the baby Jesus. This was a spiritual star, whose appearance could only be seen by the good and simple people of those who possessed the holy Scriptures (which is why the good-hearted shepherds were able to see the glorious Light of Christ born in Bethlehem) and also by the Wise Men. Both the light and the star were spiritual appearances, and only the spiritual eyes of the Wise Men and shepherds were able to see them. The shepherds saw the Light because they were in simple good states of heart and mind, while the Magi possessed the old traditions and ideas that enabled them to recognize the light of a new day as a far-away star, beaming both night and day.
The shepherds represent those within the church who are good, and the Wise Men represent those outside the church who cherish and live by what little truth they have and are willing to seek the Divine and want to live according to it. The shepherds, of course, had only a short distance to travel, while the Magi had a very long and more challenging way. Thus, without a doubt, people whose hearts are in a good and loving place, typically “find” the truth of the Savior, of Jesus Christ, quite easily. While those whose hearts are struggling with consistent love and innocence, yet who have a rather good bit of insight and intelligence and who have basically good intent in life, may wander a lot, but they also find Epiphanies of Jesus. And they, in fact, are the ones who may squarely understand that a good life is one where we indeed are willing to search for God-incarnate, and that it is vital that we bring our highest spiritual gifts to Him in response to all that He gives to us. And so the Wise Men gave their warm, shiny gold since it corresponded to the highest love of all (which inspires us to put love and worship of the Lord above all else, using God’s love to overcome the selfishness that holds us back); they gave frankincense, since it represents fine, aromatic faith (which wants God’s goodness and truth to dominate our thought-life, putting away useless thinking); and they gave myrrh due to its significance that it reminds us of how vital it is that we offer ourselves obediently to a life according to God’s principles found in His Word.
Our theology reminds us that as soon as a person starts to spiritually regenerate, we start encountering important spiritual battles permitted to come to us as God sees we are ready for them. And therefore, the evils and falsities that have been running our lives (pictured by King Herod ruling in Jerusalem), get stirred up and active about wanting to kill off these knew perceptions we’re having about living life devoted to the Lord. Those evils and their incumbent selfish ways want to keep any new spiritual ways of living from growing and taking over. But the Lord protects our new spiritual ways of seeing and understanding life, pictured by Jesus’ family escaping down into Egypt. Jesus gets raised, early on, down in that region, which represents our need to learn and better understand our new way of life, until those first temptations can be overcome, imaged by Herod eventually dying, letting Mary, Jesus and Joseph return via a dream. And Christ gets raised in Galilee, imaging our need to solidify any new spiritual forms of living with the Lord as our center by working it out gradually in everyday living, where “the rubber meets the road.” And it is often in our daily and outward arenas of living where with the Lord’s Divine help we finally are able to overcome the many evil inclinations inherited from our ancestors, once again putting the service and love of others above ourselves, the way heaven’s citizens enjoy life in spirit. But how truly BITTER those attempts can be of putting God’s love and truth into action, in a world where hurt, pain and hardship are part of our landscape—where it can feel so hard at times to forgive, and have mercy, and understanding of one another.
So there’s the general pattern: we may often find the Lord through some degree of journeying powered by means of some knowledge and truth about God, which is the marvelous star in our sky. And then comes that wonderful Epiphany, the glory of really experiencing the Lord, which inspires our need to give back to Him, the One who actually saves us by transforming our selfishness into love and goodness. And then the Lord sends us on our way, much like the Wise Men, to return to active living using the love and new way of seeing things He gives us via our great experience.
Whether you are more like the simple-hearted shepherds who find the Christ more easily, or whether you are more like the Wise Men who take much longer and more knowledge-centered roads, I am glad that we get to journey through life together—a common people, all needing to find and know the Lord more and more through life. May your current and future epiphanies about our Almighty and loving God lead you onward into more and deeper spiritual regeneration, throughout this New Year ahead.