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Archive for December, 2014

Dec 29th, 2014

The Coming New Year
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
December 28, 2014

Isaiah 61:10-62:3 Luke 2:22-40 Psalm 148

The calendar says that a new year is coming in a few days. The dates on the calendar are fixed. They have no relation to human experiences. The question, therefore, is this: “Does it feel to you like a new year?”
Our spiritual condition has its own time. We have spiritual markers sometimes that mark time for us spiritually. Maybe something like the birth of a child so transforms us that time is never the same since that date. Maybe a special vacation leaves a state of blessedness on our souls and we feel that blessing when we look at a souvenir or a photo album. Maybe times of sorrow or catastrophe leave a scar in us that marks a certain spiritual condition in us. So our souls have time of their own that is independent of the calendar.
There is a benefit to the time marked by the calendar. The fixed dates of the calendar give us a way of measuring our spiritual condition. We can measure how far we are from some of those spiritual markers. We can look at the calendar and say, “That was a long time ago.” We can look at the calendar and say, “Has it been that long?” We can measure our life against the fixed dates of the calendar.
For example, it meant a lot to me when I was admitted to Harvard University back in 1983. But now, in 2014, I can hardly remember that feeling of exhilaration when I was admitted. I can hardly remember attending Harvard. When people occasionally ask me, “What was that like?” I can only reply, “A lot has happened since then—that was a long time ago.” In fact, I think that if I still marked my life by that event in 1983, I would be a fairly stagnant person. That is, if nothing eventful happened to me since then, I think my life would be rather impoverished.
The calendar gives us a time to reflect on those markers in our lives. It gives us an opportunity to think back over the years and to measure who we are against who we were. It gives us a time to add up the significant events in our lives, and to reflect on what they meant at the time, and what they mean now.
While being a student at Harvard may have meant something at the time, it has since faded. What it did to me remains. I acquired certain research and writing skills that remain with me in all the work I do now. And all the experiences that have happened to me in my life all conspire to make me who I am today. All the pleasant times, all the shocks, all the misery, and all the joy carved their marks on my soul and have made me into the person I am now. There is a wonderful characterization of the kinds of experiences that make up a soul in a poem by Wallace Stevens. In a poem called SUNDAY MORNING, Stevens writes of,
Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow;
Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued
Elations when the forest blooms; gusty
Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights;
All pleasures and all pains, remembering
The bough of summer and the winter branch.
These are the measures destined for her soul.
I read this as a poetic sum of the kinds of things we go through that make us who we are.
The stoic philosophers say that life is impress and reaction. Events impress our souls like a stamp that leaves its ink pattern on a piece of paper. We react to that stamp of experience and between the experience and our reaction to it our character is formed. We have little choice over the events that happen to us, but how we react is something we have much power over. We can fret and despair over unfortunate experiences, or we can use them as teachers. Or we can simply experience and notice.
When we are young, things all seem so crucial. Now in my mature age, things seem to affect me less and less. I have a friend who told me that he no longer has problems, only situations. Difficult things are matters requiring attention to address—the emotional shock has gone out of them. I somewhat agree with this philosophy. I feel as if now I negotiate life, rather than life negotiating me through shocks. Things just don’t affect me so much, unless I want them to. For instance, the Detroit Lions are playing football in about two hours for the division championship and I am choosing to let that affect me greatly. But that is my choice.
Sometimes things trigger a reflection on the spiritual markers we have. There are two songs that were on the radio during a very depressing time in my life. Whenever I hear them I can tend to wallow in the misery of that time in my life. I wonder how I ever made it through that time, and I marvel at how well I feel now compared to then.
There are things that made us proud and happy, too. My degrees give me a feeling of accomplishment. Perhaps the way some people feel about their children and families. I don’t have the feeling that I need to prove myself to new professional acquaintances because my degrees do that for me. This gives me a feeling of relaxed competence I might not feel if I didn’t have tangible evidence of my capabilities.
I think that the calendar measurements lead us to one of life’s most challenging questions. That question is the measure of our self-worth. “What have you done for yourself?” Is a pointed way of putting it. Are we worth the years that we have lived? John Lennon wrote a Christmas song that contains this challenge, I think,
So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun

