A commentary on the history, contexts, and meanings of the word "genius," in addition to articles on other related subjects and many new era Christian sermons.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

2. We Three Kings

2 We Three Kings --The Search for Jesus

From Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary
"Those who live at the greatest distance from the means of grace often use most diligence, and learn to know the most of Christ and his salvation. But no curious arts, or mere human learning, can direct men unto him. We must learn of Christ by attending to the word of God, as a light that shineth in a dark place, and by seeking the teaching of the Holy Spirit. What joy these wise men felt upon this sight of the star, none know so well as those who, after a long and melancholy night of temptation and desertion, under the power of a spirit of bondage, at length receive the Spirit of adoption, witnessing with their spirits that they are the children of God."

This sermon will consist of excerpts from several sources, but the bottom line to which we will be wending is the symbology of the Wise Men who use the art of nature to search for Jesus.

You would think that, chronologically, a sermon on the Three Wise Men would come AFTER Christmas, because that is when the Wise Men are traditionally thought to have come to the manger, January 6th, to be precise. I have chosen this strategy because it is with the same fervor of seek-to-find, that preoccupied the three kings, that I am preparing myself to solemnize the anniversary of the coming of the Messiah into the world; and it is with the same wonder that illuminated the eyes of the Magi on that first day of Epiphany, that I hope to contemplate the savior lying in a manger on Christmas Day in the morning.

The symbology of the Magi divides neatly into two distinct stages of discovery; seeking is the first stage, while the finding is merely the culmination of a much longer process. When you think about it, the thinking about the symbol, the preparation for the spiritual symbol, takes a lot more time,, and is lot more involved than the actual revelation of the spiritual reality. The fact is that, although the Three Kings are usually associated with Epiphany, the FINDING of Jesus, the moment of RECOGNITION in which the Christ Presence is made manifest to Man, this is not the whole story--there is the whole issue of the SEARCH for Jesus that preceded the FINDING. Thus, seeking and finding are very much a part of the Christmas season. Looking back and looking forward may be thought of in the same way. Remember our discussion of sehnsucht as the intense joy of unfulfilled desire, and our discussion of HOPE as the realization of a future good brought into the present.

Munachi E. Ezeogu, CSSP says:

“We are all seekers. There is something about this time of year that reveals the hunger in our hearts, this yearning for something.”

The Wise Men must have been filled with longing, a yearning for an undefined reality which, when it finally fell on them in that first moment of epiphany, must have been as overwhelming as it was transforming. How the realization of an expectation must have been completely unexpected! How it must have looked so completely different, from what they thought they were going to see, how new! How they must have struggled, in those first few moments, to get their minds around such a radical departure from the past.

The Rev. Shawn Hughes, Queen’s University, Ontario:

“This is exactly what this feast day is about – change – transformation. Our spiritual lives can never be stagnant, they must always be moving, always be seeking, always striving for that more intimate experience of Christ. ... The Magi are transformed by the revelation at the end of their journey. They live on uncomfortably as men of the new dispensation among people of the old. That is a lifelong spiritual tension with which we must all learn to live. ... The spiritual journey is long. The journey is difficult. But, like the Magi, the reward is so great we leave completely transformed. The reward is not possible without the journey.”

In this preceding paragraph we have heard how the Kings existed in two time frames at once, the old and the new--the older frame of reference was the seeking of they knew-not-what, and the new is the moment of finding they know-not-how-to-say.

Writes scholar David W. Congdon:

"The quest of the Magi has been the topic of poems, stories and artwork for centuries. For C.S. Lewis, the Magi teach us to see the universe through a “baptized” lens: they understood that the world is infused with significance, and they were willing to trust what they saw and experienced. We too are called to see the star, trust our instincts and act. Our lives, T.S. Eliot says in Journey of the Magi, will never be the same:
"'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kiking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death."

Before we go any deeper into the symbology of the wise men, let us turn to Wikipedia, to provide some background information, all of which is very entertaining, and very useful in filling out Christmas trivia questionnaires:

Biblical Magi
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

"The Magi (play /ˈmædʒaɪ/; Greek: μάγοι, magoi), also referred to as the (Three) Wise Men, (Three) Kings, or Kings from the East, were, according to Christianity, a group of distinguished foreigners who visited Jesus after his birth, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They are regular figures in traditional accounts of the nativity celebrations of Christmas and are an important part of the Christian tradition.

The Gospel of Matthew, the only one of the four Canonical gospels to mention the Magi, states that they came "from the east" to worship the Christ, "born King of the Jews." Although the account does not tell how many they were, the three gifts led to a widespread assumption that they were three as well. In the East, the magi traditionally number twelve. Their identification as kings in later Christian writings is probably linked to Psalms 72:11, "May all kings fall down before him".

Original account
The New Revised Standard Version of Matthew 2:1–12 describes the visit of the Magi:

    "In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 'And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'" Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage." When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another path."
They are mentioned twice shortly thereafter, in reference to their avoidance of Herod after seeing Jesus, and what Herod had learned from their earlier meeting.

[Sidebar: I don't think it is a trivial point that seeking the truth is very often an activity that is accompanied by danger. The truth always represents a threat to those who are small- minded, and determined to avoid change. Indeed, the idea of change must necessarily be thought of as the object of the seeking process, even if we don't know what that change will consist of. We know that we are seeking something we lack, and that, when we achieve what we lack, there must be change. Since change is always a threat to the status quo, is always a threat to the left brain's insistence on rational sequentiality and definition, change will always be perceived as a threat to those who insist more on thinking that they are right than on thinking what is true. Thus, for the rigid-minded individual, apart from the familiarity and sanctity of repeated traditions and rituals, Christmas ought to be a terrifying time. For those of us who enjoy change, and who are prepared for change, the meeting of the past in the face of the emerging present is both terrifying and wonderful at the same time. Hoo-yah!

Back to Wikipedia:]

The Magi are popularly referred to as wise men and kings. The word magi is the plural of Latin magus, borrowed from Greek μάγος magos, as used in the original Greek text of the Gospel of Matthew. Greek magos itself is derived from Old Persian maguŝ from the Avestan magâunô, i.e. the religious caste into which Zoroaster was born. The term refers to the priestly caste of Zoroastrianism. As part of their religion, these priests paid particular attention to the stars, and gained an international reputation for astrology, which was at that time highly regarded as a science. Their religious practices and use of astrology caused derivatives of the term Magi to be applied to the occult in general and led to the English term magic. Translated in the King James Version as wise men, the same translation is applied to the wise men led by Daniel of earlier Hebrew Scriptures (Daniel 2:48). The same word is given as sorcerer and sorcery when describing "Elymas the sorcerer" in Acts 13:6–11, and Simon Magus, considered a heretic by the early Church, in Acts 8:9–13.

The three Magi (Balthasar, Caspar, Melchior)

Traditions identify a variety of different names for the Magi. In the Western Christian church they have been commonly known as:

    Melchior, a Persian scholar
    Caspar, an Indian scholar
    Balthazar, an Arabian scholar.

According to the Gospel of Matthew, the Magi found Jesus by 'following' a star, which thus traditionally became known as the Star of Bethlehem. Various theories have been presented as to what this phenomenon refers to, since stars do not visibly move and therefore cannot be followed. Some believe that they followed a planet, which without a telescope could be mistaken as a star, as it slowly moved across the sky.

On finding him, they gave him three symbolic gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Warned in a dream that Judean king Herod intended to kill the child, they decided to return home by a different route. This prompted Herod to resort to killing all the young children in Bethlehem, an act called the Massacre of the Innocents, in an attempt to eliminate a rival heir to his throne. Jesus and his family had, however, escaped to Egypt beforehand. After these events they passed into obscurity. The story of the nativity in Matthew glorifies Jesus, likens him to Moses, and shows his life as fulfilling prophecy.

The historian of Christianity, Sebastian Brock, has said: 
"It was no doubt among converts from Zoroastrianism that… certain legends were developed around the Magi of the Gospels". 
And Anders Hutgård concluded that the Gospel story of the Magi was influenced by an Iranian legend concerning magi and a star, which was connected with Persian beliefs in the rise of a star predicting the birth of a ruler and with myths describing the manifestation of a divine figure in fire and light.

The Magi are described as "falling down", "kneeling" or "bowing" in the worship of Jesus. This gesture, together with the use of kneeling in Luke's birth narrative, had an important effect on Christian religious practices. They were indicative of great respect, and typically used when venerating a king. Inspired by these verses, kneeling and prostration were adopted in the early Church. While prostration is now rarely practiced in the West, it is still relatively common in the Eastern Churches, especially during Lent. Kneeling has remained an important element of Christian worship to this day."

I find it very interesting that so many of our religious ceremonies come from the accepted reports of the Magi-behavior--the "kneeling" is just one element of the whole royalty obeisance bit. The reference to Jesus as the "King of Kings, and Lord of Lords" definitely puts Jesus, as a descendant of the House of David, into the upper social class of a world in which class consciousness was (and is) a major indicator of the prestige enjoyed by royalty. I really think Jesus has to laugh at this--I believe He must be more democratic in His social attitudes, at the same time being aware that all men are NOT created equal.

Of course, the main Magi-behavior we imitate today is the gift-giving. Thus, with the following Martin Luther excerpt, our discussion of the Wise Men shifts from seeking to giving gifts. 

Sermon for the Epiphany; Matthew 2:1-12:A Sermon by Martin Luther; taken from his Church Postil of 1522.

