JOY IN THE COMING OF OUR LORD

JOY IN THE COMING OF OUR LORD

A Sermon by Rev. David C. Roth Cataloged May 4, 1997

“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east and have come to worship Him …. And when they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy” (Matthew 2:2,10).

How often have we been in the same position as the wise men, or maybe the same situation as the shepherds? We are in a position similar to theirs when we are told of the Lord and the message of His Word. As He did for the wise men and the shepherds, the Lord has made Himself known to each of us in different ways, and now it is up to us to respond. Both the shepherds and the wise men were told in different ways about the coming of the Lord and then given guidance to that special place where the Lord chose to be born. Although both were present to see the newborn Savior, they received the message of the Lord’s birth in different ways.

Most likely each of us has a favorite story in relation to the Lord’s birth. We may even ask ourselves whether it was the wise men or the shepherds who responded in a more favorable way to the announcement of the Lord’s advent. But this question is not really very important when we realize that the essential observation is the one that points to the fact that both the wise men and the shepherds did respond. They both heeded the Lord’s call, but in different ways, each according to his own state – different states, yet states which were acceptable to the Lord. How can we then apply the responses of the wise men and shepherds to our own lives on this Christmas day? As we examine the stories of the shepherds and the wise men, the spiritual sense shows us clearly of their application to our lives.

The first thing, however, that we must understand is the importance of the Lord’s birth. Without His coming we could not be in freedom to be regenerated by Him. His coming has redeemed mankind; that is, He put the hells back where they belonged, put the heavens in order so that they could be safe from the attack of the hells, and began a new church where people could love the Lord and their neighbors (see TCR 86). By His birth and fulfilled life here on earth the Lord is now present with us fully and powerfully in His Word; we are not left alone. It was this message involving all this wonderful work to be done by the Lord which the shepherds were told of, and which the wise men sought to see fulfilled. As the angel of the Lord proclaimed to the shepherds, “Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10,11). The message was clearly one to pay attention to, one to be happy about. A Savior had come, of whose kingdom there would be no end.

When we consider the call of the shepherds we see a unique response. The shepherds at this time of the year lived out in the fields with their sheep day and night, always keeping a watchful eye on their tender flocks. Perhaps we envision it being cold and dark, with the shepherds staying close to keep themselves warm. This is illustrative of the type of world into which the Lord was born – cold from the lack of charity and love, and dark because of the false understanding in which the world had engulfed its minds. Yet even in all this cold and darkness there were a few who possessed an innocence and a willingness to be led and taught by the Word. We can see this in the story of the shepherds. A shepherd represents one who teaches the truths and goods of faith. A good shepherd, that is, one that guards and protects his flock, shows us a picture of someone who is learning, protecting and storing up goods and truths. This is a picture of a basically good person, yet one who believes that life is his own, and that most power is from himself. He has been working hard to learn the truths of the Lord’s Word; however, he remains in a state of darkness as to how it all applies to his life, and how it leads him closer to the Lord and away from self. But with this learning of truth and innocent willingness the Lord is able to come to us and be born in our hearts.

The first thing which the appearing angel said to the shepherds was, “Fear not.” This represents a renewal of life, meaning that the Lord will create a new heart within us, a heart that acknowledges the Lord as our Savior and not ourselves. This actually can be a real cause for fear. We read, “For all who come suddenly from self-life into any spiritual life are at first afraid, but their life is renewed by the Lord” (AC 80). It can be a difficult and scary thing to give our life over to the care of the Lord when we feel so strongly that life is our own and that we have the power ourselves to conquer evil. When the Lord draws near, the result is temptation, and if we are good we will fear for the loss of good and truth. His nearer presence makes it feel as if we are losing what good and truth we have. But it is when we do follow the Lord, when we listen to the angel’s good tidings, that He can truly care for us. The manger in which the shepherds found the Lord represents spiritual nourishment. It is here in the presence of the Lord that we are nourished and instructed. The Lord does not lead us to Himself and then starve us; He will fill us to overflowing. The Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes means first truths, truths of innocence from the Lord’s Divine Love. When we come to the Lord He nourishes and instructs us in those things which will make us ready for His kingdom, a kingdom of innocence, love, and use.

