Season's Greetings

Visitors from Beyond

By the Rev. Lee Woofenden

Bridgewater, Massachusetts, December 24, 2001
Christmas Eve


Isaiah 40:1-11 Comfort my people, says the Lord

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins.

A voice of one calling: "In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley will be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together--for the mouth of the Lord has spoken."

A voice says, "Cry out." And I said, "What shall I cry?" "All people are like grass; their glory is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God stands forever."

You who bring good tidings to Zion, go up on a high mountain! You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout! Lift it up; do not be afraid. Say to the towns of Judah, "Here is your God!" See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and his arm rules for him. His reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He tends his flock like a shepherd; he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.

Luke 1:26-35
The angel Gabriel announces Jesus' birth

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you."

But she was very perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him 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. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."

Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?"

The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God."

True Christian Religion #774 
The Lord's coming to us

The Lord is always present with every one of us, whether we are evil or good; for no one could live without his presence. But the Lord comes to us only when we receive him--which we do when believe in him and keep his commandments.

The Lord's continual presence is what gives us rationality and the ability to become spiritual. We gain these abilities from the light that comes from the Lord as the sun of the spiritual world--a light that we can accept in our understanding. That light is the truth, and it gives us our rational abilities.

However, Lord comes to us when we put warmth together with that light--in other words, when we put love together with the truth. For the warmth radiated by the spiritual sun is love for God and love for our neighbor.

The Lord's presence by itself, and the enlightenment that it brings to our understanding, is like the presence of sunlight in the world; unless it is together with warmth, everything on earth is barren. But the Lord's coming is like the arrival of warmth, which happens in the springtime. Since there is then warmth together with the light, the earth is softened up, and seeds sprout and bear fruit.


The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God." (Luke 1:35)

Yesterday during our Christmas Sunday service, the Sunday School children and their teachers presented a Christmas Pageant that was just a little bit different: "An Alien Christmas." In this delightful pageant, aliens come from another world just before Christmas, and ask the Earthlings they meet what this tree decorating and cookie baking and present wrapping is all about. And they get their answer: it's about love and sharing, friends and family--and the birth of Jesus Christ in a stable two thousand years ago.

Now, some of us may believe in aliens, and some of us may not. So let me be right out front and say that I, for one, do believe in aliens. After all, with countless galaxies out there, each containing billions of stars, it would be very strange if least some of those stars didn't have solar systems with garden planets like ours, where intelligent civilizations have developed and continue to thrive. Most scientists who have thought about it seem to agree that there's a pretty good chance that intelligent life exists on other planets in our universe--and some think it is probably very common.

Still, even though I do love a good Science Fiction movie or novel--especially if they have some really great aliens!--I have my doubts about whether any intelligent beings from other planets have ever visited our earth. I figure that if something that amazing and important had happened, we would all know about it. For scientists, this would be one of the greatest discoveries of all time, and our whole culture would take it as an established fact.

Or maybe not. After all, it's a part of our Christian belief that an even more amazing event happened two thousand years ago. Yet perhaps only a quarter of the world's population is classified as Christian; and even in the so-called "Christian World," only a fraction of the population truly believes that Jesus Christ was, as the Gospel says, "the son of God."

Of course, there are plenty of reasons for thinking people to be skeptical about the claims of the Gospels. Many people simply can't accept the idea that there is a God or a spiritual level of reality. To these people, the Gospels--and the rest of the Bible--are at best fascinating myths that tell something about the cultural anthropology of the people who lived several thousand years ago--not to mention of believers today.

Both secular skeptics and religious non-Christians can point out that the idea of a baby who is the product of a god mating with a human being is a common theme in mythologies from around the world. One of the best known from our own cultural past is Hercules (now a popular TV program!) whose father was the god Zeus, and whose mother was a mortal woman named Alcmene. This half-human, half-divine strongman had to perform twelve heroic tasks, called "labors," before himself being given immortality and elevated into the pantheon of Greek and Roman gods. The parallels are obvious with the story of Jesus' birth as the son of God through the virgin Mary, his many miracles, which reach their climax in his resurrection from death after the crucifixion, and finally his ascension into heaven to "sit at the right hand of God" (Mark 16:19), as the Bible expresses it.

There is no shortage of material in human science, literature, and history to cause thoughtful people to have doubts about the truth of the Gospel account. Because of this, among the intelligentsia of the scientific and literary world, it is no more fashionable to believe that Jesus Christ was a visitor to our earth from the heavenly realms than it is to believe that aliens visited our earth millions of years ago and provided the genetic material on which all life on earth is based--a staple of popular Science Fiction. Such beliefs are seen as fantasy and wishful thinking for an uneducated population. Marxist or not, many of these skeptics would agree with Karl Marx's statement that "religion is the opiate of the masses."

Still, there is another way to look at all of this. Many scholars have seen the miracle stories in the world's scriptures, myths, and legends as an effort of the human psyche to reach beyond the ordinary and mundane world of our everyday affairs to something higher. And I'm not the first one to suppose that our culture's fascination with aliens--not to mention the "alien encounters" that some people either believe in or claim to have experienced--is another expression of our human yearning for something beyond this world, with all its darkness, greed, and sorrow so painfully mixed with its joys and pleasures.

Must these deep human yearnings be without any satisfaction? Just because we know that our desire for something greater than our everyday, humdrum, and sometimes very painful lives does at times lead us to believe things that are more fanciful than real, does this necessarily mean that there is no fire concealed behind all that smoke? Or to put it plainly, though we can find plenty of reasons for skepticism, isn't it possible that our earth really has received visitors from worlds beyond our own?

The fundamental question is whether there really are angels, as the Bible and other sacred literature around the world says. And even more than that, whether there truly is a God up there who loves us. This is a question that neither science nor literary criticism can answer--which an honest scientist or critic will admit. Science is the study of physical reality; but God and the angels are spiritual beings. Literature is a human production; but God is divine, and the angels inhabit a world beyond this human one. In other words, from a scientific or literary standpoint, we simply don't know whether God and the angels exist--and whether they have ever visited us here on earth.

This leaves us in complete freedom to make up our own minds whether we wish to believe in God and spirit, or whether we do not. And that's just how God wants it.

Now let's look at it from the other side: from God's perspective. What if there really is a God up there who created us? A God who understands us perfectly, inside and out? A God who loves us with an infinitely warm and powerful love? What if we do have a divine Parent who knows us and loves us better than any human parent could? And what if this God saw that we were lost; that we were hurting and in pain; that we needed help?

If you see your children or loved ones hurting and in pain, do you stand by doing nothing? Don't you go to them and give them a hug--or at least a pat on the back--and help them along? God loves us with that kind of love. And God could never stand by doing nothing while humanity struggles with the painful and destructive effects of our own greed and power-hungriness, our own anger, apathy, and depression. A God who truly loves us and understands us would come to us and help us in our time of struggle.

This is the wonder Jesus' birth. It is the story of a visitor from another world--God, the Creator of the universe!--coming to us with divine love and light. When we open our minds to that light, and our hearts to that love, then the Lord has come to us, too. Amen.


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