"3.This Gospel harmonizes with the Epistle and speaks of the temporal coming of the heathen to Christ, by which their spiritual coming to Christ, mentioned in the Epistle, is signified and commenced. It is both a terrifying and consoling Gospel: terrifying to the great and wise, the self-satisfied and the mighty, because they all reject Christ; consoling to the humble and despised, because to them alone Christ is revealed.

4. These wise men are usually called the three Kings. As not much depends on this, we will grant this opinion to the simple minded people. However, it is not known whether there were two, three or more. But they certainly came from the rich country Arabia or Sheba, which is evident from their gifts viz. gold, frankincense and myrrh. All three of these are very precious in that country. It can certainly not be assumed that they had bought these elsewhere, for it is customary in these Eastern countries to do homage and make presents of the choice fruits and wealth of the country. just like Jacob commanded his sons to carry presents of the choice fruits of the land to Joseph in Egypt. Gen. 43, 11. Had these gifts of the wise men not been of their own country, why should they then have brought frankincense, myrrh and gold produced in the land of Judea, instead of silver and precious stones or fruits of some other country?

5. Therefore these gifts were not presented to Christ like artists paint the scenery that one offers gold, another frankincense and the third myrrh, but they presented the gifts in common as one man. And probably there were quite a number present, a few of them being the leaders, just as now a prince or a city sends a few brave men as messengers to the emperor with presents.

6. The Evangelist calls these men wise men which means in German weissager, i. e. (predictors, diviners); not in the same manner as the prophets predicted, but like those whom we call wise men and wise women, who can tell people all kinds of things; who know a great deal about the secret arts and follow adventures. The art of such people is called magic, which is sometimes accomplished by the black arts and the help of the devil, but not in all things as by the witches and sorcerers. For the wise men imitate the true prophets and prophesy like the true prophets, though not by the spirit of God. For this reason they sometimes happen to be correct as their work is not, like that of the witches, altogether the devil's work, but rather human reason aided by the devil.

7. Again, their miraculous deeds are not altogether done by the devil's cunning, like the doings of the witches, but by a combination of natural forces and the power of the devil. Hence a magician always imitates the real natural arts. For there are many hidden forces in nature, and he who knows how to apply them performs miracles in the eyes of those who know no better as, for instance, the alchemists make gold out of copper.

8. Of these secret forces of nature Solomon knew a great deal by the spirit of God, and made good use of this knowledge when he judged between the two women concerning the living and the dead child, I Kings 3, 25, discovering the real mother by appealing to the deepest feelings of nature. Again, Jacob also made use of this art when he used the peeled rods and the flocks brought forth speckled and spotted lambs, Gen. 30,39.

9. This is a fine and a truly natural art by which is derived all that physicians and others know about the properties of herbs, plants, metals, stones etc. The Scriptures also recognize this art when they make comparisons of animals, stones, trees, plants etc. This art was especially practiced and studied among the Persians, Arabians and in other Eastern countries, was an honorable art and made wise people.

10. But later on swine and block-heads meddled with it, as usually happens with all arts and doctrines, and have gone far from the truth, have confounded this noble art with juggling and sorcery, and have tried to follow and master both. But when they could not do this, they relinquished the real art and became jugglers and conjurers, prophesying and do-ing miracles by the help of the devil, though sometimes through the forces of nature. For the devil has retained much of this art and at times uses it through the magicians. Thus the word magic has become disreputable, meaning nothing else now than foretelling and doing miraculous deeds through the evil spirit, though at times it is reliable and helps men because natural forces, which are always reliable, are coupled with it and used by evil spirit.

11. Hence these magi or wise men were not kings, but men learned and experienced in this natural art though without doubt they also practiced conjury. Even to this day men from these eastern countries are possessed of great and various magic powers and, when this real art ceased, being despised they brought forth sorcery and spread it throughout the world but prior to this they relied entirely on the course of the heavenly bodies. Thus presumptuous human reason has always mixed and disgraced that which was good by imitation and indiscretion, attempting to ape everything that it sees and bears. Hence false prophets imitate the true prophets, false work-righteous saints the true saints, and the falsely learned the truly learned. If we look at the world we will find, that the work of human reason is but aping to imitate the good, only perverts it and thus deceives itself and others.

12. These wise men, therefore, were nothing else than what the philosophers were in Greece and the priests in Egypt, and the learned among us in the universities. In short, they were the priests and learned in the rich country of Arabia; just as if learned men are priests from the universities were now sent to a prince with presents. For the universities also claim that they teach natural arts which they call philosophy while in reality they are teaching not only tomfoolery, but also poisonous error and idle dreams.

13. For the natural art, which was formerly called magic but now physiology, is to learn the forces and work of nature; as for example, that a deer with its breath through the nose will draw a snake from the crevice in the rocks, kill and eat it and then on account of the great heat of the poison pants for cooling streams as stated in Ps. 42, 1. Again, that a weasel will induce a snake to come out of its hiding place by wagging its tail before the opening to anger and excite the snake; and then lies in wait so that, when the snake looks up after its enemy the weasel fastens its teeth in the neck of the snake below the venomous fang and thus killing its enemy in its own house.

Such arts the wise men studied, and in them is concealed a great deal of wisdom concerning Christ as well as the conduct of men in life. But this art is not taught in the universities now. Hence even the peasants know more about it than our wise men or natural masters who are not wrongfully called natural fools, because in spite of so much labor and trouble they have only retrograded and are the devil's mockingbirds. If we would therefore truly interpret this Gospel we must say: The masters of nature from the East or the naturalists from Arabia have come.

30. But how these wise men could see in this star a sign that unmistakably signified a new- born king, I do not know. Perhaps they read in their histories and chronicles that aforetime the birth of other kings had been signified in the heavens or through a star. For we find also in the histories of the Romans and the Greeks that the coming or birth of some great princes and extraordinary men had been foretold by miracles and signs in the air and in the heavens. These wise men also knew quite well that these Jews were the chosen people of God, who were and had been above all other people, especially favored of God. Therefore, as this was such a beautiful star, they certainly thought that God had given this people a new king. But the claim of some that these wise men knew the saying of Balaam: "There shall come forth a star out of Jacob," etc. (Num. 24, 17), will avail nothing, as this speaks mainly of the spiritual coming of Christ, who is the star himself. But whoever is not satisfied with this may think as he pleases about it. Perhaps they knew all by divine revelation."

This preceding Martin Luther excerpt is quite involved and has many intertwining ideas. Perhaps the most important overarching point, that Luther is making, is that: as we seek the Christ, and we give him his presents, we must be careful to remember that Jesus does not suffer fools; finding the precise distinction between magic philosophy and true spirituality is a slippery slope, a razor's edge. I find that the whole idea of the word "Magi" leading to "Magic" is an untrivial philological coincidence, and is emblematic of the feeling of magic and wonder associated with our Christmas traditions and ceremonies. But cultivating wonder does not mean accepting false prophets for mere dramatic effect; neither does the fact that there are false prophets out there mean that every strange and new thing is also false. Every natural event must be evaluated on its own merits, with an open heart and mind. Thus as we seek, and find, and then give, we must make sure that we are seeking the right thing, finding the right thing, and giving of ourselves, our truest selves and not counterfeits. With Jesus as our arbiter and interpreter we cannot go wrong.

The following Rudolf Steiner excerpt throws some significant light on the quality of the symbology of the gifts of the Magi:

Rudolph Steiner: The Festivals and Their Meaning: I Christmas--On The Three Magi: Schmidt Number: S-0994 VI (Extract from a lecture) Berlin, 30th December, 1904 GA B60

"You will remember that I have spoken of the meaning of the Christmas Festival in its connection with the evolution of races, or, better said, the epochs of civilisation, and indeed the significance of the Festival lies in this very connection both in respect of the past and of the future. 
I want to speak to-day about a Festival to which in modern times less importance is attached than to the Christmas Festival itself, namely, the Festival of the Three Kings, of the Magi who came from the East to greet the newly born Jesus. This Festival of the Epiphany (celebrated on the 6th of January) will assume greater and greater significance when its symbolism is understood. 
It will be obvious to you that very profound symbolism is contained in the Festival of the Three Magi from the East. Until the 15th century, this symbolism was kept very secret and no definite indications were available. But since that century some light has been thrown on the Festival of the Magi by exoteric presentations. One of the Three Kings — Caspar — is portrayed as a Moor, an inhabitant of Africa; one as a white man, a European — Melchior; and one — Balthasar — as an Asiatic; the colour of his skin is that of an inhabitant of India. They bring Myrrh, Gold and Frankincense as offerings to the Child Jesus in Bethlehem. 
These three offerings are full of meaning and in keeping with the whole symbolism of the Festival celebrated on the 6th of January. Exoterically, the date itself throws some light; esoterically, the Festival is pregnant with meaning. The 6th of January is the same date as that on which, in ancient Egypt, the Festival of Osiris was celebrated, the Festival of the re-finding of Osiris. As you know, Osiris was overcome by his enemy Typhon: Isis seeks and eventually finds him. This re-finding of Osiris, the Son of God, is represented in the Festival of the 6th of January. The Festival of the Three Kings is the same Festival, but in its Christian form. This Festival was also celebrated among the Assyrians, the Armenians and the Phoenicians. Everywhere it is a Festival connected with a kind of universal baptism — a rebirth from out of the water.

Of this epoch the Bible says: ‘The Spirit of God brooded over the waters.’ The principle of Love was not within the beings, but outside, manifesting as earthly Kama (that is to say, earthly passion or desire). Kama is egotistic love. The first bringer of Love free of all egoism is Christ Who appeared in the body of Jesus of Nazareth.
Who are the Magi? They represent the Initiates of the three preceding races or epochs of culture, the Initiates of mankind up to the time of the coming of Christ, the Bringer of the Love that is free of egoism — the resurrected Osiris.

