The Lowly King

 

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

And she brought forth her first-born Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:7)

Each year our affections are stirred by the familiar passages of scripture which describe the Lord’s miraculous birth on earth, for at Christmas time, more than at any other time of the year, we surround ourselves with people that we love and things that remind us of the lovely times we have had in the past. Memories of special tableaux merge with thoughts of our favorite passages, and with other delicious, but far less spiritual memories as well. There are so many things that give us pleasure, so many things to do and to enjoy, so many things that are extra special for Christmas.

Yes, the celebration of Christmas can be quite fancy and splendid, and there is nothing wrong with that – as long as it serves to support our understanding and acknowledgment of the Lord’s birth on earth as our Redeemer and Savior.

The Lord did not have to be born in the stable in Bethlehem. He could have chosen to be born in a splendid palace. After all, He was coming to become the King of Kings! And if He was to receive any respect at all from the other kings, He would have to show them all the proper signs of office, and one of the most important signs for a king in those days would have been “conspicuous consumption,” the practice of using up huge, excessive quantities of things to show that you had so much wealth that you could waste a fortune and not even feel it. But instead, the Lord chose a lowly, humble birth because it told far more about Him and His mission that would have been the case if He had been born in a palace.

In the Word, an “inn” stands for a place of instruction. In this story, because it is an inn in the city of Bethlehem, it stands for a place of instruction for the Jewish Church, thus the source of the doctrinal knowledge of that church. But there was no room for the Lord in the inn, that is, there was no room for the Lord, the Messiah Himself, in the teachings of the Jewish Church at that time. Yes, they spoke of how much they wished to see the Messiah, but after seeing how they treated Him when He did come, we have to wonder if they were not but giving the teaching lip service?

What would it have meant to the leaders of the Jewish Church if they had accepted the Lord as the Messiah? They would have had to turn over their positions of leadership and power and submit themselves to Him. The evidence of scripture is that they would not have done this easily or willingly.

What would it have meant to the common members of the Jewish church if they had accepted the Lord as the Messiah? They would have had to do as John the Baptist called them to do, to turn away from their evils and bring their lives back into order. We don’t have to look very far to see how people react to sudden, drastic change. Nobody likes it, particularly when it is imposed by someone else. In order for the common Jew to accept the Lord as his Messiah, he would have to make drastic changes in his daily life, turning away from many evils which had become acceptable in the Jewish church. When faced with the prospect of such change, most people would try to find another way. The great majority of the Jews did they best they could to avoid the whole situation by ignoring it. Their Messiah came, but He was too much trouble, so they turned away from Him, and hoped for a less troublesome leader.

So we can see that there was no room for Him in the inn, that is, there was no room for Him in the doctrines and the practices of the Jewish Church at that time, for to allow Him in would have required too much change. But why was He not born in a palace?

The Lord could have been born in a most splendid palace, and have been laid in a bed adorned with precious gems, but it would have represented and signified His presence, and therefore acceptance of, those who were in no doctrine of truth at all. He did not come to earth to be with those who had nothing of spiritual truth, for they could not comprehend the meaning of His mission. He had to be born among those who signified the doctrine of truth and the good of life that is derived from it, for it represents the fact that the Lord is born in the hearts and minds of those who seek the truth and guide their lives according to it, and no others. This is why He chose to be born in a stable, instead of a splendid palace. (See AE 706:12)

The Heavenly Doctrines tell us that another important reason for the Lord to be born in a stable is because a stable is where horses and cattle are kept, and the Lord desired to be born among horses and cattle, rather than among kings and princes, because of what horses and cattle represented.

All animals that are mentioned in the Word signify different human affections, which should not be surprising, since we ourselves use such symbolism in common speech. A courageous man is called “lion-hearted,” someone who is very clever is compared to a fox, and so on. There are also a number of comparisons that can be made with evil and useless beasts which represent evil and useless affections, but we are interested here with the gentle and useful animals which represent good affections.

The cause of this signification in the Word is from the spiritual world, for we are told that there, when the angels are speaking about various affections, the beasts that correspond to them are seen. For example, once some boys were being taught about the doctrine of faith alone, and they observed a group of people who had held to that faith in the world as they entered heaven. Unfortunately, the visitors felt suffocated by the sphere of heaven, as it contradicted their faith, and the boys saw them fall from heaven. As they fell, their form changed and they appeared to the boys as a dead horse. Their instructor told them that they appeared in this way because they did not have an affection for understanding what the Word teaches. Their understanding of the Word was dead, and since a horse represents the understanding of the Word, and their understanding of the Word was dead, they were seen as a dead horse. This upset the boys, because, as they said to their teacher, they did not understand the Word, and therefore they too must appear to others as a dead horse. Their teacher comforted them by telling them that it was the love or affection that was represented, and while it was true that they did not know much about the Word as yet, the difference between them and the group of those in faith alone was that they loved the Word, and wanted to understand, and this love is what the other spirits saw representatively, and it gave them genuine delight (See AR 611). This then is the reason why in the Word by “beasts” are signified affections; but what affections are signified appears only from the internal sense. AC 5198:2,3

The horse in particular has to do with the intellect and the understanding because it is an animal that can be trained to do so many things that are useful. Swedenborg tells us that once he saw many horses and chariots in the spiritual world. As he and his companions drew near, however, both horses and chariots disappeared and in their stead they saw men in couples, walking, talking with each other, and discussing. The angel then said to him: “Seen at a distance, the different kinds of horses, chariots, and stables are appearances of the rational intelligence of the men of this Age; for, from its correspondence, a horse signifies the understanding of truth, a chariot the teaching thereof, and stables the places of instruction. You know that in this world all things appear according to correspondences.” (CL 76:2)

In the spiritual world, all things appear as representatives because those who live there are open to such things, and are capable of thinking spiritually about the things they see. Thus, representatives are a form of perfect communication for them. It is quite different in the natural world, for there the Lord faced a much more difficult problem of communication. The vast majority of the people who would meet the Lord were very simple, uneducated people who made their living through farming or keeping animals. If the message He brought was to reach these people, it would have to be presented to them in forms and images that they could understand, it had to be illustrated by examples drawn from their own way of life.

A farmer would certainly understand the obligation to feed and care for his animals. A shepherd would understand the need to guide and protect the flock. And so the Lord carefully chose to be born in just such an agricultural setting that would communicate deep spiritual truths to the heavens, while at the same time presenting a simple, but accurate picture of His own relationship with the people of that time.

We are taught in the heavenly doctrines that “a manger” means the doctrine of truth from the Word, because “horses” signify the understanding of the Word; and thus a manger, as a feeding place for horses, signifies the doctrine of truth from the Word (AE 706:12).

The Lord chose to be born in a stable among the cattle, the oxen and the sheep, because they represent in the spiritual sense those people in the world who are in the simple affection of what is good and true. He did this to tell us in the spiritual sense that He will be born with those, that is, He will be eternally, spiritually present with those who are in states of simple good and truth. He will not come to the kings and princes, those who are full of themselves, their own power, and their own wealth, but to those who know that the Lord has given them instructions for life and follow them out of conscience and love.

The Lord chose to be laid in a manger, rather than in a bed fit for a prince, because a manger was used to feed horses. He wanted us to know, from the first moment of His life in this world, that He was the Word made flesh, that He had come to feed the hungry, that He had come to bring truth to those who hungered and thirsted after righteousness, that to come to Him was to feed our affection for and understanding of the Word. And He chose to be born in this way to show everyone, in both the natural and spiritual senses, that He was not to be a king in the usual sense, that His kingdom was not what they expected, that His kingdom was not of this world, but of the spiritual world. He turned away from the wealth and pleasure of this world to show by His teachings and example that the things of this world are only temporary, and we cannot put our trust in them.

So as we enjoy our celebrations of the Lord’s birth into the world, let us hope that our splendid and fancy decorations and preparations serve to express our sincere joy at His coming, and at the same time call attention to the true purpose of his coming by contrasting with the humble and lowly setting which He chose for Himself. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12) Amen.

Hear now from the Word of the Lord as it is written.…

1st Lesson: Micah 5:2-5

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting.” {3} Therefore He shall give them up, Until the time that she who is in labor has given birth; Then the remnant of His brethren Shall return to the children of Israel. {4} And He shall stand and feed His flock In the strength of the LORD, In the majesty of the name of the LORD His God; And they shall abide, For now He shall be great To the ends of the earth; {5} And this One shall be peace. When the Assyrian comes into our land, And when he treads in our palaces, Then we will raise against him Seven shepherds and eight princely men. Amen.

2nd Lesson: Luke 2:1-20

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. {2} This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. {3} So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. {4} Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, {5} to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. {6} So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. {7} And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. {8} Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. {9} And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. {10} Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. {11} “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. {12} “And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” {13} And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: {14} “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, to men of goodwill!” {15} So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” {16} And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. {17} Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. {18} And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. {19} But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. {20} Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them. Amen.

3rd Lesson: AE 706:12

[12] In Luke: The angels said to the shepherds, There is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord; and this is a sign unto you, ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger (Luke 2:11, 12, 16).

Since a “sign” means attestation that they might believe that the Savior of the world was born, it is said that “they should find Him lying in a manger wrapped in swaddling clothes;” but that this was an attestation no one can know until it is known what is meant by a “manger” and by “swaddling clothes.” “A manger” means the doctrine of truth from the Word, because “horses” signify the understanding of the Word; … and thus a manger, as a feeding place for horses, signifies the doctrine of truth from the Word. It is said in the seventh verse of the same chapter that this was done “because there was no place in the inn,” an “inn” signifying a place of instruction. … Because this was the state with the Jews, who were then in mere falsities, through the adulteration of the Word, this was signified by “there was no place in the inn;” for if it had pleased the Lord He might have been born in a most splendid palace, and have been laid in a bed adorned with precious stones; but He would thus have been with such as were in no doctrine of truth, and there would have been no heavenly representation. He is also said to have been “wrapped in swaddling clothes,” because “swaddling clothes” signify first truths, which are truths of innocence, and which are also truths of the Divine love; for “nakedness,” in reference to a babe, signifies deprivation of truth. From this it is clear why it was said by the angels, “This is a sign unto you, ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger.” Amen.