After seeing the Babe, “the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them” (Luke 2:20). This response by the shepherds signifies a true confession and worship, which comes when we acknowledge in our hearts that there is nothing of good in ourselves, and that we can do nothing of ourselves – and, on the other hand, that all good is from the Lord, and that the Lord can do all things (see AC 1210). The Heavenly Doctrines say further of this response, “When man is in this acknowledgment he puts aside what is his own, which belongs to the love of self, and opens all things of his mind, and thus gives room for the Divine to flow in with good and with power” (AC 1210). The shepherds heard the Lord’s call and followed it. We can be like the shepherds ourselves when we make the same sort of acknowledgment regarding the power of the Lord. He will call us in His Word, but if we are looking to ourselves for strength we will not hear Him. We may celebrate the Lord’s advent, but not with the same conviction for the Lord as we would if we humbled ourselves and gave glory to the King of Glory.

From this beautiful picture of innocence as seen in the story of the shepherds we now turn to a different scenario: one of wisdom and perseverance – the story of the wise men. The wise men seemed to have a special quality about them. They knew about the advent of the Lord because they had a knowledge of the Word and its prophecies. We read concerning them, “The knowledge of correspondences survived among a number of the Orientals, even until the Lord’s Advent, as is evident from the wise men of the east who came to the Lord at His birth” (SS 23), “and that they knew of His Advent by a star which appeared to them in the east” (AC 10177).

It is interesting to think of the fact that those who were of the Jewish faith who had the Old Testament Word and who should have known that the Lord was to be born had no idea of it. When the wise men came and asked Herod, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” he had no answer but called the chief priests and scribes together to help. We can imagine that perhaps Herod was a bit embarrassed that he, the king, did not know this, as well as being jealous of this newborn King. The Word says that ” … he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. ” Whatever the nature of the response, again it was quite indicative of the state of the Jewish Church at the time. Not only was their knowledge of the Word lacking and false but many, like Herod, had an all-out hatred for the Lord. This is plainly shown in Herod’s plot to kill the infant Lord, a plot which resulted in the slaying of thousands of innocent children in Bethlehem.

The Jews at this time, it seems, were not planning or looking for the Lord. And when they did find out that He had come, there was no room in their hearts nor their inns to greet Him. Yet, as with the shepherds, we see in the story of the wise men others who were ready for the Lord. But we observe a difference in their response to the Lord’s coming, the main difference being that the wise men were actively seeking out the Lord. They had seen His star in the east and had come to worship Him. They traveled a long distance to see the star that had come out of Jacob, the Scepter that had risen out of Israel, He who was to be born King of the Jews.

In the spiritual sense, the east represents love, and the star that went before them signifies knowledge from heaven (see AC 3762, SS 23). The wise men traveling eastward to the land of the east was representative of those who in their life are moving toward the good of faith. This, the Writings teach, is nothing else than charity toward the neighbor, or a life according to the Lord’s commandments (see AC 3249). In this spiritual picture we can see that it is the knowledges of good and truth found in the Lord’s Word, represented by the star, which guide us to a life of charity or love, that is, which guide us to the Lord Himself. This paints a beautiful picture for each of us. We see that it is through the learning of the Lord’s truths and commands that we can be led to Him.

Still, the most beautiful aspect of the wise men’s response to the Lord’s Advent is seen when they departed from Herod for Bethlehem and the star reappeared before them. “And behold the star which they had seen in the east went before them, til it came and stood over where the young Child was. And when they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.” Exceeding great joy! What kind of a feeling did they have? It must have been an overwhelming feeling of excitement and internal peace over having embarked upon the last leg of the journey to their Savior, the star’s reappearing to assure them that the Lord was with them as they continued their trek. Can we ever have such feelings of great joy in our religious life? We certainly can, and we must! Talking to a person who has recently become aware of the wisdom and love found in the Heavenly Doctrines can certainly emanate exceeding great joy. Or a newly engaged or married couple show it to a certain degree. Perhaps we can even relate it to the expression a young child shows on Christmas morning. However, if we are raised in the New Church, do we lose this excitement, or never let it show? If we do, how can we regain this feeling or bring it out so that others can share it? One answer is to be like the wise men, to seek out the Lord in His Word and then come to Him when we see the star, that is, the knowledges from heaven contained in the Word. We may not find the Lord right away. Even the wise men thought they would find the Lord in Jerusalem, but He wasn’t there. They could have given up, but they asked others where He could be found. It is essential to talk to others about our beliefs and our quest for the Lord. They can add to our understanding and love for the Lord, and perhaps our picture then becomes clearer for us, which can eventually lead us to Him. Notice, the star showed itself again until it came and stood over where the young Child was. It led the wise men right to the Lord. We need the truths and goods represented by the star to lead us, and to keep leading us throughout life.