By what are the Three Holy Kings guided, and whither are they led? They are guided by a Star to a grotto, a cave in Bethlehem. This is something that can be understood only by one who has knowledge of the so-called lower, or astral mysteries. To be led by a Star means nothing else than to see the soul itself as a Star. But when is the soul seen as a Star? When a man can behold the soul as a radiant aura. But what kind of aura is so radiant that it can be a guide? There is the aura that glimmers with only a feeble light; such an aura cannot guide. There is a higher aura, that of the intelligence, which has, it is true, a flowing, up-surging light, but is not yet able to guide. But the bright aura, aglow with Budhi, is in very truth a Star, is a radiant guide. In Christ, the Star of Budhi lights up — the Star which accompanies the evolution of mankind. The Light that shines before the Magi is the soul of Christ Himself. The Second Logos Himself shines before the Magi and over the cave in Bethlehem. 
The Festival of the Three Kings is celebrated every year on the 6th of January, and its significance will steadily increase. Men will understand more and more what a Magi is, and what the great Magi, the Masters, are. And then understanding of Christianity will lead to understanding of spiritual science."

To reiterate the subject line of this sermon:
the bottom line to which we will be wending is the symbology of the Wise Men who use the art of nature to search for Jesus. 
By that we mean that, the search for Jesus may involve the seeker in signs and symbols that appear in the natural world, but which resonate in Eternity. As the search evolves, the seeker is transformed in unexpected ways, and the final Epiphany is a Rite of Passage into a new world. This arrival results in an out-pouring of spiritual gifts which, again, symbolize spiritual realities potent with energy and meaning.

This last quote of today's sermon is taken from the very end of my favorite Christmas movie The Bishop's Wife. It is a Christmas Eve sermon delivered by the Bishop at the end of the movie, and is a profound reflection on the best Christmas presents we can give to each other and to Jesus on his birthday:

"Tonight I want to tell you the story of an empty stocking. Once upon a midnight clear, there was a child's cry. A blazing star hung over a stable and wise men came with birthday gifts. We haven't forgotten that night down the centuries; we celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees, the sound of bells and with gifts. But especially with gifts. You give me a book; I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer, and Uncle Henry could do with a new pipe. We forget nobody, adult or child. All the stockings are filled -- all that is, except one. And we have even forgotten to hang it up. The stocking for the child born in a manger. It's his birthday we are celebrating. Don't ever let us forget that. Let us ask ourselves what he would wish for most, and then let each put in his share. Loving kindness, warm hearts and the stretched out hand of tolerance. All the shining gifts that make peace on earth."

Let us pray: Jesus, as the enactment of your birth approaches, let us open our eyes to the magic of the Magi, and discover with them the incalculable gifts you have given to us in the infinity of Your love. Amen

1. The Miracle of the Virgin Birth

1 The Miracle of the Virgin Birth

Luke 1:46-55:
"My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
Because he has regarded the lowliness of his handmaid;
For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed;
Because he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name;
And his mercy is from generation to generation on those who fear him.
He has shown might with his arm,
He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and has exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has given help to Israel, his servant, mindful of his mercy
Even as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity forever."

What dumbfounding idea, that a 13-year-old girl was given this message!

We will begin this sermon with some commentary by C. S. Lewis on the subject of miracles, from his book, Miracles, and then move on to the miracle of the virgin birth:

Miracles Quotes
“Miracles do not, in fact, break the laws of nature.”

“In Science we have been reading only the notes to a poem; in Christianity we find the poem itself.”

“He is not the soul of Nature, nor any part of Nature. He inhabits eternity: He dwells in a high and holy place: heaven is His throne, not his vehicle, earth is his footstool, not his vesture. One day he will dismantle both and make a new heaven and earth. He is not to be identified even with the 'divine spark' in man. He is God and not man.”

“It is a profound mistake to imagine that Christianity ever intended to dissipate the bewilderment and even the terror, the sense of our own nothingness, which come upon us when we think about the nature of things. It comes to intensify them. Without such sensations there is no religion. Many a man, brought up in the glib profession of some shallow form of Christianity, who comes through reading Astronomy to realize for the first time how majestically indifferent most reality is to man, and who perhaps abandons his religion on that account, may at that moment be having his first genuinely religious experience. . . . Christianity does not involve the belief that all things were made for man.”

“Men became scientific because they expected Law in Nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a Legislator. In most modern scientists this belief has died: it will be interesting to see how long their confidence in uniformity survives it. Two significant developments have already appeared—the hypothesis of a lawless sub-nature, and the surrender of the claim that science is true. We may be living nearer than we suppose to the end of the Scientific Age.”

“No philosophical theory which I have yet come across is a radical improvement on the words of Genesis, that 'In the beginning God made Heaven and Earth'. . . . If you compare it with the creation legends of other peoples--with all these delightful absurdities in which giants to be cut up and floods to be dried up are made to exist before creation--the depth and originality of this Hebrew folk tale will soon be apparent.”

“For this reason, the question whether miracles occur can never be answered simply by experience. Every event which might claim to be a miracle is, in the last resort, something presented to our senses, something seen, heard, touched, smelled or tasted. And our senses are not infallible. If anything extraordinary seems to have happened, we can always say that we have been the victims of an illusion. If we hold a philosophy which excludes the supernatural, this is what we always shall say. What we learn from experience depends on the kind of philosophy we bring to experience. It is therefore useless to appeal to experience before we have settled, as well as we can, the philosophical question.”

[Sidebar: In other words, if we are scanning for miracles, we will see them everywhere, right and left; if we are not scanning for miracles, will see nothing, old wine discovered in a back room, or a man arising from a coma. In Lewis' The Last Battle the myopic dwarves huddle together just inside the doors to Paradise and see nothing but eternal darkness because they believe in nothing but eternal darkness.]

“As long as one is a Naturalist, ‘Nature’ is the only word for ‘Everything.’ And Everything is not a subject about which anything very interesting can be said or (save by illusion) felt. One aspect of things strikes us and we talk of the ‘peace’ of Nature; another strikes us and we talk of her cruelty. And then, because we cannot quite repress our high instinct to worship the Self-existent, we are all at sea and our moods fluctuate and Nature means to us whatever we please as the moods select and slur. But everything becomes different when we recognize that Nature is a creature, a created thing, with its own particular tang or flavour. There is no need any longer to select and slur. It is not in her, but in Something far beyond her, that all lines meet and all contrasts are explained. It is no more baffling that the creature called Nature should be both fair and cruel than that the first man you meet in the train should be a dishonest grocer and a kind husband. For she is not the Absolute; she is one of the creatures, with her good points and her bad points and her own unmistakable flavour running through them all.”
― C.S. Lewis, Miracles

The introduction to a discussion of the virgin birth by referring to the general subject of miracles, implies that the virgin birth is just one of a number of events subsumed under the generic umbrella, "miracles." This may be true, but it may also be true that the virgin birth deserves a higher place in the miracle hall of fame than such trivialities as turning water into wine, or raising Lazarus from the dead, because the virgin birth is the foundation miracle, the FIRST miracle of Jesus, from which all future miracle succeed.

The Virgin birth has always been of interest to me because it's one of those miracles that can always seem to me to be a side issue. However, the question of the divinity of Jesus is most complex and is very open to various interpretations. The problem of the uniqueness of Jesus' Virgin Conception is that virgin births are reported in many religions, not least of all Buddhism; so the question of the unique Christ consciousness necessarily being delivered unto Man through a virgin is sort of a competition, because more than one great Saint can make that claim.

One of the things I found interesting, in the research for one of my previous sermons, was what Martin Luther had to say about the virgin birth: to be sure, Jesus was a Jew, of the house of David, a house of kings--but Luther asserts that a virgin birth was necessary in order for Jesus to be untainted by the original sin of Adam, which he would necessarily have inherited from the biological blood of a human father. Therefore, the virgin birth is really a prerequisite for the personality makeup of the Perfect Man. Speaking of Abraham, Luther says, in his Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent; John 8:46-59:

"Then he saw and understood that Christ, born of his seed through a pure virgin, so as not to be cursed with Adam's children but to remain blessed, should suffer for the whole world, cause this to be preached, and thus overwhelm the whole world with blessing etc. This is the day of Christ, the dispensation of the Gospel, that is the light of this day, which radiates from Christ as from the sun of righteousness, and shines and enlightens the whole world."

The first long quotation I give you is from Grace to you. This is an article written on March 7, 1999, called The Virgin Birth: a divine miracle. The piece is tainted by many of the small-minded prejudicial attitudes that mar so many fundamentalist Christian monographs, but I believe there are quite a few worthwhile statements in it; so we will cut-and-paste together little bits from it, separating the grain from the chaff:

"Luke 1:34-38:
"Now in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph of the descendants of David and the virgin's name was Mary. And coming in he said to her, 'Hail, favored one, the Lord is with you.' But she was greatly troubled at this statement and kept pondering what kind of salutation this might be. And the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God and behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High and he Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and His Kingdom will have no end.' And Mary said to the angel, 'How can this be since I am a virgin?' And the angel answered and said to her, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing will be impossible with God.' And Mary said, 'Behold the bondslave of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word.' And the angel departed from her."

