Jesus: the Advent of Love, Our Savior
Rev. Kit Billings
December 11, 2005
Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
Divine Love and Wisdom n. 233. I have been told from heaven that in the Lord from eternity, who is Jehovah, that before He assumed a humanity in the world the first two degrees of God’s being existed actually (which are God’s transcendent infinite-divine and His visible presence in Heaven). The Lord’s presence as to its third or “natural” degree prior to His Advent into the world existed only in potential. However, after assuming a humanity in the world God put on in addition the third degree as well, which we call natural, so that He became in consequence a man like any other in the world, yet with the difference that this last or natural degree, like the previous one, is now infinite and uncreated. At birth Jesus’ soul was fully Divine; in people, our souls are created, now and forever. Humans, as well as angels, are finite and created. Indeed, the Divine (which previously filled every space and interval of space in the natural universe) did enter into and permeate even the ultimates of nature. Before His assuming a human form, the Divine inflow into the natural degree was conveyed indirectly through the angelic heavens, whereas after His assuming a human form [through His incarnation] it flowed directly from Him. It was owing to this also that the Sun of the angelic heaven, which is the first emanation of His Divine love and wisdom, shone with a greater radiance and splendor after He assumed human form than it did before He assumed it.
The Season of Advent is a very good and helpful time in my experience, for it allows me to gradually get reconnected with and re-oriented around the spiritual truth of Christmas. This is the time in which we celebrate the actual birth of God Himself into our natural flesh and human nature. I know! “Whoa!!” is my response inside also to that statement. This is extremely deep and powerful stuff here. AWESOME is another word that comes to my mind and heart. The claims and messages of Christmas are as good and as immense as life gets! And for many they are also the most incredulous and perhaps even infuriating claims, that the Infinite, all powerful, Almighty God of life some how some way was born here on earth as a little baby boy.
It is rather amazing to me how good the devils in Hell are at tempting…at whispering…into the ears of human beings to turn away from any great and powerful spiritual truth. The spirits in Hell love this as much as John Wilkes Booth loved assassinating Abraham Lincoln. But the truth is the truth. And God would have the entire universe know that the prophecies of His Advent came true, and with them the best news of all to be sure, which is what we’re getting ready to celebrate with all our hearts come Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Did you know that actually in the last thirty years or so there has been a steady rise among not only the laymen side of our country but also the seminary trained theologians who believe that Jesus must have had two natural and human parents? “How could it have been otherwise,” they say. There are many who just don’t buy the most fundamental and important truths of what Christmas and Christianity are about, and what the Bible teaches us about the internal and the natural life of Jesus Christ. Well, there are many reasons why my soul was drawn toward the Lord’s New Church, and this is partly why I am thankful to be in worship with you this morning and especially to be a minister in our church. For indeed, there were a number of reasons why God called His special servant Emanuel Swedenborg into the important mission he had, which was to see and experience and understand the real or core truths of who and what God is, and therefore who and what Jesus Christ was and is, and why there is so much truth contained within the Bible. For indeed, the Lord foresaw long ago that eventually some within Christianity would begin to stumble over some of its most important and essential truths, as spiritual darkness would begin to take over in life as it did before God came into our world in the fullness of time as the Messiah, “God with us.” And I know that even I find myself hearing those subtle whispers from the demonic people from Hell in the back of my mind, which want to discredit the divinity of Jesus Christ. So if you’ve suffered a bit of late concerning the truth of Jesus Christ, then I hope my sermon this morning speaks truth to your heart and mind.
Whether you have felt the devils lies around you of late, which was a regular part of Christ’s journey on earth to be sure, indeed any time we are exposed to hearing the powerful truths of life and light uttered in God’s Word empowers us on our way. This morning I want to help us to reconnect with the core of Christmastime. I also want to address this morning one very important related spiritual truth, which connects to the overall theme of the third Sunday of Advent…love.
The Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John all start out with a similar focus to them—they each in their own unique way want to convince the reader of the greatest promise from God in the Old Testament coming true. That in the fullness of time Jehovah God, the Almighty, bowed the heavens so to speak and caused a most miraculous conception to take place inside of the womb of a faithful teenage young woman named Mary, who was betrothed in the Jewish custom to a man named Joseph. The faithful writers of these gospels were wonderfully clear about the great truth they had learned and believed in with all their hearts, something that Jesus Himself knew clearly as a boy and a youth. His father was not like any other father who helped to conceive a new life—Jesus’ father was as the Lord’s Prayer says it, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.” Jesus’ father was none other than God-Himself, Jehovah from Eternity, and Jesus was quite aware of this. As we read in Luke’s second chapter, ”And all those who heard Him (Jesus) were astounded at His understanding and His answers. When His parents saw Him, they were astonished, and His mother said to Him, ‘Son, why have You treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for You.’ ‘Why were you searching for Me?’ He asked them. ‘Didn't you know that I must be involved in my Father's interests? (and we must note that the Scriptures reflect that the word “Father” here used begins with a capital “F”) But they did not understand what He said to them.” (vs. 47-50)
The opening chapters of three out of the four Gospels essentially start out with this great revelation. However, once spiritual darkness and evil (evil being all that is passionate about destroying the forms of good in us that can really bring us serious happiness and faith) accumulated to such an overwhelming level within the hearts, minds and lives of people that not only was humanity’s fundamental understanding of and feeling for our loving Creator diminishing beyond recognition, we also were therefore losing touch with what basic love and compassion were! For as both the Bible and our theology state, God is love. And when people readily reject God they are rejecting love and goodness. I’m talking now about those really basic and crucial forms of love and goodness in our hearts and lives such as: husbands and wives being in love with one another and how important it is that they treat one another with support, compassion, love and forgiveness in marriage, while also not giving up on honest truth between them; or how precious and important every human life is, no matter if a person is healthy or sick, part of a religious order or not, or devoted to the traditions and rituals of the religious ways of God in the world—every individual, every boy and girl and every elderly man or woman are precious in God’s eyes, and LOVED. Back then, in Jesus’ day, women were considered chattle or property, and children (especially babies in the Roman world and little girls everywhere) were considered expendable. There was a terrible “us/them” form of thinking and seeing things before Jesus came, whose spiritual tendrils are still very active today throughout our world in racism, cless-ism, and sexism. Righteous killing was still in vogue, sometimes in the form of stoning sinners to death, not to mention crucifixion for anyone believed to be an enemy of the state. But the time had come for God to set the record straight—that love, forgiveness and mercy were the primary principles of the Lord since Love is God’s very being and essence.
These and many other basic and vital spiritual truths of life and how our loving God from Eternity wants us to live and treat each other as precious brothers and sisters forever had been choked out of existence by and large. Spiritual shallowness, apathy of spirit, hopelessness and hatred for one’s enemies had grown too much, and so humanity needed a Savior—someone who could enter this most finite and natural level of life where things had gotten their darkest and steadily take on every form and aspect of evil and falsity the Hells could throw at Him—and instead of giving in to them, resist and turn away from them, in favor of love and the truth which is its mate. This special “someone”, this Savior, would also fill another immensely special use by showing all of us other human folk what being a good person (a soulful and faithful person) is like. We need God’s Light, coming into life through God-in-Christ, to help show us the way of what good living really is. And thankfully, God came here out of His infinite love for us, to be with us and to live like us in our finite human condition. And John’s Gospel reads: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” (3:16,17) Christmas is partly about reconnecting with the foundational and sublime, astounding and breathtaking truths about Jesus our Christ.
And so, Christmas is partially about re-centering our hearts and minds upon this central truth of Christianity—that God Himself announced His coming into our world, into our finite flesh and nature, through the Prophets, and Jehovah Lord used the creative powers of a young woman to conceive a male baby who would be “God with us,” whose name would be Jesus (which means literally “Jehovah saves”). Advent, therefore, is our time to bring ourselves into these awesome mysteries and truths, and to reflect as Mary did upon them. And what joy, peace, spiritual heat, and light do enter us when we reflect upon and hopefully believe these powerful truths. For they remind us that fundamentally, our Lord is the Divine-Human, who has all humanity and our vital pathway of salvation completely well in hand. When we, his children, needed Him most to enter our plight (and life in its most natural degree), He came to us—He revealed Himself to us, showed us “the Way” and redeemed us from bondage to Hell. And this reminds us on a personal level, the level of our daily experiences with spiritual darkness and despair, that we can trust in our Lord to enter our lives when things are at their worst, to come and save us. Indeed, as one of my clergy friends put it so well many years ago, he knows that Jesus has come to save him not once, not twice, but many, many times throughout our life journey. Thus, Jesus was humanity’s Savior back then, and He is my personal Savior every day.