It is important to realize that truth will lead us to the Lord and make us happy, but the real joy for us in our spiritual lives will be when we come to the Lord offering gifts to Him, as the wise men did. These gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh were more than just earthly treasures. They represented testifications of the heart or will, the heart found in a person that is truly thankful for all that the Lord has done for him, and shows it by following His Word. These gifts represented things pleasing to God, because their origin is in love and faith toward Him – the love represented by gold, and our faith by the frankincense, and by myrrh is represented our love and faith grounded in things external, which is a life in obedience and love to the Lord and to our neighbor. These are the gifts which the Lord is asking us to bear on Christmas day and beyond. But more importantly to know, they are the gifts which He gives us and wills to give each of us when we respond to His coming. So on this Christmas day let us ask ourselves the following question with the earnest desire to find the answer: “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” Let us then search diligently for His star in the east and come to worship Him, that is, live a life of charity and faith in Him, because it is in this kind of a life where we too can share the vision of the shepherds and the excitement of the wise men. “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east and have come to worship Him … And when they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.” Amen.

Lessons: Luke 2:1-20; Matthew 2:1-12; AE 661


Apocalypse Explained 661

“And shall send gifts one to another” signifies their consociation. This is evident from the signification of “to send gifts” as being to be consociated by love and friendship through good will; for gifts from such an affection and disposition bring together the well-disposed as well as the ill-disposed; here those are meant who are opposed to the goods of love and the truths of doctrine, which are signified by “the two witnesses” who were killed and cast forth into the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt. It is to be known that to the ill-disposed and wicked nothing is more delightful than to destroy the goods of love and the truths of doctrine wherever they are, and to do evil to those with whom these are; for such burn with hatred against these; consequently from the hell where such are, there continually breathes forth a deadly hatred against celestial love and spiritual faith, and therefore against heaven, and especially against the Lord Himself; and as often as they are permitted to do evil they are in the delight of their heart. Such is the brutal nature of those who are in hell. This, therefore, is what is meant by “they shall rejoice over them and shall be glad.” Moreover, the wicked enter into friendships and consociate themselves for doing harm to the well- disposed; they are consociated by the delight of hatred, which is the delight of their love; this makes them appear as if friends in heart when yet they are enemies. This, therefore, is the signification of “shall send gifts one to another.”

Because gifts captivate the mind and consociate, it was a custom in ancient times to give gifts to the priest and the prophet, as also to the prince and the king, when they were approached (I Sam. 9:7, 8); and it was also a statute that they should not appear empty (that is, without a gift) before Jehovah, but in their feasts everyone should bring a gift according as he had been blessed (Exod. 23:15; 34:20; Deut. 16:16, 17). So too: “The wise men from the east brought gifts to the Lord just born: gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matt. 2: 1 1), according to the prediction in David (Psalm 72:10). So again: “The oblations upon the altar, which were sacrifices, and also the meal offerings and drink-offerings, were called gifts” (Isaiah 18:7; 57:6; 66:20; Zeph. 3: 10; Matt. 5:23, 24), and this because external gifts signified internal or spiritual gifts, namely, such as go forth from the heart, and thence are of the affection and faith; and as by these conjunction is effected, in the spiritual sense “gifts” in reference to God signify conjunction, and in reference to men consociation.

