for Sunday, January 28, 2018
“The Lord neither shatters your illusions nor stifles your desires. Instead, He bends them towards truth and good.”
Emanuel Swedenborg, Arcana Coelestia 25
Love and Judgment
A Sermon By Rev. Mike Gladish
A Big Spiritual Dilemma
As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ each year we are confronted with the age old problem of reconciling two apparently contradictory principles: love and judgment. “For God so loved the world,” we read, “that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Yet Jesus Himself said “For judgment I have come into the world…” (John 9:39). “For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37).
What a curious fact. We normally think of God Himself as somehow requiring judgment, and Jesus as the loving Savior. But truth is the standard of judgment, and it does tend to condemn, since no one is perfect, indeed “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). So if Jesus came to teach the truth and to judge, how are we saved?
Most Christians say that we are saved by faith in the “fact” that He suffered and died on our behalf, offering Himself as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of the whole human race (past, present and future). The idea is that in confronting the evils and falsities of the world He became a “lightning rod” for all the hatred of the world, and that by suffering on our behalf He relieved us of any need to suffer. In classic Christian theology this is called the “vicarious atonement.”
But this makes the love of God rather demanding, don’t you think? – that He should require a Divinely human sacrifice to move Him to pity and forgiveness? Indeed, it seems rather pagan, doesn’t it? One gets the sense of an angry, jealous God demanding payment for the sins of the world and being appeased only by the brutal murder of His own Son. What kind of love is this, and what kind of judgment?
What a contrast this is from all the talk we hear today about “unconditional love,” that is, love that requires nothing but accepts all
people without qualification. We hear it everywhere! “God loves me just as I am.” And it’s TRUE! But does He love the WAY we are? Note the Gospel is ALL about the need to change, beginning with the first words of Jesus’ public ministry, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17).
So how can we understand God’s love? And how can we reconcile that love with what He does require?
Here’s a simple answer: God’s love is such that He wants to make us happy to eternity (True Christian Religion 43). You can’t ask for much more than that.
But in order to be happy we have to live in harmony and co-operation with the laws of order. Who could possibly imagine that God would love our misery or our mistakes, our selfishness or our stupidity? No, it is because He loves us that He wants us NOT to be miserable, selfish or stupid. And this love is unconditional, but it requires wisdom, or judgment to be effective.
So getting back to Christmas, we can think of it this way: – God in His Infinite love says to Himself, “My people are miserable, what can I do to make them happy?” And from His infinite wisdom He replies, “I must go down there and show them how to find happiness; I must not force them, but teach them, and show them, so that they have a choice and can turn their lives around.”
The Real Nature of Judgment, or Conditions for Salvation
There are two words in the Gospels for judgment. One refers to condemnation and the other to the concept of discernment, or prudence. The Lord in the Gospels clearly spoke of both, but when He taught He did not do so with any intention to condemn but rather “that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17). And here’s the key: – not saved by His sacrificial death on the cross, but saved by the freedom that His teaching and a proper discernment of the truth provides (John 8:32) so that we can enjoy an orderly, fulfilling spiritual life.
And this freedom implies decisions, judgments that we must make. For example, there is no doubt that we should love all people, even as our heavenly Father loves all people, “making His sun to shine on the evil and on the good… sending rain on the just and on the unjust”
(Matthew 5:45), but we cannot love their evil or their falsity or their confusion or their grief. We cannot love it and we cannot confirm it or support it. Thus we cannot show our love for all people in the same way. Neither could the Lord, which is why He condemned the scribes and Pharisees even though presumably He loved them too.
And He said, “If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4). Note, “If he repents.” The same message is clear in the parable of the prodigal son: his father had compassion on him when he repented and came home (Luke 15:11-32). To do otherwise would be to support the disorder, and that is NOT truly loving. So we have the teaching that “Christian prudence demands that a person’s life should be carefully checked, and charity exercised accordingly” (New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 85).
But again, back to Christmas.