Here end the lessons. Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it. Amen.

The Unexpected King

The Unexpected King

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Mitchellville, April 4, 2004

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on an ass, a colt, the foal of an ass (ZEC. 9:9).

The Jewish Church began when Jehovah called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees, and commanded him to take Sarai his wife and travel across the deserts and mountains to the land of Canaan. There, Jehovah established a covenant with Abram, that if Abram and his descendants would love and obey God, He would give them the land of Canaan and make them into a great nation. All they had to do was to listen to Jehovah’s commands and be obedient.

We all know the story of Abraham’s descendants and how over the passage of time, they were less and less able to remember their part of the covenant, how they drifted farther and farther away from their God.

One of the signs of this change in their relationship is the way their government changed over time. At first, Jehovah frequently appeared as an angel and spoke man to man with Abraham. Scripture doesn’t tell us much about Isaac’s communications with God, and by Jacob’s time, God’s appearances were less frequent, although Jacob did meet angels face to face occasionally.

Joseph led the children of Israel for many years, but he did not see God face to face, but instead he received his instruction and inspiration through dreams. For more than 400 years after Joseph, the children of Israel were essentially a leaderless mob, receiving no direct instruction from God at all.

They experienced a revival when the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush. For the first time in many generations, the Lord was once again speaking directly to the leaders of the children of Israel. Under His direct care and leadership they escaped from Egypt, built the tabernacle, and conquered the land of Canaan by military force. There they lived for several generations, ruled not by a king, but by judges raised up by God from time to time according to need.

While Samuel was the prophet and Judge of Israel, the people went to him and demanded that they be allowed to have a king like all the other nations. They did not want to be ruled by the Lord any longer, but wanted to be ruled by a king of their own, instead. Samuel was furious with them for their request, but the Lord told Samuel not to worry, that they had not rejected Samuel, but they were rejecting Him, the Lord, instead. The Lord told Samuel to go ahead and give them their king – He wanted to accommodate to their needs as they saw them, as always, He sought to lead His people in freedom. So He gave them Saul as their first king, and when he failed, He gave them David, and then Solomon, whose head was turned by his enormous wealth and power. After that, the kingdom was divided and Israel and Judah fought with each other and their external enemies for 300 years until the Assyrians captured and removed Israel, and 200 years later the Babylonians captured and removed Judah.

By the time the Lord came on earth, the Jews were a small remnant of their former selves. Their worship had been radically changed by their years in Babylon. No longer did they sacrifice in the a temple, but instead they gathered to read and study the scriptures together. Most of the tribes had been dispersed and lost to history by the various wars, as were the tabernacle, the ark, and the Ten Commandments carved on tables of stone. The laws of Moses had been interpreted and reinterpreted until they no longer bore any resemblance to the ones given to Moses by Jehovah. And they had not governed themselves or their land in hundreds of years. It is difficult to imagine a greater decline for a nation.

Unless we know how far they had fallen, it is impossible for us to know how great their desire for a king was. They remembered that at one time the Jews had ruled Canaan. They remembered that David was renowned for his military leadership. They savored the knowledge that Solomon’s wisdom and wealth had never been rivaled – and their rage at having to serve the Romans, when they should by Divine right be ruling the Romans, simmered barely under the surface. We know from many historical documents that the Jews were a particularly difficult race to govern because of their knowledge of their own history, and their insistence on their God-given right to return to the days of power and glory.

The scriptures gave them hope, for in many places the scriptures promised that a king would be coming, a king who would lift them up out of their servitude to other nations and would restore them to the position they deserved, of ruling all other nations and peoples on earth! Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on an ass, a colt, the foal of an ass (text). One day, they hoped, their king would come, and their days of unhappiness would end because they would be rulers of the world and able to take revenge upon all those who had offended them in the past.

During the whole of the Lord’s public ministry, there had been rumors and questions about Him, whether or not He was in fact the promised Messiah, the King who would lead them to cast off the yoke of Rome. The Twelve Disciples themselves believed that Jesus was going to use his miraculous powers to lead them in a revolution that could not fail. Finally, after three years of waiting and watching, Jesus gave everyone the sign that He was ready to become the King. He found an ass’s colt that had never before been ridden, and began to ride it up the main road into Jerusalem, the capital city. The people, no doubt aided by the disciples, recognized the symbolic nature of this act, and responded to Jesus as they would to a king, by laying their garments and palm branches in the road, an earlier version of the “red carpet” treatment of royalty.

As we have seen, the Jewish nation had descended from being a people directly lead and governed by God under Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to being an ungovernable nation, seeking only their own wealth and world prominence. And now the Lord was coming to them as a king, a spiritual king, to give them their last chance to recognize Him as a spiritual leader, to finally understand the true nature of His promise and His coming.

When we look back over the known record of the Lord’s own life, we can see that everything He had done or said had let up to and prepared for this final trip to Jerusalem. His name, given to Mary by the angel, means The Savior, the anointed one, the King. The heavenly doctrines tell us that The reason why the Lord is called “King” and “the Anointed,” is that He was the Messiah, or Christ; and “Messiah” or “Christ” means the king and the anointed. This is why, in the Word, the Lord is meant by “king,” and also by “David,” who was king over Judah and Israel. The Lord was king in a spiritual and philosophical sense, and had always been king, but it was on this day and at this place in time that the Lord chose to actually take on the physical appearance of his kingship. He did so at that time and place in order to give the people of the Jewish Church their last chance to accept their part of the Abramic covenant, and accept Him as their spiritual leader, turning away from their worldly and natural views of the church.

The people gave every appearance of accepting Him as their king, at first, by greeting him in the traditional manner by which kings were welcomed into the city, by putting palm branches and garments in the road to give him a clean, never before used surface to travel upon. These acts were correspondential as well, because ‘palm-trees’ signify the goods of the Spiritual Church. The Lord as a king represents the Divine Spiritual, that is, that He governs each and every thing in the universe from the Divine Truth. Therefore, when the people put palm-branches in the road, it represented the affection of good and the delights of life that come when the truths of the Lord’s spiritual kingdom are received and lived, when individuals learn the Lord’s truth and act in love and charity towards others. We are also taught in the heavenly doctrines that to take the branches of palm and crying Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord represents a confession of Divine truth concerning the Lord.

What is particularly interesting about the way the Lord was greeted as He entered Jerusalem is that He was greeted and welcomed as a king by the same people who were to turn on Him and demand His crucifixion in less than a week. This is a scriptural confirmation of the spiritual principle so often mentioned in the doctrines of the New Church, that evil people are capable of hearing and understanding the truth, but they are evil because they choose to ignore it and live according to their own selfish delights instead. Devils sometimes ask to come into heaven, and they are welcomed, and are even able to simulate angelic life for a time – but eventually the evil decide that the filth and ugliness of their own hell is far better for them than the delights of heaven, and so they return there of their own free will. All men can be elevated into the light of spiritual truth. After they receive that elevation, it is up to their own will and their own delights as to whether they will remain there or not.

The Lord also presented Himself as a king at that time for another reason, because His kingship has to do with the spiritual kingdom and therefore with truth, He was also presenting Himself as the Judge as He prepared to complete the judgment on the Jewish Church.

The relationship between the Lord as king and Judge, and the use of truth in the judgment of the church becomes more clear when we think of it in terms of what is supposed to happen in a court of law. There, an impartial judge sits in judgment. Those who are contesting the matter present witnesses who tell what they believe happened. Soon, patterns begin to emerge. Certain things don’t fit into the story and are rejected. Other things become obvious from the circumstances and are put into place. Eventually, the truth emerges, and the judge identifies it and makes his decision. In a proper court, it is the truth, when it is finally discovered, not the judge, that makes the judgment. In the same way, it is the truth that judges the church.

Everything the Lord did during His life in the world was done for a reason. When He chose to enter Jerusalem as a king, it was in part to show all people that He had come to administer true, spiritual justice to all men. He was doing this by allowing the Jewish Church to judge itself against the truth that He had been teaching throughout His ministry in the world. He presented Himself to the Jewish church as a king. He then awaited their response to that truth. He did not judge them, but they judged themselves by the way that they treated Him. Remember that when He was crucified there was a sign on the cross identifying Him as “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” The sign had apparently been put there to mock Him, but instead it was a testimony across the ages that told how the Divine Truth, or the Word, had been regarded and treated by the Jewish Church.

The Lord entered Jerusalem on that day as a king, but He had no intention of becoming an earthly king. He did not intend to deceive anyone into thinking otherwise, but rather, He did it because it corresponded to and represented the spiritual truth about His government of the spiritual world, of the church in heaven and the church on earth. He never said He would be a king of a natural kingdom, He did not mislead. He did what He set out to do, not what they expected Him to do, and because the people at that time and in that age were not able to accept spiritual goals and a spiritual kingdom, they turned on Him and killed Him for not being what they expected and wanted Him to be.

As we celebrate this Easter holiday, let us remember the Unexpected king, let us try to see the Lord as He truly is, not as we think He ought to be. The only way we can get that knowledge is by reading the Word for ourselves, with reverence, with respect, and with a heart-felt desire to learn what the Lord teaches there apart from our own personal desires. Then, when we see the truth in the Word, we will be seeing the Lord as a king of His spiritual kingdom, and we can then truly say, Hosanna! Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord. (Mark 11:11). AMEN.


