Bridgewater, Massachusetts, December 8, 2002
(Transcribed and edited from audio tape)

Isaiah 9:1-7 Unto us a child is born

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan--

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian's defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior's boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

John 1:1-18 The Word became flesh

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'") From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.

Arcana Coelestia #2405.8 The advent of love and faith

In the Bible's genuine meaning, "the morning" refers to the Lord, his coming, and the approach of his kingdom. . . . For us as individuals, the morning comes when we are being reborn and becoming new people. When this happens, the Lord's kingdom is being established in us, and we become a part of the church. And in particular, the morning happens whenever the good that flows from love and faith is at work in us, since this is what the Lord's coming means.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:2)

This morning, as I offer my first service for you during Advent, I'm thankful that I have the Advent candles in front of me because that is where I am getting my theme for the four upcoming services that I will be offering for you: this Sunday, next Sunday, Christmas Sunday, and our Christmas Eve service.

Fortunately, our Sunday School Director, is following the same tradition for the names of the Advent candles that I want to use--and that is following the Apostle Paul when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:13, "These three remain: faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love." For our Advent candles we also have, in addition to faith, hope, and love, a candle for joy. So for these next four services I will be offering sermons on "The Advent of Faith," "The Advent of Hope," "The Advent of Love," and on Christmas Eve, "The Advent of Joy." Of course, I am one week off, because the Advent candles started last week, while I am starting this week, since I did not preach last week.

As I said to the children earlier, Advent is a season of darkness and also of light. It a season of darkness because this is our season of winter. Christmas comes very close to the winter solstice, which is the longest night of the year, when we have the least light and the most darkness. And that is very appropriate to the state of the world in which the Lord came. The Lord came at a time when the people were walking in darkness, and were desperately in need of light. And just as in the original coming of the Lord into our world in the time of darkness, we celebrate his birth at the time of the greatest darkness of our seasons. And yet, it is also a festival of lights. That is the wonder of the Advent season: the light that is shining out in the darkness.

Of course, the darkness that I am talking about here is not physical darkness. As far as we know, the people back in the times when Jesus was born had just about the same amount of physical light as we have today. The sun hasn't gotten any brighter or dimmer, and the seasons are about the same. So we are not talking about physical light. The light we are talking about is spiritual light. And you don't have to be a Swedenborgian with a knowledge of symbolism and correspondences to know that light is a symbol for truth--and especially for God's truth. The light we are talking about is the light of truth, the light of understanding, the light of wisdom.

Another way that we express this difference between darkness and light spiritually is by speaking of faith and the absence of faith. And this is my theme for today: the advent of faith, the advent of light into our world.

Now we have to ask the question, "What is faith?" There is a popular misconception going around that faith is what we have when we are not really sure of something--when we don't know for sure, so we say, "I have to have faith." And there is a meaning of faith in which that is true. For example, we do have to have faith that the Lord is working for us even when we don't clearly see it ourselves.

And yet, the true meaning of faith, according to our teachings, is believing something because it is true. Faith is believing something because it is true.

The misconception about faith being meaning believing something when you can't see or understand it came partly from a conversation between Jesus and Thomas. Moving from the beginning to the end of the Lord's life for a moment, after Jesus was resurrected most of his disciples saw him at a time when they had gathered together in a room. But there was one disciple who didn't see him. His name was Thomas, and he was not there when Jesus first appeared to the disciples. They told Thomas about it, but he didn't believe them. He said: Unless I see him; unless I can put my hand into his side and put my finger in the nail prints, I won't believe.

Later, they all came together again, and Thomas was with them this time. Jesus came among them again, and he said to Thomas: Look, see, it is I. Put your hand in my side, put your finger in the nail prints, and you will have faith; you will believe that it is I. And Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God."

Then come the critical words--one of the places where we have gotten the misconception that faith is believing something that we can't understand. Jesus said to Thomas: "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed" (John 20:29). People have often taken this to mean that it is very blessed to believe in Jesus when we don't really understand, when we haven't seen the Lord in our life. And yet, the kind of seeing that Thomas insisted on before he would believe was seeing with his physical eyes. He would only believe if he saw with his physical eyes that Jesus was there in front of him.

What Jesus was saying in reply was not that we shouldn't see with our spiritual eyes, but that those who are unwilling to believe anything except what they see with their physical eyes will never have true faith. Because the seeing involved in true faith is seeing with our spiritual eyes, seeing with the eyes of our mind, seeing with our inner eyes, God's presence. It is seeing that inner light.