The question of self-worth is one we all struggle with. Do we need to prove that we are worth something? Some people struggle to achieve and achieve and to possess and possess to prove that they are worth something. Some people measure their self-worth by the material possessions they have accumulated. Some measure their success by the wealth they have gained. Some measure their self-worth by their children’s success. Some people measure their success by their status, their degrees and publications. But I think all these means will never answer that question of self-worth.
The fact is, we are all of infinite worth simply because we are children of God. We are created beings of inestimable meaning. We are made by an infinitely good Creator. And that Creator makes only good creations. Genesis says that when God created humans God looked at God’s creation and it was very good.
Maybe we need credentials to present ourselves for various positions in this world. But we don’t need credentials to prove that we are worthy of love and of life. We are all loveable. And we are all just where we need to be. We are all just who we need to be. We don’t need to prove ourselves worthy. As creatures created by God, we are all worth the life we have been given.
Let us remember that. And let us remember that everyone else is as loveable as we are. We are all created beings, created by God, in God’s image and likeness. That is what we are intrinsically.
But we are also creatures in process. We are continually being created by experience and our reaction to experience. So while we are intrinsically God’s creations, we are also growing and being created into a better and better likeness of our Creator. In this continual creation, time is on our side. The longer we grow and mature, the more we are shaped into God’s image the way a potter shapes clay. Let us, then befriend time, befriend the years, befriend our age. It is just where we are supposed to be.

PRAYER

Lord, a new year is approaching. In this world, time is measured by clocks, the sun and stars, and set down in calendars. But we know that in the spiritual world, there is no time, there are only states of mind and soul. We pray this morning for a prosperous new year. And for our souls, to be enlightened and pacified of all troubles. May we not look upon the passing of years with sadness. Rather may we befriend the years, and grow more and more into an image and likeness of you. As time passes, so we grow more perfect in heavenly loves. As time passes, our sorrows become more distant and more tempered with heavenly joy. Be with us in the coming new year, Lord. For with you all things are possible and all good things come to pass.

And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. Fill them with the grace of your healing power. Comfort their family and friends. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.

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Dec 25th, 2014

The Christmas Spirit
December 24, 2014
Christmas Eve
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete

I’ve been thinking about the Christmas Spirit over the past couple weeks. Mostly because I haven’t felt it. This disturbed me. I felt like Charley Brown in the Christmas special they play around this time of year on TV. The whole show is about Charley Brown and how he seems always to feel depressed around Christmas. I wouldn’t say I feel depressed, but rather sad. And this is kind of funny—I feel mildly sad because I don’t feel happier!
So all this made me think about the Christmas spirit. I see two kinds of Christmas spirit. And these two ways of seeing Christmas are like what Swedenborg calls the external and the internal of worship. The external of Christmas is the excited anticipation of presents, the Christmas tree, the lights on the houses, family getting together, Christmas carols and songs, shopping, and exhaustion. The internal of Christmas is the actual reason why we celebrate Christmas—the story of Jesus’ birth and the Old Testament prophesies. While I haven’t felt that excited anticipation of external Christmas, I can say that I am deeply steeped in the internal Christmas.
When I was young, the excitement of Christmas was almost magical. We would get a real tree and set it up in our family room. We had a tree stand with screws you would screw into the base of the tree to keep it upright. You would fill the stand with water to keep the tree alive until Christmas. We would take a night and decorate the tree as a family. We would unwrap the ornaments one by one, delighting in old favorites that had hung on the tree year after year from long ago. Then gifts would appear under the tree. We had stockings that we hung above a real fire place. Christmas Eve we would go to an evening Christmas service at church, then it was off to our grandparents’. All our aunts and uncles and cousins would gather at Grandma and Grandpa’s. The whole house would smell of the special Christmas sausage we would make from scratch every year the week before Christmas. There were presents from our grandparents, from Uncle Fran, and we exchanged names so that we had one other gift from whoever drew our name. Then came Christmas day itself and we opened our gifts from Santa, mom and dad, and our brothers and sisters. This was the excitement of external Christmas that came only once a year.
You may have noticed in this story that evening church was part of the Christmas celebration. You may also have noticed that Christmas Eve at church was pretty much eclipsed by all the other aspects of Christmas celebration. But as the years passed, the church aspect of Christmas became more and more important to me. It first dawned on me by a show we watched on TV. That show was the Charley Brown Christmas show I mentioned earlier. In that show there is one scene that struck me when I was younger. Linus explains to Charley Brown what the meaning of Christmas is. He recites the section of Luke 2 that we heard this evening. I remember how deeply that scene in the Christmas show struck me. I said to myself, “They’re reciting the Bible on TV! This is a network program on prime time and they’re reciting the Bible!” I didn’t know you could read the Bible on TV. But Charles Schultz, the cartoonist who gave us Charley Brown also had the courage to air his religious beliefs in the Christmas show he created.
This year I have been ruminating about the internal Christmas. I have been thinking about the Israelites and their history. It is a history that gave us the prophesies about the coming Messiah that we read in preparation for Christmas. Then I think about the birth of Christianity and how those prophesies were reinterpreted by Christians and applied to Jesus.
I think about that special Christmas morning when Jesus was born in the darkest time of the year. He was born in the darkest time in human history, when the world had forgotten about the real meaning of God and love. It was a barbaric time when religion was ritual, animal sacrifices, and detailed laws. It had been forgotten that God is Love, that loving is godly.
There is a kind of external to these ideas that have been running through my head. A few weeks ago I went to hear a performance of Handel’s Messiah by the Edmonton Symphony and the Richard Eaton Singers. The words to Handel’s Messiah are all Bible quotations. They are the prophesies in Isaiah, passages from the Gospels, and from Paul. I downloaded a recording by the London Symphony Orchestra under Sir Colin Davis. I played that recording in my car as I drove around town doing my Christmas errands. This glorious music lifted me into a high region of my mind and heart and all the traffic frustrations dissipated under Handel’s spell and the power of the Bible’s words.
I think that the highlight of Christmas for me, now, is this very Christmas Eve service. Sharing the Christmas texts in the Bible with you, participating in the sacrament of Holy Communion, and the candle-light singing of Silent Night brings home to me just how special this season is. There is the darkness, the light, the lights. These rituals call to mind that ancient night. When in a world of darkness, the Light of the World was born.

PRAYER

Lord, this is the happiest time of the year. There are many distractions and delights during the Christmas season. There are frantic crowds to fight, there are traffic snarls, there are parties and festivities. In all this, help us to remember why we are celebrating. Let us remember that your love for the whole human race is what this season is all about. It was your great love for humanity that caused you to come to earth as a human baby. You lived among us; your feet walked the dust of Palestine. Help us to embody the love you showed us, and continue to show us. Help this Christmas season to be about love–love for you and love for our fellows.

And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. Fill them with the grace of your healing power. Comfort their family and friends. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.