First Lesson: Lev 23:37-44

‘These are the feasts of the LORD which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, to offer an offering made by fire to the LORD, a burnt offering and a grain offering, a sacrifice and drink offerings, everything on its day; {38} ‘besides the Sabbaths of the LORD, besides your gifts, besides all your vows, and besides all your freewill offerings which you give to the LORD. {39} ‘Also on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep the feast of the LORD for seven days; on the first day there shall be a sabbath-rest, and on the eighth day a sabbath-rest. {40} ‘And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days. {41} ‘You shall keep it as a feast to the LORD for seven days in the year. It shall be a statute forever in your generations. You shall celebrate it in the seventh month. {42} ‘You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, {43} ‘that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.’” {44} So Moses declared to the children of Israel the feasts of the LORD. Amen.

Second Lesson: Mark 11:1-11

Now when they drew near Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples; {2} and He said to them, “Go into the village opposite you; and as soon as you have entered it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has sat. Loose it and bring it. {3} “And if anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it,’ and immediately he will send it here.” {4} So they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door outside on the street, and they loosed it. {5} But some of those who stood there said to them, “What are you doing, loosing the colt?” {6} And they spoke to them just as Jesus had commanded. So they let them go. {7} Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes on it, and He sat on it. {8} And many spread their clothes on the road, and others cut down leafy branches from the trees and spread them on the road. {9} Then those who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: “Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ {10} Blessed is the kingdom of our father David That comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” {11} And Jesus went into Jerusalem and into the temple. So when He had looked around at all things, as the hour was already late, He went out to Bethany with the twelve. Amen.

Third Lesson: Arcana Caelestia 8369

By “palm-trees” are signified goods, by them is also signified the affection of good, and the consequent delight, for all delight is from the affection of good. As this was signified by “palm-trees,” therefore also palm-trees were employed in holy festivities, as in the feast of tabernacles ….

As a “palm-tree” signifies good, it also signifies wisdom, for wisdom is of good. This was signified by the palm-trees which together with the cherubs and flowers were carved upon the walls of the temple; for “the temple” signified the Lord Himself, and In the representative sense, heaven. Amen.

John the Baptist

John the Baptist

A Holy Supper Address by the Rev. James P. Cooper

And John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. (MAT 3:4)

We are taught that those who approach the Holy Supper worthily are those who prepare themselves beforehand by examining themselves for some evil forbidden by the Lord in the Word, repenting of it, and then, with the Lord’s help, doing it no longer. If we make the effort to prepare ourselves in this way, then the Lord will be able to be conjoined much more closely to us, for we will have made our affections and desires heavenly, the same as His; and we know that it is a law of the spiritual world that when people have similar loves and affections they are drawn closer to one another.

This same principle of preparation in order to receive the Lord can be seen in many places in the Word, especially in the Christmas story. The prophecies of the Lord’s birth begin with the story of Adam and Eve succumbing to the temptation to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and they continue throughout the books of Moses, the histories, and the prophets. It should be clear that the Lord made every effort to make His intentions known so that His people could be prepared to receive Him properly, but we can also see that the Jewish Church ignored all the warnings, preferring to continue on their own way instead. This is why John the Baptist was sent: both his birth and his work served to prepare the way for the Lord, so that those who at heart wanted to hear His teachings would know that the time had come. Through the miracle of John’s birth to Elizabeth and Zacharias, the great silence was broken, and the people were warned to look for angelic messages once again, especially those announcing the birth of the Messiah. Later, by his work, John served to notify people that it was now time for them to look to the course of their lives, to bring themselves into order so that they might receive the new teachings of the Messiah.

In order to understand how John the Baptist was able to fulfil his role in the Lord’s first coming, and to understand his symbolic role in our own states, we need to understand the symbolism of the major events and characteristics of John’s life. John the Baptist represented the Word, but because of his rough and wild appearance, he especially represented the Word as to its letter, its external stories.

John began preaching in the wilderness of Judea to represent how each of us begins life in something of a spiritual wilderness because of our spiritual ignorance. Like John, all we have is our rough clothing and food, the simple basic truths that were given to us by our parents. Everyone is at first introduced to the Word through its stories about Abraham, Joseph, David, Jonah, and Jesus. Many of the stories involve war, other acts of violence, or vivid descriptions of sin and its punishment. Children particularly love such stories for they are exciting and produce powerful mental images, but as we become adults, we begin to wonder how it can be that stories about David’s wars with the Philistines can have much to do with “real life.” As we become more thoughtful, we wonder how to deal with the apparent contradictions that appear between the Old and New Testaments.

We all, at some point in our lives, wonder at the Scriptures. We question whether or not they are true, whether or not we should guide our lives by them, how they can help us in our times of difficulty. Each time our states are such that we no longer trust or understand the Word, we are back in the wilderness state, and we can only return from it by turning to the basic simple truths that are the foundations of our faith.

We also wonder at the scriptures because they are so unlike what we may think they should be. We expect the Word of God to be elegant, and clear, and powerful, just as the Jews wanted and expected their Messiah, their new king to come in purple robes and with great riches, giving gifts to all the people. But instead, their first warning of the coming King came through a man preaching repentance in the wilderness, dressed in camel’s hair clothing, wearing a leather belt, and eating locusts and honey.

John wore camel’s hair clothes in order to represent the Divine Truth of the Word in its external, natural form, as it first appears to men, for the natural sense is like a clothing or covering for the internal sense within. His leather belt was used to hold his garment together, and so it represents the external bond that connects and keeps interior things in order. If, whenever we opened a copy of the Word, it was immediately obvious that it was the Word of God, if the Divine Truth shone forth in such a way that no one could question its Divinity, then we would no longer be spiritually free, for if we could clearly see and understand that the Word was the Divine Truth itself, and we did not follow it to the letter, we would profane, we would become spiritual lepers, and that would be far worse than failing to see the Divine within the Scripture as it presently exists and fumbling along without specific guidance.

As John’s clothing was representative, so was his food, because food represents spiritual nourishment from truths from the Word. The locusts that he ate represent the most general truths (for example, that there is a God, that He created the universe, that He is our Heavenly Father, that the good will be rewarded with eternal life, and so forth), and the wild honey represents the pleasure that one has from knowing these things to be true. That John ate locusts describes our own states when we begin to learn the simplest, most general truths of the Word, and the wild honey stands for the pleasure we feel in making these truths our own. These simple truths form the foundation for our further understanding of spiritual things, and so are extremely important. All the interior things that we will later learn and use to form the spiritual degrees of our mind must rest on these simple, basic truths. All things in the spiritual world must have a foundation in order to continue and subsist. This is another reason why the sense of the letter of the Word is so base and common in its letter, so much so that it is even natural and sensual: it must be so, for it serves as a foundation for all the spiritual and interior truths within. This why John the Baptist ate locusts.

The New Testament tells us that John preached to many people, and we know that he was preaching to them to prepare the way for the Lord, but it is interesting to note that almost nothing of what he said was recorded. All that we know is that he preached repentance in the face of the coming judgement. He was not calling the people to a new church, to a new doctrine, but he was actually calling them to renew their commitment to life in obedience to the Mosaic law – he was challenging them to become good Jews!

In our own lives, the ministry of John the Baptist stands for our attempt to deal with the temptations of the life of faith alone for ourselves. We all are tempted to feel that it is enough to know the truth, and consequently to try to avoid doing what we know to be good. It’s seldom deliberate, though. Usually we avoid charity by finding other things to do instead. We say we are going to call on a sick friend, but something comes up at work that’s less trouble to do, but still gives us an excuse for not going – so we don’t. We must always be aware of this tendency to avoid what we know we should do, because we will be known to others by what we actually do, not what we say we are going to do. It is a valid observation that in general, we all do just what we love to do, that is, our loves become apparent to others by our activities and choices.

This lesson is made very clear by John’s teaching about the tree, that any tree that did not produce good fruits would be cut down and cast into the fire. The “fruits” of the tree signify the goods that a man does out of love or charity, while trees represent man’s internal states. “Fire” means the lust pertaining to love of self and love of the world, and the “smoke” therefrom means falsity from evil.

Perhaps the most important lesson we can learn from our study of John the Baptist and the things that he did to prepare the way for the Lord’s coming on earth is that we don’t need to wait until we understand every detail of the Writings to begin our own repentance: repentance is the actually the very first state, our introduction to the church. The only doctrine we need to begin repentance are those doctrines John himself represents, the simple, external truths of the letter of the Word – stories that we learned in childhood. Learning and understanding more interior truths comes later. There is sufficient depth in the Word for us to learn new things from it to eternity, and the doctrines tell us that the only thing that prevents any person from understanding the deepest secrets of spiritual truth is his own evils. Insofar as anyone shuns evils as sins, the Lord will flow into his mind with an ever growing understanding of spiritual things.

As we prepare ourselves for the sacrament of the Holy Supper, John’s teachings remind us that our first obligation to the Lord, if we wish to enter heaven, is to bring our own lives into order. We need to compare the course of our lives to the path that had been laid out for us by our Creator and where we deviate from His course, we need to repent of our errors and correct our course. Only then can the Lord can enter our minds and hearts and teach us the new truths. And the miracle is that as we begin to live these new truths, as we cease to do evil and learn to do well, as we bring forth the “fruits” of charity towards others, then we are becoming reborn and regenerated; then for the first time the church is being formed within us, and we can be truly called Christian.

We’ll close today with John’s simple exhortation for us to live in simple charity and brotherhood, for that is what prepares the way for the Lord to be present with us, to be born into our hearts.

