by REV CALVIN ODHNER
Text: John 1:19-26; John 3:25-35; Divine Providence 326:6
“Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:4)
Good morning, and welcome to the Pittsburgh New Church! I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving! You all survived Black Friday!
Now we move into a very exciting time of year! Each Christmas season the Lord gives us a fresh opportunity to renew our covenant with Him! To renew the deal we’ve made, to be a servant of the Lord. For some of us, it helps to have a written contract--something we can look at! I’ve got one started, but it needs finishing. By the end of the sermon today, I hope you can fill in the rest of the contract and sign it! Only check off what works for you!
Now, here at the beginning of the season the Lord sends us John the Baptist! Why? John represents the literal sense of the Word: camel’s hair, leather girdle, locusts and wild honey….but John has a message for us. Listen for John’s humility in the face of the Lord, knowing the Lord is coming, just as the Lord can make a second coming in us as we step into humility.
We’ll focus in on one skill: humility.
This morning we are exploring why we are New Churchman. What does it take for the Second Coming to begin to shine in our life?
You know there are so many other religions to choose from--some a lot more fun than ours! So why are we hooked on this one? Our text today looks at one of the key elements to being New Church: humility.
For many people, religion has brought a sense of peace and security into their lives. It comes through trust in something outside of themselves. This is especially true in the New Church. We read:
…[P]eace has in it confidence in the Lord, that He directs all things, and provides all things, and that He leads to a good end. (Arcana Coelestia 8455)
But doesn't everyones religion bring confidence to its adherents? Doesn't every religion claim to have the answer of how to be a “good” person and how to have a spiritual life?
We know from the Heavenly Doctrines that everyone has an inborn intuition. There is “something” greater than ourselves, an intuition that there is some source we all came from which is One. That’s because everything divine coheres as one, and constantly inspires in us the idea of one God (True Christian Religion 8). But, what varies in each of us is the reception of this influx, and this determines our conjunction with the Lord (Ibid (3)). The differing forms of our minds receive Him according to what corresponds in them, to what is heavenly.
Just as the human body has many forms--blood vessels, nerve fibers, supporting tendons, cartilage, bones, nails which have varying degrees of life in them, so heaven is made up of many people from many different religions, each with a different mind and differing degrees of conjunction, each performing a supporting role in the Grand Man (DP 326).
The Grand Man, which is heaven, in order that all these things may be in it, cannot be composed of men all of one religion but of men of many religions. (DP 326:10)
Thus, in the Lord’s Divine Providence there are today 1 billion Hindus, 14 million Jews, 1 billion Buddhists, 1.8 billion Muslims, and 2 billion Christians. Now, if each religion brings some level of conjunction with heaven, what is the big deal about belonging to the New Church?
Let’s first, take a look at what makes a religion a religion. All religions have two main principles which make it so that everyone can be saved: the acknowledgement of one God, and the refraining from doing evil because it is against God (DP 326:9). Anyone who follows these two principles will find a home in heaven and enjoy happiness to their own degree (DP 326:10, DP 254 III (3)).
But you may say, “Every religion teaches people how to live and how to obey the laws of God? Every religion professes to have the secret of a good life and offer salvation by means of it, don't they?” So how is the New Church different? We read in the Heavenly Doctrines:
All religion is of life, and the life of religion is to do what is good. (Doctrine of Life 1).
The faith or the New Church is based on the conviction that in the theological Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg the Lord Jesus Christ has fulfilled His promise to come again, that He may be visibly present with people, to teach them and lead them in paths of true happiness and lasting peace.
The purpose of His second coming is to establish His Kingdom here on earth as well as in the heavens. The Church is the Lord’s Kingdom on earth, and the Lord Himself described His plans and specifications of a true Christian Church, one that is designed to be altogether distinct from the former Christianity or any other religion!
The Heavenly Doctrines completely revolutionize our understanding of what the Word teaches, and of how it’s teachings are to be applied. They present a radically new idea of God; they offer an entirely new concept of heaven, and the life of people after death; and they give us a new interpretation of what is meant by a truly religious life. The whole world is invited to join in! To move from a natural faith to a spiritual one; to be re-born into a spiritual person (TCR 8)! Nothing could bring us more happiness or be more exciting!
