The Word Made Flesh

The Word Made Flesh

A Sermon by James P. Cooper

Toronto, December 9, 2012

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1,14)

Each of the four evangelists treats the story of the Lord’s birth on earth in a very different manner. Matthew, himself a Jew, gives us a genealogy linking Jesus to Abraham, Joseph’s perspective on the miracle, and the visit of the Wise Men. Mark, author of the shortest and most direct gospel, leaves out the story of the Lord’s birth altogether and begins with the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan. There is evidence that although Luke was not himself a disciple, he did know Mary very well, and we should not be surprised that his gospel presents the story primarily from her point of view. From Luke we learn about the birth of John, the Annunciation, the Lord’s birth in Bethlehem, the adoration of the shepherds, and His presentation in the temple.

John’s gospel is much more philosophical and theological, and tells the story of the Lord’s incarnation completely in just a few words. It is an intellectual and doctrinal presentation, and does little to stir the affections, and yet it is worth our study and reflection.

The very first thing John writes, the leading idea of his gospel, is that the very first thing that existed, and the thing from which all other things have life, is the Word. He said with profound simplicity, In the beginning was the Word (text). There should be an immediate recognition of the similarity between that phrase and the very first idea in the Word, the leading idea of the whole of scripture, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). John is consciously directing us to identify the “Word” with God the Creator. The Heavenly Doctrines of the New Church support this view, and expand on it; and in doing so, develop our understanding of the Word and its function in our lives.

The Doctrines tell us that many people believe that truth is only something that someone in authority says, or a description of something in the natural world that can be demonstrated to others. Some have even come to believe that truth is “relative,” that what is true for one person is not necessarily true for another, and have therefore come to believe that truth is what is acceptable to other men at a given time and under certain circumstances.

A recent article about religious faith in America today made it very clear that a significant number of Christians believe that when the letter of the Word conflicts with what people wish to believe, then the Word must be changed or it will cease to be “relevant.”

People have struggled with God’s laws since the beginning of time. People have always wanted to interpret them to favor their own activities, and to limit the activities of their enemies, but today we are seeing the acceptance of the idea that people’s opinions are of a higher authority than the Lord’s Word Itself.

This is a very limited and incorrect view. Truth is not objective. If we took a vote, and every single person on the planet voted that, based on their own observations, the earth was flat, it would not make it so. A thing that is true is true whether people believe it to be true or not.

Further, truth is not just ideas, or words, but truth is something that has power. Truth is the system of order that holds things together. The power of truth can do great good, and when misdirected it can do great harm. In the Word, truth is represented by stones, and every way that stones are used in the Word shows something about truth. There are precious gems, there are simple altars, there are great cities, and there are people executed by stoning. We can use truth to build things to honor God, to honor man, or to destroy. It is our choice because truth has real power in our lives!

Truth has power in our lives because it and good are the principles of all things in both the spiritual and natural worlds, and they are the means by which the universe was created and by which it is preserved. These two are the all in all of everything (TCR 224:1).

The Human Race, and everything else in the universe, was made by Divine Truth. This is true because all things in man are from the understanding and the will, the understanding being the receptacle of Divine Truth, and the will that of Divine Good. Consequently the human mind, which, like everything in the created universe, consists of those two principles, is nothing but a form of Divine Truth and Divine Good, spiritually and naturally organized: the human brain is itself such a form. (See TCR 224:2) The Apocalypse Explained puts it this way:

The Lord is called “the Word” because the Word signifies Divine truth; He is also called “the Light” because Divine truth is the light in the heavens; He is also called “the Life,” because everything that lives, lives from that life; from that also angels have intelligence and wisdom, in which their life consists. (AE 196:1)

The Life itself that proceeds from the Lord and fills heaven and the world, is the life of His love, and in heaven this appears as light, and because this light is life it enlightens the minds of angels, and enables them to understand and be wise. From this it is that the Lord calls Himself not only “the Life” but also “the Light.” The light which is life from the Lord in heaven is there called Divine truth, because it shines in the minds of those who are there, and thence shines before their eyes. (AE 186:11)

As all things of the Word both in general and in particular treat of the Lord; and as the Word, being the Divine truth, is the Lord, it is evident why it is said, And the Word was made flesh. (See Lord 2) As the Lord prepared Himself to be born on earth, the Divine Truth itself passed through every degree of heaven, clothing itself with forms to make it suitable and acceptable in the world of men. As it passed through the celestial heaven, the Divine Truth was accommodated to the celestial understanding. As it passed through the Spiritual and Natural heavens, it was accommodated to those levels of understanding, and when the infant Jesus Christ was born into this world, the Divine Good and Truth were clothed and accommodated in such a way as to be received and understood in this world. Therefore, when John talks about the Word becoming flesh, he is referring to the process whereby the Divine Truth Itself as it exists above the heavens accommodated and prepared itself for reception in the natural world. John was not only speaking of the fulfillment of the literal prophecies of the Old Testament – although that too was accomplished. (See TCR 85:2)

The Heavenly Doctrines also give us the reason why He chose to take on the mortal human body in the world, why He wished to be subject to the ills and temptations of this world: He did it this way in order to bring the hells into order. This can be illustrated by thinking about an adult who is looking after a room full of little children. We can imagine the adult in one room while the children play in another. At first, all is peaceful. Then a little squabble breaks out which the adult stops by calling out to the children. Soon another squabble breaks out, and hoping that they will bring themselves into order if given the chance, he asks one of the older children to sort it out, and that too works for a while, but eventually things get so out of hand that he must go into the room himself and bring it back into order. The Lord wanted us to keep ourselves in order so He first sent the Word to teach us the right way to behave, and later sent the prophets to warn us, but evils multiplied upon evils until He had to come Himself in such a form as the hells could attack so that He could bring the whole of the spiritual and natural worlds back into a state of order. (See AC 10182:4)