So the people asked him, saying, “What shall we do then?” He answered and said to them, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.” Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.” Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?” So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.” (Luke 3:10-14) Amen.


First Lesson: MAT 3:1-12

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, {2} and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” {3} For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight.’” {4} And John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. {5} Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him {6} and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. {7} But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? {8} “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, {9} “and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. {10} “And even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. {11} “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. {12} “His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Amen.

Second Lesson: TCR 688-9

It is written in Malachi, Behold, I send My messenger, and he shall prepare the way before Me; and the Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to His temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye long for. Who will abide the day of His coming, and who will stand when He shall appear? (iii. 1, 2).

And again, Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet, before the great and terrible day of Jehovah comes; lest I come and smite the earth with a curse (iv. 5, 6).

And Zacharias the father, prophesying of his son John, says, Thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Most High; for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to make ready His ways (Luke i. 76).

And the Lord Himself says of this same John, This is he of whom it is written, Behold, I send My angel before Thy face, who shall prepare Thy way before Thee (Luke vii. 27).

From all this it is clear that this John Was the prophet sent to make ready the way of Jehovah God, who should descend into the world and accomplish redemption; and that be made ready that way by baptism, and by announcing the coming of the Lord; and that without such preparation all on earth would have been smitten with a curse and would have perished.

689. The way was prepared by the baptism of John, because by means of that baptism, as shown above, men were introduced into the future church of the Lord, and in heaven were inserted among those who were there looking for and longing for the Messiah; and they were thus guarded by angels, that devils from hell might not break forth and destroy them….

From all this it is clear that unless a way had been made ready for Jehovah when He was descending into the world, by means of baptism, the effect of which in heaven was to close up the hells and guard the Jews against total destruction [they would all have perished]…. Amen.


 

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Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper


When they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, (they) took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! The King of Israel!’ (John 12:12-13)

For two thousand years, the prophets had promised the children of Israel that the Messiah would come to save them. Jehovah had established a covenant with Abraham that if he and his family would worship Jehovah, then Jehovah would make him the father of a great nation. The Historical books of the Old Testament tell the story of how Jehovah fulfilled His promise to Abraham; how through Isaac, Jacob and Jacob’s twelve sons they became a great nation; and how through Moses and Joshua He gave them their own land to rule. Under David they reached their spiritual height, and under Solomon they achieved their greatest wealth.

The Prophetic books of the Old Testament describe how easily the children of Israel fell into disobedience, how they continually turned away from Jehovah to worship idols, and how He allowed the other nations to punish them for their sins. And when they were being punished, when they were in slavery to the nations, Jehovah sent prophets to give them a message of hope. He promised a savior, a Messiah to come to lift them up once again, to save them from their oppression, to return them to the days of power and glory like those when David and Solomon ruled.

The dream of the coming of the Messiah burned in the heart of every true son and daughter of Abraham, for it meant freedom from their oppressors, and the righting of ancient wrongs. The coming of the Messiah meant (as they understood it) that they would finally be restored to their rightful position as rulers over the nations of the world, fulfilling the original promise made to Abraham and reaffirmed so many times to his descendants.

And then, at a time in history when what was left of the Jewish nation was chafing under the total control of the rich, powerful, and idolatrous Romans, there began to be rumors of a particularly powerful prophet. We must remember that even though Israel is a very small nation (even smaller than Delaware), news still traveled very slowly in those days. Very few people living at the time of the Lord’s ministry would have known very much about Him at first. Of course, this was part of the reason He spent three years traveling around Israel, so that as many people as possible could hear His teachings for themselves. He spoke as a prophet. He did miracles, healed the sick, raised the dead.

The name “Christ” itself meant “the Anointed One,” “the King,” “the Messiah.” What else were a simple, uninformed, and enslaved people to think except that the Lord had come to use His great power to drive the Romans out and become the ruler of the New Kingdom of Israel. What else could all those parables about the heavenly kingdom be but a promise of the kind of life they would expect when the Messiah was king? After all, nothing in the Old Testament or in Jewish tradition had prepared them for the idea of a life after death, so for them there could be no other idea of a kingdom for the Messiah than an earthly one. Both the Gospels and the Heavenly Doctrines tell us that even the disciples themselves didn’t really begin to understand the nature of the Lord’s Divinity until He appeared to them after the Resurrection and the concept of a life after death began to dawn in them (See AC2553).

So why did the Lord let them continue to believe in a false idea? Why didn’t He tell them in plain words who He was and what He was about? Because they simply would not have believed Him if He had told them about heaven in plain words. It would be like trying to explain a nuclear power station to a 5 year old child. You might be able to do it using only the few simple words in the child’s vocabulary, but the idea would not get through, there would not be a foundation of concepts to build on.

During His earthly ministry, the Lord was laying the foundation for all those who were to come after. Everything He did in the world was for the sake of the correspondence. He rode into Jerusalem that day so many years ago not because He wanted those people to believe that He was going to be their earthly king, but so that we would know that He was to be our spiritual king. He was doing things so that we could use internal sense to understand His mission and life on earth more deeply and more fully than even His own disciples did.

Remembering that everything He did was for the sake of the spiritual sense and so that all people might know about His Divinity and His Heavenly Kingdom, let us look at some of the things He did on that Palm Sunday to teach us about Himself and Heaven.

Our text tells us that when the multitude saw the Lord approaching Jerusalem, they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! The King of Israel!’ (text). “Hosanna” means “save, we pray thee!”, and it only occurs 5 times in scripture, all in conjunction with Palm Sunday. The Heavenly Doctrines teach that “the children’s crying ‘Hosanna to the son of David’ was to represent that only innocence acknowledges and receives the Lord, that is, they in whom there is innocence” (AC52364). So by derivation, Hosanna means the acknowledgment and reception of the Lord by those who are innocent through repentance and amendment of life.

Even though many people thought of Him as a teacher (or Rabbi) or as a prophet, yet, as He approached the city, they all called Him “Lord.” Among the hidden causes of their calling Jehovah “the Lord,” were the following

If at that time it had been said that the Lord was the Jehovah so often named in the Old testament, men would not have accepted it, for they would not have believed it. . Also the Lord did not become Jehovah as to the Human also until He had completely united the Divine Essence to the Human Essence, and the Human to the Divine. The full unition was only accomplished after the last temptation, which was that of the cross. He is called “Christ” as the Messiah, the Anointed, King; and “Lord” as Jehovah; “Christ” in respect to truth, and “Lord” in respect to good. Many who have not studied the Word closely believe that Jesus was called “Lord” by His disciples and others out of common reverence. But this is not the case He is called “Lord” for the sake of the internal sense known to the angles, for when they called Him “Lord” it signified the acknowledgment that He was actually Jehovah Himself. (SeeAC29216)

The Lord was willing to be tempted, even to the passion of the cross, because He was The Prophet; and prophets formerly signified the doctrine of the church from the Word, and therefore they represented the state of the Church by various means, even by some that were unjust, hard, and also vile, which were enjoined upon them by God. But because the Lord was the Word itself, He, as The Prophet, represented, by the passion of the cross, how the Jewish Church profaned the Word (TCR 129).

By the disciples putting their garments on the ass and her colt, was represented that truths in the whole complex were submitted to the Lord as the Highest Judge and King; for the disciples represented the church of the Lord in respect to its truths and goods, and their garments represented the truths themselves. . The same thing was represented by the multitude putting their garments in the way, and also branches of palm trees. The reason why they put them in the way was that by “a way” is signified the truth whereby the man of the church is led. The reason why they put branches of trees, was that trees signified the perceptions and also the knowledges of truth and good, consequently “the branches” signify the truths themselves. This was done according to a customary rite; for when the highest judges and kings rode in their solemn procession, the princes of the people then put their garments on the asses and mules, and the people themselves put their garments on the way, or in their place the branches of trees; for the judicial function in heaven is the Divine truth from the Divine good, and the regal one is the Divine truth (AC92126)

As we can see, everything the Lord did while He was in the world was done for many reasons on many levels. He did things for the sakes of those who were with Him in the world, those who believed that He was the promised earthly Messiah, to lead them to a new understanding of their world. He did them also for the sake of what the gospels would record and what those who came after the disciples would be able to learn from the record, knowing, as they did, that He was not just a man or a prophet in the usual sense. Those who were to form the Christian Church would be able to build from a knowledge and a confidence that there was a life after death. These men could look back on all the things that Jesus taught, and seeing them from the totally new perspective of the resurrection, build the first coherent doctrine concerning spiritual life as a reward for obedience to God’s laws in this world.

He also did all these things for the sake of the internal sense which was written for the angels in heaven, and for those men who have the science of correspondences. By entering Jerusalem as a king, He showed all men for all time who seek to truly understand Him that He was not just an influential man, not just a prophet, but actually God with us!

What is our part in this? It is for us to see that Jerusalem, because it is a city, represents our mind. That the Lord is approaching Jerusalem stands for the fact that the Lord is constantly approaching us through His influx, constantly reaching out to us. It remains for us to decide how we are going to respond to His approach. Will we lay palms in the way? Will we put our garments in the path? To do this is to say that we will submit the material and natural pleasures of our lives to His Divine rule. Will we receive Him with joy and gladness? Will we accept Him as our God and King? Will we accept Him for a time, but when the hard times come and He doesn’t respond to our prayers as we think He should, will we turn on Him and shout for His crucifixion?

The Lord has done His part by offering Himself to us as the king of our lives. Now it is up to us to decide if we are willing to give up our natural, worldly values and happiness and replace them with the eternal values and eternal happiness that will come if we receive the Lord as our king. He is making this offer to each of us, today, this moment. Each of us must search our hearts and minds for the answer. It is up to us. No one will make these decisions for us. These few days before the sacrament of the Holy Supper on Good Friday would be a good time to reflect deeply and honestly about how we receive the Lord in our own lives, and how His presence with us is shown by the things we do to our fellow men. When they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, (they) took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! The King of Israel!’ (John 1212-13) AMEN.

