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Sermons

Where is Joy?

December 15, 2013

Bible Reading

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

(Matthew 2:13-23)

Sermon

The phone rang one Saturday morning. I picked it up to hear the voice of Jimmy, an eight-year-old boy who is a client in my social work practice.

“Something really strange happened this morning,” he said, “and Mom said I should call you.”

“I’m glad you called, Jimmy. What happened?”

“Well, I got up this morning, like usual, and my Dad said “Good morning” to me. Then I started to cry. I cried and cried. But I didn’t know what I felt sad about. I never cry.”

I had a pretty good idea about why he had cried.

“Did you have a scary dream; or watch something on TV that made you sad?”

He was quiet for a moment, then said softly, “I was watching TV last night before I went to bed, and I heard about all those kids killed in their school. I think that’s why I was sad.”

We went on to talk about how scared he was to go back to school, and how powerless he felt. Then he had another concern. “They said that the shooter had autism. I have autism. Could I do this kind of thing?”

“Oh course not! Lots of people have autism, but they aren’t any more violent than anyone else. Most of them are very kind, like you are.”

He was relieved then, and went on with his day.

Jimmy’s story isn’t unique; his distress is similar to what both kids and adults are feeling all over North America—all over the world—about the horrible tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 15, 2012. It’s another example of Swedenborg’s holographic world: whatever happens to one of us happens to all of us. All of our hearts have been broken. As well, whatever one of us does to heal brings healing to all.

A minister interviewed on TV just after the shootings said, “This is the week we’re supposed to be feeling joy. This is the third week of Advent, and we light the candle of joy. How do we find joy in the season when twenty innocent children have been murdered?” In this congregation, our theme this month is angels. Where are angels in the lives and deaths of children?

Swedenborg tells us that angels are with children from the time of their birth. Sometimes angels perform amazing miracles that save children’s lives. To find stories about angels helping infants, we can start with today’s scripture reading about angels telling Joseph to take the baby Jesus to Egypt.

Glennyce Eckersley is an angel researcher in England. Here is a story that she was told about another infant being saved by angels:

Lesley, a young British woman, married a Nigerian man and moved to Africa. Her husband was gone a lot, and Lesley had no family near by. So she felt very alone when she went to the hospital to have a baby. Her labor was long and complicated, and an IV had to be inserted into her arm. She lost consciousness.

Meanwhile, one of the doctors on her team was exhausted after working forty-eight hours straight. She went to a room, locked it, and fell asleep. Then she was shaken awake and told to go room 6, where a woman and her unborn baby were in danger. As the doctor woke up, she realized that no one was in the room, and the door was still locked from the inside. She figured it was a dream, and went back to sleep. Again, she was shaken awake with the same message. She woke up fully and saw a young woman, dressed in white.

Racing to room 6, she found that Lesley had been given the wrong IV. She and the baby were moments from death. But the doctor switched the IV in time, and a lovely baby girl was born. Lesley is now an artist, certain that an angel saved both her and her baby’s life. So this is also a story about what inspired a young woman to become an artist!

Jean was a fifteen-year-old who loved to ride her bike. One day, through no fault of her own, she was a victim of a terrible accident: a bus slammed into the side of her bike on the road. Jean felt herself being lifted a fraction of a second before the impact; she was carried about twenty feet and gently placed on the ground. Her bike was a crumpled mass of metal. She was certain a guardian angel had saved her.

Some of the parents of children who survived the tragedy on December 15, 2012 felt that angels had been instrumental in saving the lives of their children. One boy described feeling a sudden impulse to run past the shooter and out the classroom door—and he somehow did so safely.

Our tradition teaches that angels greeted those children who were killed in heaven. Swedenborg wrote this in Heaven & Hell:

“330. When children die they are still children in the other life, having a like infantile mind, a like innocence in ignorance, and a like tenderness in all things. They are merely in the rudiments of a capacity to become angels, for children are not angels but become angels. For everyone passing out of this world enters the other in the same state of life, a little child in the state of a little child, a boy in the state of a boy, a youth, a man, an old man, in the state of a youth, a man, or an old man; but subsequently each one’s state is changed.”

Children are adopted by angels:

“332. As soon as little children are resuscitated, which takes place immediately after death, they are taken into heaven and confided to angel women who in the life of the body tenderly loved little children and at the same time loved God. Because these during their life in the world loved all children with a kind of motherly tenderness, they receive them as their own; while the children, from an implanted instinct, love them as their own mothers. There are as many children in each one’s care as she desires from a spiritual parental affection. This heaven appears in front before the forehead, directly in the line or radius in which the angels look to the Lord. It is so situated because all little children are under the immediate auspices of the Lord; and the heaven of innocence, which is the third heaven, flows into them.”

Children are educated by angels, and grow into adulthood in heaven.

“335. Children are taught chiefly by representatives suited to their capacity. These are beautiful and full of wisdom from within, beyond all belief. In this way an intelligence that derives its soul from good is gradually instilled into them.”

Knowing that children are nurtured by angels in heaven does not, of course, take away our grief when we lose them—or anyone, for that matter. It is not helpful to a grieving parent to say to them, “Don’t be sad; your child is with the angels.” It is true that the child is safe and happy, but still, such a profound loss must be grieved.

So what can we do in this time of Christmas joy? We can remember why we have joy during the Christmas season. Jesus was born into the world as a light to guide us through the darkness. The Light is reborn in all of our hearts this season. No matter how dark the darkness becomes, it can never shut out the light. The deeper the darkness, the brighter the light shines.

Someone from Newtown, Connecticut was interviewed—I think the mayor. He was asked if the Christmas lights in town should be shut off in remembrance of the killings. He said, “Oh, no! We must let them shine as brightly as we can, to show that nothing can destroy the spirit of Christmas.

True words. Trust the light in your heart, and in all the places we see it in the world. Be joyful for the light in our midst, in this time of darkness. Amen.

Rev. Dr. Wilma Wake