And Luke, who is careful as a historian, who is thoughtful and profound as a theologian, who is passionate as an evangelist recounts for us the story of the Savior's conception and the Savior's birth with compelling concise and rich detail. The amazing text I just read to you is a record of a virgin conceiving a child, a real incarnation where God is born through a human. This is the virgin conception that led to the virgin birth which is the foundation of the gospel. A real incarnation of God in flesh demands a virgin conception. This is foundational, this is critical to our faith. If Jesus had a human mother and a human father, then Jesus is a man and not God. And if He is a man and not God, then He is not the Savior, there is no salvation, and there is no good news.

There are some who outright deny the virgin conception and the virgin birth and try fallaciously to discredit the Scripture. There are others who counterfeit it, that is they pose other virgin conceptions and other virgin births to sort of destroy the uniqueness of this one true incarnation.

God speaks through an angel about a miracle. She wasn't used to explaining or understanding miracles in a non-miraculous world like she lived in and we live in. She believed. She's not like Zacharias who didn't believe and consequently when he was told that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a child, he responded to the word from Gabriel with unbelief and he was punished and made deaf and dumb until the child was born as a public testimony to his unbelief. She wasn't like that. She believed, she just couldn't understand how.

And she also understood that the angel was not saying to her...you're going to get married to Joseph and when you come together with Joseph you're going to have a child. She knew that that would not be anything miraculous. She knew that that was not what the angel was saying because she asks the question, "How can this be since I am a virgin?" She knew the angel was saying you're going to have a Son and you're going to have that Son now. You're going to conceive now before a marriage ever takes place. And she said, "How can this happen? How is this possible to be pregnant while a virgin?" And thus the supplication is simply a question of how. She gives testimony to her virginity, she gives testimony to the understanding that this was not just a prediction, that she would get married and have a baby. The question indicates she knew she was going to be pregnant as a virgin.

In a parallel statement to enrich our understanding, the angel then says, this is another way to say it, "The power of the Most High will overshadow you." The Holy Spirit is the same as the Most High. The Holy Spirit is the Most High. Most High, by the way, is in the Hebrew el elyon, God Most High. It's used at least three dozen times in the Old Testament to describe God. It is a title for God. It means sovereign lordship, sovereign ruler, almighty, all powerful...very common Old Testament name for God. The Holy Spirit will come upon you, or saying the same thing another way, the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Genesis 14:19:
"The Lord God Most High, the possessor of heaven and earth."
That's what it means to be Most High, it means to be the sovereign over everything that exists in heaven and in earth, sovereign over it all...the sovereign almighty creator God who made and upholds the universe will create life out of nothing.

He uses the verb here "He will overshadow you...He will overshadow you," episkiazo. It means, it's translated "overshadow," there are three times in the New Testament where the transfiguration is described. It's described in Matthew, it's described in Mark and it's described in Luke. And at the time of the transfiguration there was an appearance of the Shekinah glory and it overshadowed them. It uses the same verb and translates it "overshadowing." It means to surround. It means to encompass, or it means in the metaphoric sense to influence.

God Himself, the sovereign creator of the universe, will come and surround and overshadow and influence with creative power the womb of Mary. That's what the angel said. That's the divine strategy to produce in her womb this child. It will not happen through the normal...the normal human process, it will be divine and supernatural and apart from any human sexual activity whatsoever. A creating influence of God moves in to Mary's body.

And for that reason, back to verse 35, for that reason, because of this divine creative miracle, 
"The holy offspring shall be called the Son of God."
Yes, He is the Son of Mary, born from here. Yes He's a Son of David because Mary was from David's line. He is the Son of David also legally because His father, though not His father by natural birth was His father by human family identity, he too was a son of David, so He inherited David's royal line from His father, David's royal blood from His mother. He was Son of Mary, Son of Joseph in the legal sense, but He was Son of God in the sense of His nature, in the sense of His essence. He was Son of God in human form.
Nothing says it better than Hebrews 1 where it says,

Hebrews 1:3:
"He is the exact representation of God's nature."
[Sidebar: A representation is not the thing itself, but, rather, a symbol for the thing itself. The author goes on to say:]

Jesus Christ was the exact duplication of the nature of God.
[Sidebar: I don't like the word "duplication" in this context; the word "representation" is much better. To "duplicate" implies the ability to make an exact copy of a thing--and how could the Infinite, constantly-moving-but-ever- fixed personality of God ever be DUPLICATED?]

That's why God could say of Him, in
2 Samuel 7:14:
"Thou art My Son, today I have begotten Thee. I will be a Father to Him, and He shall be a Son to Me."
This is God's Son. This is essential to the whole of our Christian faith. You have here a child created in a human womb, created by God sinless, holy, and bearing the nature of God, the divine child. That's why in
Hebrews 1:8:
"To the Son the Father can say, 'Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever."
This is God's Son, this is God Himself in human form.
John 1:14 says:
"And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth."

This is God's Son. Jesus said it again and again...I and the Father are one. It was for this that the Jews executed Him. It was for this which they perceived as blasphemy, claiming to be the offspring of God, claiming to be the exact representation of God, claiming to bear the divine nature was in their view blasphemous. But this is true. Jesus was the Son of God by conception and by birth miraculously."

There are many positive things about this little article; it makes many salient points, and mentions many of the features surrounding the virgin birth which are significant. (For instance, I especially like the point about Jesus being the legal son of Joseph, and heir to his worldly goods, but not his son in Spirit.) But the piece is also guilty of the flaw of which I accuse so many articles by fundamentalist Christians: underlying all the statements of faith is the implication that it is the miracle that justifies Jesus' claim to divinity.

I know that this may sound blasphemous to some, but I must confess that I am completely open to the idea that, in the long history of mankind, there have been more than one virgin birth; just as I am absolutely sure that there have been more than one person who was able to perform miracles. Miracles come from God not from any single person or entity. The fact that Jesus is the focus of the divine personality, the divine consciousness, is very, very important; but it is not singular, and it is not absolutely unique.

The Messiah, the Anointed One, is a focus, in mundane reality, of the infinite Personality of God; but so, to certain lesser extents, are we all. That which stands out, in the case of Jesus, is that He chose to make a sacrifice so hugely magnificent, that it empowered Him to take a place for Himself midway between Man and God. The scope of His purpose defined the scope of His all-encompassing consciousness. He could not have performed His Humanitarian purpose without donning the Mantle of God's Only Begotten Son. This is the BIG MIRACLE.

The significance of the Virgin birth is not so much that it was miraculous, but that it is one of number of signs which are associated with the coming of the Messiah. We need these signs to bolster our faith, they are part of the ceremony of the miraculous--but the signs are not the source of our faith, nor are they the objects of our faith: they are merely a window dressing, which makes the whole thing prettier; in music we say, "To glorify God". The glorification of God, the tiny little miracles that reveal hints and angles of the divine consciousness to the mundane consciousness, are lovely parts of the package; but they do not change the essential fact that Jesus was chosen to perform a certain act: to perform the sacrifices and ceremonies necessary for Him to become the mediator between God and Man; a mediator which did not exist before His coming.

When we consider how ancient is this planet, and how many souls have passed through the worldly initiation, it is dumbfounding to consider that God, through Jesus,  for the first time, incarnated into Human form so that all succeeding generations might have direct access to the Divine in the world, in Jesus, and in themselves. Isn't it WONDERFUL! It may be that in the dark recesses of the past, other saviors brought the good news to the inhabitants of other times unremembered, but this does not diminish the significance of Jesus' coming and His magnificent sacrifice, His great TAKING OF RESPONSIBILITY FOR ORIGINAL SIN. Regardless of any scientific theories, or New Age mumbo-jumbo, the centrality of Jesus, in the evolution of Mankind toward a higher spiritual identity, is absolute! In fact, this is just about the only thing I believe in ABSOLUTELY.

The second article I want to read from is Dionysus: Born of a Virgin on December 25th, Killed and Resurrected after Three Days by D.M. Murdock/Acharya S. This article is an account of another virgin birth, and draws a parallel between Jesus and certain other mythological saviors.

"December 25th/Winter Solstice
As with Jesus, December 25th and January 6th are both traditional birth dates in the Dionysian myth and simply represent the period of the winter solstice. Indeed, the winter-solstice date of the Greek sun and wine god Dionysus was originally recognized in early January but was eventually placed on December 25th, as related by ancient Latin writer Macrobius (c. 400 AD/CE). Regardless, the effect is the same: The winter sun god is born around this time, when the shortest day of the year begins to become longer.

[Sidebar: Isn't it interesting that the first public miracle Jesus performed was turning water into wine?!]
"Macrobius transfers this feast to the day of the winter solstice, December 25."
The ancient Church father Epiphanius (4th cent.) discussed the birth of the god Aion, son of the Greek goddess Persephone or Kore ("Maiden"), at the time of the winter solstice. In this regard, Christian theologian Rev. Dr. Hugh Rahner (139-140) remarks:
"We know that Aion was at this time beginning to be regarded as identical with Helios and Helios with Dionysus...because [according to Macrobius] Dionysus was the symbol of the sun... He is made to appear small at the time of the winter solstice, when upon a certain day the Egyptians take him out of the crypt, because on this the shortest day of the year it is as though he were a little child.... Macrobius transfers [this feast] to the day of the winter solstice, December 25."
Dionysus is thus equivalent to Aion and was also said to have been born of Persephone, the virgin maiden. Esteemed mythologist Joseph Campbell (MI, 34) confirms this "celebration of the birth of the year-god Aion to the virgin Goddess Kore," the latter of whom he calls "a Hellenized transformation of Isis," the Egyptian mother goddess who was likewise called the "Great Virgin" in inscriptions predating the Christian era by centuries.