There is an appearance in the literal stories in the Gospels that God sent His Son as someone separate from Himself into the world, “that the world through Him [not the Father] might be saved.” But the truth is that God, being pure, unconditional love in its very essence, provided for the salvation of the world by clothing HIMSELF in the human form AS Jesus Christ so that He could teach the truth with love and so remove all the obstacles to a life of faith.
This is why, in perhaps the most famous Advent prophecy of all, we read, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given… and His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Note, He is all of these in ONE person.
This is why Jesus Himself said, “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30); “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
But how could the Infinite be contained in a finite body? And who looked after the rest of the universe while it was so contained? We might as well ask how the mind can look after the body while its thoughts are focused on one small thing. The fact is, the infinite is not contained or limited in any way, but it does manifest itself in a focused way in the love and wisdom of Christ.
The Dilemma Solved
So we see that the story of Christmas is not the story of God demanding any thing, least of all a human sacrifice. It is the story of love providing the wisdom necessary for us to take responsibility, to make good judgments, and to keep His commandments for our own sake, indeed, for our eternal welfare.
So it is the story of love and wisdom working together, as they always do, and working in this case in a human form for all to see and understand.
“I have come,” Jesus said, “as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness” (John 12:46). And “He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12).
So, may this and “all your Christmases be bright” with the light of His love and wisdom!
“A person is entirely the same character as their love.”
Arcana Coelestia 6872
Behold! The Lamb Of God!
A Sermon by Rev. Dr. Reuben P. Bell
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.
Christmas–the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ almost 2,000 years
ago, and celebrated (by no accident) at the darkest time of the year.
There are many themes woven into the Christmas story. But of all the
themes in the Biblical narratives, we return most often, it seems, to the
theme of light–to the primeval archetypes of darkness and light. Is there
a more basic metaphor in the human experience?
With almost gnostic precision, the Apostle John tells us of the
Lord of light, who came into the world to bring us everlasting life, and to
make us “children of God”:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. In Him
was life, and the life was the light of men, that was the true light
which gives light to every man who comes into the world. And the
Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His
glory, the glory as of the only
begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth [John 1:1-14].
The Lord was Divine truth incarnate, who said to us “I am the light
of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the
light of life.”
Our lesson from the Apocalypse Revealed has a lot to say about
light. It tells us that when we encounter images of light in the Word, we
are to think of Divine truth, streaming in from the spiritual sun of heaven.
Because light and truth are linked in use–they correspond–and the Lord
comes to us across discrete degrees of order from His abode above the
heavens by means of correspondence.
And truth? We know about truth in this church, if nothing else. We
love truth. The Writings for the New Church proclaim themselves to be
the Lord’s Second Advent by means of the internal sense of the Word–
Divine truths locked up for centuries–finally disclosed and taught in
those thirty volumes of doctrine… truths to lead us to the good of life.
And these truths are what make the New Church new. But what is truth?
Now this is an important question–not just an academic pursuit–
because if the Lord did come into the world as truth incarnate, we must
define this thing very closely. Why? To understand truth is to know more
about the Lord. And that is always good. Let’s see what the Writings can
tell us about truth:
All truth is from good, for it is the form of it, and all good is the
inmost being of truth. Good when it is formed, so as to appear to
the mind, in speech is called truth (Apocalypse Explained 136).
Truth is the form of good; that is, when good is formed so that it
can be intellectually perceived, then it is called truth (Arcana Coelestia
3049). In the Word the Lord is called Jehovah as to Divine good; for
Divine good is the very Divine. And the Lord is called the Son of God as
to Divine truth; for Divine truth proceeds from Divine good, as a son
from the Father, and also is said to be born (Arcana Coelestia 7499).
Divine good can in no way be and exist without Divine truth, nor
Divine truth without Divine good, but one in the other, mutually and
reciprocally…. The Divine good is the Father, and the Divine truth is the
Son (Arcana Coelestia 2803).
