Latest Posts

Anticipating Mysteries

Anticipating Mysteries
Rev. Dr. Jim Sherblom
December 9, 2018

Good stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. They often begin by setting a context, tell what happened, and end by explaining what it means. However, what actually happened was probably chaotic, disjointed, and with many mixed meanings and messages; which is somewhat unfulfilling in the telling. An oft told story is polished over the years and decades of retelling, becoming far more interesting and meaningful in the process, even while departing further and further from what actually happened. For such stories we need not ask, is this how it actually happened, it’s not, but rather, ask what does it mean, is it in some sense true? It often is deeply true and can be life giving.

Christianity began as mystery cult passing down oral traditions about Jesus and his teachings. Decades later, Christians wrote down gospels, not as history or biography, but rather to help initiates find salvation. This morning I’d like to take you on a magical mystery tour of the gospel Christmas stories, beginning with the nature of divine mystery, prophecy, class consciousness, and geography. First a little context:
The Torah describes three ways of experiencing divine mystery:
One: the presence of God, which is so awesome and terrifying it often employs an angelic messenger of God Almighty, creator of the universe;
Second: Ruach, the breath of God, which brings new life; sometimes referred to by Jews as Shekinah, and by Christians as the Holy Spirit;
Third: Logos, or the Word of God, which brings salvation; sometimes referred to by Jews as the coming Messiah and by Christians as Christ.

Now for geography, two thousand years ago, Jerusalem was the location of YHVH’s Temple, the site of everything holy, located in Judea where orthodox Judaism was practiced. The much larger northern kingdom, what was the land of Israel, never worshipped YHVH in the Temple, but worshipped him instead on mountain tops, as had their ancestors, and was called in those days Samaria. North and east of Samaria was the Roman province of Galilee, a desperately poor borderland, whose mixed ethnicities and cultures seldom worshipped in the Temple or the mountaintops, but practiced more of a folk religion of wisdom teachers. Three groups in different geographies.

The ancient prophecies concerning the coming of the Jewish Messiah were a mess of contradictions. He would be descended on his father’s side from the patriarchs Abraham (to whom God had promised this land), Jacob (father of the twelve tribes of Israel), and Judah (father of all Judeans). He would be of royal blood, of the house of David, yet also be a suffering servant, so from desperately poor peasant parents. He would be called Emmanuel, meaning God is with us, yet would be unrecognized, as one crying in the wilderness. Like the Jews of the exodus, he would come out of Egypt, yet as a child he would be recognized and consecrated in the holy Jerusalem Temple. He would be born king of kings, and Lord of Lords, yet would endure a humble birth with no place for his head, visited only by common shepherds.

You can see the problem the gospel writers encountered. Jesus of Nazareth was a deeply spiritual, illiterate, miracle working, wisdom teacher, who his followers experienced as the fulfillment of the prophecies concerning the Messiah or Christ. Over the years, and then decades, they passed along well-worn stories about Jesus that drew from their own experiences of him, within the context of the ancient prophecies, creating deeply significant good news (gospels) for religious and liturgical practices. These were transformative stories of faith.

Mark’s gospel, written earliest, solves the inconsistency problem by skipping Jesus’ birth and heritage altogether, jumping ahead to John baptizing Jesus in the Jordan river, where a voice from heaven (the direct presence of God) claims him for his Son. In the gospel of Mark Jesus is a poor humble wisdom teacher from Nazareth in Galilee, and his ministry is conducted mostly in Galilee, and the vast majority of his followers are Galileans. After John is arrested, Jesus proclaims the coming kingdom of God. This gospel is hardly ever used at Christmas.

The Christmas favorite is the gospel of Luke, which builds upon Mark by adding a prequel that addresses more of the ancient prophecies. He introduces Zechariah, a holy priest in the Temple, and his barren wife Elizabeth. The angel Gabriel appears to them, and says they will bear a son named John, whose destiny is to prepare the way for the coming Messiah. Six months later the angel Gabriel appears to an unmarried young peasant girl in the tiny town of Nazareth in Galilee, and says she will become pregnant by the Holy Spirit (ruach), and she will name her baby Jesus. He will be a spiritual being, the son of the Most-High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. Born of the root of Jesse, he will reign over the kingdom of Israel forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. This is the exalted kingly claim for Christ.

You can imagine how freaked out this young woman would be. Mary flees to a Judean town outside Jerusalem, where her cousin Elizabeth is married to Zechariah, the holiest and most powerful person she knows. When Mary walks into the room, John leaps in his mother’s womb, Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit, and proclaims, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb,” confirming that Mary bears the messiah. We’re told Mary spent three months with Elizabeth, until well after John is born, until she finally gets up the nerve to go back to Nazareth and explain what is going on to her fiancée Joseph. That conversation was probably quite difficult, so for Christmas Eve services we generally jump ahead to the beginning of chapter two.