FAITH WITHOUT CHARITY DESTROYS

FAITH WITHOUT CHARITY DESTROYS A Sermon by Rev. David C. Roth Preached in Chicago, Illinois, November 3, 1991

It seems at times impossible to change our lives. We get caught up in an addiction, a fear, or a destructive attitude like prejudice, and no matter what efforts we make to change, we still seem to fall back into our old patterns. What is wrong with us? The Lord promises us we will change if we follow His Word – if we learn His truths. Yes, learning truth is a big part of following the Lord, but you’ll notice He never says, “Just learn the truth and you will be fine.” It is easy to take the quote “The truth shall make you free” and assume that it will do just that. Dead wrong. We are missing the whole teaching which is, “If you abide in My Word, you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” If we abide in the truth then we will know it. It is as if the Lord is saying, “If you don’t live according to My teachings you really will not know what they mean”; they will not be truth to us.

The Lord has taught us in His Word by means of stories, often parables, but many times through historical narratives that teach a hidden message about the Lord’s heavenly kingdom. The story of the ark of the covenant being stolen by the Philistines and finally returned is a most graphic story which shows us what happens when we depend on faith alone or truth and knowledge alone to change our lives.

In the Word, whenever the Philistines are mentioned it is talking about faith alone, or a life devoid of charity and good works. In our story the Philistines were warring with the Children of Israel. In this case the Philistines were winning. In fact, they won a battle against Israel and then the warring parties returned to their respective camps. Israel represents the church, so at this point the church was losing to faith alone. In other words, people were turning their backs on a life of good, and thinking that a life of religion depended only on faith alone, or knowledge of the Word without applying it to their lives. When this happens, the church slowly gets destroyed.

To redeem themselves the Children of Israel brought the ark of the covenant which contained the ten commandments from Shiloh to their camp, thinking that this would make Jehovah’s influence stronger and so defeat the Philistines. Did it work? You would expect that having the Lord present would give the Israelites the power to conquer any enemies. This did actually cause the Philistines to be afraid, but they said among themselves, “Be strong and conduct yourselves like men that you do not becomes servants of the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Conduct yourselves like men and fight!” (I Samuel 4:9) When they did as they said, they defeated Israel and captured the ark.

It is interesting as we look at this as a metaphor for our spiritual lives. Israel, which represents the church in us or the good and truth within us based on how we receive the Lord, is defeated by the Philistines, which is that facade that faith alone or knowledge and intelligence without putting them to use will save us. When we turn from the Lord, as Israel did, then this belief has the ability to defeat us. It is easy to think that faith alone will change our lives. It is a real danger in the New Church to think that simply reading and meditating on the Word of the Lord in both the Sacred Scriptures and the Writings is a life of religion. But as the Writings say, “Religion is of life, and the life of religion is to do good.”

When we find that we are losing control of our lives, as the army of Israel was experiencing in their battles, then we immediately grab the nearest copy of the Writings and start to read, which is like thinking that bringing the ark into the camp will change everything. This means we think the solution is learning some more truth rather than living what we know. By doing this we are not breaking the bonds of faith alone; we lose the battle over our lives anyway, and eventually lose the Word itself, because truth that is not applied is dead and will be taken away from us, either on this earth or after death. This is what is represented by the armies of the Philistines defeating Israel and capturing the ark. We can have all the truth in the world, but unless we live it, it is of no power, just as Israel was powerless over the Philistines.

When the Philistines had possession of the ark, they set it in the house of Dagon, a Philistine idol. When they came to the house the next day the idol of Dagon had fallen on its face before the ark of God. So they set it on its feet again. The next morning when they had come in, Dagon was again fallen on its face before the ark, this time with its head and the palms of its hands broken off. This particular incident is very illustrative of the kind of power that faith alone really has – none. Dagon in this instance represents the religion of the Philistines, or the religion of a person in faith alone, that is, someone who places everything of religion in knowledge and facts.

Their idol Dagon was part man and part fish, kind of like a merman. The part like a man stands for intelligence, and the fish part below stands for knowledge. As is clear from what happens, intelligence and knowledge alone cannot stand up to a religion that is based on a life of good and charity. It is powerless. Before the ark of God the idol falls to its face. The second time it falls is even more significant. The head and the hands break off, which signifies the lack of real intelligence and power with faith alone. The head signifies intelligence and the hands, power. If we think that knowing a lot of things without putting them to use is going to help us, we are sadly mistaken. This illustrates that in reality we have no strength and no intelligence.