1st Lesson Psa 11819-26

Open to me the gates of righteousness; I will go through them, And I will praise the LORD. {20} This is the gate of the LORD, Through which the righteous shall enter. {21} I will praise You, For You have answered me, And have become my salvation. {22} The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. {23} This was the Lord’s doing; It is marvelous in our eyes. {24} This is the day the LORD has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it. {25} Save now, I pray, O LORD; O LORD, I pray, send now prosperity. {26} Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We have blessed you from the house of the LORD. Amen.

2nd Lesson John 1212-19

The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, {13} took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out “Hosanna !’Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ The King of Israel!” {14} Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written {15} “Fear not, daughter of Zion; Behold, your King is coming, Sitting on a donkey’s colt.” {16} His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him. {17} Therefore the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of his tomb and raised him from the dead, bore witness. {18} For this reason the people also met Him, because they heard that He had done this sign. {19} The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, “You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him!” Amen.

3rd Lesson AC 29216

Among the hidden reasons why people called Jehovah the Lord were the following If when the Lord was in the world they had been told that He was the Jehovah mentioned so many times in the Old Testament, . they would not have accepted it because they would not have believed it. And there is the further reason that as regards the Human the Lord did not become Jehovah until He had in every respect united the Divine Essence to the Human Essence, and the Human Essence to the Divine Essence. . These became fully united after the final temptation, which was that of the Cross; and it was for this reason that after the Resurrection the disciples always called Him Lord, . and Thomas said, My Lord and my God. (John 2028)

And as the Lord was the Jehovah mentioned so many times in the Old Testament, therefore He also told the disciples, You call Me Master and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If therefore I your Lord and Master have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. (John 1313, 14, 16)

These words mean that He was Jehovah God, for in this instance He is called ‘Lord’ as regards good, but ‘Master’ as regards truth. That the Lord was Jehovah is also meant by the angel’s words to the shepherds, To you is born this day a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 211)

‘Christ’ is used instead of ‘Messiah’, ‘Anointed One’, and ‘King’, ‘the Lord, instead of ‘Jehovah’ – ‘Christ’ having regard to truth, ‘the Lord’ to good. Anyone who does not examine the Word carefully cannot know this, for he believes that our Savior was called Lord because this was an everyday expression that was used to offer respect to Him, as to others, when in reality He was so called by virtue of His being Jehovah. Amen.

Prepare for the Lord

Prepare for the Lord

A Sermon by James P. Cooper

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The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord; Make straight in the desert a highway for our God” Isa. 40:3.

These familiar words of the prophet Isaiah stir deep affections within us. Each year we hear them as we prepare for Christmas, as we begin to read and think about the many Old Testament prophecies that prepared the way for the Lord by planting the seeds of true ideas about Him in the minds of those who longed for His coming. These are powerful words, whether they inspire us to picture Isaiah as he spoke them, or whether we picture John the Baptist as he stood by the Jordan river and actually did the work of preparation by calling Israel to repentance.

The doctrines of the New Church teach in many places that Isaiah was inspired to speak these words in order to announce the Coming of the Lord. First of all, he was to announce it to the children of Israel, to tell them that the Savior and Redeemer of Israel, which had been first promised in the third chapter of Genesis, and since promised in many other prophecies, was still to come; that God had not forgotten His promise. Isaiah was inspired to renew the promise, to tell the children of Israel that He had not yet come because the time was not right. Isaiah was to speak the words that would give those troubled people hope even though their country was conquered by enemies, hope that their enemies would soon be driven away. The children of Israel clung to Isaiah’s words of hope and promise throughout their generations, looking forward to the time when the Messiah would come to lift them up out of their oppression.

The words of our text were to announce the Coming of the Messiah to all people. But who was the Messiah who was coming? Do we really understand who the Messiah was, and what He intended to do? It is quite apparent from scripture that the 12 disciples themselves had only the slightest idea of importance and nature of the Lord’s ministry until after the Lord had been crucified, risen, and visited them in his Glorified Human. Until then the disciples were convinced that the Lord was to be the Messiah in the traditional sense, that is, a military leader, a charismatic revolutionary who would lead the Jews first to cast off the yoke of Rome and then begin to build their power until they were the richest and most powerful nation in the world.

That the disciples themselves did not understand the Lord’s mission should be a warning to us to make sure that we do understand. They thought of Him as the Messiah, the leader of a political revolution, and as a teacher. It is easier for us to have a clearer understanding of His purposes because we have the advantage of the recorded experience in the gospels, as well as the doctrine of the Church which explains those events so that it should be very clear to us that Isaiah is announcing nothing less than the fact that the Creator of the Universe, the One and Only God was going to take on a human body and live among men on earth for the purpose of saving us all from spiritual destruction.

We are sinful by nature, and by ourselves there is nothing we can do about it. Unless God had provided the means for us to know what evil is and given us the power to shun evil as-if-from-ourselves, we could not be saved. Jehovah God Himself took on a human form in the world in order to accommodate Himself to our needs, in order to teach us what evil is, what heaven is, and what we must do to prepare ourselves for heaven. He came in person to show us the way, and since it is the Power and Divine Providence of God which alone can save or Redeem us, we call Him the Redeemer. By the Lord the Redeemer is meant Jehovah in the Human, for Jehovah Himself descended and assumed the Human in order to effect our redemption.

We can see from the many prophecies in the Old Testament that the coming of the Lord into the world had been promised from ancient times, and that ancient peoples believed that it would be Jehovah God Himself who came into the world, and He would come as a man. We see from Scripture that it was announced many times, in many different ways, and to many different people. We might ask why it was so important that the Lord’s birth be announced in all those ways to all those people. What is the essential purpose of all these prophecies and warnings?

For the answer, we need to look to what is the most important possession that man has from the Lord–his freedom of choice in spiritual things. The Lord announced His coming in these many different ways so that everyone could freely accept to believe in the miracle of His birth into the world or not. It had to be freely received and understood because nothing remains with a man unless it is received in freedom. Even more than that, with a matter as important as the Lord’s incarnation, it must be intelligent, informed consent, or there cannot be any conjunction between God and man. (See AC 3157e)

The Lord’s birth on earth was announced for the very simple reason that we might be warned to prepare for it, so that we could receive Him freely, with understanding, and therefore be conjoined with Him through our reception. It can be difficult to visualize how we should prepare ourselves to receive the Lord without some kind of illustration or parable, so let us use our own preparations for the Christmas holidays as an example.

When we begin to make our plans for the Christmas Holidays, we remember the many good times we have spent working together as a family preparing for the holidays. Even those who seldom cook anything fancy during the rest of the year spend some time preparing special Christmas foods. The house is carefully cleaned. Special decorations are lovingly brought out from their places of safe storage and put in traditional places for all to enjoy. The week or so before Christmas, so filled with the busy activity of preparation, is almost as important as the day itself in many families. The Christmas spirit begins to glow in us, and begins to grow until it reaches its peak on Christmas day. Who is there who does not make some preparations to celebrate Christmas?

It is so obvious to us that we need to clean and decorate our homes in anticipation for the many guests that will come during the holidays, that it should come as no surprise to realize that the Lord asks us to prepare ourselves for His advent in much the same way as we prepare our homes, for after all, a home corresponds to a man’s mind.

To prepare for Christmas, we need to “Cease to do evil; learn to do well.” (Isa. 1:16) Just as it would be very unusual to put up decorations and invite guests into our home without first thoroughly cleaning it, the very first step in preparing for the Lord’s Advent is to look to the course of our life and bring it into order by ceasing to do evils, and no longer thinking the falsities that arise from those evils, that is, those lies that make it seem all right to do what we know is wrong. We need to remember that the Lord is continually reaching down to uplift us, and all we need do to receive him is to not refuse him! (See AC 3142) We need to get rid of those feelings of selfishness and worldliness that turn us away from the Lord, that stand in the way of influx, so that He can flow in with heavenly affections. The Lord is indeed present with everyone at all times, but He can only enter insofar as He is invited, because His presence with man is according to man’s reception of Him. (See AC 4190) The Lord has no desire to intrude in our lives.

The Heavenly Doctrines tell us that John the Baptist was to be that “voice” which would cry out in the “wilderness,” and that by the wilderness was not meant the physical deserts of that land, but the state of the Jewish church. The Word calls the Jewish Church in those days a “wilderness”, because it was a church that no longer worshiped the Lord or served the neighbor. Like a land without water, a church without the truths that teach the need to love the Lord and serve the neighbor is a spiritual wilderness.

As the “wilderness” or “desert” describes the state of the Jewish church at the time of the Lord’s coming, it can also describe the state of the church within each of us when we are in states where truth from the Word, and the good of charity that comes from living according to the truths we find in the Word, are very distant from us. We cannot leave this desert of selfish states until we hear the “voice” of the Lord speaking to us in a clear voice to us from the Word.

In the Word, mountains correspond to love to the Lord, because when we look at the beautiful scenery in the mountains, our eyes are naturally lifted up to their peaks. When we look down at our feet or the ground, it stands for our concerns with worldly things, so angels walk with their faces turned up because their minds are elevated to thoughts about the Lord and heaven. So, when we lift our faces up to look at mountains, it inspires the angels with us to think of love to the Lord, and then their state of genuine worship flows back to us and inspires a similar state in us.