Virgin Birth
According to the most common tradition, Dionysus was the son of the god Zeus and the mortal woman Semele. In the Cretan version of the same story, which the pre-Christian Greek historian Diodorus Siculus follows, Dionysus was the son of Zeus and Persephone, the daughter of Demeter also called Kore, who is styled a "virgin goddess."
In the common myth about the birth of Dionysus/Bacchus, Semele is mysteriously impregnated by one of Zeus's bolts of lightning--an obvi­ous miraculous/virgin conception.

Concerning Dionysus's epithet "twice begotten," in the third century Church father Minucius Felix (Commodius, XII) remarked to his Pagan audience:
"Ye yourselves say that Father Liber was assuredly twice begotten. First of all he was born in India of Proserphine [Persephone] and Jupiter [Zeus]... Again, restored from his death, in another womb Semele conceived him again of Jupiter…" (Roberts, IV, 205)
"The virgin conceived the ever-dying, ever-living god of bread and wine, Dionysus."
In another account, Jupiter/Zeus gives Dionysus's torn-up heart in a drink to Semele, who becomes pregnant with the "twice born" god this way, again a miraculous or "virgin" birth. Indeed, Joseph Campbell explicitly calls Semele a "virgin":
"While the maiden goddess sat there, peacefully weaving a mantle on which there was to be a representation of the universe, her mother contrived that Zeus should learn of her presence; he approached her in the form of an immense snake. And the virgin conceived the ever-dying, ever-living god of bread and wine, Dionysus, who was born and nurtured in that cave, torn to death as a babe and resurrected... " (Campbell, MG, 4.27)
This same direct appellation is used by Cambridge professor and anthropologist Sir Dr. Edmund Ronald Leach:
"Dionysus, son of Zeus, is born of a mortal virgin, Semele, who later became immortalized through the inter­vention of her divine son; Jesus, son of God, is born of a mortal virgin, Mary… such stories can be dupli­cated over and over again." (Hugh-Jones, 108)
Using the scholarly Greek term parthenos, meaning "virgin," in The Cult of the Divine Birth in Ancient Greece (95) Dr. Marguerite Rigoglioso concludes: 
"Semele was also likely a holy parthenos by virtue of the fact that she gave birth to Dionysus via her union with Zeus (Hesiod, Theogony 940)."
These learned individuals had reason to consider Dionysus's mother a virgin, as, again, he was also said to have been born of Persephone/Kore, whom, once more from Epiphanius, was herself deemed a "virgin," or parthenos. In this regard, professor emeritus of Classics at the University of Pennsylvania Dr. Donald White (183) says, 
"As a title 'Parthenos' was appropriate to both Demeter and Persephone..."

The fact that Persephone is associated with parthenogenesis, the scholarly term for "virgin birth," lends credence to the notion that Dionysus was virgin-born. As related further by Rigoglioso in Virgin Mother Goddesses of Antiquity (111):
"Persephone's connection with the parthenogenetic pomegranate is attested in text and iconography. In speaking directly about the Eleusinian Mysteries, Clement of Alexandria (Exhortation to the Greeks 2:16) informs us that the pomegranate tree was believed to have sprung from the drops of the blood of Dionysus…"
Although Dionysus is depicted as being the product of a "rape" by Zeus, the story is little different from the impregnation of the Virgin Mary by Yahweh without her consent, especially in consideration of the identification of Dionysus's very blood with parthenogenesis. In this regard, Rigoglioso also states,

"I contend that Persephone's eating of the pomegranate was the magical action that instigated her ability to conceive parthenogenetically."

"Dionysus is 'first-born,' 'Savior' and 'Father.'"
The title "King of Kings" and other epithets may reflect Dionysus's kinship with Osiris: During the late 18th to early 19th dynasties (c. 1300 BCE), Osiris's epithets included, 
"the king of eternity, the lord of everlastingness, who traverseth millions of years in the duration of his life, the firstborn son of the womb of Nut, begotten of Seb, the prince of gods and men, the god of gods, the king of kings, the lord of lords, the prince of princes, the governor of the world whose existence is for everlasting." (Budge, liii) 
Dionysus's death and resurrection were famous in ancient times, so much so that Christian father Origen (c. 184-c. 254) felt the need to address them in his Contra Celsus (IV, XVI-XVII), comparing them unfavorably, of course, to those of Christ. By Origen's time, these Dionysian mysteries had already been celebrated for centuries. Dionysus/Bacchus's resurrection or revival after having been torn to pieces or otherwise killed earned him the epithet of "twice born."

Moreover, it was said that Dionysus/Bacchus "slept three nights with Proserpine [Persephone],"  evidently referring to the god's journey into the underworld to visit his mother. Like Jesus, the god is claimed also to have "ascended to heaven," such as by Church father Justin Martyr (First Apology, 21; Roberts I, 170). Note that Dionysus is depicted here as an adult, rising out of the underworld after death, with a horse-driven chariot so typical of a sun god. One major astrotheological meaning of this motif is the sun's entrance into and exit from the cave (womb) of the world at the winter solstice.
Hence, in Dionysus we have yet another solar hero, born of a virgin on "December 25th" or the winter solstice, performing miracles and receiving divine epithets, being killed, giving his blood as a sacrifice, resurrecting from the dead after three days in Hades/Hell, and ascending into heaven. These motifs have all been claimed of the gospel figure of Jesus Christ since antiquity and have to do not with the adventures of a "historical" Jewish savior but with the ubiquitous solar mythos and ritual."

Now WHY have I just spent ten minutes reading about Dionysus? The preceding piece refers to a plethora of myths about virgin births, raisings from the dead, etc., etc. Do I mean to propose, as many New Age philosophers do, that Jesus is just one more in a long line of Messianic manifestations? I admit, to my broad-minded attitude, this is tempting; but the fact is that these myths are just myths, stories, symbols for what is true, but not the Truth Itself. It must be admitted that myths are paradigms of spiritual realities that are present in the collective consciousness, and are therefore spiritually true; but the miracle of Jesus is that it is most likely the only one of these myths based on HISTORICAL FACT. The Dionysus, the Krishna, even the Buddhistic myths are symbolic precursors of the one glorious historical fact: that in some elected moment of time, chosen by God out of an ocean of infinity, Jesus brought God to Earth! The Greeks knew, the Wise Mane knew, the Essenes knew that something was coming, but they could not have known the essence of this arrival until it chose to incarnate in the Flesh. How WONDERFUL!

Remember the section of an earlier sermon (Grace and Truth) when I quoted this passage concerning Tolkien and C. S. Lewis:

Myth and Truth
J.R.R.Tolkien--a devout Catholic--understood the power of myth as well. In his biography of Tolkien, Humphrey Carpenter relates Tolkien's conversation with C.S.Lewis which led to the great man's conversion.

Lewis had come to believe in God, but could not relate to Jesus' 2,000 year-old death. Lewis shared Tolkien's excitement with myth, and understood how myth interests and involves the audience in a vicarious way. Tolkien asked Lewis why he couldn't transfer his appreciation of sacrifice from the myth to the true story.

"But, said Lewis, myths are lies, even though lies breathed through with silver."

"No." said Tolkien "They are not. You call a tree a tree, and you think nothing more of the word, but it was not a tree until you gave it a name. You call a star a star, and say it is just a ball of matter moving on a mathematical course. But that is merely how you see it. By so naming things and describing them you are only inventing your own terms about them. And just as speech is invention about objects and ideas, so myth is invention about Truth."
Tolkien went on to explain that although the myths were woven through with error, they also reflected a fragment of the true light as well. The light began to dawn for Lewis: "Then the story of Christ," he said,"is simply a true myth, a myth that works on us in the same way as the others, but a myth that really happened."

Now the preceding piece on Dionusus, represented as yet another in a line of "solar heroes". This is not the first time we have heard about the solar mythos, and the Sun-God. Last Advent we read the following from Steiner's Signs and Symbols of the Christmas Festival, I, The Birth of the Light, Berlin, December 19, 1904:
"Christianity stands as the external mystical fact for the birth of the light. Christ brought to the earth what had existed from the beginning, although it was hidden from mankind throughout the ages we have been speaking of. Now, however, a new climax was reached. Even as the light is born anew at the winter solstice, so . . . the Savior of Mankind, the Christ, was born. He is the new Sun Hero who was not only initiated in the depths of the Mystery temples, but who also appeared before all the world so that it could be said, “Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). When it was recognized that the Divine could descend into a personality, the festival celebrating the birth of the Sun Hero, the Christ, came to replace the festival celebrating the birth of the light."

To recapitulate: the myths surrounding all the ancient Sun-Gods, may only be thought of wishful thinking, an image seem through a glass darkly, compared to the blinding light of Jesus' glorious incarnation on Earth. These myths attest to the POSSIBILITY of a Messiah, the HOPE for a Messiah, but their impact pales next to the ACTUAL COMING of the Messiah.

From the web article Legacy of the Gods we read:

"In Steiner's Tenth Lecture on the Gospel of St. Luke, he reflects that just as a plant cannot unfold its blossom immediately after the seed has been sown, so has humankind had to progress from stage to stage until the right knowledge could be brought to maturity at the right time.