These incidents with Dagon make the Philistines realize that something is wrong with their having the ark in Ashdod, so they send it on to another city. Cities in the Word represent doctrine – in this case, false doctrines or false ideas which we possess: like the idea that lying helps our relationships with other people, or that drinking helps us to communicate more openly, so drinking is good. Just like the Philistines not giving the ark back to Israel but sending the ark to another city, we don’t give up on the faith-alone idea; we just try it out on new ideas we have (send the ark to new cities) rather than return the ark to Israel, which in effect would be starting to live a life of charity and good.

This only causes more problems for the Philistines, which to us means that we find ourselves beating our heads against the wall. When we refuse to actually change our lives and instead just try out more false ideas, or even fall back into the same destructive thought patterns, then the results become clear. In the story all the people of the cities which received the ark broke out with hemorrhoids or with the bubonic plague and the land was ravished by mice. When we don’t shun evils as sins, which a belief in faith alone doesn’t allow, then all of our evil inclinations run rampant and take control of our lives because we don’t do anything to stop them. Knowledge or intelligence alone will not do it. What are represented by these hemorrhoids which afflicted the people are the filthy loves, or natural loves which are separate from spiritual loves, which makes them unclean. They become like sores or boils on our spiritual persons. An obvious example would be the love for having sex. This is a beautiful love if it is coupled with a spiritual love that goes with marriage called conjugial love. But if this love is separate from the spiritual origin, then it becomes a filthy love and manifests itself as fornication and adultery instead of pure marriage love.

The mice which ravished the land of the Philistines represent the devastation or destruction of the church by falsification of truth. Fields and land usually represent truth, and mice have the ability to destroy a field of its crop; that is why the mice represent the falsification or wiping away of truth. This is what faith without charity or truth without good does. If truth has no foundation in good, then our false ideas can take it and twist it into what is false, which destroys the essence of truth.

This sounds like a pretty dismal picture for the Philistines. It makes you wonder why they didn’t send the ark back right away if every time they sent it to a city the people there would break out with painful sores and their land and fields would become ravished. But we know how difficult it is to let go of a false idea if it serves our purposes. We are basically stubborn when we latch onto false ideas. Why should we have to actually work on our lives by shunning evils and turning to good? That is hard work. Why not just believe in the Lord and declare our faith in Him and be saved, as so many millions of people in the world around us have done? Because we eventually see that our spiritual lives are not in peace; our bodies are covered with sores spiritually and we are in pain. And what we relied on for strength – the truth we know – is losing its power; it is literally being eaten away. It took the Philistines seven months to realize that they had better send the ark back to Israel. If we are lucky it will take us only seven months, but usually it takes many years of pain and struggle before we realize that a change is in order.

Actually the number seven here is very important. Seven represents what is full or complete. We often hear that an alcoholic, for example, must hit bottom before he or she realizes that there must be change. The signification of seven months is to point out that it does often take a complete or full state of despair or destruction to make us wake up and make an effort to change our lives – in this case, to realize that the only true path of religion is to shun evils as sins and to do good. This is a most important duality.

If we want to stop the pain and devastation in our lives we are going to have to make a change; this is what is represented by the Philistines sending the ark back to Israel. The Word of the Lord must be coupled with a life of good. Faith without charity is an empty, lifeless, and even painful existence. What the Philistines do next represents this change we must make.

The Philistines sent the ark back to Israel, but they did not send it alone. They built a new cart out of wood and placed the ark in it and hitched it up to two milk cows which had never been yoked. In the cart with the ark they placed five golden tumors and five golden mice. These were a trespass offering to the Lord. How did they know to send these articles in the cart? Because the lords of the Philistines knew about correspondences, they knew to send the ark back in order to appease Jehovah. All of the things they did were very significative, as you will see, especially for New Church faith aloners.