But in our text from Isaiah, the mountains are used in the opposite, evil sense, representing the loves of self and the world that are in opposition to love to the Lord. This is why we are told by Isaiah that the mountains will be made low, that is, when we live in obedience to the Lord’s laws, our loves of self and the world will be made low, they will be removed by the Lord through the states of repentance, reformation, and regeneration.

On the other hand, valleys usually represent hell, but here valleys are used to represent a man who has humbled himself, brought his loves of self low, by desiring to lead his life not from his own understanding, but from the Lord’s guidance in the Word. This man is lifted up by the Lord into heaven. Thus we can see that our text means that when we begin to listen to what the Word teaches, when we begin to try to obey the Lord’s commandments and live according to them, He will heal our lives. The mountains of our self-intelligence, our conceit, our loves of self and the world can be smoothed out, brought down to their proper size and place in life. And at the same time, when we have truly humbled ourselves through obedience to His commandments, He will then lift us up out of the valley of our despair.

The cycle of the seasons brings us to the Christmas season once each year, reminding us, in spite of our natural tendency to put such things out of our minds, that the Lord took on the Human and came into the world, conquered hell through temptation, was crucified, and rose with His Glorified Human so that we might live to eternity. However, being reminded yearly, and actually receiving the Lord into our lives are different things. If we are to truly receive the Lord the Redeemer, Jehovah God in His Divine Human, we must prepare ourselves to receive Him, we must examine the house of our minds, sweep out the dust of false ideas, the cobwebs of cupidities, and ready ourselves for His visit. We need to see the loves of self and the world in ourselves and shun them, so leveling the mountains of our self-intelligence and conceit. We must open ourselves up to receive the Lord, to hear His voice in the Word. As this happens, and the Lord is able to regenerate us, the announcement of the Lord’s advent will become a continual thing, for it will come from an internal dictate, a constant, inner awareness of the Lord’s presence with us. Prepare ye the way of the Lord; Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, And every mountain and hill shall be made low. (Isa. 40:3-4) AMEN.

Lessons: Isaiah 40:1-8, Mark 1:1-11, AC 3142

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Fighting for Truth

Fighting for Truth

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

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They said therefore among themselves, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be,” that the Scripture might be fulfilled which says: “They divided My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.” Therefore the soldiers did these things. (John 19:24)

The 19th chapter of John is generally read on Easter Sunday for it contains the events leading up to, including, and following the crucifixion of the Lord. However, our focus will be on the story within the story of the Lord’s crucifixion, on the soldiers who were gathered around the foot of the cross, and what they did with the Lord’s garments.

The soldiers were under the command of Pilate, thus of the Roman Empire; yet it was a common practice for the Provincial governor to use local people for a portion of his military guard. The soldiers were Roman in their dress and actions, but they may have been Jews by birth and education.

The soldiers had stripped the Lord before crucifying Him, and His garments were their by the right of spoil. As clothes were far more difficult to obtain and thus much more valuable in those days than today, we can imagine that the soldiers began to argue about which of them should have the clothes. They settled the argument by dividing the less valuable outer garment between themselves equally, one part to each of the four. This represents the destruction and dispersion of truth.

The Lord’s inner garment, called the tunic, was altogether different from the outer garment divided by the soldiers. The tunic had been woven from the top throughout from a single thread, thus to divide or cut this tunic in any way would cause the pieces to unravel and fall apart – useless. The soldiers recognized this type of tunic and knew better than to divide it. Instead, they cast lots for it. The Gospel records that they acted in this way so that they would fulfil the prophecies of scripture. Their actions represented the fact that the internal truth of the Word, as it is with the angels in heaven, cannot be dispersed or destroyed. This internal truth, or the spiritual sense, is the single thread from which the Word itself is woven.1

There is a parallel, then, between what the Jews did to the Lord by crucifying Him, and what they did to His inner and outer garments, for the garments represent the Word. As the Jews were permitted to destroy the Lord’s body, His most external things, they were also permitted to divide His external garments, and by this action representing the dispersal or destruction of the external truths of the Word. But, they had not really harmed the Lord, for He rose again on the third day, and in a similar manner, the tunic, representing the internal sense of the Word, was neither divided nor harmed in any way.

The Heavenly Doctrines show is that it was done by the soldiers, because soldiers represent those who should fight for truth. In the good sense, soldiers represent those who seek truth, care for it, and work to bring it into their lives. The soldiers of our text show the opposite representation as they are actively seeking to replace the truth with falsities that fit their own particular loves2 In addition, these soldiers represent the Jewish Church even though they were under Roman command, because it was the Jewish Church that had the Word, and thus had the truths for which the soldiers should be fighting. That they did not fight represents the failure of the Jewish Church to live the truths from the Word, and the fact that they turned the letter of the Word to their own advantage. As we read in the third lesson, the Arcana teaches that

they had the Word, and yet they were not willing to know from it that the Lord was the Messiah and the Son of God who was to come, nor anything internal of the Word, but only what is external; which they also wrested to their loves, which were the loves of self and the world, thus to favour the lusts which spring from these loves3.

Whatever they found in the Word they twisted and turned and changed until it benefited them and aid them in their pursuit of power and dominion over others.

Is it not then clear that every person is capable of becoming what is represented in the Word by a “bad” soldier when they destroy the Word in themselves by denying the testimony of the Word concerning the Lord and the Lord’s Divinity, or when they misuse or twist the truths of the Word to control or manipulate others? Is it not also true that by applications of the truths presented here in the Word that we can obtain for ourselves those spiritual qualities represented by good soldiers?

The soldiers who cast lots for the Lord’s garments should have been fighting to preserve and protect the things of the Word from the kinds of things the leaders of the Jewish Church were doing to it, but instead, they were selfishly doing what they could to dissipate and divide the truth of the Word.

It is ironic that the soldiers were casting lots for the tunic after dividing and thus destroying the outer tunic. The division of the outer garment represented the way that people pick and choose the sentences and verses from the Word which will support their own particular view of things, so that they can use those teachings to convince others to agree with their views. On the other hand, in their selfish desire to dominate the minds and beliefs of others, to replace the truths from the Word with their own particular falsities and half-truths, even evil men recognize the essential value of the Word. And they also know that the Word has to be whole, there has to be the belief that it is God’s Word in order for it to have the authority they need. If they destroy belief in the Divinity of the Word, then they can no longer use it as a tool — so they have to protect the Word. They see that they must have the sphere or appearance of Divine authority to direct people’s thoughts away from the Divine and to themselves. They must be able to convince others that they, and they alone, have the power to save — that they alone have the real truth. The irony is that the very thing which they seek to supplant, the Divine Authority of the Word, is the very thing that they must have, at least in appearance, for their plan to succeed. If people did not believe there was such a thing as Divine Authority, then others could not claim it for themselves and use it.

Compare this to what the Heavenly Doctrines tell us a man should do, how the love of self-intelligence should be replaced with the love of the Lord’s truth:

…Those who live a moral life from religion and from the Word are elevated above their natural man, thus above what is their proprium, and are led by the Lord through heaven; … Many of the heathen live such a moral life, for they think that evil must not be done because it is contrary to their religion; this is why so many of them are saved4.…To live a moral life not from religion, but only from the fear of the law in the world, and of the loss of fame, honour, and gain, is to live a moral life not from a spiritual but from a natural origin; therefore to such there is no communication with heaven. And as they think insincerely and unjustly regarding the neighbour, although they speak and act otherwise, their internal spiritual man is closed, and the internal natural man only is opened; and when this is open they are in the light of the world, but not in the light of heaven5.

In other words, when people seek to know the truth for the sake of reputation, or that they might be thought to be wiser or more learned than others, those truths are defiled in them by the intention to use them for evil, and therefore, even though they may be truths from the Word, they do not communicate with heaven. On the other hand, if a person fights for truths because they are seen to be the way to live a moral life from religion, then the truths do communicate with heaven — even if they are imperfectly understood and poorly implemented. This, then, is the essential message contained in the text: that a person should fight for the truths of the Word, fight to obtain them for oneself, and fight to protect them from the falsities of the world. By so doing, a person brings himself into a life of morality from religion, and this opens the mind upwards, towards the Lord and heaven, and brings conjunction with the angels.

If a person must fight for truth, if each of us must be a soldier on the side of the Lord, what are we to fight with? What are the soldier’s weapons? As the soldiers in the text recognized the value of the tunic so that they did not divide it, so we too should recognize the value of the influx that the tunic also represents: the continual influx of the affection of truth into the will of mankind. If the Lord did not continually flow into a person’s will and provide him with the ability to be affected by truth when he heard it, then each person’s battle to find and acquire truth would be lost. Thus, the most important weapon in a person’s battle to acquire truth is the ability to perceive that a thing is true because we perceive from remains that it is good. This weapon is our to use from birth6.

If we are to wage this battle, and use the weapons provided us by the Lord, we need to know what we are fighting against, who the enemy is. The enemy is the evils that delight us, and the falsities we invent and conjoin to them so as to excuse them, make them seem proper in our own eyes (if not in the sight of the world), to try to make them seem somehow not evil anymore.

