Jesus Christ - Our Redeemer
A Sermon by Rev. J. Clark Echols, Jr.
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Zacharias proclaimed the time had finally come,
“Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David….To give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, with which the dayspring from on high has visited us” (Luke 1:68, 69,77,78).
The Messiah, the Savior and Redeemer was to be born to rescue the people from their enemies and to fulfill the oath made to Abraham so long ago. Jehovah, God of Israel would now give light to those who sat in darkness and would guide all people out of the shadow of death and into the way of peace.
It is hard for us to understand, to generate the feeling that the author felt. The Gospel writer had believed in supernatural resolutions. He knew that when they would be freed from slavery to a foreign power, and when once again Israel would be an independent kingdom, it would be by the hand of God. We certainly feel oppressed by hatred. We can feel powerless in so many areas of our civil life. But none of us expect a supernatural intervention. So it is easy to overlook, and even dismiss, the fulfillment of the prophecy of the incarnation. So let us look at the story, knowing that there is a spiritual story, whose reality speaks directly to our sophistication and spiritual maturation since the first coming of the Lord.
The Lord’s birth into our finite, frail and imperfect world was for the purpose of the redemption of all mankind. This redemption, a rescue from slavery, was needed desperately yet He couldn’t do it from His throne above heaven. He could not, before the incarnation, so touch people’s conscious minds, for they had shut themselves off from the light and warmth of His spiritual sun. The God of Israel, Jehovah, the Father, the Divine itself, was present on earth only by means of the angels of heaven. While His life comes to His creation immediately and unconditionally, His redeeming love must have a path through the heavens and the world of spirits to reach us here on earth. The salvation of all depended upon the uninterrupted flow of the Divine through the spiritual world and thence into the natural.
At the time of the Lord’s birth, earth had become a spiritual wilderness, reflected in the Word’s description of the plight of the Jews. Life was there, but also there was a general corruption of that life. His light became darkness and His warmth cold in the minds and hearts of those who worshiped the idols of wealth, honor and sensual pleasure. Evil and falsity from hell had full reign in people, and a second flood was threatened. The hells were so powerful that the passage of God’s love and wisdom into people’s minds was almost completely blocked.
The hells could block people off from the Divine because the spiritual world is actually in communion with the natural. The natural world is an extension of the spiritual. The thoughts and inclinations of the inhabitants of the spiritual world are constantly flowing into the minds of the people of earth, always according to the loves that reign in a person. If a person loves what is good, he is associated with heavens, and the Lord guides, through the angels, his thoughts and affections. If, however, a person loves what is evil, he is associated with the hells, which inspire all sorts of evil thoughts and affections. The hells bring a person into thick darkness and put him in bondage to their evil desires, taking away his spiritual freedom.
When the evil spirits became so powerful, because people more and more responded to them rather than the Lord, there was danger that the possibility of redemption would be lost. It was then that the Lord performed the miracle of His incarnation. Jehovah, the Divine good, the soul of our Lord, used His creative power to become as us. He clothed Himself with a merely natural, human shape. He bound His infinite soul with the finite truth that corresponded to it, the truth that was in the minds of the angels of heaven, the truth that was once known on earth but that had been, in people’s minds, perverted, rejected and forgotten. He clothed Himself with this truth so that He could reveal it Himself, and use it to put the hells back in their place.
The Lord Himself had to become incarnate, and become Himself a receptacle of the Divine truth while He existed on earth. He had to create a vessel that would forever be for mankind its redemption; a receptacle independent of the heavens and its angels, making forever possible the reception of the Divine love and truth in our minds; making redemption and salvation forever available to those who turn to the Lord.
Perhaps we can have a glimpse of this miracle by considering changes we have experienced. Can you remember a time you were stuck in a bad situation? You felt forced into a corner. Maybe it was your own bad choices, or an attack by another person. And then something shifted, and you saw the situation in a new light. Or something happened to renew your strength. I suggest you seriously consider that you did not originate the new light and strength. Rather, the Lord was received in your mind and heart, in a truth and a love that are His, residing in you. It certainly felt as though you generated the solution. The New Church teaches something else.
The truth that become present on the earth by means of the incarnation is called the arm of truth, and horn of salvation, that could be effective in changing people’s natural, conscious minds. This truth gave Jehovah that final weapon for mankind’s redemption–the ability to make Himself and His truth visible, effective immediately, and forever established on earth as His very Word. The Divine truth, the Word, the creative, infinite life, flowing from the Divine love that is God Himself, uses this truth to fight against evilness in your heart. And each level and genus of evil is matched by the truth of its own level and genus, even to the level of our physical, sensuous life. Jesus Christ became this Divine truth during His life on earth by means of the power of the Divine love that was His soul. He was able to redeem mankind from the pit, free people from spiritual slavery, and make possible our salvation.
The infinite, Divine, unknowable and untouchable Esse of life, which is a purity and unity of love we can never comprehend, cannot fight against the hells. You know stories, fables, myths, that describe this. One that comes to mind is David and Goliath, when small David used stones to knock the giant down. So, truth, properly wielded will remove any love of evil, no matter how dominant it is in your life. Perhaps the fable of the Lion and the Mouse tells this truth. The lion was incapacitated by a small thorn in his paw, and could do nothing about it, even though he was king of all beasts, and certainly had the strength. The mouse lived on the level of the thorn. The mouse was the same scale as that small, but incapacitating thorn, and could thus reach where the lion could not. The mouse is exalted into a lifelong friendship with the lion.