But now let us delve a bit deeper this morning into the nature of Jesus’ soul at His birth, and what it was that was born to the virgin mother, Mary. The Lord’s Word in the Gospels reveals to us that Jesus’ father was the Divine Father, and Christ taught that He and the Father are One. Our theology picks up on these vital truths and helps us to understand even deeper that the simplest way of grasping who Jehovah God (or God the Father) is, is to know as the Bible states that the Father is Love, and Jesus is the Divine-Human revelation of that Love. And this is a truth of great magnitude! While God in His infiniteness is actually beyond our full grasp, there is something real and true we can perceive here, which unfolds within and around us for all eternity—that God, our Father, is actually Divine Love itself, a Person of infinite life, power, and Light. Unbounded, limitless Love and Goodness…this is God’s essence! The Lord is not an angry or wrathful being, but rather a being of pure Love, and THIS is why He is our Savior. Divine Love itself brought Himself inside of a little baby body that He constructed Himself…wove it together inside of Mary’s womb to be the natural housing if you will for the Divine Soul living within that infant Christ. The Bible teaches here that it was the Holy Spirit (the Divine operation of the Father in other words) that helped conceive the baby Jesus, and not Joseph, the man betrothed to Mary.
What this means, you see, is that IN Jesus, Divine Love (or Jehovah Himself) has been made fully accessible to you and me, to everyone forever! Christ is the “Great Lens” through which the Divine pours Himself into this natural degree of life. And as you and I choose to focus and bring our minds upon the Lord, then bingo! God’s saving love is brought easily into our feelings and our grasp. New Church theology is so very helpful here.
The essential element of God that saves people out of our contact with and addiction to any form of evil, self-centeredness, greed or hard-heartedness is being inwardly connected to and in love with Jesus’ Divine Love. For Jesus is infinite Love “advented” or brought into this natural or lowest degree of life. Therefore, He made it possible by means of His own glorification for you and me to have ready access to His saving Love and power every day while we wage war inside with the onslaught of diverse evils and untrue ways of thinking and reasoning that work hard to drive us into so many forms of unhappiness and sin. Finding, feeling, sensing and gradually understanding more and more about the Lord as love, goodness, mercy and wisdom itself is foundational for my gradual salvation in life. As you may well understand already, if we lose touch with a “feelingful contact” with love (which is God), then we are in very, very serious trouble! Love, we know, is the powerhouse undergirding our willingness and inspiration to want to walk a path of goodness, justice, and salvation in life. And as our theology brings out so well within the light of Scripture, it is by working and living within God’s love that literally fuels our spiritual growth and salvation.
And it is Love being felt and flowing within our inner selfhood that does several great things: it creates a warm, lush seedbed within our minds wherein the external truths of life and religion may take root and grow; it enables us to BE spiritually connected with the Lord God (like a branch on a vine), as opposed to being consciously separated from the Lord (like being at arms length with our Creator); and this is a major “biggie” too!, love that is moving and warming us from deep inside actually opens our minds toward God’s Word, especially toward the vital inner meaning flowing inside of the more obvious literal sense; and finally, it is love (instead of truth) that empowers us to fight against the many vicious attacks from the hells that want us to turn and move their way, away from what is good and true. In order for God’s love inside of us to actually win in battle, it does need its “consort truth” to fend off and win, this is true. As you may know, spiritual truth is like a sword that can cut through and gain victory over the falsities that plague us. But without love empowering it, truth is not truth at all—it is lifeless and without the passion to fight for God’s way and direction in life.
The major point here within our marvelous New Church theology is this: love for us humans is PRIMARY, because love is primary in God. It is the essential saving influence within us that gets the job done for our salvation and regeneration.
This brief story shared by an anonymous elementary school teacher illustrates what I mean:
Christmas is for love. It is for joy, for giving and sharing, for laughter, for reuniting with family and friends, for tinsel and brightly decorated packages. But mostly, Christmas is for love. I had not believed this until a small elf-like student with wide-eyed innocent eyes and soft rosy cheeks gave me a wondrous gift one Christmas. Mark was an 11 year old orphan who lived with his aunt, a bitter middle aged woman greatly annoyed with the burden of caring for her dead sister's son. She never failed to remind young Mark, if it hadn't been for her generosity, he would be a vagrant, homeless waif. Still, with all the scolding and chilliness at home, he was a sweet and gentle child.