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The Promise of the Messiah
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
December 21, 2014

2 Samuel 7 Luke 1 Psalm 89

We hear a lot about the Messiah this time of year. Handel’s great choral piece is called the Messiah. We read the prophesies in Isaiah about the coming Messiah. And for Christians, the Messiah is identified with Jesus. The name “Christ” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew name, “Messiah.” So when we say “Jesus Christ,” we are saying “Jesus the Messiah.”
But what we forget is that the Messiah has a specific meaning. And one of the things that divide Jews from Christians is how we interpret the meaning of the term Messiah.
The term Messiah in Hebrew means “anointed.” To consecrate and establish the king’s rule, kings were anointed with oil. So the term Messiah means the “anointed one” or a king. But Messiah came to mean one king in particular: King David.
We heard in our reading from 2 Samuel the Messianic promise. In 2 Samuel 7, God promises King David that his descendants will rule on the throne of Judah forever. In 2 Samuel 7:16, God tells King David, “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever.” Psalm 89, which we heard this morning refers to this promise.
Thou hast said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
I have sworn to David my servant:
‘I will establish your descendants for ever,
and build your throne for all generations’” (Psalm 89:3-4).
But this promise was broken. Babylon conquered Judah and took away the rule of the king from David’s lineage. This was a shocking development in Israelite history and theology. God who rules the heavens made a promise to King David, and that promise was to endure as long as the sun and moon.
Once for all I have sworn by my holiness;
I will not lie to David.
His line shall endure for ever,
his throne as long as the sun before me.
Like the moon it shall be established for ever;
it shall stand firm while the skies endure” (Psalm 89:35-37).
Psalm 89 records the bewilderment the Israelites felt at this apparent divine lie,
Thou hast renounced the covenant with thy servant;
thou hast defiled his crown in the dust.
Thou hast breached all his walls;
thou hast laid his strongholds in ruins.
All that pass by despoil him;
he has become the scorn of his neighbors.
Lord, where is thy steadfast love of old,
which by thy faithfulness thou didst swear to David? (Psalm 89:39-41)
Since God can never go back on His Word, the Israelites came to the conclusion that the Messiah was going to come and take back His throne in Jerusalem. This is the source of all those prophesies in Isaiah we read about the coming Messiah. And this is what the Israelites expected of Jesus. We hear it in the angel’s words to Mary,
And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.
He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High;
and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,
and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever;
and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:31-33).
Since Jesus did not throw off Roman rule and assume the throne in Jerusalem, Jews do not believe that Jesus is the Anointed, the Messiah, the king from David’s line.
What happened was the birth of a new world religion, instead. Jesus reinterpreted what the Messiah was supposed to be. While claiming to be the Messiah, Jesus at the same time shifted the expectations of Jews. He spiritualized the nature of His kingdom. Telling Pilate that His kingdom is not of this world, Jesus claimed a kingship that is otherworldly. His kingdom is within, we should not look for it in the world, saying, “Here it is, or there it is!”
Even Judaism itself has changed dramatically since the time of Jesus. Rabbinic Judaism replaced temple sacrifices. Humane values have come to dominate Jewish observance. A rabbi I met through the Interfaith Centre told me that she believes that love for the neighbor is at the heart of Judaism. Loving the neighbor is found in the Old Testament, in Leviticus 19:18.
Now a days we are like those Israelites who were bewildered at the broken Messiah promise. We see church doors closing across denominational lines. The National Council of Churches USA had to undergo a radical streamlining and restructuring because churches were not able to donate as generously as before. And the reason churches were not able to donate as generously is simply because their numbers are falling. We church-goers wonder what’s going on. Is society becoming less religious? Is God becoming a thing of the past? Are we in what some people are calling a “post-Christian age?” We feel like exclaiming, as the Psalmist did, “Thou hast renounced the covenant with thy servant!”
I cannot renounce my belief in God, nor in His kingdom. I can’t believe that God is becoming a thing of the past. I don’t see religion dying, but changing. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Give me insight into today and you may have the antique and future worlds.” That is what we all need. I believe that religion is being transformed. But what it is becoming, I can’t see. We have the promise of the New Church in Revelation 21. We have that vision of the Holy City New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven. We have the promise of the tree of life whose leaves are for the healing of nations. We have, in other words, a promise of a reclaimed world of holiness. But what that reclaimed world will look like I can’t see.
Perhaps the old forms of worship can no longer hold the new wine of the New Church. We need to remember that the Swedenborgian Church was modeled after what we call the Old Church—that is traditional Christianity. Our worship service is adapted from the hymnal of the Anglican Church. And our founders had a rather grandiose notion that this denomination was the New Church described by John in the book of Revelation. Perhaps what we are witnessing is a new form of piety emerging as older forms are being transcended. The old modes of worship perhaps are not sufficient to embody the freedom and glory of the Holy City.
Our world has certainly changed dramatically within the span of one generation. In the first century AD, who could have seen the development of Christianity? Who could have predicted that that new religion would overthrow the powerful Roman gods and become the religion of the entire western world? The rise of Christianity and the transformation of Judaism were developments no one in the first century AD could have predicted. If religion as we know it does die out, I have every confidence that some new form of worship will emerge. Some new form of connecting with God will develop. Some new understanding of the relationship between God and humans and a new way of experiencing that relationship.
We are bewildered at the way things are going for organized religion. But there are many people who consider themselves spiritual, but not religious. Perhaps these free-thinking individuals will find a new, creative way to bring heaven to earth. I don’t know. But as a speculate about the future of religion, I know this: There is a God and His kingdom will endure.