So truth, according to this series, is the very nature of Divine good
Itself. Since good is of the will, and thus not immediately available or
even apparent to us fallen humans, it needs a form; a shape, a skin, an
external aspect, or something we can see. And that is just what truth is.
Who was born on Christmas day? Jesus Christ, the form of Divine good
itself, “was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” Someone we can see.
Now if we can see Him, we can strive to imitate Him. And that is called
regeneration. That’s the whole idea of truth: every building project needs
a set of instructions.
So we have truth… loads of it-in the Word itself, and in the internal
sense of the Word, revealed in the Writings for the New Church. And
that’s wonderful. But you know, like everything else in this world, there
can be complications.
There are some other teachings about Divine truth, that reveal the
great power in it, and also tell us what happens when we forget that
good and truth are supposed to go together. Truths serve as weapons
of destruction in spiritual warfare, and they are necessary if we are to
overcome the falsities that the hells use against us in the great battle for
our souls (Arcana Coelestia 2686). And truth is powerful stuff. It has to
be. In its pure form–the light that flows into heaven from the sun there
that is the Lord Himself–it would burn us to ashes, if it weren’t
accommodated–filtered a bit–into a less potent form, that we can use
(Divine Love & Wisdom 110). This filtered form is the Word, and the
Writings, but BEWARE: there is great power in these as well. Like any
weapon, truth must be handled very carefully, and it must be used in a
proper and responsible way. And we must also remember that using
truths to overcome the hells and using truths in our daily activities–in
discussions and conversations and all our interactions–are two different
Truth, used alone, by itself–without the good that is supposed to
be there with it–can destroy the people around us by its ability to cut to
the heart–of their intentions, their expectations, and their motivations–
sometimes before they know what these really are. And it leaves no
room for negotiation–no room for improvement, or starting over. Truth
alone does not teach, or lead–it condemns, and it leaves no survivors.
The Arcana Coelestia tells us that “in the other life, truths separated
from goods appear as arrows” (Arcana Coelestia 2686:6). I guess they
Now as a weapon in the war against the hells, this is great,
because this battle is for life or death. But for daily use, around the
house, in our jobs–around people who are not our enemies, but just
plain old regenerators like ourselves, we must be very careful that we 1)
use truths only in the presence of good, and 2) use them very cautiously
even then. Pick your weapons carefully. Truth can kill.
There is a beautiful flowering plant native to Europe, with flowers
like little purple thimbles. From the dried leaves of this plant, called
Digitalis purpurea we get a powerful drug called digitalis, that can
restore a failing heart to normal for a considerable period of time. It
remains an important drug, to this day. But the dosage is interesting–
and kind of scary: as little as a tenth of a milligram per day. And if you
get too much? It will stop your heart.
Save a life, or stop one; all from the proper, careful use of a
powerful agent for good. Truth is like digitalis: it must be used wisely,
and with great care, with the good of the person always in mind. And
there we have the good that goes with the truth.
So what does all this have to do with Christmas? Well, we found
that the Lord came to us as “the light of the world,” and we found that
light signifies truth, so we made that connection: The Lord was Divine
truth, come into the world in human form; Divine good Itself, but
accommodated to our reception in the form of truth. (That is why He
called Himself the Son.)
And we learned that Divine good can in no way be and exist
without Divine truth, nor Divine truth without Divine good, but one in the
other, mutually and reciprocally… and you don’t want to try to use truth
by itself, because it’s just too dangerous. You’ve got to combine truth
with good when you are using it around the house.
What does this have to do with Christmas? The Lord is Divine
truth Itself–infinitely powerful; more powerful than you or I can imagine,
and He decided to visit this planet and bring that truth to bear on the evil
that was about to engulf its people. It was an urgent situation, that
demanded such a drastic remedy. And so Divine good descended into
this world in the form of all truth; Jehovah bowed the heavens, we read
in Psalm 18, and thick darkness was under His feet. He made darkness
His hiding place, darkness of waters, clouds of the heavens. At the
brightness before Him His clouds passed, with hailstones and coals of
fire. That’s powerful.
