By: Rev. F. Robert Tafel Psalms 8 | Revelation 21:1-6 January 2, 2000
There exists a seemingly universal human need for newness. It is as it were an insatiable thirst or hunger. Some people experience this human quality as a drive toward an endless succession of new jobs. I know of such an individual. I met him at the Wayfarer's Chapel in California, where he was a wedding photographer. After a long career in one of the military services, he deliberately sought new jobs one after the other as a form of self-discovery. Other people express their need for newness by travel. Others by relocating residences--moving from apartment to apartment and house to house. Still others endeavor to be the proud owner of whatever new gadget or invention comes along. There are nomads of the spirit as well, moving from one kind of spiritual quest to the next. One could hardly begin to scratch the surface in an attempt to document the human quest for newness.
This human need for newness is not surprising. The need for newness is one expression of a desire for change, for growth, for improvement. I experience this need, this desire myself, and I feel relatively confident in speculating that many of you here today share to some degree these needs and desires.
This should come as no great surprise or revelation, because God created us this way. We are created in the image and likeness of God, who is creative, inventive, "making all things new ".
So as we begin another new year, it is well to consider our need for growth, for change, for improvement in the context of our relationship to God who desires to bring about in each of us "a new heaven and a new earth" and who is at the same time "making all things new".
"For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create." (Isaiah 65:17-18a)
"Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away." (Revelation 21:1a)
The prophet Isaiah and the visionary seer John describe in similar words a similar process. We can see in their words both prophesy and fulfillment, like the way the birth of the lord Jesus was foretold and then fulfilled. It also strikes me as no mere accident that it is the same prophet Isaiah who foretold these events (that is, the birth of the Lord and the creation of a new heaven and a new earth). They have a similar goal. And that goal is the renewal of every person.
Swedenborg calls this renewal regeneration. The regenerative process is what makes a person new. This is an exciting event! Listen to one of Swedenborg's descriptions:
"A person is thereby made new not only in that a new will is given and a new understanding, but also a new body for one's spirit. The former things are not abolished, but are removed so as not to appear, and new ones are formed through the love and wisdom of the Lord. " (Divine Wisdom Iv.2)
Change is a constant process spiritually. In fact, as we change we change our spiritual environment and our spiritual company:
"Every person changes their situatation in the world of spirits from infancy to old age." (True Christian Religion #476)
Along with these changes, Swedenborg describes the way people in the spiritual world move and relocate in a similar way to the way we move and see other people move: "The homes of good spirits in heaven are changed into more beautiful ones as their spirits are perfected" (Arcana Coelestia # 1629). One reason I find these descriptions of change and renewal in the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg so thought provoking is because they match our experience; just as we like to see ourselves improving with the passage of time, so in heaven the spirits are interested in change and renewal and improvement.
Such ideas give life importance and a sense of purpose. Clearly, one exciting dimension and purpose of life is to grow. By expanding the horizons of our mind. To become more loving and more in harmony with the creative life force we call God. That this creative life force became one with us in the birth of Jesus is awe inspiring. God is personal and seeks a personal relationship with each one of us.
It is a privilege and responsibility for us to gain a growing appreciation and understanding of what is good and how to express our love more appropriately and fully. To see more and more clearly who we are and the person we are becoming and to take stock periodically to be sure we are growing into the person we truly can and want to become. To develop the talents the Lord has given us and to make our contribution to the Lord's kingdom on earth and thereby develop the life that leads to heaven. In a word, to gain a sense of our use. These concepts enhance our understanding of what life is, essentially, and why we can find significant meaning in living as long and as well as possible.
Yet there is a still deeper meaning to the Lord's creating a new heaven and new earth, which we can see through Swedenborg's explanation of the spiritual sense of these scriptures:
"To create a new heaven and a new earth" does not mean a visible heaven and a habitable earth, but a new church internal and external; 'heaven' meaning the internal of the church and 'earth' its external." (A.E. #294.14)
"The internal of the church is love to the Lord and charity to the neighbor. To act from thence is the external of the church. But to will and love truth and good and to act from thence is the internal of the church."(N.J.H.D. #246)
To grow, to expand and improve our understanding of truth and good is a life-long process to which the Lord calls us. It is the Lord who recreates our mind and heart (with our cooperation). And, as we discovered earlier, as we grow more loving and wise, the Lord gives us an increasingly beautiful spiritual body for our spirit. Is it not a worthwhile purpose to grow more loving that we may have a more and more beautiful spiritual body?
Americans spend millions of dollars each year on cosmetics and on cosmetic surgery in order to improve their physical appearance. This is not necessarily in itself a bad thing. But will this not be wasted effort if the person is not at the same time working with the Lord to improve the appearance of their spirit which lasts forever?
If we think of the year's end and the beginning of a new year as a time to take an inventory and to consider resolving to make changes, then we can see how appropriate it is to consider the Bible passages before us today. For these Bible passages have been telling of the Lord's effort to rebuild his church, and we are his church.
Let this new year be a time, then, to renew our resolve to work with the Lord in his spiritual beautification program (by which I mean his endeavor to regenerate very one of us).
Let this new year be a time to grow in our understanding of the Lord's truths revealed to us in his word by reading and meditating on them, especially in the light that shines on them from the theological writings of the lord's servant, Emanuel Swedenborg.
And let this new year be a time for practicing love to our Lord and to our neighbor in our daily life.
Then we shall be certain of growing more beautiful as to our spirit during the year and more in harmony with the flow of life.
Let us pray.
Copyright 2000 by Rev. F. Robert Tafel