PRAYER

Lord, in ancient days when you were in this world, people were overcome with wonder. Some thought you were the Messiah, the king who would liberate Israel and rule on the throne in Jerusalem. Some saw you as a divine wonder-worker. And some saw you as a political threat. Now, 2,000 years later, we see you as our Lord and Savior. We see that you came to this world to save it, and to shepherd us home. And now, we wonder about the fate of religion in this world. We see frightening signs of apathy and indifference. We wonder about the future state of Christianity, in fact, of religion at all. And yet, just as pious Jews couldn’t see Christianity arise, so we may be blind to a new unfolding of faith in this world. We know that you shall reign for ever and ever. And we know that your kingdom in the heavens and on earth is an eternal kingdom. We pray this morning for faith. Faith that your church is unfolding as you would have it.

And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. Fill them with the grace of your healing power. Comfort their family and friends. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.

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Prepare Ye the Way of the LORD
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
December 14, 2014

Isaiah 6 John 1:6-34 Psalm 126

In this third week of Advent, we are in a state of preparation for the coming of Jesus. The coming of Jesus is celebrated on Christmas Day. For this church, the coming of Jesus is no less than the coming of God. For we believe that Jesus is God in the flesh. Our Bible readings deal with two appearances of God—one to the prophet Isaiah and the other to the prophet John the Baptist.
In both readings, the idea of purification from sin, or forgiveness of sin accompanies the presence of God. In Isaiah, the prophet feels unclean in the presence of God. Coals are taken from the altar of the temple and the prophet is purified by them. In the remainder of the chapter, the process of our purification is described by correspondences. We are purified, or regenerated, as our selfhood is utterly destroyed. When selfhood is annihilated, our remains of goodness and truth from God are left to shine through our new self. This destruction of self is figured in the destruction of Judah described by Isaiah:
“Until cities lie waste
without inhabitant,
and houses without men,
and the land is utterly desolate,
and the LORD removes men far away,
and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land (Isaiah 6:11-12).
In this case, the destruction of the land is good, in that it symbolizes the destruction of ego, selfhood, or proprium. This same passage contains a reference to remains:
And though a tenth remain in it,
it will be burned again,
like a terebinth or an oak,
whose stump remains standing
when it is felled.”
The holy seed is its stump (Isaiah 6:13).
The number ten signifies remains. Notice, too that there is a stump that remains from the oak tree. Here the actual language is to remain. Then we are told that the stump is, “the holy seed.” So after we are purged of selfhood, what remains are all the good things that God has implanted in our soul. This process is captured excellently by the Swedenborgian poet, William Blake. He speaks of,
A false body, an Incrustation over my immortal
Spirit, a Selfhood which must be put off & annihilated away.
To cleanse the Face of my Spirit by Self-examination . . .
As with an Ark and Curtains
Which Jesus rent & now shall wholly purge away with fire’
Till Generation is swallowed up in Regeneration (Milton. 40.35-37; 41.26-28).