Everyone wants to believe in his own mind that he is doing what is proper and good. Even the hardened criminal has some twisted version of the facts that allows him to believe himself to be innocent, or, at worst, the victim of circumstances. Anyone, or even a church, can find a way of looking at things, that is manipulating the truths, so that they feel justified in their actions. Today we call it putting a “spin” on it. How do we make something we did that was bad look good? Or, how do we make something good somebody else did look bad? A classic illustration of this kind of twisting of the truth can be seen in the example of a horse race with just two horses. The owner of the losing horse reports that his own horse came in second, but the other horse came in “next to last.” It was because of the danger of this kind of twisting being applied to genuine, spiritual truths contained in the Word that the Jewish and Christian churches were not permitted to have the internal sense of the Word. It was to protect those churches from twisting and turning the internal sense until they earned for themselves the lot in the other world reserved for profaners7

Every one must fight for the truths of the Word. Our hereditary nature wants to weave falsities into itself that excuse the exercise of our lusts. To fight this, the Lord has give us the ability to be affected by truth, if we want to be affected. Not just any truth will do, though. The truths that we need to amend our lives and begin to enter into the life of heaven must be truths from the Word, acquired with humility and willingness to listen to what the Lord has to say. Too often we go to the Word to seek justification for some plan or action to which we are already committed. This is just what is meant by dividing the Lord’s outer garment: The gathering of scriptural passages and quotes from the Writings so that they can be arranged to defend or prove the love or views that are already held. What must be done, if we are to be good soldiers, is to read the Word first to see what it teaches, and then use what we learn there to guide our lives. We read from the Heavenly Doctrines:

All things that are in the Word are Divine, … for the reason that they have in them a spiritual sense, and by that sense communicate with heaven and the angels there. When, therefore, man has knowledges from the Word and applies them to his life, then through these he has communication with heaven and by the communication becomes spiritual; for man becomes spiritual by his being in like or in corresponding truths with the angels of heaven….
But the knowledges derived from other books, which set forth and by various means establish the doctrines of the church, do not effect communication with heaven except by the knowledge from the Word they contain….Everyone can see that this is so from this, that the Word in itself is Divine, and what is Divine in itself can become Divine with man by his applying it to his life. Becoming Divine with man means that the Lord can have His abode with man, thus dwelling with Him in what is His own when He dwells in those things with man that are from the Word, for the Lord is the Word8.

When a person looks to the letter and spirit of the Word to confirm what he already believes, or wants to believe, or when he is looking for ammunition to defeat those who believe differently from himself, he closes his spiritual mind to heaven and focuses his attention on the things of the world. If, on the other hand, he looks to the Word in its letter and spirit for guidance as he formulates his beliefs, he is opening his mind towards heaven, and then the Lord will have His abode in him, dwelling with him in those things that are His from the Word to eternity.

Let us close today with a passage from the Doctrine of Charity about what it means to be a good soldier. And let us also consider how the battle against evil and falsity never ends while we yet remain in the world, and the Lord calls each of us to prepare ourselves to become good soldiers in His heavenly army, to fight the good fight for the sake of His truth.

Charity in the Common soldier. If he looks to the Lord and shuns evils as sins, and sincerely, justly, and faithfully does his duty, he also becomes charity; for as to this there is no distinction of persons. He is averse to unjust depredation; he abominates the wrongful effusion of blood. In battle it is another thing. There he is not averse to it; for he does not think of it, but of the enemy as an enemy, who desires his blood. When he hears the sound of the drum calling him to desist from the slaughter, his fury ceases. He looks upon his captives after victory as neighbours, according to the quality of their good. Before the battle he raises his mind to the Lord, and commits his life into His hand; and after he has done this, he lets his mind down from its elevation into the body and becomes brave; the thought of the Lord – which he is then unconscious of remaining still in his mind, above his bravery. And then if he dies, he dies in the Lord; if he lives, he lives in the Lord9. Amen.


1 (See AC 9942:13)

2 See AC 9942:14

3 AC 9942:14

4 AE 195:2

5 AE 195:3

6 See AC 9942:2

7 See AC 373:5

8 AE 195:4

9 Charity 166

First Lesson: GEN 37:2-22

{18} Now when they saw him afar off, even before he came near them, they conspired against him to kill him. {19} Then they said to one another, “Look, this dreamer is coming! {20} “Come therefore, let us now kill him and cast him into some pit; and we shall say, ‘Some wild beast has devoured him.’ We shall see what will become of his dreams!” {21} But Reuben heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands, and said, “Let us not kill him.” {22} And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit which is in the wilderness, and do not lay a hand on him”; that he might deliver him out of their hands, and bring him back to his father. Amen.

Second Lesson: JOH 19:14-24

{23} Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His garments and made four parts, to each soldier a part, and also the tunic. Now the tunic was without seam, woven from the top in one piece. {24} They said therefore among themselves, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be,” that the Scripture might be fulfilled which says: “They divided My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.” Therefore the soldiers did these things. Amen.

Third Lesson: AC 9942:13, 14

[13] Once it is known from all this what ‘a tunic’ means it is evident what ‘the Lord’s tunic’ referred to in John means… Is there anyone, thinking with reason that is to some extent enlightened, who cannot see that in all this Divine things were meant, and that if this had not been so none of it would have been prophesied in David? … From the internal sense it is evident that truths are meant by ‘garments’, and Divine Truths by ‘the Lord’s garments’; ‘casting lots for’ and ‘dividing them’ pulling apart and dispersing them;… The tunic’s not being divided was a sign that Divine Truth on the spiritual level, emanating directly from Divine Truth on the celestial level, could not be dispersed, because this truth is the inner truth of the Word, such as exists with angels in heaven.

[14] When it says that ‘the soldiers did it’ the meaning is that it was done by those who ought to have been fighting for truths, that is, the Jews themselves with whom the Word existed, but whose characters were nevertheless such that they would disperse it. For they had the Word, yet nevertheless did not wish to know from it that the Lord was the Messiah and Son of God who was to come. Nor did they wish to know anything of the inner meaning of the Word, only the outward, which they also drafted to serve their own loves, which were self-love and love of the world, and so to support their desires gushing out of those loves. These things are meant by dividing up the Lord’s garments; for whatever they did to the Lord represented the state of Divine Truth and Good among them then, thus the way they treated God’s truths was similar to that in which they were treating Him; for while in the world the Lord was Divine Truth itself,…. Amen.

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A Little Child Shall Lead Them

Sermon: A Little Child Shall Lead Them

UPDATE: Sermon audio available here.

I preached this sermon on November 28, 2010 at the Olivet New Church in Toronto.

A LITTLE CHILD SHALL LEAD THEM

A Sermon by Rev. Coleman S. Glenn

The season leading up to Christmas can be a busy time – students, parents, and teachers trying to fit in all the Christmas activities on the calendar, everyone trying to find time to get some shopping done, to clean the house, to prepare for guests or to prepare to travel, decorations to put up… the list goes on.  And yet, despite all this busy-ness, Christmas is also a time of peace.  It can be a time of great joy – a time when family and friends can get together and celebrate the Lord’s coming.  There are carols that touch our hearts.  There’s the joy we get when we see the wonder on a child’s face as they open a new gift.  There’s the innocent reverence that young and old share as they listen to the story of the Lord’s birth.

Innocence and peace.  These two things are at the heart of the Christmas story and the Christmas spirit – and they’re at the heart of heaven.

Innocence and peace.  The book Heaven and Hell, revealed to Emanuel Swedenborg by the Lord, says, “There are two inmost things of heaven, namely, innocence and peace.  These are said to be the inmost things because they proceed directly from the Lord.”  The passage we read earlier from Heaven and Hell says that true peace is impossible without innocence, that innocence is what brings about peace.

This brings us to the prophecy that we read this morning, from the prophet Isaiah.  It is a prophecy of the Lord’s coming, and the change in the world that would take place.  It describes a state of innocence – and because of the innocence, protection and peace:

And the wolf shall sojourn with the lamb; and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.  And the cow and the bear shall pasture; together shall their young ones lie down; and the lion shall eat straw like the cattle. And the nursing child shall play upon the hole of the adder; and upon the den of the basilisk shall the weaned child thrust his hand. (Isaiah 11:6-8)

Notice all the references to children and young animals in this passage: the lamb, the kid, the calf; a little child, a nursing child, a weaned child.  All of these are pictures of innocence, because children embody a kind of innocence.  Now, the innocence of children is not true innocence – but it is an image of it, and the innocence you feel as a child actually becomes the external plane for true innocence in later years.

While that innocence of children is not yet genuine innocence, Heaven and Hell says, “One may learn from it what innocence is.  For it shines forth from the faces of children and from some of their movements and from their earliest speech, and affects those about them” (HH 277).  That indescribable feeling that young babies inspire in us gives us a taste of innocence.

The best way to understand innocence is to see how it shows up in children.  That passage from Heaven and Hell goes on to point out that because little children are unable to think from themselves, they cannot have evil intentions.  We read also,

They do not attribute anything to themselves, regarding all as received from their parents. They are content with the few insignificant things presented to them, and delight in them. They have no anxiety about food and clothing, and none about the future. They do not look to the world and covet many things from it. They love their parents and nurses and their child companions with whom they play in innocence. They suffer themselves to be led, they give heed and obey. (HH 272)

We know, of course, that this seems to paint too rosy a picture of childhood – but there is truth in the description.  We DO see states where children are playing together, or listening to their parents and caretakers with cheerful obedience, and those things inspire us with feelings of warmth and love.  And even when they are misbehaving, young children do so from innocence, not from hatred or evil intention, and so we love them even then.

Heaven and Hell goes on to describe the innocence of the angels in heaven, which is no longer an innocence of ignorance, but an innocence of wisdom.  Just as little children do not attribute anything to themselves and attribute all to their parents, angels attribute nothing to themselves and everything to the Lord.  Just as little children take delight in whatever little things are given to them as gifts, the angels live contented with whatever they have, “because they know that they receive just as much as is good for them” (Heaven and Hell n. 278) They love nothing more than being led by the Lord.  This is the innocence of wisdom – a willingness to be led by the Lord.

