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Sermons

The Divine Birth

December 26, 2004

Bible Reading

Who is this coming from Edom, from Bozrah, with his garments stained crimson? Who is this, robed in splendor, striding forward with tremendous strength?

"It is I, speaking in righteousness, mighty to save."

Why are your garments red, like those of one treading the winepress?

"I have trodden the winepress alone; from the nations no one was with me. I trampled them in my anger and trod them down in my wrath; their blood spattered my garments, and stained all my clothing. For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and the year of my redeeming work had come. I looked, but there was no one to help; I was appalled that no one gave support. So my own arm worked salvation for me, and my own wrath sustained me. I trampled the nations in my anger; in my wrath I crushed them, and poured their blood upon the ground."

I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the Lord has done for us--yes, the many good things he has done for the house of Israel, according to his compassion and many kindnesses. He said, "Surely they are my people--children who will not deal falsely." So he became their Savior. In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

(Isaiah 63:1-9)

Reading from Swedenborg

The Divine Trinity, God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, is in the Lord [Jesus Christ]. The Father in him is the originating Divine, the Son is the Divine Humanity, and the Holy Spirit is the Divine flowing out. (True Christian Religion #92)

Sermon

In my Christmas Sunday sermon, I responded to the question "What child is this" by saying that this child Jesus was and is "God with us," as the Prophet and the Gospel say. With that as a preface, this week I would like to look a little further into the question of who Jesus was, where he came from, and why he came to earth. Without knowing these things, we cannot possibly understand what was going on in the Lord's mind and heart during his life here on earth, nor what his Advent accomplished.

Of course, we limited humans can never do more than scratch the surface of the divine depths of the Lord's mind and heart. And I don't expect to do any more than that in this sermon. But on our own human level, we can, with the help of the Bible and Swedenborg's writings, gain some understanding and appreciation for who the Lord was, what he went through during his life here on earth, and why. My hope is that this will help all of us to increase our understanding of the Lord and our love for the Lord, so that we may have a closer and deeper relationship with the One who is both our Creator and our Friend.

Our starting point this morning is where we left off before: that Jesus Christ was "Emmanuel," which means "God with us." And as I mentioned before, even this has been a matter of debate among Christians ever since the Christian era began. Traditional Christian theology holds that Jesus represented the second Person of a three-person God. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are each seen as distinct persons . . . and yet, in contradictory fashion, God is said to be one God.

One of the problems that may have led to this irrational belief is a confusion between names and persons. There is a science fiction short story by Arthur C. Clark called "The Nine Billion Names of God" in which a group of monks in a remote monastery buy an advanced computer in order to list all the names of God, believing that once they do, the purpose of Creation will have been fulfilled, and the universe will come to an end. I'm not sure there have been nine billion names used for God. But I think I could say without too much exaggeration that there have been at least a million. And in some parts of the world at some times, each of those million names was considered to be a separate deity.

The Bible, too, has many names for God--Jehovah, God, Lord, and so on--including the ones we read last time: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. If each name that the Bible gave for God were a separate person, we Christians would be polytheists with the best of 'em. Traditional Christianity has gotten it down to three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each considered to be God. The New Church gets it down to one God, where it belongs, by understanding that a distinct name does not mean a distinct person.

True Christian Religion #92 mentions three other names of God, each focusing on the "Son" aspect: "the Son of God," "the Son of Man," and "the Son of Mary." It then goes on to say:

"The Son of the God" means Jehovah God in his humanity; "the Son of Man" means the Lord as the Word; and "the Son of Mary" means the actual human nature that he took upon himself.

In other words, even though these names sound like they are describing a separate person, they are, in fact, describing different aspects, or "essentials," as Swedenborg says, of one Divine Person.

In the names that involve the "Son," it is talking about the human side of the Lord, as compared to the divine side. These are not two, but one, as the Divine Humanity. Yet we can think of them distinctly in our minds. And when we do, metaphorically speaking, the human side is the "son" of the divine side, since it comes from the divine side.

Even physically, Jesus Christ was the Son of God, since it was from God that he was conceived, and his soul came from God. Yet unlike human souls, which differentiate themselves from their parents, the divine soul is infinitely one, and cannot be divided. So in the unique case of the Son of God, the Son, rather than separating from the Father as human children do, remained together with the Father. In the course of his life on earth, Jesus Christ left behind everything that didn't come from the Father. In the process, he became fully one and the same Divine Person with the Father--only with a human nature that he had not possessed before.

