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Sermons

Preparing for Christmas

December 09, 2007

Bible Reading

There shall come forth a rod from the stem of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. His delight is in the fear of the Lord, and he shall not judge by the sight of his eyes, nor decide by the hearing of his ears; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth. He shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his loins, and faithfulness the belt of his waist.

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice's den. They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.

(Isaiah 11:1-9)

"Comfort, yes, comfort my people!" Says your God. "Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins."

The voice of one crying in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth; the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken."

(Isaiah 40:1-5)

Read also: Luke 1:5-35

Reading from Swedenborg

Since God came down, and he is order, so as to become truly human he had to be conceived, carried in the womb, born, brought up, and learn matters of knowledge one by one, and by their means be brought into a state of intelligence and wisdom. Therefore in his humanity he was a child like any other child, a boy like any other boy, and so on, the only difference being that he achieved that progress more quickly, fully, and perfectly than others. . .

This was done because divine order prescribes that people should prepare themselves to receive God; and as they prepare themselves, so God enters into them as into his dwelling and home. That preparation is accomplished by acquiring knowledge about God and the spiritual matters related to the church, thus by means of intelligence and wisdom. For it is a law of order that in so far as people approach and come near to God, which they should do entirely as if by themselves, so far does God approach and come near to them, and link himself to such people at their core. (True Christian Religion #89)

Sermon

The season of the year known in the Christian world as Advent is here. Essentially, what this means is that we ought to be preparing ourselves and our lives for a spiritual experience that has its source in the Lord alone. All life is from him. All goodness and truth, as we can experience it and share with each other, comes from him. He is not only our Creator, but he is now also our Lord and Redeemer, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the King of Kings, and the Prince of Peace. These names imply various areas of our personal experiences with him as we relate to one another.

We may all be assured that any experience with the Lord Jesus Christ must come from and through him as we are having our innumerable experiences with one another. Can any of you imagine what life would be like if we didn't have other people with whom we could relate? Yes, this does happen to people, and it is this experience of emptiness of life that causes so much of what is tragic and sorrowful in human life. A life completely separate from and excluding the Lord is, in fact, empty and meaningless, believe it or not! These are not idle or sanctimonious words, I trust, for they are an expression of a fact of life even as it is said in the Acts, "In him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).

How then, do we prepare for Christmas? Should our preparations for Christ during this time be any different than at any other time of the year? Well, no, not really.

But on the other hand, each special season of the Christian year has its special way of making a unique impact upon our inner lives. There is, we all know, something very special about Christmas, when we celebrate the Lord's birth, even as there is something special about Easter, when we celebrate his resurrection.

Of course, when I pose the question, "How do we prepare for Christmas?" I am speaking in terms of a spiritual adjustment, not to be confused with the material or physical preparations that become such a major part of our life at this time. (But can we separate the two?)

Of this, I would speak briefly: I'm of that age that I can recall a time when (at least in rural areas) Christmas preparations started only two or three weeks before Christmas. Except for the mail order catalogue, which was pored over by parents at night by coal oil or gas light, there was little that took up the time of the adults insofar as preparation for Christmas was concerned. Of course, we children spent a lot of time over the catalogue too, wishing for things that we figured we couldn't have under any circumstances. But those days are largely in the past. Now the stores start making ready for Christmas, it seems, early in October. I noticed too, that the city of Kelowna was getting up all the Christmas decorations in the middle of November. That's to beat the rush, of course--and I suppose, possibly, the colder weather that might set in.

In any case, all areas of Christmas preparation do take on a very materialistic flavor. It has been said that there is too much profit, dollar-wise, in Christmas these days. Well, I don't want to get too concerned about this, because the extent of criticism all depends on who is making the profit. We do live in a material world, even though the spiritual is the cause and source, and should take precedence. But that's what life and regeneration are all about. So therefore I feel that we need to see life, even at Christmas, from all levels and quarters. We are, essentially, not that much different than were people fifty or one hundred years ago. The same Lord, God, and Savior still rules the universe, and in the final analysis, his will must be done. So if there is a tendency to get upset about the commercialization of Christmas, just remember that we are still all a part of it too. Swedenborg once wrote:

To receive the life of heaven people must needs live in the world and engage in its business and employments, and by means of a moral and civil life there receive the spiritual life. In no other way can the spiritual life be formed in people, or their spirits prepared for heaven; for to live an inner life and not at the same time an outer life is like dwelling in a house that has no foundation. (Heaven and Hell #528)

From a spiritual point of view, then (so far as we can determine what is spiritual), what might our genuine preparations be for the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ in us? Remember, now, we don't separate the natural world from the spiritual, as noted above.