Faith is not believing something we can't understand. Faith is truly seeing with our spiritual eyes, with our inner vision, the truth and wisdom and presence of the Lord. This is the faith, this is the light, that we celebrate as it comes into our world at the darkest time.

We celebrate at this season the advent of faith. In humanity's darkness that faith was missing. We read in the passage from Isaiah of "the people walking in darkness." People walking in darkness. Those who had, not physical darkness, but spiritual darkness. It was a time when the church had become corrupt. It was a time when the religious leaders were more interested in their own power, privilege, and wealth than they were in showing the people the way to the Lord.

Jesus spent much of his ministry trying to bring to the light the people who were in the darkness. He also upbraided the religious leaders, who should have been showing the people the way to God, but instead were binding heavy burdens on them that were heavy to bear, and yet not lifting one of their fingers to help them (Matthew 23:4).

It was a time of great darkness in the world. The Lord had tried sending prophets; he had tried sending priests. None of it had worked. It had helped for a little while, but then the people went right back to their backsliding, until there was so much darkness in the world that the Lord said: I looked, and there was no man. There was no one that I could send. And therefore with my own arm I came to save the people, to lead the people (Isaiah 41:28; 59:16). There came a time when only the Lord's personal presence in this world could bring us out of the great spiritual darkness that we had plunged ourselves into. This was the advent of faith that we are speaking of.

That great time of darkness in all of humanity is also reflected in our own lives. We each go through our times of light and of darkness. It is one of the beautiful teachings of our church that the spiritual progress of all of humankind is also reflected in our own individual spiritual process. We begin in a very primitive state as infants, not able to know or do much of anything, completely helpless, very instinctual. We grow through many stages and reach adulthood, having gone through a childhood sometimes pleasant and sometimes unpleasant, with our ups and downs.

Eventually we reach a time in our lives when we realize: I am walking in darkness. I don't understand what's going on in this world. I don't understand where I am going. My life does not have the kind of meaning that I want it to. I don't have the kind of love in my life that I want. I can't feel or express the Lord's presence in my life. I am walking in darkness. Just as the people of this earth walked in darkness, we come to our times when we realize that it is dark, not outside, but inside. It's dark in our heart. It's dark in our mind.

These are exactly the times when, if we are willing, we can open ourselves up to that new birth, that birth of light--the light of the Lord shining into our hearts and minds. As long as we think we know what's going on; as long as we think we understand, that we can figure it out for ourselves, we are not open to God's presence. But when we truly realize: No, I don't understand; I can't figure this out; I need help; I am in darkness--then we are open to the Lord's coming into our lives.

The Lord is born into us in our darkest times. Just when we think that our life is about to end. Just when we think there is no hope left. Just when we think that our faith will no longer be with us. This is when the Lord makes a new birth. This is when we are ready. This is when we are ready to say to the Lord, "Come to me. I need you. I need your help."

As we think about this season of darkness, we realize that the Lord has come to us and will come to us whenever we are in our times of darkness, and will bring us the light that is his wisdom, his presence. We see his teachings in the Gospels, resurrecting all of the dead teachings that had been given many centuries before, and yet had been lost to humankind. We read where he brings us the light in his own words and through his own example. God has given us the entire Word, the entire Bible, so that we may have the light of his presence.

We also know from our teachings that just as there are comings of the Lord into the world on the large scale for all of humanity, and just as there are times of darkness in the course of our lives when the Lord is born in us, there can also be everyday times when the Lord comes into our life with his light. Every time we don't understand, every time we don't see our way and we pray to the Lord and ask for help and receive inspiration, receive help, this is the Lord coming into our life.

Swedenborg says that we experience a morning in our life "whenever the good that flows from love and faith is at work in us, because this is what the Lord's coming means." Whenever the goodness that comes into our life from the love and faith that we are willing to receive from the Lord--when this starts moving and working us, then it is also the Lord's coming. Every time this happens.

Every time have darkness, the Lord is waiting to be born into us. Every time we have darkness, every time we don't understand, every time we are wandering and lost inwardly, the Lord is waiting for us to open ourselves up to him so that he can be born into our lives with new light and new inspiration.

As we move into and through this season of Advent; as we see the beautiful candles being lit one by one, I hope and pray that each of you will also be able to feel that light coming into your life. And even more than that, I hope that each of us will be able to open ourselves more fully to that light of the Lord being born into us, to the advent of faith that the Lord wishes to make for each one of us today and every day. Amen.

Bring the Torch, Jeannette Isabelle

Candle graphic is courtesy of Corel Gallery and
is royalty free for non-profit usage