To Steiner, the Christ energy is the catalyst that germinates the seed that great Spirit Beings implanted within their human offspring. There were, of course, the physical seeds of male and female, which intermingled to produce the whole human being. But there was also something in each human that did not arise from the blending of the two physical seeds. There was, so to speak, a "virgin birth," a something ineffable, Steiner says, which somehow flowed. into the process of germination from quite a different source: "

The following is a book review--a review that neatly summarizes the main points of the book, MYTH OF THE NATIVITY - The Virgin Birth Re-examined - By Andrew Welburn [ Floris Books ]
Review Author: Pearl Goodwin [Originally appeared in 'Perspectives' Vol 77 No1]
"The theme of the virgin birth has long fascinated not only theologians and scholars, but also everyone who has an open mind for the Gospel stories of Matthew and Luke. It is a fascination that arises largely out of a fundamental difficulty, particularly in our time, of imagining that Jesus of Nazareth was born outside of the basic biological principles governing conception and birth, without the participation of Joseph. So great is this problem that for many people it stands in the way of their accepting Christianity. And so steeped are we in what seem to be the unshakeable laws of nature, that it is almost impossible to imagine that a human being could be born in any way other than through the laws of nature. Only those people who can live with strong and unquestioning faith accept the possibility of the virgin birth just as it stands in the Gospel, understanding it as a miracle, beyond the laws of nature which have been in existence since God's promise to Noah after the flood.
Putting aside for a moment this whole aspect of natural law, it is clear that the virgin birth has many other layers of meaning, and it is these that Andrew Welburn addresses in his latest book. He approaches the subject with what we have come to expect from him, a wide scholarship infused with spiritual imagination. For him, what makes the birth "virgin" has got less to do with the biological side than with a stream of thought that comes out of the far past. Much of the book is taken up with showing that the Gospel stories are by no means the only such events in history. In his own words "the concept of the virgin birth was associated with a new age, the new revelation, the reappearing prophet, the world's saviour, a mystical, divine child." Virgin here means that something new has come to the earth. There is a great richness of material describing instances of this, much of it taken from more hidden, "occult" literature. To mention but one, the birth of Melchisedek, who appears only very briefly in the book of Genesis, bearing bread and wine to Abraham. He brought a glimpse of heavenly heights before the necessary but more earthly religious forms of Judaism took shape. The Melchisedek of Genesis is but one of a long line bearing that name, beginning with the son of the brother of Noah, Nir, and his wife Sopanim. The story has echoes of the birth of John the Baptist to parents that are old, and also of the Matthew story, the shock of Niv when Sopanin is found to be with child. Sopanin died out of the pain of rejection - but the child is born out of the dead body and immediately can sit up and speak. There are many such stories, taken from Egyptian, Judaic and also Gnostic sources, to mention but a few. 
It is clear that this book has been written for a wider readership than those familiar with the work of Rudolf Steiner. Hopefully it will reach many people, for it takes the realm of spirit as serious and real within a scholarly context. So the work of Rudolf Steiner on this theme is mentioned only briefly and in an understated way. Steiner spoke about the fact that in the past, and sometimes even now, conception could take place in sleep, that is unconsciously and therefore purely, or virginally. In that state the heavenly star of the individual can unite with the biological counterpart.

[Sidebar: I did not become fully conscious, until this moment, that I have always imagined the Divine impregnation as occurring during sleep. The Zeffirelli movie, Jesus of Nazareth, depicts the angel in the Anunciation as a beam of light shining through a high window. Mary listens raptly to the angel's message, and then sleeps. Kind of like the tooth fairy.]
Natural law and spiritual law can be brought together and it is important that this should be understood. The birth of Jesus of Nazareth was not a virgin birth in the sense of there being no biological father. Jesus of Nazareth had to be a full human being, a special one certainty, but a truly human being, in order to fulfill Christ's deed of redemption. Perhaps this side needs slightly more emphasis in the book, even though Andrew Welburn comes to the same conclusion from other directions. He shows us that the Gospel story is the culmination of a great tradition stretching far back into prehistory, and that what comes as new spiritual impulse out of the heavens must always have the character of "virgin".

This last paragraph, with its implication that Jesus' incarnation may not have been a purely spiritual virgin birth, but, rather, had a very natural biological component, fits in with what I have said many times: that I don't need a miracle to demonstrate the miraculous. Whether you clothe the miraculous in the jargon of the New Science, or in the backward Baptist Creationist attitude doesn't matter. The miraculous is in how, through Jesus, the spirit of God seeps into every fiber of Man's essential being; just as, in the proposition that the creation of the world took place in six days, or in the case of Jesus' raising Lazarus from the dead, I do not need these miracles to be literally true for them to be spiritually true. There is no distinction in my mind between that which is physically true and that which is spiritually true; that spiritual truths lean over into the physical is part and parcel of the whole multi-dimensionality of existence. As to the the question of the literal truth of the virgin birth, I have to say, once again, I don't really care.

What I do care about is this: the coming of Jesus into the world was prepared by so many natural signs and events, that three wise men, from way out of town, were able to read the stars and find the baby in a manger, delivered to Man in what can only be described as a miraculous way. Next week we will talk about  the Three Wise Men.

Let us pray: Jesus, Your ways and means are so beyond our powers of comprehension, that our boggled minds shiver to pieces before their immensity. Deliver the flavor of your miraculous birth through the signs of the season, and give us a taste of that understanding which we know will be ours, after a time, in higher places. Amen.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

27Sermon Review--Manifesto

Whenever Christmas draws near, I always find it to be a time of retrospection; thus, a review of this year's sermons is in the spirit of the season. As I look back over this last year's series of sermons, I get the sense of a rhythmic progression in time, as each of the individual elements of my newborn, newly reformed, newly constructed, theology slip into place.

These sermons have changed me. In researching each of the various subjects on which I have spoken, I have found my faith bolstered, and my vision cleared. Each sermon, or, rather, series of sermons, led me deeper into the realm of spiritual existence, and encouraged me to summarize my experience of that existence in words; even  though we know that the words are all vanity and Maya, we all still need to SAY things--we need to be able to say things that are meaningful and contribute to the realization of our Heaven on Earth; by putting things down in writing, my thinking has zeroed in on some basic issues, and the rough edges, of many of the details, have been filed off. Speaking the Word has brought me INTO the Word, and this is a good and interesting thing.

I remember starting the church year (I consider Advent to be the beginning of the church year)--I remember starting the church year with the Steiner myths about the dark giving birth to the morning.
The following is from Rudolf Steiner's Signs and Symbols of the Christmas Festival, I, The Birth of the Light, Berlin, December 19, 1904. It highlights (haha) the significance of light and sun, and points to the resonance of destiny that accompanies the symbols of the season:

"Christianity stands as the external mystical fact for the birth of the light. Christ brought to the earth what had existed from the beginning, although it was hidden from mankind throughout the ages we have been speaking of. Now, however, a new climax was reached. Even as the light is born anew at the winter solstice, so . . . the Savior of Mankind, the Christ, was born. He is the new Sun Hero who was not only initiated in the depths of the Mystery temples, but who also appeared before all the world so that it could be said, “Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). When it was recognized that the Divine could descend into a personality, the festival celebrating the birth of the Sun Hero, the Christ, came to replace the festival celebrating the birth of the light."

I remember a sermon on Santa Claus, referring to the primitive elf like magical energy that permeates this season.

Here is an offhand remark made in Wikipedia concerning Theosophy and angels:

"It is believed by Theosophists that nature spirits, elementals (gnomes, undines, sylphs, and salamanders), and fairies can be also be observed when the third eye is activated. It is maintained by Theosophists that these less evolutionarily developed beings have never been previously incarnated as humans; they are regarded as being on a separate line of spiritual evolution called the “deva evolution”; eventually, as their souls advance as they reincarnate, it is believed they will incarnate as devas."

Things just went on from there straight into the business of Epiphany:

From "Joyce's Dubliners as Epiphanies"
By Francesca Valente:

"--from Stephen Hero:
"By an epiphany he meant a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether in the vulgarity of speech or of gesture or in a memorable phase of the mind itself. He believed that it was for the man of letters to record these epiphanies with extreme care, seeing that they themselves are the most delicate and evanescent of moments."

From Joseph Campbell's Masks of Eternity:
"Joyce’s formula for the aesthetic experience is that it does not move you to want to possess the object. A work of art that moves you to possess the object depicted, he calls pornography. Nor does the aesthetic experience move you to criticize and reject the object — such art he calls didactic, or social criticism in art. The aesthetic experience is a simple beholding of the object. Joyce says that you put a frame around it and see it first as one thing, and that, in seeing it as one thing, you then become aware of the relationship of part to part, each part to the whole, and the whole to each of its parts. This is the essential, aesthetic factor — rhythm, the harmonious rhythm of relationships. And when a fortunate rhythm has been struck by the artist, you experience a radiance. You are held in aesthetic arrest. That is the epiphany. And that is what might in religious terms be thought of as the all-informing Christ principle coming through."

I remember, in Santa Cruz, at this time, we used to sing that Randall Thompson/Robert Frost song, The Pasture, because, it expressed the idea of spontaneous discovery. We have talked for a long time about the epiphanic discovery, and how true religious experience is like an epiphany because it takes us into a recognition of the eternal moment, stretched out in time like a vast mural.

Epiphany has proven to be a key concept in my theology, because it is so closely related to the subject of my Doctoral Thesis; it was all about achieving a conceptual end condition that depends, for its effect,  on psychological recentering. This is the moment of instantaneous contact with pre-conscious material: archetypal symbols, collective consciousness, higher spiritual dimensions, Omega Point, whatever.

In our discussions of re-centering, we talked about how, when you start searching for an idea, for the resolution to a problem, your thoughts undergo this mode of inspiration called recentering; in psychological recentering, the components of the train of thought become reshuffled. The resulting end condition, which includes the answer to the problem, is a consequence of that reshuffling. Epiphany is like recognizing, out of the blue, an old friend you had completely forgotten. The answer to the problem is the moment of recognition. Tony Bastick calls this the "intuitive response".