This brings us to the New Testament passage from John. I find the theology in John 1 to be striking. It is striking in what is left out. Our passage is about John the Baptist. The Apostle John tells us that John the Baptist’s purpose is to bear witness to the light. That is, John the Baptist is to proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God and that He will baptize with the Holy Spirit. John also makes the memorable statement, “Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). This line is one of the Bible verses that people use to support the doctrine of the atonement. By calling Jesus the Lamb of God, John the Baptist is suggesting a sacrificial lamb. In the Jewish religion at the time of Jesus, one could sacrifice a lamb to take a person’s sin away. The Apostle Paul, and here John the Baptist are suggesting that Jesus’ death on the cross is such a sacrifice. They claim that when Jesus died on the cross, he took away all the sins of the human race.
But John’s Gospel is unique in this. The other three Gospels give us a different message. They talk about repentance for the forgiveness of sins. They teach that our preparation for Jesus’ coming is to repent. Matthew and Luke repeat the words of Mark,
“Behold, I send my messenger before thy face,
who shall prepare thy way;
3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight—”
4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins (Mark 1:2-5).
The way we repent is exactly as Blake and Mark put it. We examine ourselves and confess our sins to God. Then we take action to resist doing them in the future. Swedenborg recommends that we only take on one at a time, in order not to become overwhelmed. We will not be perfect on this plane of existence, most likely. But we can claim spiritual progress instead of perfection. And an honest self-appraisal will keep us humble. I think we all have a temptation to want to feel better than others, sometimes. But when we measure ourselves against Infinite Goodness, who is God, we will see that we are all struggling humans shooting for the stars.
As we put off our sins, then more and more the good feelings and the true thoughts that God has gifted us with appear. These are called remains. They are particularly given to us in childhood, when we are in our innocence. In our infancy, angels and God Himself are particularly close to us. They give us feelings of love that stay with us throughout our lives. But the good feelings given us by God and the angels are not only from childhood. They come all through our lives. Swedenborg calls this “implanting” good feelings and true thoughts in our souls. These remains are God’s dwelling place with us. God actually lives in these states of innocence and feelings of love.
God’s dwelling with us is what the incarnation is all about. The name Immanuel means “God with us.” And this Christmas season we reflect on God’s coming to humans on earth. For us living in the age after Easter, Jesus comes to us in our hearts. The coming of Jesus is a coming into our hearts when we put off selfhood and let Jesus in. This putting off of selfhood is done by repentance. As we repent, more and more we see Jesus coming to the waters of our baptism. The power to do this is from Jesus. So in that sense, Jesus does take away the sins of the world. But He does so not by a sacrifice of atonement, but by giving us the power to see, confess, and put away our sins. Then we, like John the Baptist, will say, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”

PRAYER

Lord, in this Advent season we eagerly await your coming. We are filled with hope and joy at the thought of Christmas Day, when you came into the world. And as your kingdom is at hand, we prepare with acts of repentance. We pray that you give us the courage to look at ourselves and to see where we may be falling short of your ways and where we depart from your Law. We ask you to shine a light on our souls and illuminate those areas where we need to change. And we pray, too, that you give us the strength to desist from the shortcomings we identify. And we pray that you give us the strength to change those areas of our lives where change is needed. May we do these things in a spirit of love toward you, and with the joy of your imminent coming playing in our minds.

And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. Fill them with the grace of your healing power. Comfort their family and friends. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.

