What Joy Indeed!
(Fourth Sunday in Advent)
Rev. Kit Billings
December 18, 2005
Apocalypse Explained n. 326
Thus is described confession from joy of heart on account of the Lord's advent, and His Divine power in saving the human race. That it denotes confession is evident, for it is first said, “I will confess Jehovah, and also, afterwards, confess Jehovah.” The confession, that the Lord from His Divine power would save mankind, is described by these words, "God of my salvation, I will trust, I will not be afraid, for he is my strength, he also was my salvation. Then ye shall draw waters out of the wells of salvation in that day; great is the Holy One of Israel in the midst of thee." In that day, denotes when the Lord shall come; the Holy One of Israel is the Lord; the joy thence, which is the joy of confession, is described by, “Sing unto Jehovah, cry out and shout, thou inhabitant of Zion.”
Christmas is a time when God came near…much nearer than ever before! For those of us in this world who feel “blank” inside when it comes to God, this statement about Christmas probably doesn’t mean very much. But to those who have even the least little inkling about the astounding meaning of this great truth, it is enough to either inspire total silence within awe, or perhaps the highest joy known to man. This morning, I’d like to talk with you about this immensely important spiritual “stuff” called JOY and why I believe it relates so much to Christmas. Now, obviously, joy and Christmas have long been joined together ever since the angels came to earth and revealed to Mary and the shepherds and told them of the great thing God was doing among them. But there is quite a bit to this issue of joy, and I’m sure what I will share with you about it is but a mere fraction of what could be said. Nonetheless, let us move forward in our reflection time together.
As we reflect together about joy in our Lord, our Savior, let us cover these three vital aspects of it: 1) spiritual joy gets released when we are at peace in the Lord; 2) Christmas delight rises from spiritual salvation invading our self-centeredness (from deeply “getting it” that only the Lord has the power to overcome and defeat the evil influences in our lives and that He makes Himself readily available every day); 3) and, joy gets inspired by my “hope-filled” willingness to get up today and every day and follow the Lord into salvation.
Joe McKeever told the story of a little girl named Rachel. Like many preschoolers, Rachel had a problem waking up in the middle of the night, scared & crying... --The only thing that would sooth her fears was crawling into bed with her mom & dad. But Mom had to go out of town for a few days on business, and that’s when Dad came up with a new solution:
“Rachel, I have an idea... -While Mom is away...suppose I sleep in your room on the top bunk bed?” She thought it was a great idea...and that night, Rachel went to sleep on time. A couple of hours later, when her dad crawled into the top bunk, she was sound asleep...and she slept like that all night. The next morning, her dad congratulated her on a full night’s sleep.
“It’s because you were in the room with me,” she said.
“But how did you know I was there?” her Dad asked. “You were asleep when I came in and you never woke up the whole night.”
Rachel answered: “Because you said you would be there.”
In certain ways, I find, many of us can feel like little Rachel. Scared. Afraid. Anxious about what’s coming next. Christmas is indeed a time when God came much nearer than ever, but I believe it is important never to forget the enormous context in which it unfolded that night in Bethlehem. For hundreds of years before Jesus was born to a poor, peasant Jewish couple the great prophets of Israel had foretold His coming. So, Christmas is partially about deeply letting God imprint His Word within your heart that He never lets us down…He always keeps His promises. In the words of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zecharia and others God told us that He would come here and be with us. He said it, and He did it! And I hope that this truth gives you an eternal feeling of peace and strength inside. It can do so doubly so since joined to those words of the Prophets are Christ’s own words about His relationship with us: “And lo, I will be with you always, until the end of time.”
God-Visible…..or God’s Son if you prefer…...remaining here with you in this most natural plane of life, here on Earth. Protecting you. Supporting you. Comforting you. Blessing you in divinity; pouring His Divine Love around and inside of you; beaming His Divine Light of truth for where you need it. And, whenever our earth-time is up, He is right with us as we die, and need to let go of our sojourn upon this earth. These are what God promised He would do for all people through His incarnation by entering into our world as the promised Messiah. Christmas reminds me that the Almighty Creator of Heaven and Earth loves us all so much that He wanted to enter this plane where He is often rejected, where back then spiritual darkness was reigning. God came near to us. What joy indeed! For as our theology expresses so well, just being in or intimately close with the Lord (who is Divine Love in Human form) inspires joy…and we’re talking joy that’s as high and great as Mt. Everest over in the Himalayas of Southern Asia…all 29,035 ft. of it! The Lord, we might say, is wonder, beauty, holiness, greatness, goodness, Light and truth all wound up into One! This is why the Divine IS salvation—for being intimately conjoined with such a Being and Person makes us the best, brightest and happiest we can ever be. Being in God, and the Lord being in us, allows God to come alive in us……to LIVE in us. Swedenborg describes it this way: there is an “…internal delight from conjunction with the Lord, whence [come] heaven and internal joy. Peace is here as opposed to tribulation, because by tribulation is signified infestation by evils and falsities, which those experience who are in Divine peace, so long as they live in the world: for the flesh with which they are then clothed lusts after the things of the world, whence comes tribulation. Therefore, the Lord says, ‘That in me ye might have peace, in the world ye shall have tribulation,’ and because the Lord as to His Human acquired to Himself power over the hells, thus over the evils and the falsities, which thence rise up into the flesh with every one, and infest. Therefore, He says, ‘Trust confidently, for I have overcome the world.’”
