Enjoy this thoughtful message from Pete Toot, for the 3rd Sunday of Advent 2016
Feel the Joy!
Today’s message will be brief, since none of us want to spend a lot more time listening to me. And, the message is simple, so it can be delivered quickly. Advent is preparation for the celebration of the Lord’s birth and it is historically a time for self-examination and penitence. That is because, as we see it, understanding what in our lives needs improvement can lead us to ask for the Lord to be born into those insufficient parts of our lives to help us out. Penitence means feeling sorry, having regrets, at least as used in many churches. In the New Church it means identifying inevitable shortcomings, accepting them and ourselves where we are in our journey, and committing ourselves to changing for the better. We don’t see how feeling sorry for ourselves accomplishes anything.
So how does joy fit into this process? What place does it have next to repenting in the Advent adventure? The answer is that it is closely connected to the first steps of change, the steps that show us where we should be headed to become all we have been created to be. If there is anything in our lives that needs changing, it is because we love something we shouldn’t. … Anything in our lives that needs changing is something we love that we shouldn’t. I say “shouldn’t” to speak of something that is contrary to spiritual growth as the church teaches. It is pretty judgmental word, but I need to saythat it is each of us who must be judgmental about our personal situations, and the paths we take to spiritual growth we also have to discover for ourselves.
Here are some ideas on how this can work. I believe we will learn important things if we can develop the discipline to pause a moment whenever we are particularly happy, to really feel the joy and get underneath the surface emotions to glimpse what about us is being satisfied. We can even have some labels ready to stamp on those satisfactions, labels that say “My desire for (fill in the blank) is being satisfied”. We can use words like “Recognition”, “Acceptance”, “Accomplishment”, “Resolution”, “Acquisition”, “Being in Control”, “Feeding my Addiction”, and so forth, to fill in the blank. You will notice that not all of those are positive, even if they all may be familiar.
Deeper still, there are roots to these satisfactions, if we can figure them out, which are the four basic loves Swedenborg tells us about. These we call love of self, love of the
world, love of the neighbor, and love of God. All are OK and needed to have a useful life, as long as we get them in the right order. Hopefully this is an example we can all relate to: If we feel happy after eating a nice healthy meal, an underlying satisfaction could be “Accomplishment” if it is a healthier meal than we usually have. It could be “Feeding my Addiction” if we habitually eat to distract ourselves from something unpleasant. It could be “Being in Control” if we are taking responsibility for our physical health. More likely it is a mix, and people can be pretty mixed up. A question that helps get to the root love is “who does this benefit?” On the surface, eating anything seems pretty selfish. It just nourishes us. We can do it in isolation, away from any community. Except, we can’t do it away from the presence within us that gives us life, and who allows us every opportunity to move toward being a useful and caring child in the family of humanity.
Consider eating that healthy salad you had with no croutons, no cheese, no bacon, and with the dressing on the side. For one thing it is an act of stewardship. We need to keep up our health to be effective. While if we live long enough we may run out of health, we can work to protect what we have. Seeing ourselves as worthy tools that need to be cared for and polished and kept ready, will help us accept ourselves at whatever place we are. We are OK but maybe a bit weak or rusty or unprepared. This caring and polishing does benefit us individually, but as you see, maybe not in a selfish way. So let’s not stop eating, or learning, or protecting ourselves. It may appear unsocial, but it is a mixed bag. The point I want to emphasize is those labels are not inherently good or bad, but can get us first to the “who does this benefit?” question, and then to “what parts of it are just about me?”
Joy is a good thing. It is a gift. It not only feels good, it can help us discern what we love. On our Advent journey, we can use that knowledge to call upon the strength within us to help move the selfish loves to the back and the generous loves to the front. We can’t do it alone because loves are very strong, and our ego, tricky little devil that it is, really really wants us to hold on to the selfish ones. So my Christmas card message to you this day of celebration in joy of the Advent season is, feel the joy, behave well, step away from the ego, pray for strength, become better than you are, and feel the joy some more. Amen.