So how did Divine truth come to us? How did the “light of the
world” make His entry into this world of darkness? What did John the
Baptist say, when he saw Him coming; walking toward him at the
Behold! The lamb of God! Lamb??? All this power, in the form of
a man, and John calls Him a lamb? That’s right. And he knew just what
he was talking about. 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.
A baby, wrapped in a blanket. The power of the most high, wrapped up
in the innocence of an infant. Divine truth, yes, but wrapped up in all the
good that the Lord could muster in this world. Of course! Can you
imagine that much truth, by itself, alone, to work its work of destruction?
Short work, at that. Imagine! No freedom; no second chance; no
reformation or regeneration; no process; no covenant; no Savior; and
worst of all, no Friend of the human race. Just judgment: in or out that
day, and the job is done. The Lord did not choose that kind of mission
on this earth 2000 years ago. He came to bring us life, not death: I am
the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but
have the light of life. Judgment tempered with mercy. Truth conjoined to
good. That is the way the Lord Himself operates, to leave us the room
(the freedom) to bring our lives into order and to follow Him to His
kingdom in heaven.
And we must do the same. We have lots of truths. The Lord has
decided that we should receive them at this time in history: the doctrines
of the New Jerusalem, to open up the infinite truths of the Word. But we
must handle His truths gently and carefully with one another, as we use
them, to correct and lead, and reform, and teach, but never to cut, or
tear, or kill.
We must always serve up His truths with equal measures with
good, to our families, to our friends, to people at work, to the people we
meet, to people we don’t even like very much. Because truth applied as
a weapon is a weapon.. and you’ll be sorry if you use it that way.
But will this work? Will anyone buy the strength of your truth if it’s all
wrapped up in “love your neighbor as yourself?” Can you make an
argument or take a stand while “doing unto others as you would have
them do unto you?” Can you still be strong, using truth all wrapped up in
I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in
darkness, but have the light of life.
Of course you can! It worked on the shepherds. They came and
saw the babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and they helped spread
the news. It worked on the “Wisemen” from the East: they believed. It
will work for you. And it will transform the people around you. This is the
magic of Christmas: love, come down from heaven, in the form of truth,
but “wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” AMEN
Lessons: Isaiah 11:1-6, Luke 2:1-20, Apocalypse Revealed n. 796
Selection from True Christian Religion ~ Emanuel Swedenborg
As his entire body is from his mind, so in each thing that proceeds from man there is an internal and an external; in his every action there is the mind’s will, and in his every word the mind’s understanding, so also in his every sensation.
In every bird and beast, and even in every insect and worm, there is an internal and an external; and again in every tree, plant, and germ, and even in every stone and every particle of soil.
A few facts relating to the silk-worm, the bee, and dust, will suffice to make this clear. The internal of the silk-worm is that whereby its external is moved to weave its cocoon, and afterward to fly forth as a butterfly. The internal of the bee is that whereby its external is moved to suck honey from flowers, and to build its cells in wonderful forms. The internal of a particle of soil whereby its external is moved, is its endeavor to fecundate seed; it exhales from its little bosom something which introduces itself into the inmosts of the seed, and produces this effect; and this internal follows the growth of the seed even to new seed.
The same takes place in things of an opposite character, in which there is also an internal and an external; as in the spider, whose internal, whereby its external is moved, is the ability and consequent inclination to construct an ingenious web, at the center of which it lies in wait for the flies that fly into it, which it eats. It is the same with every noxious worm, every serpent, and every beast of the forest; as also with every impious, cunning, and treacherous man.
The Word Made Flesh
A Sermon by Rev Brian W. Keith
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we
beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father, full
of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
Night; a time of quiet when the bustle of the day dies down; a
time of weariness when we make ready for a restful sleep; also a time
of darkness and cold; our vision is limited and we seek the warmth of
fires and homes.