In developing a description of the epiphanic process, we talked about the role of the Freudian Ego Resolutions: Id, Ego, Superego--the three levels of man's psychology. We seem to be talking very often about groups of threes; in fact, when I was in L.A., my piano teacher enlisted me as his research assistant on a book (which he never finished) which was supposed to propose the idea that you needed three levels of structure in music notation.

Here is a lengthy quote from that sermon. It was an important one because it reviewed a lot of concepts in psychology that needed reviewing, but it also because introduced the term from Steiner "moral imagination"; this is a term which has played an important role in the development of my theology:

"Much of the following deals with some basic terms from psychology, many of which were coined by Sigmund Freud, so I thought it would not be amiss to provide a review of Freud's basic model of the mind since we will be referring to it for the rest of the sermon."

"Freud's Division of the Mind by David B. Stevenson '96, Brown University
"Freud understood the mind as constantly in conflict with itself, and understood this conflict as the primary cause of human anxiety and unhappiness. . . Freud's investigations into internal conflicts such as this led him to an eventual division of the mind into three parts, three conflicting internal tendencies, the well-known id, ego, and super-ego.
This division, it is important to note, is not the separation of the mind into three structures and functions which exist in physical partitions in the brain; they are not even truly structures, but rather separate aspects and elements of the single structure of the mind. Although it is convenient to say, for example, that the id "demands" immediate gratification, the mind has no three distinct little men who engage in a constant fisticuffs of conflict. The personification of these elements merely serves as a convenient guide through a complex psychoanalytic theory.
The id, the ego and the superego function in different levels of consciousness: indeed, Freud's theory of the mind hinges upon the ability of impulses or memories to "float" from one level to another. The interaction between the three functions of the mind represents a constant movement of items from one level to another.""

[Sidebar: The idea of "floating from one consciousness state to another relates directly to my idea of the multi-dimensional character of the human personality,  which we have discussed several times in the past; in particular, it pertains to the idea of conceptual re-centering of the intuitive response, or, as we have referred to it before, the EPIPHANIC response, a psychic  event which we will review momentarily.]
As the baby emerges from the womb into the reality of life, he wants only to eat, drink, urinate, defecate, be warm, and gain sexual pleasure. These urges are the demands of the id, the most primitive motivational force. In pursuit of these ends, the id demands immediate gratification: it is ruled by the pleasure principle, demanding satisfaction now, regardless of circumstances and possible undesirable effects. If a young child was ruled entirely by his id, he would steal and eat a piece of chocolate from a store regardless of the menacing owner watching above him or even his parents scolding beside him.

The id will not stand for a delay in gratification. For some urges, such as urination, this is easily satisfied. However, if the urge is not immediately discharged, the id will form a memory of the end of the motivation: the thirsty infant will form an image of the mother's breast. This act of wish-fulfillment satisfies the id's desire for the moment, though obviously it does not reduce the tension of the unfulfilled urge."

[Sidebar: In this case we are using the term "wish-fulfillment in the same sense as the term "end condition" as it applies to intuitive re-centering. Both terms refer to a mind state projected into the future at which our mental efforts are attempting to arrive.]
The eventual understanding that immediate gratification is usually impossible (and often unwise) comes with the formation of the ego, which is ruled by the reality principle. The ego acts as a go-between in the id's relations with reality, often suppressing the id's urges until an appropriate situation arises. This repression of inappropriate desires and urges represents the greatest strain on, and the most important function of, the mind. The ego often utilizes defense mechanisms to achieve and aid this repression. Where the id may have an urge and form a picture which satisfies this urge, the ego engages in a strategy to actually fulfill the urge. The thirsty five-year-old now not only identifies water as the satisfaction of his urge, but forms a plan to obtain water, perhaps by finding a drinking fountain. While the ego is still in the service of the id, it borrows some of its psychic energy in an effort to control the urge until it is feasibly satisfied. The ego's efforts at pragmatic satisfaction of urges eventually builds a great number of skills and memories and becomes aware of itself as an entity. With the formation of the ego, the individual becomes a self, instead of an amalgamation of urges and needs.

While the ego may temporarily repress certain urges of the id in fear of punishment, eventually these external sources of punishment are internalized, and the child will not steal the chocolate, even unwatched, because he has taken punishment, right, and wrong into himself. The superego uses guilt and self-reproach as its primary means of enforcement for these rules. But if a person does something which is acceptable to the superego, he experiences pride and self-satisfaction.

The superego is sub-dividable into two parts: conscience and ego ideal. Conscience tells what is right and wrong, and forces the ego to inhibit the id in pursuit of morally acceptable, not pleasurable or even realistic, goals. The ego ideal aims the individual's path of life toward the ideal, perfect goals instilled by society. In the pursuit, the mind attempts to make up for the loss of the perfect life experienced as a baby."

Having reviewed the basic Freudian vocabulary I now want to shift our discussion to a more spiritual plane. We begin our examination of some of this source material with Steiner. This is from a Wikipedia article on his most famous book, ‪Philosophy of Freedom‬:

Steiner observes that the key question concerning the existence of freedom of the will is how the will to action arises in the first place. Steiner describes two sources for human motivation: our natural being, our instincts, feelings, and thoughts insofar as these are determined by our character - and the dictates of conscience or abstract ethical or moral principles. In this way, both nature and culture determine motivations that play into our will and soul life. Overcoming these two elements, neither of which is individualized, we can achieve genuinely individualized intuitions that speak to the particular situation at hand. By overcoming the dictates of both our 'lower' and 'higher' sources of experience, by orchestrating a meeting place of objective and subjective elements of experience, we find the freedom to choose how to think and act.

Freedom for Steiner thus does not lie in uninhibited expression of our subjective nature, but in the conscious unification of this with the objective constraints of the world."

[Sidebar: The idea of "orchestrating a meeting place of objective and subjective elements of experience" is the crux of the matter; the whole process of evaluating experience as either spiritual or carnal depends on our ability to distinguish the spiritual from the carnal. How we take the various levels of experience in hand and reconcile them into an integrated experience is the subject of this discussion, and must be looked at closer and closer if we are to derive any meaning from these comments.]

"Steiner coined the term moral imagination for the inner act which results in free action. He suggests that we only achieve free deeds when we find a moral imagination, an ethically impelled but particularized response to the immediacy of a given situation. This response will always be individual; it cannot be predicted or prescribed. This radical ethical individualism is, for Steiner, characteristic of freedom."

[Sidebar: We remind you that the intuitive epiphanic response cannot be "predicted or prescribed." Unlike the ego, which depends on rigidity of thought--stability of literal meaning--spiritual truth defies all the devotee's efforts to control or direct the direction of the information stream. People determined to pin down the sayings of Jesus into neatly contained, fixed little boxes, will ALWAYS fail, because spiritual truth cannot be controlled by the literal mind--it takes the language of the heart to accomplish this. What Steiner calls the "moral imagination" is just another way of referring to the mysterious working of the heart on mundane issues and realities. Furthermore let me remind you that the conclusion arrived at by the heart are nearly always a surprise. It must be noted that staunch dogmatists HATE surprises.]
"We become aware of the outer nature of the world and its inner nature in radically different ways: our sensory perceptions inform us about the outer appearance of the world, while our thought life penetrates its inner nature. This division is particular to and defines human experience. Steiner suggests that we actually have the capacity to overcome the dualism of experience by reuniting perception and cognition. When contemplating our own thinking activity, we are perceiving that which we are thinking, and thinking that which we are perceiving. Steiner suggests that freedom arises most purely at this moment, when free ideation arises out of ego activity; this is, for Steiner, spiritual activity. . .
Steiner seeks to demonstrate that inner freedom is achieved when we bridge the gap between our perception, which reflects the outer appearance of the world, and our cognition, which gives us access to the inner structure of the world. He suggests that outer freedom arises when we bridge the gap between our ideals and the constraints of external reality, letting our deeds be inspired by the moral imagination. . . "

[Sidebar: Thus, it may be seen that Steiner wants us to USE the ego to motivate higher cognition, therefore creating imaginative realities whose purpose is to synthesize or integrate the energies of both flesh and spirit into each other.]

Talking about the illusion of the senses led us to Kant and several other 19th century philosophers. These people were all concerned with the idea that we can't be completely sure that reality is outside in the world--it might be completely in our heads.

By extension, from Wikipedia:
"Kant holds that there are two kinds of knowledge:
sensible (sensual) and logical.
Sensible knowledge is based on sensation;
logical knowledge is based on reason.
Kant's division of Transcendental Aesthetic and Transcendental Logic result from these two kinds of knowledge.

The Transcendental Aesthetic is that part of the Critique of Pure Reason that considers the contribution of sensation to cognition.
Kant distinguishes between the matter and the form of appearances.
The matter is "that in the appearance that corresponds to sensation".
The form is "that which so determines the manifold of appearance that it allows of being ordered in certain relations".

Clearly there is a fuzzy line between spirit and flesh--there is a definite barrier between these levels, but in addressing this problem we came up with the idea that Jesus is the mediator between  Man and God, Flesh and Spirit.

I conceived this sermon as a summing up of the year's activities, and as a kind of letter to a generic unbeliever. I was going to call the sermon, Preaching to the Choir, because everybody here already knows everything I'm going to say. However, it has been noted, by a few people, that the attendance of our website church audience is not a trivial number, and is, in many cases, equal to the type of church attendance that other larger churches in this area enjoy. So, it is not inappropriate to address this sermon to an audience which is not here at the moment--because somebody IS out there reading these things, and at least one of them is an unbeliever. I would like to convince this one person that the transformations that have taken place in me spiritually are not accidental, and not imaginary, and it all has to do with Jesus.