“In those days a decree went out from the Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.” Luke has to get the young couple to Bethlehem in Judea to fulfill a few more prophecies. So, they make their way back to Judea where Mary gives birth in a shed, laying her firstborn son in a manger, because there was no place for him in the inn. Jesus is born as an undocumented alien, a stranger in a strange land. Born a stranger, recognized by shepherds living in the fields, tipped off by angels singing hallelujah in the middle of the night. Christ is born. Eight days later Jesus is named, circumcised, and purified in the Temple in Jerusalem, where a righteous and devout man, Simeon, guided by the Holy Spirit, proclaims Jesus the Messiah. His life purpose fulfilled, Simeon now dies and joins God in heaven.

However, there are prophecies the gospel of Luke fails to address, so, a decade or so later, the gospel of Matthew comes forward with its own birth narrative based upon, but also adding to, Mark. Matthew begins with a genealogy that includes Abraham, Jacob, Judah, and David, in a descent to Joseph. Oddly, this also includes four of Joseph’s supposed ancestors conceived through irregular sexual unions: the twins Perez and Zerah born to Tamar by Judah, Rahab the Canaanite who bore Boaz by Salmon, Ruth the Moabite who gave birth to Obed by Boaz, and King David who fathered Solomon by the wife of Uriah the Hittite. It seems sexual irregularities in service of God are common in this family tree.

In Matthew’s telling, Joseph himself noticed Mary was pregnant, and being a righteous man, planned to break their engagement quietly. But an angel of God convinces him she has conceived through the Holy Spirit. Fulfilling the prophecy that “The virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.” Matthew adds that after being born in Bethlehem of Judea, the newborn king is visited by three wise men from the East, following a star, bringing gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold to honor his kingly claims, frankincense to honor his spiritual claims, and myrrh to prepare the way for his death and resurrection. Matthew covers all the bases.

He writes, this fulfills the prophecy that “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 rule my people Israel.” But King Herod, the actual ruler over Israel, freaks out and seeks to kill the newborn king. So, Joseph and Mary flee with Jesus to Egypt, allowing them to fulfill one more prophecy, that “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” After Herod dies, they return to Nazareth fulfilling the prophecy that “He will be called a Nazorean.” So why all these stories of prophecies fulfilled? They are intended as a spiritual guide for initiates to find salvation.

The gospel of John, the last written, and completely independent of the others, simply declares Jesus is the Logos. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being with him is life, and the life was the light of the people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” John begins with the nature of divine mystery, and doesn’t care about prophecy.

So why this magical mystery tour of these familiar Christmas stories? Well, anticipating mysteries can be confusing, especially when the stories don’t match up, and I noticed at last Sunday afternoon’s carol sing that we often read or sing carefully curated phrases that attempt, but generally fail, to describe the incredible awesomeness of what happened over two millennia ago. We don’t know what actually happened, the stories seem to contradict each other, but I am certain that it is true in the deepest sense. Love abides and brings salvation.

So, we sing, people, look East: Love is on the way. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come within as Love, as Truth, as Light, as Hope, to dwell. There is a message of mystery, of love, of comfort and joy within these ancient stories. Especially at Christmas time we need Love, Truth, Light and Hope. So, anticipating mysteries, can we unlock the mystery for God to dwell within us? Can we “Let Christmas come, its story told, when days are short and winds are cold, let Christmas come, its lovely song, when evening’s soon and night is long…” Oh, let’s sing it together, hymn #224, “Let Christmas Come!”

Transcendental etude

Yesterday was a blustery day.

I was driving in Concord on Thoreau street, approaching its intersection with Walden street, with a big yellow leafed maple tree in full bloom right before me. It was glorious in the afternoon sun and its leaves were ripe to fall.

Just as I stopped at the stop sign, a sudden gust of wind sent its leaves flying, and a crosswind sent them scattering through the air like a large flock of yellow starlings, seemingly swooping and soaring on the afternoon crosswinds.

I went on to Walden Pond for my transcendental afternoon walk, but nothing I experienced that afternoon was more transcendental then that now semi-naked tree having flung its leaves to the winds. Autumn has truly arrived in Concord.

Please Review Spiritual Pilgrim

The book launch of SPIRITUAL PILGRIM: Awakening Journeys of a Twenty-First Century Transcendentalist has been wonderful, with this new book joining my first book SPIRITUAL AUDACITY on amazon’s top ten percent best selling books on their website. But it is hindered by having no positive reviews yet.

Can you please help by going on amazon and reviewing my book? Thanks a million! Jim,204,203,200_QL40_&dpSrc=srch

Author Talk this Wednesday

Please come join my author event this Wednesday
Rev. Dr. Jim Sherblom, author of SPIRITUAL PILGRIM:
Awakening Journeys of a Twenty-First Century Transcendentalist
Wednesday, October 17 at 7 pm Main Library, 129 Main Street

Jim’s spiritual memoir tells stories of his mystic travels on spiritual pilgrimages with Sufi’s, Taoists, shamans, Buddhists, Christians and Transcendentalists.

