“Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” – Luke 2:11
Today we celebrate the Advent. The story is a familiar one and always inspiring. Each returning Christmas should bring a deeper appreciation and rejoicing. That Jesus Christ took upon Himself our nature and came upon earth to be our Redeemer and Savior is the vital doctrine of Christianity. The more we examine it the more wonderful it appears, and the more it reveals the love, wisdom, and mercy of our Heavenly Father and His special care for the happiness of every human being. Our text is a part of the angel’s message at the time of the Lord’s birth. It was the most important news that an angel could bring to men. It was tidings of great joy which should be to all people. It was the fulfillment of a prophecy made many centuries before.
The light which shone on the shepherds at Bethlehem and which guided the wise men on their way has increased during the years as the meaning of the Advent became more clearly known.
The birth of the Lord at Bethlehem was the first step toward the restoration of order in the spiritual world, and the first step, too, in the renewal of hope and progress in this world. History records no darker days than those that immediately preceded the birth of the Savior. Tradition has it that the whole world was at peace at the time of the Incarnation. But it was a peace that came not of virtue but of exhaustion.
The writings of our church state that when no natural good was left with the man of the church, the Lord would come into the world. If we should read the description of the conditions existing in the world nineteen centuries ago, we should see more clearly and truly the weariness and hopelessness that reigned in the hearts of men. Spirituality was almost dead. Life was a monotonous round of toil for the poor, and an equally weary round of animal pleasure for the rich. The bloody scenes of the arena were one of the forms of amusement. The world was drunken with lust and blood; the poor were weary with fruitless toil. The gods were dead. Even with the man of the church no natural good was left. With the Incarnation came a new dawn to the world. Hope came to human hearts again. The world awoke from its death-like sleep. Spirit was reborn, the long night was over, and the sunshine of the Divine Presence streamed through the clouds of sin.
If the observance of Christmas can help us to visualize this great change that came over the world as a consequence of the Advent, its purpose will not be in vain. If it can go further and bring to us the consciousness that our own weariness and indifference to spiritual things can be dissipated by the coming of the Savior into our hearts, it will bring to us a renewal of hope, a deepening of purpose, a sense of a new springtime in the soul.
The angel announced that God was about to visit the earth. Who did he say was coming? It was not some messenger from God; the angel himself was such a messenger. It was God Himself. It was not some secondary or inferior Divine Person. Men had formed wrong ideas of God, thinking of Him as invisible, inaccessible, and vengeful. Now He was coming to reveal to men His true character. He had been regarded as man’s most terrible enemy. Now He was coining to show that He is man’s infinite and unchanging Friend, that He is meek and lowly in heart, ready to forgive, gentle, kind, and merciful. Yet He is King of Kings, the Creator of the universe, and ruler of angels and men, “I am come,” He says, “that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” He took upon Himself our nature, was born a babe, “grew, and waxed strong in spirit… and the grace of God was upon him.” Then He entered upon His public ministry, to teach us how He lives with us in our human conditions.
He knew what was in man. He knew how destitute man was of all spiritual knowledge. He went from village to village, and from city to city, teaching the people the laws of spiritual life. He entered into their thought, their knowledge, their traditions and customs, for the purpose of leading them to something spiritual. He chose men in the most humble positions to be His disciples. They were slow to learn and to understand, but He was patient and gentle with them. He went with them by short and easy steps. That is the way God teaches. And He entered into their temptations, trials, and conflicts. He understood their natural affections and inclinations. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, blessed the children.
He goes with us in every step of the process of laying down the natural, selfish and worldly life – God with us in every step, in every sorrow, and in every joy.
In the Gospels there are two stories of the Lord’s birth. Luke tells of the vision of the shepherds and of their direct information of the Lord’s birth. Matthew tells of the visit of the wise men from the east, who were guided by the star to the stable in Bethlehem where the Lord was born. The shepherds represent those who are led to the Lord by the affections, the wise men those who are led to Him through truth. Of them it is said, “And when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.” Their gifts spoke the words they could not utter, for these gifts corresponded to what was in their souls: gold the love that was in their hearts, frankincense the thoughts of gratitude that filled their minds, and myrrh the devotion and effort which had led them to cross deserts to lay their gifts at His feet. Their love, their faith, and their devotion led them to the Lord. Their mission ended, they returned to their home country satisfied, their eyes also having seen the glory of Israel, and their prayer the same as that of Simeon: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”
Today in the light of the teachings of our church, we can see new meanings in the Advent. When the Lord was on earth, He told His disciples that He had yet many things to say to them which they could not then bear. In the writings we find the following: “The Lord’s presence is perpetual with every man both evil and good… but His advent is only with those who receive Him, who are they who believe in Him and do His commandments.” Belief – real belief – in the Advent depends upon understanding of it. The world today is coming into a state in which blind acceptance is no longer possible. We cannot believe what we do not understand, nor understand truth that we cannot apply to life. So we may have the Divine Presence without the Divine Advent. The Lord also told His disciples that He would come again.
This Second Coming has taken place and has been recognized by a few. It is the mission of the New Church to make it known throughout the world. Christ has come again and given to the world a knowledge of the inner meaning of His Divine Word which makes possible to men the spiritual achievement so necessary to the world today. Without this new knowledge men would fall back into disbelief in the Lord and in His Word, and spiritual darkness would again envelop the earth. Men must have this new understanding of the Advent. We of the New Church have a special responsibility here. Not until we receive and live this new truth does the Advent really take place in our own hearts and make it possible for us to present it intelligibly to our fellow men. As historic and epochal facts both the First and the Second Advents have taken place. As matters of individual experience we may not yet have felt them.
When the wise men had offered their gifts, they returned to their own country by another way. May we each year at this season draw nearer to the Lord in love, understanding, and obedience. And may we after each Christmas take up the work of life again with nobler purpose, higher hopes, and better motives than those with which we came to worship Him. When we have found the Lord and worshiped, may we return to our own country another way.