The thing that's so troublesome about any kind of religious jargon is that it tends to be exclusive; one variety of jargon addresses one community of believers, while a different jargon addresses a different audience. Many people have this idea about what spirituality is, and others have this other idea about what spirituality is, and when the semantic categories don't match, then there is dissension. But, bottom line, people very often think they disagree when they actually don't.

To me the most important spiritual dogma is that personal experience, is the ultimate authority of truth. The memories, of experiencing out-of-body states, or supernatural or superpersonal events, are the real test of spirituality. Although it is absolutely true that I have become more and more allied to the group of people in the world called Christians--people who put their faith in the words and the presence of Jesus.

Notice the word "people". Unfortunately, my opinion of most of the religious people in the world, is that they are not very religious at all, at least in the area of personal experience. As Kierkegaard mentions, most "people" derive their beliefs, pretty much, from a response to a sort of literal or moral monologue--a monologue that has been created by their peer group, or ancestors, or family, or culture. Thus, it becomes a matter of constancy, or stability, or safety, that these people cling to; the stories their grandmother told them represent order in the universe--and most "people" hate the adventure of discovery that dispels all quietude and calm, and invokes the storm that always accompanies evolution and change. I feel these people who would rather be comfortable than right are lacking the personal experience--for if they had the personal experience there could be no doubt.

Although it's just as easy to say that, on the multileveled continuum of existence, religious people are all religious in some small way and I am simply exercising my prejudices, and revealing my hypocrisy; because, surely, claiming that my spiritual level is higher than their makes me guilty of the same insensitivity of which I accuse THEM. Clearly, if we are all one, we are all links in a great chain of being and consciousness--the whole wholly contained in the partial.
Nevertheless, the bottom line to this semantic argument is this: the nonverbal superliteral experience is the ultimate authority.

One of the concepts that we have put forth in recent months is the idea the Cloud of Unknowing. We have suggested that our faith is an image created by our verbal consciousness, by our intellect, but which may become open-ended--which may become literally undefined, as the higher truth enters and is lost in that cloud of unknowing. The Cloud of Unknowing is situated at the the fringes of our brain's ability to comprehend verbal structures; we have learned that the nonverbal experience of spirit always must eventually take over, if we're going to get into higher levels of consciousness.

Another concept we have introduced in relation to Joy in the spirit is that of “sehnsucht”: the feeling of intense longing for the unattainable, first suggested by Novalis then taken up by C.S. Lewis. Our discussions of joy centered around this term. From the RFT Sermon #17, Joy III, we remember:

"Be warned, at the outset, that C.S. Lewis' definition of "Joy" is most complex, and has little of the implication of "Happiness" in it--it is much more a spiritual state of mind linked to the German philosophical concept "sehnsucht". Because the concept of Sehnsucht is so important in Lewis' writing, the Arizona C. S. Lewis Society titled their annual journal Sehnsucht: The C. S. Lewis Journal."

From Wikipedia:
"Sehnsucht is a German noun translated as "longing", "yearning", or "craving", or in a wider sense a type of "intensely missing".
[Sidebar: remember the scripture, 2 Corinthians 5:2:
    "Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our    
    heavenly dwelling,"

and Proverbs 13:12:

    "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire     cometh, it is a tree of life."

In the following discussion we will attempt to make plain this principle:

if we can take the experience of longing for a future heavenly dwelling, and, through impulse of desire, project ourselves into that future, we will have found the surest pathway to joy."

Finally, just recently we have explored the ramifications of the I AM Presence, in conjunction with the Unified Field Theory of the New Physics:

John Hagelin, Ph.D. in his YouTube presentation On Consciousness (1 of 2) says the following:

"With the discovery of the unified field, the so-called superstring field, we now understand that life is fundamentally one. At the basis of all life's diversity there is unity. In our basis you and I are one, and that unity at the base of mind and matter is consciousness-universal consciousness.

So with that deep understanding, that consciousness isn't created by the brain, it's not purely an outcome of mental molecular chemical processes in the brain, but is fundamental in nature; it's the very core of nature, call it the unified field. Now that we have that foundational understanding of what consciousness is, we can solve the mind/body problem-we can see how consciousness percolates up through our physiology to become the consciousness that we experience, see, the sensory perception of all of that. So there is a foundation now to really link, rigorously, neuroscience with quantum physics... What we've discovered at the core basis of the universe, the foundation of the universe, is a single universal field of intelligence--a field which unites gravity, electromagnetism, light, with radioactivity, with the nuclear force, so that all forces of nature all the so-called particles of nature, quarks, leptons, electrons, neutrons are now understood to be one. They're all just different ripples on a single ocean of existence."

So, with all this material, how do I convert the unbeliever? What words may I speak to entice the unbeliever to drop his guard and allow God to do what is most necessary and most simple--effect in the life of the unbeliever a personal experience? How do I get pride to relax its grip on ego and let in the healing soothing light?

How do I say that it is this spiritual experience in my life which seems to surpass all other considerations? It is simply the personal experience of Jesus.

I have to go back to a very traumatic period of my life in which I had a serious battle with demonic possession. It was this battle which awakened my dulled senses to the spiritual plane, but which, at the same time, also threatened, in a very destructive way, my very existence. The outcome of this episode was a moment of submission to the consciousness of Jesus. You may remember the story:

"I was standing in front of the heater, worrying that I had lung cancer, and I said, "Jesus, I give you one chance to prove your existence to me: if you are real, heal my lung. And then I heard a voice in my head saying, as clear as a bell, "Raise your arm." And, as I raised my arm above my head at an eccentric angle, something sprang loose in my back, and suddenly my lungs didn't hurt anymore."

It is that voice that has continued to speak to me for 25 years, and I have no doubt His voice is real, it is true; that it's so much smarter than me and that it could not possibly be some pretend fantasy of me, that I'm making up, like a multiple personality or something. It's not. It's absolutely external to me. It's bigger than me, but it is part of a higher part of me.  It speaks to me as a separate entity. It helps me in decisions, and it promotes aptitudes in the fields of healing and prophecy.

In my search for a broad-minded and universal religion, I have very often included so-called New Age principles, and organizations, and entities; the trauma of my childhood experience with the Jesus represented by my mother's soul-condemning church, has never completely worn off, and, thus, I have avoided all conventional thinking and language about God.

It was this conventional language that kept me away from Jesus for so long--I felt I must make sense of this religion thing as separate from all the religion of my youth. In me, the sanctity of the name of Jesus is threatened by all the memories I had of mediocre and and condemning and, of, frankly, evil personalities: people who prayed for me in the name of Jesus, but who more often condemned me to hell in the name of Jesus.

It's so hard to say that name without remembering all those bad memories. But talk about throwing the baby out with the bath! Jesus has never been more real than he is now, has never been more a constant companion. I begin each day in counsel with Him, and I know that that counsel, and that little bit of healing, was always there waiting for me to ask for it; but you have to ask nice: you have to ask Jesus, not scream in His face with your desperate fingernails. Humbly, meekly, and calmly, calm in the assurance of faith, you ask Him to enter, to bring his presence into yours, and yours into His.

And this can be your salvation. We call it salvation, not because it keeps us from going to hell, but because the kingdom of Being is here; the trip from Hell to Heaven is instantaneous. Right now. The salvation available through Jesus Christ is the miracle of the ages, and as much as we respect science, science can still not put a name to Him. They never will until they listen to His voice and not their instruments. Their instruments can only point a finger at God, they cannot hear the voice of God.

Like the music of the tree falling in the forest, the voice of God may only be heard by ears willing to hear. The tragedy of unbelief is that,  for those most in need, for those who suffer the most from the absence of spirit in their lives, the touch of spirit is blocked by the zeal of the insane mind, a mind alive and on fire with an intensity so determined to see the trees that the forest is rendered completely invisible.

I close with a poem of mine from 1999; it is a plaint, a plea from a period of my life when I still found it difficult to believe.

"Lift Thine Eyes

The new day covers its grin with a tentative hand,
Shadows and clouds for eyes;
But behind the gloom of sky,
Beneath the erratic earth,
Joy  is rushing up,
        a thousand miles an hour,
            a thousand miles away.

I know He is coming for me,
His fluttering virgin bride,
But it is difficult to bide that mountainous hour,
And I don't know whether to point my lantern up or down.
The moment coming, so long delayed,
Feels arriving never—and
The closer it comes the more impossible it seems.

I dawdle over prose for a moment, then lift mine eyes again,
Back to the drawing board, then again and again.
"Look there!" I moan, "Look—there!"
At nothing, always nothing,
And my eyes Lear over, and the blur darkens but will not extinguish itself.
I am imprisoned on a Grecian urn, in a posture of pain,
    forever young,
          forever frozen in an ecstacy of agony.

. . . notice how the mouth, fixed in an unnatural attitude,
shrieks silently, and in that silence rends the fabric of space-time like a cosmic knife, twisting in the heart of God.

One wonders,
    (stuck in the bas, from which there is no relief)
        whether suffering ends with the end of time,
And Jesus steps down off the cross, shattering the vase along with the pasty nails—
Or if it just goes on and on, and it is the last thing you feel in the end.

No! I must banish these thoughts
And scan the horizon once more,
He is coming—the ground is trembling—

Or is it the sky?"

Let us pray: Jesus, give us your patience. Let us continue to struggle with the quandaries of mind that so fatally block the light of heaven, and come to our rescue one more time, and one more time, and yet one more time. Amen.