That Jehovah Himself descended and took on the human condition is clearly taught in the Old Testament. In Jeremiah we read the prophecy that a man would be raised up in a branch in the family of David who would be king, and that in His days “Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely; now this is His name by which He will be called: Jehovah our righteousness” (Jeremiah. 23:6). Isaiah prophesied that when the Lord comes “It will be said in that day: Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us; this is Jehovah” (Isaiah 25:9).
When Jehovah comes, it is prophesied, He will “come with a strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him” (Isaiah 40: 10). This “arm” is His Human that Jehovah created, beginning with His birth as a human child, now able to reach out and bring salvation to all of us. That the Lord will do this is pronounced by the Psalmist when he wrote: “Gird Your sword on Your thigh, 0 Mighty One; ....and Your right hand shall teach You awesome things. Your arrows are sharp in the hearts of the King’s enemies” (Psalm 45:3,4,5).
We are being asked to acknowledge, and so shape our thinking accordingly, the truth that the Lord Jesus Christ was actually Jehovah incarnate. Based on these and other prophecies, and on the words and works of Jesus Himself, the Doctrines for the New Church teach us that the Lord’s act of redemption was not repaying a debt owed the Father by humankind. The Lord did not redeem people simply by making them guiltless. The redemption was, rather, the work of His whole life. It was the spiritual liberation of humankind from slavery to the evil masters of the hells. All the miracles He performed–even that of the incarnation–led to the opening of our minds to His love and truth. And He accomplished it from His own power–the Divine love–here on earth by means of His own Divine Human.
And now, it is manifest, while we speak of the Lord’s birth in the past tense, it is nonetheless His continuing Divine work–the miracle of our redemption. This is really why we should mark the Lord’s birth. The ancient story surely fills us with wonder, awe and joy. And it is because that very miracle is still taking place today that we rejoice and offer the gifts of our worship to the Lord. We need this reminder of His work in us. We need to acknowledge that by His advent the Lord takes upon Himself the defense of the truth in our minds that is being attacked and perverted. The Lord is today bowing the heavens and coming down (see Psalm 18:9). He is now and forever able, from the power of the Divine love within Himself, to “restore and appropriate to Himself that which has been His” (Arcana Coelestia 6281) that we have received from Him. He restores the Divine order to our minds that are upset by the influence of evil spirits, just as He restored the order of the spiritual world itself. He establishes His presence in the natural, conscious part of our minds–our earth. Born in the stable of our humble acknowledgment of His Divine origin, He miraculously balances the forces in our minds, preserving our freedom. This is what He did so long ago and this is what He does today.
The Lord’s birth was the beginning of His Divine redemption without which no one could have been saved. It was a work no finite being could accomplish. And now, the Lord is our Redeemer, and there is no other. By conquering all evil while He lived on the earth, the Lord subjugated the hells under the power of His Divine truth once and for all–His heel crushed the head of that ancient serpent, the devil. The Lord is, therefore, the Redeemer by these acts of redemption, and it is this that we should remember in any celebration of the Lord’s birth.
And a greater joy is made possible by the revelation of the internal sense for the New Church. This teaching is that the Lord redeems us when we live a life according to our understanding of the truth revealed to us by His advent. This truth has its foundation in the Ten Commandments, which are statements of all the laws of Divine order. The New Testament, the life of the Lord, makes plain to us the application of those laws to our lives. And within these literal teachings are spiritual meanings that raise our external obedience to the level of true spiritual progress. And new and deeper loves are there ready to bring life to the new truths we are learning and living. The Lord redeems us today when we live according to these laws in their literal and then their spiritual meanings, for then He is able to be present with us in His Divine Human and order those things in us which are not in order. We are able, by His Divine power, to rise out of spiritual darkness as to the truth, out of the shadow of spiritual death, and into the light of heaven, and the life of heavenly peace.
New Church people are very mystical. The Heavenly Doctrine describes a hidden, spiritual process that goes on quite without our knowing and feeling it. Until we look back and see how wonderfully our lives have changed for the better. And we know it was not by our own doing, even if we worked hard to obey the Commandments. We believe that the Lord comes, and redeems us from the continual attack of the hells–the attack that goes on today. We see this spiritual truth working in our lives, and we come to love the Lord enough to compel ourselves to follow His example. Then the Lord Himself in His Divine Human is present in our lives, mystically and absolutely in reality. He can be present in no other way. He can redeem us only as we approach Him in a life of love according to the truth we learn from His Word.
To remember the Lord’s birth is thus to remember to bless the Lord and praise Him even as Zacharias did so long ago. It is to sing to the Lord, to spread the good tidings of His salvation, to proclaim His wisdom and power, and thus to confess and acknowledge the Lord from our hearts (Arcana Celestia n.1422: 2). When we remember the Lord’s birth this way, the power of His truth enters our minds, casting out all evil, ordering and cleansing our mind, healing us as He healed the sick and possessed while He lived on earth. The Lord will be born in us in a manner corresponding to the way He was born on earth. If we will but receive Him, we will be blessed with the vision of His Divine Human as the shepherds were blessed with the sight of His incarnation. Our modern sophistication, which can mute our emotional joy and blunt the effect of the truth, will be put to the side for a time of celebration. We will then be like the shepherds who “returned glorifying and praising God for all the things which they had heard and seen”! (Luke 2:20) Our journey through life will be aimed at offering to the Lord our gold, frankincense and myrrh. As Zacharias said: “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people” (Luke 1:68).