Rev. CALVIN ODHNER
Text: Luke 1:5-35; True Christian Religion 766
Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God (Luke 1:34,35).
Good morning, and welcome to the Pittsburgh New Church! Very soon we will celebrate the Lord’s birth on earth and opening Christmas presents; it’s an exciting time of year! The Lord needed to be born so that He could save all of us! This was His goal in being born on earth. But how long had He been preparing to do this? And how was He born? Let’s read about it.
Each year, each Christmas, we are given a new opportunity to celebrate the Lord’s birth! And not just because it’s a fresh Christmas, but because you are different! You are changing! You are becoming more spiritual, more awake to your spiritual needs and to your need for a connection with your Maker. We read:
“Behold, I am making all things new.” Rev. 21:5
Each year, the shepherds, the wisemen, Joseph, Mary and the Baby Lord stir our affections. The song of the angels, "Peace… good will to men," echoes in our mind! The awe of the incarnation, the Lord coming into the world, brings new ideas of how He can come more deeply into our lives.
"Hallelujah, the Lord, God, omnipotent shall reign, and His name shall be called wonderful, counselor, the mighty God, father of eternity, prince of peace.”
And with His entry into our mind comes the greatest gift we could ever ask for at Christmas: the gift of human happiness, every day to eternity. It’s so easy to forget that because of His birth we can find salvation! Without it, all human life would have been lost. But now the potential for a heavenly life exists as a practical reality. The spiritual freedom granted to each one of us through His glorification is now secure! It has been revealed in the internal sense of the Word with a clear path of instruction. The wonder, and majesty of His birth is just as present now as on that first holy morning when the world awoke to the good news of the Messiah's birth.
Even this morning we, too, have come to worship our Savior, whose life made our own possible. Yet before the announcement of the Lord’s birth, there had been an unprecedented amount of preparation. Preparation that started before known history, when people fell away from being spiritual in the most ancient church, and this preparation continued until just before the Lord's birth.
The period covered by the Old Testament, and the centuries between it and the New Testament, were, spiritually and naturally, a preparation for the Lord's advent. This stands out in the Messianic prophecies, the first of which was given in the Garden of Eden.
And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. (Gen. 3:15)
At the very beginning of our exploration into the Word, the Lord takes time to explain this prophecy: that the serpent is all evil in general, and serpents have different kinds of poison corresponding to different kinds of hatreds (Arcana #250). In the other world, people are classified very carefully by the good and evil they carry there with them, just like animals are classified by species in this world. This poison comes from the great deceiver in Revelation, known as the five senses and the memory of the natural mind (Revelation 12:3, 9; 20:2). The great deceiver causes us to believe that the here and now is all there is to life, and if this is all there is, then hatred and revenge of the Lord and the neighbor are no problem! Nothing matters. This hatred will always be at odds or enmity with the church--the woman. The church will bruise the serpent’s head, and the serpent will bruise the Lord’s heel. The Lord’s advent, prophesied here, happens in each of us when we wake up to this raging battle, using Him as the commander of our army, and begin regeneration.
Each prophecy was adapted to the spirit of the age in which it was given, formed by the history of the times; and when we consider that each of these prophecies was needed to present some aspect of the Messianic concept, that each one could be given only to an age for which it had specific meaning, we see, in a new way the Lord's providential leading of the Jews through history.
He provided a systematic preparation for His coming, a connecting thread running throughout the Old Testament. Preparation was not confined just to prophecies, either. Within the land of Canaan itself, the Lord's ancestry was being prepared through many generations. This work required many signs, more and more open and definitive, by which He might be recognized at His advent.
Through geography, and by means of certain civilizations, there was a further secret preparation through world events; preparation looking to the provision of things necessary for the Lord’s advent itself and for the spread of Christianity throughout the then-known world.
In order that the Gospel might be preached and understood, it was necessary there be a cultural and religious exchange between Jew and Gentile; that certain ideas be developed out of history and philosophy; that there be a common language; and that the world be united under a stable government.
For hundreds of years the Divine Providence operated secretly to effect this preparation. The birth of the Lord marked the accomplishment of that work, as it marked also the end of the first great division of time.
With the Lord’s birth a new era began: an era of salvation for all who would believe, in heart and mind and life, that the child born in Bethlehem was indeed "a Savior who is Christ the Lord.”
We may ask why He came as an infant Child. Sadly, this was all the world could bear of the Divine at the time. Had the Lord descended in the glory and form of His Divine Nature, people would have been dazed and stunned by the sudden appearance of a Being transcendently holy; their eyes would have been blinded by the incandescence of the Divine, for the simple reason that because of generations of evil and worldliness, people's perception of spiritual truth had been completely lost.
A knowledge of the true nature of God and the vision of the heavenly life had long since been blurred by selfish hearts and deceitful minds. The lack of spiritual life in people was described by the prophet Isaiah:
Run ye to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem and see now and know, and seek in the broad places thereof, if ye can find a man, if there be any that executeth judgment, that seeketh the truth, and I will pardon it.
At that time, all the world could endure of Divine truth, the Word made flesh, was the very smallest form of human life, an infant who grew to manhood and talked of heavenly things in the veiled language of parables.