What is so surprising is that although the Lord’s coming has been predicted and looked for for generations, when He finally did arrive, He was not understood or received by “His own”, the Jewish Church. John puts it this way: And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. (John1:5,10,11)

“Light” is Divine truth, and “darkness” the falsities in which those are who are not in the light, (AE 151:4) and especially the falsities of those within the church. (AC 1839:7) The Lord’s doctrines were the light to show all people in all ages the way to lift themselves up out of their misery and frustration, to bring meaning and eternal delights to life in this world – but when these people were offered the choice of repentance and salvation, they instead elected to remain in the delights of their own chosen evils.

For all the sophistication and knowledge of the modern world available to us today, for all our scientific accomplishments, for all our studies of economics and the lessons of history, many people remain in seeming ignorance of the principles of life which will bring them eternal satisfaction. Some people, knowing these principles, reject them. The Heavenly Doctrines tell us about such people that because the Word is from the Lord, and the Lord is in the Word, it follows that those who reject the truths of the Word are at the same time rejecting the Lord, because the Lord and the Word form a unity that cannot be broken. For the same reasons, those who reject either the Word or the Lord also reject the Church itself, for the Church exists from the Lord by means of the truths of the Word. Finally, those who reject the Church from such principles, shut themselves out of heaven, because the most important function of the Church is to introduce men to heaven by showing them how to a life of mere civil obedience into a life of moral and spiritual value. (See TCR 384)

In the final analysis, John’s philosophical presentation of the manner of the Lord’s birth on earth, the concept that the Word must become Flesh, tells us that the Spiritual knowledges that are given to us from the Word must become “flesh”, that is, they must be applied to our lives in the natural world. The Divine truth which is from the Lord is continually flowing in with man, and forms his understanding, and without this continual influx of the truth Divine that proceeds from the Lord a man can perceive and understand nothing whatever. For the Divine truth that proceeds from the Lord is the light which lights up the mind of man, and makes the internal sight, which is the understanding. But those who receive the Lord’s truths are those who are in the good of life; and those who do not receive truth from the Lord are those who are in evil of life. However, it is important to note that both those who are in the good of life and those who are in the evil of life have the capacity of perceiving, understanding, and receiving truth insofar as they desist from evil.

This is an essential point that must be understood. Every angel in heaven, every man in the world, and every devil in hell has the intellectual capacity to understand and receive the spiritual truths presented in the Heavenly Doctrines of the New Church. It is the persistence in evil that clouds man’s understanding. No one can think clearly about spiritual things when he is trying to find a way to make evil allowable in the context of his own life. The Divine Truth, a continuous gift from the Lord, is only received and appropriated to man in the proportion that he shuns evils as sins. (See AC9399:1,3)

Nothing else constitutes spiritual life with man but the knowledges of truth and good from the Word applied to life; and they are applied to life when man holds them as the laws of his life, for he then looks to the Lord in everything, and with such the Lord is present, and gives intelligence and wisdom and affection for them and delight in them. For the Lord is in His truths with man, since every truth proceeds from the Lord, and what proceeds from the Lord that is His, even so that it is He; therefore the Lord says: – The Word was with God, and God was the Word. In Him was life; and the life was the light of men. That was the true light, that lights every man. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (John 1:1,4,9,14). (AE 196:1) AMEN.

First Lesson: JOH 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. {2} He was in the beginning with God. {3} All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. {4} In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. {5} And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. {6} There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. {7} This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. {8} He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. {9} That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. {10} He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. {11} He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. {12} But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: {13} who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. {14} And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. {15} John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.’” {16} And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. {17} For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. {18} No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him. Amen.

Second Lesson: AC 4180:5

[5] It being the Divine Human, and not the Divine itself, from which Divine Truth proceeds, it is the Divine Human therefore which is meant here by ‘the Dread of Isaac’. For as has been stated, it is Divine Truth which strikes fear into someone, not Divine Good. That it is the Lord’s Divine Human, and not the Divine itself, from which Divine Truth proceeds is an arcanum that has not been disclosed up to now. The implications of the arcanum are as follows: Before the Lord came into the world the Divine itself flowed into the whole of heaven; and because heaven at that time consisted for the most part of those who were celestial, that is, who were governed by the good of love, that influx of God’s Almighty power furnished the light which shone in the heavens, and with that light wisdom and intelligence. But when the human race departed from the good of love and charity it was no longer possible for that light to be provided by way of heaven, nor consequently for the wisdom and intelligence to come through to the human race. For this reason, so that the human race might be saved, the Lord out of necessity came into the world and made Divine the Human within Himself in order that as to that Divine Human He might become Divine Light, and in so doing might bring light to the whole of heaven and to the whole world. He had been from eternity Light itself, for the Divine itself passing through the heavens was the source of that Light. And it was the Divine itself which took on the Human and made this Human Divine; and once that Human had been made Divine He was then able to bring light not only to the celestial heaven itself but also to the spiritual heaven, and to the human race too, which received and receives Divine Truth within good, that is, within love to Him and within charity towards the neighbor, as is evident in John,

As many as received Him, to them He gave power to be sons of God, to those believing in His name, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12, 13. Amen.

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