This can only happen to each of us when we take the truths of doctrine--and you know what I mean by truths here--the Ten Commandments, the truths you have learned from reading and listening to sermons, the truths you have come to love.... Only by using them in our daily life do we get the benefit they provide: conjunction with the Lord.
This is what’s so incredible about the New Church! The Heavenly Doctrines are not asking us to bow down to the east 5 times a day, meditate for an hour, detach from things of this world or follow detailed meal rituals. Although these might work for some people, what the Lord is really asking of us who are to be in the New Heaven, is to have nothing less than a complete change of heart! A new outlook! A dramatic change in who you are; a change in what you love, which is the core of who you are! He is asking each of us to trade in the things we think make us happy, for things that actually do create happiness! It’s actually quite simple, but not easy!
Many of us have learned doctrine and can recite it! But doctrine retained in the memory as abstract knowledge without a deeper understanding and application to life dissipates. We don’t even take it with us into the spiritual world! It’s in the “doing,” the application of what we have learned, that changes our loves and makes the Second Coming happen in each of us!
So, right here at the beginning of our Christmas season, what is the first skill John the Baptist introduces to us? Humility. We are told in the Heavenly Doctrines, if we really want this regenerative process to happen in our life, we start with humility! John the baptist gives his disciples a basic lesson in humility. In the face of Jesus’s growing popularity and his own waning popularity, John gives us a one-liner to live by:
“He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)
To the extent that John’s motto is true of us, we are growing in humility.
We are told humility starts with an acknowledgement of God, but what does this involve? It is simply recognizing that there is an omniscient, omnipresent Divine Man who is all powerful and loving. Who cares for us intimately, guiding us in everything we do, all the while leaving us in freedom to choose Him or not.
The corollary to this acknowledgment is the acknowledgment of self (NJHD 129). If all good and life is from Him, where does that leave us? It slowly dawns on us that, we are, since we are born into evils of every kind, nothing but unhealthy loves and thoughts; no good can come from us. We are born this way! But there is no need to lament our situation. The Lord has given each of us every means, including specific directions, on how to escape from our predicament, and follow Him. We read:
Only into an humble heart can the Divine flow. (NJHD 129)
So far as a person is in humility, so far he is removed from the love of self, where evils live, and open to reading and learning what His role in this process is. We read:
Indeed within self-love there lies contempt for all others in comparison with oneself; there lies hatred and revenge if one is not venerated most highly; and there lies mercilessness and cruelty within it, and thus the worst evils of all into which good and truth cannot possibly be introduced, since they are completely opposite. (Arcana Coelestia 5957:3)
The Lord does not desire humility for His own sake, but for our sakes, so that we will be in a state and condition ready to receive the Divine truths He so much wants to impart to us.
The sister of humility is repentance; each requires the same acknowledgment. We read:
Repentance begins with the same acknowledgement and does not become a reality except through humility, and humility does not become a reality except through heartfelt confession that in oneself one is such a source of evil and falsity. (AC 4779)
Today many religions falsely teach that we are inherently good, that merely having faith in God and being a “good” person will lead to heaven. But this belief puts the natural man to sleep, and keeps him from rooting out his deeper evils which lurk in his affections.
The “gift” to each of us in the New Church is in the realization that we, of ourselves, are incapable of looking towards the Lord, where everything is Divine and Holy, and prefer the life of exteriorly “looking good,” while interiorly remaining comfortable in our natural thoughts and affections (AC 5957). This is what the Lord meant when He spoke to the Pharisees: “[Y]ou wash the outside of the cup…” So, as uncomfortable as it may be, we can be grateful we are in the New Church, where we know the truth about ourselves and the means of escape!
As we move into this Christmas season, let us remember the words of John the Baptist:
Then they said to him, “Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” He said: “I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Make straight the way of the Lord,”
Amen. Let us pray.
Readings for sermon
Divine Providence 326:6
 Second:……. Everyone acknowledges God and is conjoined to Him according to the good of his life. All can have a knowledge of God who know anything from religion. They can also speak of God from knowledge, that is, from what is in the memory, and some may also think about Him from the understanding.
However, if one does not live well, this only brings about presence; for he can nevertheless turn himself away from God towards hell; and this happens if he lives wickedly.