Only in this way could the Lord touch the hearts and minds of men. This constituted the first advent, and it was basically external, for the Lord came in a bodily form of flesh and blood; He mingled with people, healed their diseases and infirmities; performed other miracles which astonished the multitudes; and they witnessed with their own eyes His life and death. This first advent revealed the Lord as a Personal Being who was deeply concerned for the well-being of His children. It provided us with the rudiments of the Christian life through both example and lessons taught in the parables spoken from the hillside, at the seashore, and in the villages of Galilee. But now has begun another new age, one in which we may see and worship the Divine Human. In the second advent, the Lord comes not as an infant in swaddling clothes, but in a glorified form, the Divine Human, which touches the hearts and minds of all of us.
The truths veiled in the language of parable are revealed so that the inner meaning of the Scripture is opened to our rational mind. When we stand and gaze at the perfection of Divine law as seen in the spiritual sense of the Word, we experience a deeper concept of life’s purpose, a fuller appreciation of the Lord’s love, and a clearer understanding of His providence. With this deeper insight begins a new creation within us, a new soul infilled with the spirit of love and wisdom from the Divine. Remember how slow and reluctant people were to recognize and acknowledge the Lord’s first advent? Within the infant form, lying in a manger in Bethlehem, unseen, and hardly suspected by the adoring shepherds and gift-giving wise men, was the seed of Divine Life. In His Mind which grew so rapidly in strength and wisdom, was the Truth Divine that came as “a light to lighten the gentiles.” This wisdom was so concealed in a human form that few recognized its true nature; not many of the Lord's contemporaries thought of His words as "spirit and life."
The people were more interested in miracles, the prospect of an earthly ruler powerful enough to throw off the yoke of Roman tyranny than they were in justice and righteousness. And, once again, today few recognize His second advent.
Many of our local churches wait in silence and doubt, for many alleged prophets through the centuries have come forth with positive predictions, naming the day and the hour of the Second Coming, and nothing has happened. The people of old were looking in the wrong place for the coming Messiah, even while He was walking in their midst. Similarly, today the world waits with diminishing expectancy for the Second Coming, and yet we know it has already taken place.
We recognize by reading the Heavenly Doctrines that the second advent happens in the minds of people. In the reconstruction of our will and understanding with spiritual materials like the truths of doctrine. From the Arcana we read:
“Every advent of the Lord implies the desire to make a new beginning in the growth of the spiritual life on the part of those who are being regenerated” (see Arcana Coelestia 728).
What a whole new world of possibilities the truth of these words opens up for us and for Christians everywhere. Each time a truth from the Lord enters the spirit of man, it is indeed an advent. These repeated advents are not seasonal, not dependent upon the closing days of the year. Each day from January to December we can see the advent of the Lord to enlighten the mind with spiritual truth, satisfying the truth-hungry soul, and leading people ever onward and upward towards the very highest goal, a heavenly life of usefulness and joy. Despite Mary’s surprise, her trust in the Lord is evident from her willingness to do whatever she is asked. The virgin Mary signifies an affection in us, a capacity to be moved and affected by truth. The Lord comes to each one of us in this affection:
"Let it be to me according to your word.”
This is the attitude we must strive to attain. Every day the Lord is urging and pressing to be received. Will we receive His truth in our hearts? Will we acknowledge that it is His, to be served and obeyed? If so, the miracle of the Advent is continually renewed.
When our wills become more pliable, when we take a humble stance as Mary did, wisdom can begin to take root in us. We read this wonderful number in True Christian Religion:
The Lord is present with every man, urging and pressing to be received; and His first coming, which is called the dawn, is when man receives Him, which he does when he acknowledges Him as his God, Creator, Redeemer, and Savior. From this time man's understanding begins to be enlightened in spiritual things, and to advance into a more and more interior wisdom; and as he receives this wisdom from the Lord, he advances through morning into day, and this day lasts with him into old age, even to death; and after death he passes into heaven to the Lord Himself; and there, although he died an old man, he is restored to the morning of his life, and the rudiments of the wisdom implanted in him in the natural world grow to eternity. (True Christian Religion 766)
The name "Jesus" is the Greek form of the Hebrew word Jehoshua or Joshua, and it means "Jehovah saves." The Lord came to save His people. He came to save us from a life of unhappiness. For this to happen the Lord has laid simple tasks before us. He began His public ministry by saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens is at hand" (Matt. 4:17) and:
"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the Gospel" (Mark 1:15)
To repent is to work with the Lord to establish heavenly order within your life. We create order by looking at how we are living our life, is there is any way in which we are hurting or injuring the Lord and other people-by what we say or do, or what we think or feel. We are told:
"In heaven the greatest person is the one who is least. For 'least' is used to describe a person who has no power and wisdom, and wants no power and wisdom from himself, only from the Lord" (Heaven and Hell 408).
Consider, this Christmas season, making a real commitment to move on one or two battle fronts. This is how we begin to see that Jesus Christ, our Lord, is present with us with His infinite love and power we will see that He alone is really able to remove our evils and forgive our sins. This is at the very heart of why the Lord came into the world and is at the every heart of why we celebrate Christmas.
As we make ready to celebrate this Christmas season, let us remember that the Lord came down and was born into the world so that He might save all people. And if He is going to save us, if we are going to be ready to live in heaven, we must be like Mary, who said to him: "Be it unto me according to thy word."
Amen. Let us pray