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And the Glory of the Lord Will Be Revealed
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
December 7, 2014

Isaiah 40:1-11 Mark 1:1-11 Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

The readings for this morning treat the coming of Jesus into the world. The Isaiah reading makes clear that Jesus is Yahweh in the flesh. It prophesies that the glory of the LORD will be revealed to all flesh. It says in clear language that The Lord God will come:
And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd,
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young (Isaiah 40:5, 10-11).
Did you notice that our reading from Mark quotes Isaiah 40? Mark does this to establish the fact that Jesus is God come to earth. After Mark uses Isaiah to establish that Jesus is Yahweh come to earth, John the Baptist also affirms Jesus’ divinity,
And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:7-8).
After John says that one mightier that he will come and baptize with the Holy Spirit, Jesus comes and is baptized by John. And to reinforce Jesus’ divinity even further, the heavens open, the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus as a dove, and a voice is heard, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” The Isaiah passage Mark cites established Jesus’ divinity, as do John the Baptist’s words, and the wonders that accompany Jesus’ baptism.
The Isaiah passage Mark quotes says much about the nature of Emanuel—God with us. It is a remarkably peaceful and intimate picture of the coming of the LORD. This passage is one of the many passages about the Day of Yahweh. The prophets predict that there will be a Day when Yahweh comes to earth to right a world so depraved that only God Himself can set it right. Many of the prophesies are terrifying and dreadful. One such prophesy is Isaiah 13:
Wail, for the day of the LORD is near;
as destruction from the Almighty it will come!
Therefore all hands will be feeble,
and every man’s heart will melt,
and they will be dismayed.
Pangs and agony will seize them;
they will be in anguish like a woman in travail.
They will look aghast at one another;
their faces will be aflame.
Behold, the day of the LORD comes,
cruel, with wrath and fierce anger,
to make the earth a desolation
and to destroy its sinners from it (Isaiah 13:6-9).
This account of the Day of the Yahweh is terrifying as are other accounts of it in the prophets.
But the passage Mark selects typifies Jesus’ ministry. It is gentle, comforting, and intimate. It even begins with the words, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem” (40:1). God will right the fallen world, but God does so to make it more pleasant for us. Rough ground will be made level, mountains will be lowered and valleys will be lifted up.
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD,
Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken” (Isaiah 40:3-5).
And in this Isaiah passage we find the image so deeply associated with Jesus: that if a shepherd tending His flocks. This Isaiah passage makes the Shepherd intimate and tender, as is Jesus,
He will feed his flock like a shepherd,
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young (Isaiah 40:11).
This is how we think of Jesus. The Good Shepherd who seeks sheep who have wandered astray. The Shepherd whose voice the sheep recognize. The Gentle God, as Whitman calls Jesus.
And our Psalm tells us that we are to follow in Jesus’ gentle, caring way. “Righteousness will go before him,/and make his footsteps a way” (Psalm 85:13). The Psalm also tells us the nature of Jesus’ gentle way:
Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him,
that glory may dwell in our land.
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky.
Yea, the LORD will give what is good (Psalm 85:9-12).
In this Psalm passage, we see the very Swedenborgian idea that love and faith will be joined. We are assured that salvation is at hand for those who seek God. And we have the promise that the LORD will give us what is good.
These gentle promises are what the Christmas season is all about. As we go about preparations for the season, let’s keep these messages in our mind. Peacefulness and righteousness together, love and faith together, and the glory that these will bring to the land. For when we follow in the ideals of Jesus, we will bring Jesus’ glory into the world, and all the land will be glorious.

PRAYER
Lord, ages ago your prophets foretold your coming into the world. Some expected a terrible day of wrath and destruction. But when you came, you came in a peaceful night, silently in the form of a helpless babe. And your ministry to us was just as gentle and peaceful. You healed, you taught, and you loved. You showed us the way. We can follow in your gentle footsteps. We can embrace the peaceful way you practiced. And we can show a similar love to that which you showed us when you were here. In this advent season, may we all ponder the gentle way you came to earth, and the peaceful path you walked when you were here.

And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. Fill them with the grace of your healing power. Comfort their family and friends. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.

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