However, God’s Spirit and life can only really conjoin itself to and within us if we work hard daily with Him to grow inside (to grow spiritually), allowing the Lord’s Love to slowly every day change and transform our selfish natural will into a beautifully loving and peaceful will.
As God entered this natural life experience on Earth something else happened too. His glory, power, and holiness broke into and invaded this plane where evil and darkness had temporarily taken over. But now……but NOW!….their time of ruling was over! And this, my friends, is a huge reason for me why Christmas inspires joy in me. Christ brought with Him the greatest revelation of divinity every known in history, and in that Divine Love is a power that every demon or evil force in life shrieks about, that every one of them turns tail, so to speak, and runs from. And this too inspires joy unbounded inside of me, and I pray within you as well.
Our theology sums up the core theological meaning of Christmas like this: “The Lord from eternity, who is Jehovah, came into the world that He might subjugate the hells and glorify His human. Without this no mortal could have been saved, and they are saved who believe in Him and keep the commandments of His Word.”
God comes near, just like He came to Mary...to expand your perspective...to give you a new dream...to give you a God-sized dream...to give you a divine view of your destiny! What a difference that makes, don’t you think?!
For God knows so very, very well that like Him you and I enter this life bound and besieged by this terribly unregenerate natural will, which loves and adores every opportunity to reject what is good, just, loving and humble. Therefore, in order that everyday folks like you and me to have hope and confidence about our bondage inside to this self-centered natural will, God entered our world and way of being human in order to “put on” our naturalness, which He inherited through Mary and her lineage. The Lord put on our “finite-ness” so that He could Himself have daily, hourly, and minute-by-minute access to this weak and infirm natural will and mind, which the demons of the hells adore influencing and attacking every day if they can. By putting on our finite, natural will, the Lord brought Himself into contact with every dimension of Hell, in order to overcome those spirits with His Love and Truth…which had the saving or redeeming effect upon humanity of SUBJUGATING the Hells. That’s a fancy word for putting them in their place and placing the appropriate limits on them—re-ordering them, you might say, and putting them into God’s order.
And so, by bringing His own Divine power of Love here into this dark and troubled world, God shows us the spiritual WAY out of our tough and troubled life situation—He shows us that it is by trusting in, believing in, and inwardly relying upon the same power of Love that He did, WE TOO can overcome and defeat every form and manner and degree of selfishness and rationalization we find ourselves hipped-deep in most every day. And yes, we have to be willing to look with fresh, courageous eyes at the real strengths and weaknesses we have. Christ showed us the way, through and in Him, by using and enjoying the awesome power of God in God’s holy Word, which also pulses and moves within your deeper levels of being, down in that “soul region” our theology teaches about.
In other words, the Lord needs great FOLLOWERS, like He found in Mary and many others in the Bible story.
God comes near to give hope to the hopeless, and to find servants with faith to follow the Lord. Mary shows us this kind of faith in v. 38 where she said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to your word.” In other words, Mary was saying, “I am the servant of the Lord...may His will be done in my life just as you have said.”
Mary had a faith that was willing to follow the Lord...and that is the kind of faith that God wants us to have, a faith that follows.
Donald Miller told the story of a group of Navy SEALs who went on a mission to free some hostages. The team flew in by helicopter, made their way to the compound and stormed into the room where the hostages had been imprisoned for months. The room was dark & filthy; the hostages were terrified, curled up in a corner when the SEALs entered the room.
They stood at the door and kept
calling out to the hostages,
telling them they (the SEALs) were Americans and asking the hostages to follow them. But the hostages wouldn’t budge! They sat there on the floor and hid their eyes in fear, not believing their rescuers were really Americans.
The SEALs stood there, not knowing what to do. They couldn’t possibly carry everybody out. Then one of the SEALs got an idea! He put down his weapon, took off his helmet and curled up tightly next to the hostages. He got so close his body was touching some of theirs. He softened the look on his face and put his arms around them. He was trying to show them he was one of them. None of the prison guards would have done this; his maneuver was brilliant. He stayed there until some of the hostages started to look at him, finally meeting his eyes.
The Navy SEAL whispered that they were Americans and were there to rescue them. “Will you follow us?” he said. And they did.
But you see, that is what God did for us…God came near...Christ came down to us...and He lived a daily form of life (as well as the righteous form of death) that we each need to pay special attention to and emulate in the genuine kind of way that expresses our unique life and understanding. The Lord came here into this world, this lowermost plane of existence, so that we could follow Him…so that we would follow Him. In other words, to follow Him every day of our life safely home, all the way to Heaven…all the way into Heaven while living here on Earth. For only in this way will we, after death, recognize and perceive the wonderful pathways leading into the Lord’s Kingdom of Heaven, His Kingdom of love and truth.
In conclusion, God comes near! Have you seen that yet? Have you put your trust in Him yet? Do you have His hope? Are you following Jesus? I pray that we each, in our own unique way, may better see the Lord’s path that He is illuminating before us today and every day. For indeed, out of the darkness a great Light has dawned! Out of Divine Love itself, our Savior is born. Amen.