For an answer, even though the Sacred Scriptures have many, I want to turn to the words of Isaiah when he prophesied the birth of the Messiah. What would be some of the essential changes in the spiritual nature of the person or the church? From Isaiah we hear that there is a desert, and that in that desert we are to make a highway for our God. We are to make the rough places a plain, cut down the hills, and fill in the valleys. We know immediately that he speaks of the inner life of the human individual. We all have desert areas of life, and we do have patterns of habit and conduct that need some leveling off to make our lives more accessible to the life of the Lord.

But think of the words of Isaiah when he refers to the changes that result from a life that is hospitable to the divine birth: Hear these words: "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them." What tremendous symbolism we see here! And what tremendous symbolism and correspondence when it was said, just before this, "He shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked."

Briefly, see the meaning of it here as it refers to our lives: Jesus Christ, the Savior, came not only as the Prince of Peace, but we read later that he came to bring a sword: the mighty sword of divine truth (the Word made flesh), to fight all the evils and falsities that were destroying the spiritual life of mankind. That mighty sword of divine truth, and the "rod of his mouth," is even more effective today than it was then, we trust. We rarely see this in externals; but if it were not so, would not the incarnation of God, as Redeemer and Savior, have been in vain?

Think now of changes that become a spiritual reality in any human soul. Our human affections are represented by animals. We use this often in everyday speech. Animals are both good and bad, gentle and wild, meek and ferocious, cunning and innocent. Therefore, in that new life of the redeemed soul we see the wolf dwelling with the lamb, and the leopard and the kid lie down together. Keep in mind that even in the regenerative state, those feelings or affections represented by the wild animals are still very much a part of our lives. As it has been written by Swedenborg, our inherited and acquired evils and falsities in this life remain with us; they are, in the state of regeneration, only put to the side. In the life after death all but the inherited evils and falsities that we have made our own (by living and loving them) are removed.

There is a similarity here with the life of our Lord on earth. From his mother, Mary, he had natural inclinations and temptations towards things that were contrary to the will of God, the Father, who dwelt within him. That is why it is said, "He was tempted even as we are" (Hebrews 4:15). But since the Soul, the Father that dwelt within, was divine and perfect, he was able to resist and overcome all evil and falsity. This took his whole lifetime. That is how he overcame the hells, and broke the bondage in which they had put people still living here. Since we are finite and imperfect, we can achieve only a degree of perfection.

Now let's consider another very significant aspect of this change as expressed by Isaiah. These animals that are lying down together, both gentle and ferocious (meaning our affections, both good and bad), are to be led by a child. What is it that Jesus said about children and heaven? "Unless you become as little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3). It is the innocence and the purity represented by the child that leads and guides the contrite and humble spirit to a way that is consistent with heavenly principles, and the genuine joy that comes from a way of life that conforms to that which heaven is all about. Let's keep this in mind in our preparations for Christmas. It is practical and real.

Speaking again of the child, hear the closing words in this symbolic description of a reformed soul. "The nursing child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice's den." "How terrible!" we would say. The asp is a small and most deadly snake. Imagine the child playing on its hole. Yet our human sensory nature, represented by the serpent, can be just as deadly, and seemingly small and harmless.

The cockatrice is even more deadly. It is a mythical, deadly little snake which, it is said, could kill even by a look. Here the child, described by Isaiah, puts its hand right on the cockatrice's den. Yet it is not harmed. This is the spiritual state of people who place their trust in the Lord--not in complete confidence in the Lord's providence for all their needs, but in trust that the Lord will, if one is genuine, help to overcome even that within oneself (if examined and found) that seems to be the most subtle, sensory, and dangerous enemy of the soul.

The soul's preparation for Christmas, then, may have as its goal, in Isaiah's words, that "they shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea."

Prayer

Dear Lord, you know that we have many cares and concerns in this world. You know that we have many preparations to make for Christmas: houses to clean, presents to purchase, food to cook. As we engage in these material-world preparations, keep us mindful of the deeper and more important preparations that we also must make for your coming. For if we prepare our houses for your birth, but not our souls, it is an empty celebration.

As we attend to our many outward tasks of preparation, then, help us to engage in the inner preparations, too: cleaning the house of our mind of all hurtful thoughts and feelings; "purchasing" from you the spiritual presents of genuine love and concern for those around us; and preparing the most delicious food of all: your love served in the form of kind and thoughtful deeds toward one another. Amen.

Rev. Erwin D. Reddekopp