Advent III - Love
Today we will review key sections of two previous Christmas sermons: one on love and one on the wise men.
1. Today, according to SOMEBODY SOMEWHERE’S calendar, we have lit the candle of love. As the moment of the incarnation of the Christ Consciousness approaches, we are impressed with the idea of love born anew in our hearts, because love bears us into a new, and ever new, and ever renewing reality of spirit.
1 John 4
“7 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
9 In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.
10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. 12 No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.
13 Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.
14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.
15 Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.
16 And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.”
There can be no more important subject, than love, for human beings to consider at this time of year; and yet the vastness of the subject makes it difficult to approach in anything like a systematic way. Love is an easy word to bandy about, because it has so many meanings and inflections; therefore, it might behoove us to first narrow the field a little, so we have some clear idea of what we are talking about. A general definition of love will help me clarify my understanding of the meaning of Christmas love.
To me, the ultimate, all-purpose definition of love is as a synonym for CONNECTION--either that, or SYMPATHY. In either case, the implication is that people who love each other have something in common--they are connected by spiritual ties that enable them to share feelings, thoughts, and experiences, etc. It is love that enables us to magnify the resonance of our connection to our neighbors into a dynamic energy level that is cosmic in scope. The love at the source of all being brings us together through realization of the Christ Consciousness. Since the beginning of time, (and before then), we have been ONE in love, and, thanks to Jesus we can know it here and now. At Christmas we remember that the Christ Consciousness descended to earth in the body of Jesus Christ because God loves us, because God in us sought to reveal to our limited rational consciousness the CONNECTION between Himself and us. Furthermore, we, all of us, seek our places of harmony and sympathy, somewhere on the continuum of the manifold levels of human consciousness, through love; I say we SEEK it through love, but we FIND that place through the grace bestowed on us by the heavenly entities assigned to care for and guide us through the entanglements of mundane existence.
We can never be reminded too often that love came down.
“17Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”
What a miracle that love falls on us from above, like the thrill of mental energy that radiates downward through us, when we make contact with higher worlds, or experience tangible spiritual blessings. Or, is this such a magnificent condescension after all? Does this love interpenetrate existence at every level, such that love coming down is the same thing as us reaching up? Again, if there is one dogmatic principle, I have become intellectually committed to since taking over the responsibility of composing these sermons, it is that love through grace is GIVEN, but the Personal Love of God is CHOSEN. Heaven came down and glory filled my soul--hmm--this construction leaves out the CHOICE. I think, maybe it should go:
"Heaven came down
and then we all moved in."
Would the doorman let us in bearing this slogan? Maybe the doorman is not that reliable? Saint Peter was always a little eccentric?
Clearly, though, the word "interpenetration" should appear somewhere in our definition of love. If we are going to succeed in "pumping up" our spiritual sensitivities this Christmas, we will need to focus conscious attention on states of mind that lean outside of the box. We must seek love in places where we don't usually seek it; we must look below in pre-conscious wells of collective memory, and we must look above at the glare of heaven, at the light, still too bright for our puny powers of apprehension.
“The message of Christmas is that the visible material world is bound to the invisible spiritual world.”
From Charles Dickens’ the Christmas Carol:
“I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”
The image in this quote of humanity flowing down a common road toward a common goal, is very compelling to me. I like, especially, to imagine the light of Christmas love drawing us closer together for a short season, focussing the crowd a little more densely on the road. It is tempting to wish for this common goal all year round, but the comfort of that idea is quickly dispelled when we remember that God's love makes us highly individual, with destinations on many difference street corners.
C. S. Lewis was quite definite about this point. He insists, repeatedly, that Losing your SELF in God (that is, losing the self you have made up in your mind)--losing your made-up self allows you to FIND your true self; a self that exceeds, in magnitude, all the distinctions and possibilities ever dreamt of by the made-up self. Thus, giving yourself to God realizes more of your one-of-a-kind self than any paltry literal definition ever could.
C. S. Lewis
“The Enemy wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another. The Enemy wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in His own favor that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbor's talents--or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall. He wants each man, in the long run, to be able to recognize all creatures (even himself) as glorious and excellent things. He wants to kill their, animal self-love as soon as possible: but it is His long-term policy, I fear, to restore to them a new kind of self-love--a charity and gratitude for all selves, including their own; when they have really learned to love their neighbors as themselves, they will be allowed to love themselves as their neighbors. For we must never forget what is the most repellent and inexplicable trait in our Enemy; He really loves the hairless bipeds He has created, and always gives back to them with His right hand what He has taken away with His left.”
As an artist, this passage always gives great comfort because the problems of ego are so troublesome. C. S. Lewis speaks of animal self-love, and "a new kind of self-love--a charity and gratitude for all selves, including their own." Christmas reminds us to sublimate self-love, into divine love connecting us to our neighbors, to God, to our-neighbors-in-God, and God-in-our-neighbors.
Pope John XXIII
“Mankind is a great, an immense family. This is proved by what we feel in our hearts at Christmas.”
“Christmas is a season for kindling the fire for hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart.”
“Fail not to call to mind, in the course of the twenty-fifth of this month, that the Divinest Heart that ever walked the earth was born on that day; and then smile and enjoy yourselves for the rest of it; for mirth is also of Heaven's making.”
This invitation to merry-making, to celebrate the feast with song and trivialities, confirms my feeling that that materialist side of Christmas is really okay. I like presents, I like Santa Claus, I like getting out in that stream of life (I mean big-city commercial life) once in a while and tasting the excitement of the teeming masses before I retreat once again to my mountain hideaway. The laughter of man and the laughter of the Gods will be indistinguishable before my fire, and the silver giggles of giddy angels shall echo in the still of the following night--night that holds the promise of eternity.
2. Below are some thoughts on the wise men, but first here is a review of the wise men story in Matthew 2:1:
The Magi Visit the Messiah
“2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’[b]”
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”
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 a 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 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. . . .
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. . . .
30. 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.
One always wonders, when one takes a serendipitous needle-drop approach to selecting materials, how they will end up relating to each other. For today, I had two sermons I liked and wanted to reprise, but I was not aware of any unifying thread connecting the two pieces. I had to wait until the end to get it: as usual, spiritual advancement is a progression like this: our dwelling in the haven of love, found with Jesus, opens our hearts to the world, creating a flow of outpouring love, the richest gifts of all.
Let us pray: Jesus, thank you for the love. Bless the remaining hours of this holy day celebration. Lend us power to see the potential of the coming year with enthusiastic hope. Wait for us while we reach for your arms, and save for us, as the wrapping paper flies, an angel kiss. 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.