This is the first and most basic concept we must understand if we are to even begin to grasp the process that Jesus went through inwardly while he was here on earth. Jesus was the Son of God. This means that his inner soul was God himself, while he, as a human being here on earth, came from that divine soul.

This is not merely an abstract, theoretical idea. It assures us that the Jesus Christ we pray to, and who comes to us, guides us, strengthens us, and leads us in good times and bad, is, indeed, both our Creator and our Friend. When we pray to Jesus, we are praying to one who loves us with an infinite love, who understands us with infinite understanding--and with personal experience of what we go through here on earth--and who has infinite power to lift us up and lead us toward heaven.

However, Jesus Christ also came from Mary--a finite human being. And this is also essential to grasp in order to understand what he accomplished here on earth. Our reading from Swedenborg last week mentioned that Jesus came in order to redeem and save humankind, and that he did this by taking on a human nature. The human nature that he took on came partly from the divine soul, as the ""Son of God."" But it also came partly from his human mother, as the "Son of Mary." And where these two human natures met, he was also able to meet all of human evil . . . and conquer it.

Human evil cannot approach God directly, nor can God approach human evil directly. If he did, it would be like the sun approaching the earth in order to "cleanse" it. The "cleansing" would utterly destroy the earth. In the same way, if God came to us pure, as he is in himself, in order to cleanse us of our evils, he would destroy us in the process. It would be like encountering the sun by flying directly into it: we would be instantly vaporized! So God had to come to us in an "accommodated" form--a form in which he could approach us finite human beings, approach the evil that had accumulated within and among us, fight against it, and conquer it without destroying us in the process.

He did this by taking on a finite, fallible human nature from Mary, and using that as a field where the combined human evil that we know of as the Devil, Satan, and hell could approach and attack him, and where he could, from his divine power, overcome that evil and bring it into subjection to the divine will once and for all.

This is a second concept that we must understand in order to grasp the process that Jesus went through here on earth. In the Gospel stories we see Jesus battling the entrenched religious orthodoxy of his time. We also get a few brief glimpses of the corresponding inner battle: his temptations in the desert after his baptism, his agony in the garden of Gethsemane, and the crucifixion itself. These are brief glimpses of a war that was going on within him throughout his life on earth. Jesus Christ was fighting continual battles against hell and evil almost from birth. And Swedenborg gives us a much more sustained look at these inner battles in his great work Arcana Coelestia.

This, too, is not merely some theoretical concept. It tells us that in all the inner battles we go through in this life--as grievous, painful, and harrowing they may be--the Lord is with us every step of the way. The Lord went through things far worse than we will ever face, and came through them victorious. And he will give us the victory in our spiritual battles, too, if we turn to him, have faith in him, and fight from the power of his truth and his love.

And that is a final concept that we must understand in order to grasp the inner life of Jesus, and the Lord's relationship with us. Everything Jesus did, everything God does--whatever the outward appearance may be--comes from love, and is expressed through truth.

Some churches and Christians view God the Father as angry, vindictive, imposing harsh penalties on those who do not live up to his standards. If the Bible is interpreted in this way, it becomes the story of God the Father's "wrath and justice," eventually tempered by the love of God the Son. Our reading from Isaiah this morning then becomes the story of God literally engaging in "a day of vengeance" against all his enemies.

But these words are spoken according to the human appearance of things, in order to reach us where we are when we are far away from God. In the deeper meaning, God's wrath becomes what it really is: God's love. It is a love that motivates and drives everything God has done throughout history, everything God did while he was on earth as Jesus Christ, and everything God does for each one of us every day of our lives. Amen.

Prayer

Dear Lord, it can be a fearful thing to contemplate a divine wrath that would purge all things, and scour our own souls. And we thank you for speaking to us in terms we understand, giving us to realize that your day is a day of darkness and wrath when we stubbornly oppose your will, but a day of light and love when we give up our own will, our own ego, and let you take over our lives.

As we feel the glow of your new birth around us and within us, help us to see beyond the appearance of divine wrath and vengeance to the reality of divine mercy and compassion. Open our minds to understand something the grace and love that moved you to come to us as a human being, fight against all evil, and personally show us the path and the life that leads to heaven. Amen.

Rev. Lee Woofenden