Nighttime plays a prominent role in the birth of the Lord. It was
at night in a dream that the angel appeared to Joseph giving him
reasons to marry Mary. Later at night he warned him of the danger of
Herod, and eventually informed him that it was time to return to the
land of Israel. It was in the night that the Lord was born and the
shepherds found their way to the manger. And it was in the night that
the wise men saw the star in the east, and then had the star lead
them from Jerusalem to Bethlehem where it stood over the house
where the young Child lay.
The nighttime scenes surrounding the birth and early years of
the Lord’s life depict the shroud that had descended upon the world.
Their God, Jehovah, had not been seen nor heard from in hundreds
of years. They were lost and rudderless without Him. Other than
maintaining the ancient rituals, they had little sense of who He was
and how they were to live. Hearts were growing colder from the
confusion and distortion of everything good.
Even with the few descendants of the ancient churches, some
of whose knowledge resided with the wise men, there were but scant
glimmers of light. Perhaps those wise men alone among the ancients
saw the star. Certainly its light was not overpowering. So even with
the ancients there was but little understanding of who the Lord is.
What minimal truth remained was heavily shaded because all they
had ever seen of the Lord was a representative not the Divine in its
glory (see Doctrine Concerning the Sacred Scripture 99).
But our images and memories of the birth of the Lord are not
focused upon the darkened states. Rather we remember the
multitude of heavenly hosts shining upon the shepherds, the star
guiding the wise men, and the light of day in which Simeon lifted up
the infant Lord, blessed God, and Anna proclaimed His glory to all.
For the Lord’s coming is a coming with light and with life. “And the
Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory,
the glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and
One of the wonders of Christmas is the fact that the Lord is
born with light in the midst of confused and dark states of life. When
we see little but gloom and hopelessness, He comes to us. He holds
us in His hands, nourishing an inner sense of hope that we might
endure and overcome. Then His full presence with us is in the light of
the morning, enabling us to recognize who He is and how we might
walk in His ways. This is why the morning with its light and warmth
corresponds to the Lord’s coming. (see Arcana Coelestia 22, 4240e;
Doctrine Concerning the Sacred Scripture 99)
For the Lord came as the light of the world. This is His glory.
We can see it shining upon us in the truth His advent brought. For
until the Lord took on a physical form as a tender infant, all the earlier
concepts of Him were vague at best. (see Doctrine Concerning the
Sacred Scripture 99)
All of the true ideas that had existed with the ancients about
marriage, life continuing past the veil of this world, and how His
providence guides us were only misty images of what they might be.
For all truth had been filtered through the heavens. Dependent upon
the finite grasp of the angels, the glory of the Lord had shone dimmer
and dimmer into this world, until at last the vision of Him was nearly
By His birth the Lord acquired a natural degree of life. As He
put it on and gradually made it Divine, the warmth of His love and the
light of His wisdom became immediately present with all. This is the
light of the new day the Lord’s coming heralded for mankind, a light
shining in the darkness, leading to the brilliance of day. We can
sense this when we reflect upon our awakening states not those
mornings which come after too little sleep, or when we are rudely
awakened by alarms and the bustle of hurriedly preparing to rush off
to work. But we feel it in the quiet mornings when we awake
refreshed and revived when we listen to the singing of the birds and
know the dazzling sunlight portends the warming of the earth. The
light has a special quality then. With clarity we see beauty in even the
simplest things around us. And we can sense the closeness of
heaven, the closeness of the Lord’s Advent as our spirits are lifted up
to the new day. (see Arcana Coelestia 7844:2)
As the Word made flesh, the glory of the Lord can bring us a
peacefulness unlike any other. Not a peace like the quiet of evening
when we are preparing to rest. Rather it is a peace of contentment
and confidence. As the Heavenly Doctrines note, this peace is “the
very Divine truth in heaven from the Lord which universally affects all
who are there and makes heaven to be heaven; for peace has in it
confidence in the Lord, that He directs all things and provides all
things, and that He leads to a good end. When a person is in this
state, he is in peace, for he then fears nothing, and no worry about
things to come disturbs him.” (Arcana Coelestia 8455) The glory of
the Lord’s Word shines upon us when we have such assurance that
He is in charge, carefully guiding every one of our steps.