The new cart which they built represents the kind of doctrine that must be used to begin our change. It represents doctrinal things of memory-knowledge, which are doctrinal things from the literal sense of the Word. But since it is a new cart it signifies new doctrine that is untainted by our previous false beliefs or our own interpretation of the Word. The reason the ark was to be set in this cart was that “The ark represents heaven, which stands and rests upon the doctrinal things of memory-knowledges” (AC 5945). Genuine truths and stories from the literal sense of the Word must be our foundation for spiritual life, for as said, all of heaven rests upon it. This is a strong message for us in the church: if we do not study the Old and New Testaments but put all of our time into the Writings, we are missing our foundation. The whole of the Word teaches from start to finish that the Lord is to be acknowledged and that man must shun evils and live well. This is what is contained in the ark; this is the doctrine we see represented by the ark in the new cart.

The five golden tumors which are to go in the ark represent our natural loves purified and made good. Why are they in the cart with the ark? Because the only way to purify these loves is through living the truths of the decalogue, that which is represented by the cart and the ark in it. The same holds true for the golden mice. Also put into the ark, they represent the end of the devastation and destruction of the church with us, or the end of the falsification of truth, which ends only by means of doing good. Gold signifies good. It may seem odd that they made golden tumors and mice rather than something beautiful to appease the Lord. But gold is gold and good is good no matter what form or shape it takes. Externals don’t make the difference; internals do. It is our motive and reason for doing good, not how wonderful the act of good was. We read, “The external is estimated from the internal, and not the reverse” TCR 595).

What is it that is going to get this offering and the ark back to Israel? In other words, where are we going to get the power to move this heavy cart of good intentions on the road to a life of good? By remains, of course. The cows in this story represent good natural affections. They have never been yoked because to be yoked would have meant that they were defiled by falsities. But we know that the Lord stores up within us, free from defilement by our natural heredity, remains which are affections for what is good and true. It is in times like these that the Lord stirs our remains and empowers us to move that cart, or to get going on our new life.

To me the most interesting and true part of this whole picture is the lowing of the cows on the way up the road. The path to regeneration and change is not without pain. It is not easy to leave our old habits and our love for doing what we know is wrong, no matter how well we know what’s right. It is our love, our very life, but if we want to live to eternity, that old life must be given up. The old man must die before the new man can be born. The cows’ lowing on the way up the road represents “the difficult conversion of the lusts of evil of the natural man into good affections” (DP 326). We can imagine ourselves on the path to recovery or change and whining and complaining about giving up our old ways, but the remains which the Lord has given us will pull us through. You will note in the story that the cows headed straight for the road to Beth Shemesh, and once on the road they did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.

Once we get on the path of life the Lord will hold us there. We may whine and complain along the way, but we know we have to give up what we used to consider happiness and joy in exchange for the true joy and peace that awaits us when we follow the Lord. As Divine Providence states, “Man is admitted interiorly into the truths of faith only so far as he can be kept in them right up to the end of his life.”

This is a very illustrative and graphic story of the danger of faith alone, but it also paints a beautiful picture giving hope that we can change our lives; we can depart from destructive habits and attitudes, but it will take work. We will have some pain, and probably complain, as illustrated by the lowing of the cows, but the Lord will guide our path until we have made it back to Israel where we can find some peace and happiness from a new life – a life of charity and good will to each other, the life of heaven. Amen.

Lessons: I Samuel 5,6; AE 211


Apocalypse Explained 211 They who are in faith alone and in no charity know not that they are in falsities, because they believe themselves to be in truths, when yet out of the false principle, which is that faith alone saves, falsities flow in a continual series; for a principle draws all things to its own side, since they must be connected with it; and this is the cause of their great ignorance in regard to the things of heaven and the church. That they who are in faith alone are so ignorant is clear from this, that they do not know what celestial love is, which is love to the Lord; what spiritual love is, which is charity toward the neighbor; what the neighbor is, what good is, what the conjunction of good and truth is, what spiritual life is, what spiritual affection is, what conscience is, what freedom of choice is, what regeneration is, what spiritual temptation is, what baptism and the holy supper are, and why they are commanded, what the spiritual sense of the Word is, what heaven and hell are, and that both of them are from the human race; and as to many other things. From this their ignorance, falsities flow whenever these subjects are thought about, since they are unable to think, as was said above, from any illustration or to have any internal sight respecting anything spiritual.