I had not noticed Mark particularly until he began staying after class each day (at the risk of arousing his aunt's anger, I later found) to help me straighten up the room. We did this quietly and comfortably, not speaking much, but enjoying the solitude of that hour of the day. When we did talk, Mark spoke mostly of his mother. Though he was quite small when she died, he remembered a kind, gentle, loving woman, who always spent much time with him. As Christmas drew near however, Mark failed to stay after school each day. I looked forward to his coming, and when the days passed and he continued to scamper hurriedly from the room after class, I stopped him one afternoon and asked why he no longer helped me in the room. I told him how I had missed him, and his large gray eyes lit up eagerly as he replied,
"Did you really miss me?” I explained how he had been my best helper. "I was making you a surprise," he whispered confidentially. "It's for Christmas." With that, he became embarrassed and dashed from the room. He didn't stay after school any more after that. Finally came the last school day before Christmas. Mark crept slowly into the room late that afternoon with his hands concealing something behind his back. "I have your present," he said timidly when I looked up. "I hope you like it." He held out his hands, and there lying in his small palms was a tiny wooden box.
"Its beautiful, Mark. Is there something in it?" I asked opening the top to look inside." "Oh you can't see what's in it," He replied, "and you can't touch it, or taste it or feel it, but mother always said it makes you feel good all the time, warm on cold nights, and safe when you're all alone. She told me that God’s son, Jesus Christ, brought it with Him into our world long ago on a cold, dark Christmas night."
I gazed into the empty box. "What is it Mark," I asked gently, "that will make me feel so good?" "It's love," he whispered softly, "and mother always said it's best when you give it away." And he turned and quietly left the room. So now I keep a small box crudely made of scraps of wood on the piano in my living room and only smile as inquiring friends raise quizzical eyebrows when I explain to them that there is love in it.
Yes, Christmas is for gaiety, mirth and song, for good and wondrous gifts. But mostly, Christmas is for love—the saving love that Jesus is, that the Lord brought with Him for all to know and feel. Without the Lord’s love growing within our consciousness, saving faith in God becomes a non-existent potential. Faith requires love to be its essential fire and life. All one has to do to really understand this is to read and believe the many passages and stories in the Bible, including their inner sense, that teach us that God is our only Savior, and that we deeply need Him to be in us and we in Him. As Christ said so well, "I assure you: Moses didn't give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the One who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." And also, “’I am the true vine, and My Father is the vineyard keeper. Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me. My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be My disciples.” (John 15 selections)
Unfortunately, Christianity lost its way in various ways concerning love, and that our salvation is truly centered in love being able to join with its truth, moving forth into good action and living, which give it life and fullness. Christians have been taught and still are taught often that it is faith alone that saves us, instead of love from the Lord joining with faithful ways of seeing/thinking, living and being. But the Lord in His New Church came again to set the record straight, and we know now with clarity that “…Faith can nowhere be given but in the life of faith, which is in love and charity.” And also, “Faith is the external of love and compassion, and compassion (or love) is the internal of faith. Faith separated from love is no faith. Faith separated is the light of winter, while faith from charity is the light of spring. They who separate faith from love for the Lord and compassion toward others cast themselves into falsities and evils…. They who do good from faith and not from charity are more remote from the Lord. Simple-hearted people know what saving love is, and they acknowledge it. A loving heart with its kindness toward others ought to rule over faith, not contrariwise. Wisdom, intelligence, and science are 'sons' of love. All truths regard love and charity as their beginning and end, and they are implanted in them. Love for others, which is known to come from God, is the Essential. This charity [given by God] joined with faith, and not faith without charity, saves. (Heavenly Doctrine 3)
Advent is, in part, about the awe-inspiring true story of the Eternal One, who is the Prince of Peace, coming into our world to live and dwell here with us, forever. And Jesus Christ is the Advent of Love, born in Bethlehem, whose victory over evil throughout His life enables us to be blessed with a closeness with Him every day. Without Jesus being born, life for everyone would be an ongoing spiritual wintertime—life would be frozen in inward coldness and evil. But instead, God came here to Joseph and Mary as the rising of the dawn, and with God-in-Christ came a new and glorious warmth and goodness, the core of our salvation. And gradually by means of Jesus’ life choices and glorification, instead of frozen spiritual tundra life here took on the Springtime of the first Easter, as Divine Love with its truth and power rose again from that grave, redeeming us in His Love forever.
A merry Advent to you indeed my friends…and soon, Merry Christmas! Amen.