This is the state of the angels. Their unpleasant memories of
this earth have been set aside. They have no desire to leap into the
future. Rather they fully enjoy the present, sensing all the goodness
that the Lord is giving them now. For they trust in Him, knowing that
He is leading and caring for them no matter what happens.
We may taste some of this angelic peace as we celebrate the
Lord’s advent or awaken in the morning. But we enter into it more and
more as we set aside the things of this world: worry about the future,
too great a focus on natural toys and conveniences, our selfish drives
and desires. To the extent that we can enjoy earthly delights without
making them all important, that we can serve others without always
thinking about what we will get out of it, so far peace can enter our
lives. It is then that we become convinced that the Lord’s light is the
true light and most of the problems and troubles we experience can
fall away. It is then that we can glimpse the Lord and experience His
peace, His Advent into our lives.
In one sense there is nothing startlingly new or different about
this idea. Indeed, it is so simple, so fundamental, that it hardly needs
to be said. So we are affected by the Word made flesh as the Divine
flows into some of the simple truths we already know. This is one of
the reasons the Lord was born on earth that the Divine goodness
might be joined with our common sense and simple ideas of Him that
we have. (see Arcana Coelestia 2554)
The Lord’s birth itself did not reveal any radical new information
that had not been available before. In fact there would be no real
instruction until thirty years later when the Lord began His public
ministry. But His birth signaled a beginning of salvation for all
because His presence, His love for us all, was proclaimed by His
coming down among us, filling us with His good.
For us now, the Christmas story reveals His glory, the brilliance
of His Divine Human in which we may know and love Him. The Divine
as it is in Itself is far beyond our comprehension and affection, even
as it was for the ancients. So the Lord was born that we might see
His nature and have it shed light on our lives, giving us the
confidence and trust that He is always with us, always leading us in
paths of peace.
The Lord then becomes flesh and dwells among us when even
our limited, simple ideas of truth can be filled with His presence,
showing us something of His love. For the Lord’s coming into our life
is not simply to make us feel good. Yes, the Lord would have us
experience states of happiness and joy regularly, and eventually in
heaven constantly. While He may be born in our states of darkness,
His full Advent is to us in light the truth of His Word which can fill our
minds. Every time we recognize a concept as Divine, as coming from
Him and leading our minds back to His love and mercy, His advent
has occurred. Then the Word is made flesh, living, for us. We are
touched by it, we are enlightened by it, and we are strengthened by it.
(see Arcana Coelestia 8792)
This is our sight of the Lord, His birth among us. It brings us
light, and it will bring us warmth. We can embrace this light, this new
vision of the Divine, and use it to recognize and follow His teachings.
(see True Christian Religion 774) Then the truth of peace will be ours.
So let this Christmas day affect us with the joys of morning. As
its light brings a new brightness to our day, as its warmth stirs a
renewed heat in our lives, let us feel the Lord’s closeness to us. His
birth on earth was the taking on of a natural form of life that we might
know Him, see Him, and love Him. As we put off an excessive focus
on the things of this world and upon our concerns, He can come
closer to us, bringing us the peace of dawn-a peace that has within it
complete confidence in His truth, in His guidance, a complete
confidence that a heaven shall be made from this human race.
This was the reason for His coming to touch our hearts and
enlighten our minds, that He might become the Word made flesh for
us eternally. Let us behold His glory, full of grace and truth.
Lessons: Luke 2:1-7; John 1:1-18; Arcana Coelestia 8455
“Knowing a lot makes no difference if we do not live by what we know.”
Arcana Coelestia 1100