Innocence brings about peace, because genuine innocence protects a person from harm.  To some extent, we see this protection in the innocence of little children.  A little child can hear a horrendous story, with violence and death, and have it go right over their head.  The Lord protects them.  In the same way, the innocence of wisdom protects a person from evil.  This is what our prophecy for today is foretelling.  The lamb, the kid, and the calf are all pictures of innocence.  Specifically, they’re pictures of the different levels of innocence as they exist in the heavens – the calf a picture of innocence in the lowest or natural heaven, the kid a picture of innocence in the middle heaven, and the lamb a picture of the innocence of the angels of the highest heaven, where they are the most innocent of all.

And all of these creatures are said to be able to lie down or dwell with savage beasts.  Those savage beasts represent the falsities and evils that want to destroy innocence and charity.  Even the creature presented as the most sinister in the Word, the serpent, cannot do harm: “And the nursing child shall play upon the hole of the adder; and upon the den of the basilisk shall the weaned child thrust his hand.”  These deadly snakes represent the poison of deceit and lying.  Innocence shows itself in the guileless honesty of a young child.  The serpent, our oldest enemy, hates honesty and lives in lies.  It tells us that openness and honesty is weakness.  It tells us that we’ve lost our innocence, and we won’t get it back.  It tells us that innocence is for a different kind of person, not for people like us.  It tells us that the innocence we felt as children was simply blindness, ignorance of the way the world really works. It tells us we have give up on childhood ideals – the possibility of true love and goodness – and learn that real pleasure comes from gratifying our senses.  We’re naturally inclined to listen to the voice of the snake – its words are described in the Writings as sweet-tasting poison.

But those who are in innocence can’t be hurt by the ferocious animals or by the poisonous snakes.  If we innocently trust the Lord, we see the lies for what they are.

But of course this is easier said than done.  The image of the prophecy – of the lamb and the wolf lying together – is one of gentleness, but before it there is an image of war.  The coming Messiah is described as a powerful voice, standing up strong in defense of the meek, judging the poor with justice.  The prophecy in Isaiah says, “With justice shall He judge the poor, and with equity shall He plead for the meek of the earth; and He shall smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the wind of His lips shall He put the wicked to death.”  It’s an image of the Lord as a strong and mighty defender of the meek and the poor, His words destroying the wicked – although the truth is that the Lord destroys no one, and the evil destroy themselves.

We need to take that same stand, as a parent defending a child, in defense of the innocence within ourselves and others.  We need to take the same kind of stand against the evils and falsities we see in ourselves that want to destroy innocence.  The rod of the Lord’s mouth is the truth from the letter of His Word.  You shall not murder.  You shall not steal.  You shall love your neighbour as yourself.  To the evil in ourselves, these commandments are harsh and painful – they’re words of destruction.   In our lower selves we don’t want to hear them.  We have to fight against that lower self, to stand up in defense of innocence, to stand up in defense of following the Lord with childlike hearts.  When we take that strong stand against our own evil desires, it is really the Lord taking that stand within us, defending our innocence.  “With justice shall He judge the poor, and with equity shall He plead for the meek of the earth”

It is this battle against hell that prepares the way for innocence.  We often think of the Lord as a shepherd, and this prophecy describes Him in a similar way.  The prophet says, “A little child shall lead them” – and that little child is the Lord.  We think of the story of David as a shepherd, a young boy leading his flock.  That image is one of innocence – but at the same time, it’s an image of strength and power.  David had slain bears and other wild beasts who had come to attack his sheep.  The rod that would come out of the Messiah’s mouth meant that His words would defend His flock.  We know the words of the 23rd Psalm – “Your rod and your staff they comfort me.”  The rod and staff are a comfort to the innocence within is us, but they are terrible to the parts of us that want to dominate over others or to have everything for ourselves.

This image of the Messiah, then, shows us the Messiah as a shepherd boy – powerful to defend, but meek and mild with His sheep – a child.  Most of us are familiar with the words of another prophecy, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given” (Isaiah 9:6).  The coming Messiah would come as a child.  And the reason for this is that He is the source of innocence – He is innocence itself.  Our prophecy from Isaiah says that this prophecy would be brought about because people would know the Lord.  It says, “They shall not do evil, nor destroy, in all the mountain of My holiness; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of Jehovah, as the waters cover the sea.”  This state of innocence can only come about when people have the source of innocence in their hearts.

How is the Lord innocence itself?  When the Lord was in the world, He embodied that willingness to be led.  Now, He was God Himself in His soul, and so it seems strange to say that He followed Himself.  But at His birth the lower levels of His mind were not yet Divine – and so He still had to choose to follow the Divine that was within Himself.  That Divine within Himself, which He called the Father, was infinite Divine love – and the Lord is true innocence because He always chose, and always chooses, to be led by Divine love.  He was willing to be vulnerable and humble.  He was willing to be born as a helpless infant and be laid in a manger, to grow up as a young child.  We never lose the states of innocence we go through – if we become innocent in old age, that innocence has the innocence of childhood as its foundation – we experience those childhood states again, but now infilled with wisdom.  And so the Lord’s Humanity, which is now Divine, contains not only His states as an adult, in His ministry, but also the states of His infancy.  When we are trying to picture who the Lord is, those images of Him as an infant are as much of Him as any other.  And they may be the best way to experience the innocence of the Lord, so that we may know Him, in fulfillment of the prophecy.

And we do have a chance to fulfill this prophecy.  People in the Jewish religion are still awaiting the Messiah’s first coming – and anticipating that he will usher in this new state of peace on earth.  Christians believe that the Lord will make His second coming when this state has been fulfilled, or they believe that this state will be fulfilled AFTER His second coming.

In the New Church, we believe that the Lord did begin to fulfill this prophecy at His first coming.  He said that of those who would believe in Him, “they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them” (Mark 16:17-18).  In the early days of the Christian church, when they lived in harmony and brotherhood, the Lord’s followers begin to establish this world of innocence.  And wherever people in any time have dwelt in charity and innocence, looking to the Lord, this prophecy has come closer to fulfillment.  It is a prophecy of the Lord’s kingdom, and the Lord’s kingdom exists on earth as well as in heaven.

But this prophecy has yet to be completely fulfilled.  The book True Christian Religion, the last book published by Swedenborg, says, “It is well known that such things [as are described in this prophecy] have not yet taken place in the churches” (TCR 789)  According to that book, this is a prophecy that will be fulfilled by the New Church.  Why?  Because those who are truly in the New Church – not the organization, but who are aligned with the New Christian Heaven – will have knowledge of the Lord.

We have the opportunity to know the Lord in a way that no one else has before in history.  Not just in our minds, but in our hearts.  This is because we know that Jesus Christ is the one and only God, that He is a visible God in whom is the invisible.  Christians believe that Jesus Christ is God – but most believe that He is one person in a three-person Trinity.  When they pray, they often look past Jesus to “God the Father,” praying to God the Father but closing with the words, “in Jesus’ name.”

But in the writings for New Chuch, God has revealed that He is one in Person and in Essence.  And so that baby born in Bethlehem, in His soul, is wholly and completely God.  That little child who grew up to fulfill all the prophecies of the Messiah, put off everything that came from Mary, and became fully Divine and fully Human.  There is no angry, vengeful Father who seeks appeasement – the innocent Good Shepherd is the one and only God.

This prophecy from Isaiah tells us that it will be God Himself who comes.  The prophecy begins, “And there shall come out a Rod from the trunk of Jesse; and a Shoot from his roots shall become fruitful.”  The Messiah would come from the line of Jesse, the father of King David – and through His adopted father Joseph, Jesus did come from the line of Jesse.  But the Messiah would not only be a branch from Jesse – He would be the root itself, the source, as well.  In the final verse of our reading, we read, “And it shall be in that day, that the Root of Jesse shall stand for a standard to the peoples; to Him shall the nations inquire; and His rest shall be glory.”  Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58).  And in the book of Revelation, He declares, “I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star” (Revelation 22:16).

We have the opportunity to make this prophecy a reality.  Are we doing that?  Are we doing everything we can to bring about innocence in our interactions with others?  Are we allowing the Lord to write His law on hearts?  What are we doing to bring about the Lord’s coming?

The Lord makes His coming whenever people turn to Him as the source of innocence and life.  He came as an innocent child – and He makes His second coming when we come to know Him more deeply in the internal sense of the Word – a knowledge not just in our minds, but in our hearts.  “And it shall be in that day, that the Root of Jesse shall stand for a standard to the peoples; to Him shall the nations inquire; and His rest shall be glory.”

Amen.

Lessons: Isaiah 11:1-10; Mark 10:13-16; HH 288.

HH 288. [2] But peace in the heavens differs in quality and quantity in agreement with the innocence of those who are there; since innocence and peace walk hand in hand; for every good of heaven, as said above, is from innocence, and every delight of that good is from peace. Evidently, then, the same that has been said in the foregoing chapter about the state of innocence in the heavens may be said here of the state of peace there, since innocence and peace are conjoined like good and its delight; for good is felt in its delight, and delight is known from its good. This being so, it is evident that angels of the inmost or third heaven are in the third or inmost degree of peace, because they are in the third or inmost degree of innocence; and that angels of the lower heavens are in a less degree of peace, because they are in a less degree of innocence (see above n. 280).

[3] That innocence and peace go together like good and its delight can be seen in little children, who are in peace because they are in innocence, and because they are in peace are in their whole nature full of play. Yet the peace of little children is external peace; while internal peace, like internal innocence, is possible only in wisdom, and for this reason only in the conjunction of good and truth, since wisdom is from that conjunction. Heavenly or angelic peace is also possible in men who are in wisdom from the conjunction of good and truth, and who in consequence have a sense of content in God; nevertheless, while they live in the world this peace lies hidden in their interiors, but it is revealed when they leave the body and enter heaven, for their interiors are then opened.

Coleman’s Blog | The thoughts and reflections of a New Church (Swedenborgian) minister

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