But only those can acknowledge God in their heart who live well; and these according to the good of their life the Lord turns away from hell and towards Himself. The reason is that these alone love God, for they love Divine things, which are from Him, in doing them.
The Divine things which are from God are the precepts of His Law. These are God because He is His own Divine going forth: this is to love God, and therefore the Lord says:
 This is the reason why there are two tables of the Decalogue, one relating to God and the other relating to man. God works unceasingly that man may receive what is in his own table; but if man does not do the things that are in his table he does not receive with acknowledgment of heart the things that are in God's table; and if he does not receive them he is not conjoined.
Therefore those two tables were so joined together as to be one, and were called the tables of the covenant, for covenant signifies conjunction. Everyone acknowledges God and is conjoined to Him according to the good of his life because the good of life is like the good that is in the Lord, and consequently that originates from the Lord.
Therefore when man is in the good of life conjunction is effected. The contrary is the case with evil of life; for this rejects the Lord.
 Third: The good of life, that is, living well, is shunning evils because they are contrary to religion, thus contrary to God. That this is the good of life, or living well, is fully shown in THE DOCTRINE OF LIFE FOR THE NEW JERUSALEM, from beginning to end. To this I will merely add that if you do good to the fullest extent, for example, if you build churches, adorn them and fill them with votive offerings; if you expend money lavishly on hospitals and guest-houses for strangers, give alms daily, succour widows and orphans; if you diligently observe the holy things of worship, indeed, if you think about them, speak and preach about them as from the heart, and yet do not shun evils as sins against God, all those goods are not good. They are either hypocritical or meritorious, for there is still evil interiorly within them, since the life of everyone is in all things that he does, in general and in particular. Goods only become good by the removal of evil from them. Hence it is clear that shunning evils because they are contrary to religion, thus contrary to God, is living well.
NOTES ON JOHN THE BAPTIST
 But it is very different when by John is understood the Lord as to the Word, or the Word representatively.
Then by "the wilderness of Judea in which John was" is signified the state in which the Word was at the time
when the Lord came into the world, namely, that it was "in the wilderness," that is, it was in obscurity so great that the Lord was not at all acknowledged,
neither was anything known about His heavenly kingdom;
when yet all the prophets prophesied about Him, and about His kingdom, that it was to endure forever.
For this reason the Word is compared to "a reed shaken by the wind" when it is explained at pleasure; for in the internal sense "a reed" denotes truth in the ultimate, such as is the Word in the letter.
(References: Malachi 4:5)
 That the Word in the ultimate, or in the letter, is crude and obscure in the sight of men;
but that in the internal sense it is soft and shining, is signified by their "not seeing a man clothed in soft raiment, for behold those who wear soft things are in kings' houses."
That such things are signified by these words, is plain from the signification of "raiment," or "garments," as being truths
and for this reason the angels appear clothed in garments soft and shining according to the truths from good with them
The same is evident from the signification of "kings' houses," as being the abodes of the angels, and in the universal sense, the heavens;
Therefore by virtue of their reception of truth from the Lord, the angels are called "sons of the kingdom," "sons of the king," and also "kings."
 That the Word is more than any doctrine in the world, and more than any truth in the world, is signified by
"what went ye out to see? a prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet;" and by, "there hath not arisen among those who are born of women a greater than John the Baptist;"
 That in the internal sense, or such as it is in heaven, the Word is in a degree above the Word in the external sense, or such as it is in the world,
and such as John the Baptist taught, is signified by, "he that is less in the kingdom of the heavens is greater than he;”
for as perceived in heaven the Word is of wisdom so great that it transcends all human apprehension.
That the prophecies about the Lord and His coming, and that the representatives of the Lord and of His kingdom, ceased when the Lord came into the world, is signified by,
"all the prophets and the law prophesied until John."
That the Word was represented by John, as by Elijah, is signified by his being "Elias who is to come."
 The same is signified by these words in Matthew:
The disciples asked Jesus, Why say the scribes that Elias must first come? He answered and said, Elias must needs first come, and restore all things. But I say unto you, that Elias hath come already, and they knew him not, but did unto him whatsoever they wished.
Even so shall the Son of man also suffer of them. And they understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist (Matthew 17:10-13).
