What Child is This?
December 19, 2004
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian's defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior's boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way: When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.
But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."
All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "Behold, the virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will name him Emmanuel," which means "God with us."
When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no union with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
Reading from Swedenborg
Jehovah himself came into the world and was born as a human being. He became the Redeemer and Savior of all people who are united with his Divine Humanity by a life of kindness and faith. Jehovah is the Lord from eternity. . . .
Here are some Bible passages showing that Jehovah and the Lord [Jesus] are one; and showing that since they are one and not two, the Lord from eternity, who is Jehovah himself, became the Redeemer and Savior by taking on a human nature:
You, O Jehovah, are our Father, our Redeemer. Your name is from everlasting. (Isaiah 63:16)
Thus says the king of Israel and his Redeemer, Jehovah of Hosts: I am the First and the Last, and besides me there is no God. (Isaiah 44:6) . . .
And all flesh will know that I Jehovah am your Savior and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob. (Isaiah 49:26; 60:16) . . .
Let Israel hope in Jehovah, for with him there is plentiful redemption, and he will redeem Israel from all their sins. (Psalm 130:7, 8) . . .
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people. (Luke 1:68)
There are many other passages showing that the Lord from eternity, who is Jehovah himself, came into the world and took upon himself a human nature in order to redeem humanity. (Apocalypse Revealed #281)
"What child is this?" asks the beautiful old Christmas carol. "What child is this, who, laid to rest, on Mary's lap is sleeping?" A simple, tender domestic scene--one that has been repeated by the billions in thousands of cultures throughout the world, and throughout human history. A newborn baby lies sleeping in a mother's lap.
That is a miracle in itself. No matter how much we study it, we still don't know just how it happens. And no matter how many times it happens, the fact that this incredibly complex biological, psychological, and spiritual being has come into existence is so mind-boggling that the safest thing for us to do is just not to think about it too much. Every new birth, every new human being, is a work of science and art far, far more advanced than the human mind has even been able to conceive, let alone create. If we think about it too much, our minds may be in danger of expanding beyond any reasonable boundaries, and coming face to face with the infinite Creator, whose work of science, art, and spirit each one of us is.
What child is this? Is this truly a child who brings us face to face with our Creator? Is this truly a child in whom the Infinite One has come to meet us and dwell among us?
If it is dangerous to our mental complacency to think too much about the birth of a human child, what about allowing ourselves to consider the possibility of a divine birth? How risky might that be? Our culture has made Christmas its biggest holiday, and gives lip service to Jesus Christ, for whom the holiday is named. But to teach that the birth of Jesus Christ was a spiritual event, a divine entrance into our world--that is forbidden in our schools, in our government, and for the most part, in the commercial and corporate world as well, where Santa wins out over Jesus hands down.
Why? Of course, one reason is that not everyone in our culture is Christian. But this doesn't explain why all religious teaching is banned. There is a deeper reason: it is dangerous to the values of our culture, our government, our corporate world to contemplate too deeply the birth that took place two thousand years ago. In a society and a world that values power and money above all, it is dangerous to consider that there may be something far more powerful than any human power, and far more valuable than all human wealth. It is dangerous because it calls into question the very foundations of this world's values.
And it is dangerous to each one of us because recognizing--truly letting it sink into our hearts, our minds, our souls--that our Creator may have visited us two thousand years ago calls into question our own fundamental values. It makes us evaluate our beliefs, our loves, our goals, our lives.
It is far safer to treat Christmas as a secular holiday; to put out of our mind any possibility of a miraculous divine entrance into our world. Then we can have our holiday celebrations, and continue on afterwards as if nothing more has happened than a big festival, a big family gathering, a big exchange of gifts and good will among our family and friends. And all of these are good for us to enjoy. Even the shadow of Christmas that is our society's secular celebration of the event brings its own blessings and renewals to a tired world.
Yet through it all, the Gospels continue to pull us back to that dangerous question, "What child is this?"
"What child is this, who, laid to rest, on Mary's lap is sleeping? Whom angels greet with anthems sweet, while shepherds watch are keeping?" What child is this that the angels heralded, prompting those shepherds to come visit a newborn in a stable? What child is this whose birth prompted wise men to travel from a distant land to offer him costly gifts symbolic of a great king's birth?
What child is this whose birth was originally celebrated by both the simple and the wise, and is still celebrated two thousand years later by people of all types and all races? What child is this whose birth is now celebrated by millions, even billions, compared to the few dozen people who were even aware of it long ago when it actually happened?
A human birth is miracle enough. Yet this was no ordinary human birth. This was a birth that so changed the course of human history--especially human spiritual history--that it became the turning point of the calendar that is now used almost universally throughout the world. This is a birth that instead of fading into the mists of time, has become more and more powerful as the centuries have gone by. This is a birth that no human being could have achieved. This is a divine birth.
What child is this? Even Christians have debated this question ever since Jesus Christ came among us. Complex doctrinal systems and vast ecclesiastical bodies have been built around particular answers to the question, "What child is this?" The religious debates have raged for centuries: Was he divine or human? Was he the son of Mary or the Son of God? And was he the Son of God, or was he God himself?
Our church's answer is "All of the above." Jesus Christ was divine and human. He was the son of Mary and the Son of God. And he was and is God himself. Jesus Christ was and is God himself, Jehovah from eternity, come to earth in human form, as "the Babe, the son of Mary." He was God himself, who loved us so much that he came from his place of pure divine love and wisdom, of infinite warmth and light at the center of the universe, and traveled all the way down through the spheres of heaven and earth to visit us here at the cold, dark fringes of Creation.
He was the Divine Being, the Creator of the Universe, who had such yearning compassion for his creatures that he could not leave us to suffer in our human darkness and cold. From his infinite mercy, he came among us, became as human as one of us, was born from a simple, humble human mother into a life of poverty at the lowest, darkest, and most violent point in human history.
This is the Child whose birth we celebrate. This is the Child whose message--whose very presence--challenges everything this world stands for, down to its very foundations. This is the Child who, if we allow him into our mind, into our heart, into our soul, will completely transform us, turning all our old values on their head, and making us a new person inside and out.
This is the dangerous child whom the world and its governments must eliminate, but who triumphed and continues to triumph over all of them, and who is still fighting the battle for each one of us, and for all the nations and peoples of the world. This is the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
And they will name him Emmanuel, which means "God with us."
O Divine Child of Bethlehem, as we approach the mystery of your birth, we confess that our minds are not able to grasp nor to hold the wonder of what happened in that stable two thousand years ago. Yes, it was a divine work, far beyond our ability to conceive or achieve. And it stands as the hinge on which the gate of history turns, as the center and focal point of all Creation. We cannot grasp it, yet we ask you to touch us with just a small part of the light and heat that came from that divine event. Shine into our darkness, Lord Jesus, with your truth and your love. Amen.
Rev. Lee Woofenden