The Advent: Humanity's Zero
A Christmas Sunday Sermon
by the Rev. Lee Woofenden
Bridgewater, Massachusetts, December 21, 1997
2:1-12 The Birth of Jesus
Isaiah 35 They will see the glory of the Lord
True Christian Religion #538.2 God himself came into the world
desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and
blossom. . . . They will see the glory of the Lord--the
splendor of our God. (Isaiah 35:1, 2)
morning, everyone! It is so nice to see all of you here this Christmas
Sunday! There is special joy in our church this Advent season as we look
forward to the rebuilding of our steeple, and as we begin to reach out
into our community in new ways through our recent Angels workshop, our
special Christmas Eve service, and the small group on Angels that we will
be starting in January. This is a season of new births!
course, the most special and joyous of those births is the birth of our
Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. No matter how commercialized Christmas
gets, still, at the heart of our celebrations, there is this unique
spiritual event. Our Lord's birth remains the center of Christmas, and its
genuine focus. It is a birth that those of us who call ourselves
Christians celebrate with great love and joy in our biggest festival of
there was little joy in the world on that first Christmas, when Jesus was
born. It was a dark time for our world, and for the culture through which
our Lord chose to enter the world in human form. The Jewish nation was a
conquered and subjugated people, subject to the iron scepter of armed
Roman occupation. Jewish leaders such as Herod ruled either as figureheads
or as puppets of Rome.
dark as the political situation was for the Jews, the spiritual
situation was even darker. As the Old Testament story attests, the ancient
Jewish people were often rebellious against their God--just as we rebel
all too often against what we know is right. From their splendor under
King David, through disobedience and backsliding, the Jewish people had
experienced war and exile, captivity and, for many, assimilation into
other cultures. The few who remained loyal to their ancestral and
religious roots had lost much of the spiritual power of their religion;
they were mired in a shadow its former greatness--one that emphasized
pious formalities and ritualized observances over the spiritual substance
of human love and kindness. Their religious leaders had lost touch with
the living source of spirit and life, and were leading the people astray.
have all experienced this in our own way. We have all had times in our
lives when we have lost our direction--when we are lost and confused,
lonely and depressed.
if I look back fifteen or twenty years to my late teens and early
twenties, I was in exactly this frame of mind. When I left home for
college, I had my life all mapped out. I knew I was going into the
ministry, and I knew exactly what course I would take toward it.
my first two years of college were over, that clear vision had crumbled
around me. I was left adrift in my mind and heart--in other words, in my
spirit. I was just as much adrift as the ancient Jews were in those four
dark centuries before Christ came, when the prophecies stopped, and the
sacred text was put on hold.
recall vividly a Swedenborgian retreat for young adults held at Fryeburg
New Church Assembly in Maine. As each of us that was present at the
retreat considered our life and its meaning, I realized that my
life had lost its meaning. I felt hemmed in and controlled by outside
forces, just as the Jews were hemmed in and controlled by the earthly
empire of Rome. I remember the tears that came freely to my eyes as I
expressed to the group how lost and out of control I felt--how I was
unable to follow the path I had chosen; how I no longer had a path.
was the low point of my life, when everything I had hoped and dreamed for
seemed to lie in ruins around me. I felt lost and defeated. It was my
personal zero hour.
suspect that each one of us in this church can look back over our lives
and find times when we reached that zero hour . . . times
when our whole life seemed to have come to nothing--to one big zero. Some
of us may even be experiencing it right now.
despite that big zero, a "zero hour" is not a point where
things end; it is a point where things are just beginning. In its military
usage, it is the beginning of a new operation or attack. In human terms,
it is the beginning of a new phase of our lives.
I look back on that particular zero hour in my life, as dark at it seemed
at the time, I now see that simply by experiencing that low point, the
healing process had begun. The evil forces (if you will) that were trying
to drag me down had lost their cover. They were out in the open now, where
I could see them. I saw the fallacy of those voices telling me that there
was nothing I could do about my life--that I might as well give up.
that moment forward, I have known that I am the one--with God's
help--who will determine whether my life has meaning and direction or not.
I have known that even though I cannot control all the circumstances that
affect me, I can take control of my own life, and make choices that
will turn it in a better direction.
I look back on that zero hour of my life, I also know that it was the Lord
who made it possible for me to come to that realization and begin to turn
my life around. I know that my faith in the Lord--as weak as it may have
been--was what gave me the ability to turn that zero hour into a beginning
of a new phase in my life rather than an ending in depression and despair.
we approach the birth of our Lord, each one of us can have this same
assurance about our own lives, wherever we happen to be on its winding
course. For we can look at humanity's zero hour, and see what
happened then. We can look at that low point in human spiritual and moral
history, when all was dark in the minds and hearts of humankind. And as we
hear the familiar story of the birth of our Lord, we can know and feel
within us that it is exactly at our zero hour that our broken hearts are
open to a new birth of the Lord into our lives. In that darkness, there is
space for a great light to shine: the light of the Lord our God, come to
earth, and to human hearts, to live with us forever.
new birth is a quiet and gentle one. We may barely notice it when it is
happening--just as I did not realize through my tears that my life had
just turned around. But if we allow that simple, gentle birth--that birth
of new love and light and strength from the Lord--to grow within us, we
will soon begin to feel its power. We will feel the power of the Lord
beginning a new operation and a new phase in our lives. To use the words
of Isaiah, our inner desert and our parched land will become glad; our
personal wilderness will rejoice and blossom. We will see the glory of the
Lord--the splendor of our God.
To Christmas Index
©Robert Meyers, entitled, Oh Holy Night