That "Elias hath come, and they knew him not, but did unto him whatsoever they wished" signifies that the Word has indeed taught them that the Lord is to come, but that still they did not wish to comprehend, interpreting it in favor of the rule of self, and thus extinguishing what is Divine in it.
That they would do the same with the truth Divine itself, is signified by
 From all this it is now evident what is meant by the prophecy about John in Malachi:
Behold I send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of Jehovah cometh (Malachi 4:5).
Moreover, the Word in the ultimate, or such as it is in the external form in which it appears before man in the world, is described by the "clothing" and "food" of John the Baptist, in Matthew:
In like manner it is described by Elijah in the second book of Kings:
He was a hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather about his loins (2 Kings 1:8).
By "clothing," or a "garment," when said of the Word, is signified truth Divine there in the ultimate form; by "camel's hair" are signified memory-truths such as appear there before a man in the world; by the "leathern girdle" is signified the external bond connecting and keeping in order all the interior things; by "food" is signified spiritual nourishment from the knowledges of truth and of good out of the Word; by "locusts" are signified ultimate or most general truths; and by "wild honey" their pleasantness.
 That such things are signified by "clothing" and "food" has its origin in the representatives of the other life,
where all appear clothed according to truths from good, and where food also is represented according to the desires of acquiring knowledge and growing wise.
From this it is that "clothing," or a "garment," denotes truth
(as may be seen from the citations above; and that "food" or "meat" denotes spiritual nourishment, n. 3114, 4459, 4792, 5147, 5293, 5340, 5342, 5576, 5579, 5915, 8562, 9003; that "a girdle" denotes a bond which gathers up and holds together interior things, n. 9341; that "leather" denotes what is external, n. 3540; and thus "a leathern girdle" denotes an external bond; that "hairs" denote ultimate or most general truths, n. 3301, 5569-5573; that "a camel" denotes memory-knowledge in general, n. 3048, 3071, 3143, 3145, 4156; that "a locust" denotes nourishing truth in the extremes, n. 7643; and that "honey" denotes the pleasantness thereof, n. 5620, 6857, 8056). It is called "wild honey," or "honey of the field," because by "a field" is signified the church (n. 2971, 3317, 3766, 7502, 7571, 9139, 9295).
He who does not know that such things are signified, cannot possibly know why Elijah and John were so clothed. And yet that these things signified something peculiar to these prophets, can be thought by everyone who thinks well about the Word.
 Because John the Baptist represented the Lord as to the Word, therefore also when he spoke of the Lord, who was the Word itself, he said of himself that he was "not Elias, nor the prophet,” and that he was "not worthy to loose the latchet of the Lord's shoe," as in John:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and God was the Word. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory.
The Jews from Jerusalem, priests and Levites, asked John who he was. And he confessed, and denied not, I am not the Christ.
Therefore they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? But he said, I am not. Art thou the prophet? He answered, No. They said therefore unto him, Who art thou? He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said Isaiah the prophet. They said therefore, Why then baptizest thou, if thou art not the Christ, nor Elias, nor the prophet? He answered, I baptize with water; in the midst of you standeth one whom ye know not; He it is who is to come after me, who was before me, the latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to unloose.
When he saw Jesus, he said, Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world!
From these words it is plain that when John spoke about the Lord Himself, who was Truth Divine itself, or the Word, he said that he himself was not anything, because the shadow disappears when the light itself appears, that is, the representative disappears when the original itself makes its appearance.
(That the representatives had in view holy things, and the Lord Himself, and not at all the person that represented, see n. 665, 1097, 1361, 3147, 3881, 4208, 4281, 4288, 4292, 4307, 4444, 4500, 6304, 7048, 7439, 8588, 8788, 8806.)
One who does not know that representatives vanish like shadows at the presence of light, cannot know why John denied that he was Elias and the prophet.
 From all this it can now be seen what is signified by Moses and Elias, who were seen in glory, and who spoke with the Lord when transfigured, of His departure which He should accomplish at Jerusalem (Luke 9:29-31); namely, that they signified the Word ("Moses" the historic Word, and "Elias" the prophetic Word), which in the internal sense throughout treats of the Lord, of His coming into the world, and of His departure out of the world; and therefore it is said that "Moses and Elias were seen in glory," for "glory" denotes the internal sense of the Word, and the "cloud" its external sense (see the preface to Genesis 18, and n. 5922, 8427).