“Equal parts memoir and guidebook, Spiritual Pilgrim entrances with stories that reveal Jim’s unabashedly open heart and deep well of knowledge.”
Doug Stone and Sheila Heen, co-authors of New York Times bestselling book Difficult Conversations

Rev. Dr. Jim Sherblom is a transcendentalist author, scholar, mystic, theologian, entrepreneur, and investor. He holds a BA in history from Yale, an MBA from Harvard, and Masters in Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees from Andover Newton Theological School.

He lives a transcendentalist existence with his wife Loretta in Concord, MA where you will often find him ambling trails once loved by Emerson, Alcott, Hawthorne, Fuller and Thoreau. Come hear of one man’s universal spiritual journey.

Register on the library’s online calendar of events
at or call 978-318-3365


Come help me celebrate the launch of my second book:

SPIRITUAL PILGRIM: Awakening Journeys of a Twenty-First Century Transcendentalist

At First Parish in Concord at 7:30 pm on Friday September 28, 2018.

The book is full of quotes from historical and contemporary mystics.  To test your knowledge of how mystics relate to the divine mystery, here is a short quiz:

Mystic Quiz

In my book SPIRITUAL PILGRIM: Awakening Journeys of a Twenty-First Century Transcendentalist I quote many mystics about the nature of divine mystery.  See if you can match each mystic with their words (at least five are Unitarian Universalist mystics):

A: Teresa of Avila;   B: Buddha;   C: Bernard of Clairvaux;   D: Confucius;   E: St. John of the Cross;   F: Meister Eckhart;   G: Ralph Waldo Emerson;   H: Abhi Janamanchi    J: Jesus of Nazareth;   K:Kabir;   L: Lord Krishna;   M: Mirabai of Jodhpur;   N: Moses of Midian;   O:Om Prakash Gilmore;  P: Rabinadrath Tagore;   Q: Henry David Thoreau;   R: Jacob Trapp;   S: Lao Tzu


  • Loving yourself as a child of God unites you with God through love______
  • God was present in my arms… then I knew my soul, every soul, has always held Him______
  • We blossomed in spring. Our bodies are leaves of God_____
  • If you want, the Virgin will come walking down the street pregnant with Light and sing______
  • Girls, think twice before inviting God near. His charms will turn you into a slave – are you ready for such wonderful bondage? ______
  • If I told you the truth about God, you might think I was an idiot ______
  • Everything that lives is holy… and it can lift you up to God ______
  • Dance wildly, sing joyfully, fill your heart with the beauty of the Beloved as the Beloved turns your soul to Light ______
  • Where there is no desire, all things are at peace ______
  • I followed my heart’s desire with bliss without overstepping the lines of propriety _____
  • Once you know how to return to the present moment, you will be awakened, and in that moment, you will find your true self _____
  • The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances rhythmic measures ______
  • The impermanent has no reality, reality lies in the eternal _____
  • May all be happy. May all be healthy.  May all experience what is good.  May no one suffer ______
  • Blessed are the selfless and humble for theirs is the kingdom of God _____
  • May God bless you and keep you; may his face shine upon you ______
  • The currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part and particle of God _____
  • I love the wild not less than the good _______

How did you do?  The answer key is on a separate page.



Paddling Musketaquid

Approaching Concord’s wildness from the south or west is best done paddling on the rivers.  The Algonquin indigenous people called this ancient river system Musketaquid.  It is a land defined by its sandy esker ridges, left from the melting of the last ice age, and its plentiful waters.  My house is a half mile from egg rock, on a street that ends at the Assabet river.  I often paddle my kayak as a form of transcendental meditation there.   Once I’m on the river, with only bird sounds to distract me, my heart rate slows, and I paddle gently with the current.

As we circumnavigate rocky shoals and fallen limbs, the edge of Barrett’s Mill Farm, the final destination of the British troops on April 19, 1775 appears on the river’s northern shore.  I am already drifting between Concord’s two revolutions, the eighteenth century civic fight for freedom and the nineteenth century transcendentalist reimagining of the role of reason and our senses in spirituality.  This tranquil final mile of the Assabet River is mentioned often in Thoreau’s journals, as if he was paddling off into paradise, free of mundane toil and strife.

Nathaniel Hawthorne loved this section of the Assabet River.  He wrote, “A more lovely stream than this, for a mile above its junction with the Concord, has never flowed on earth, — nowhere, indeed, except to the interior regions of a poet’s imagination.”  This is why this area is still home, or at least a pilgrim’s destination, for many transcendentalists today.  On the far side of Barrett’s Mill Farm the Spencer brook empties into the Assabet from Anglers’ Pond providing a widening of the river to create a swimming hole.  As a twenty first century transcendentalist this is my primary spiritual playground and meditation practice.

Coming up on the southwestern shore we pass what had been the site of the leaning hemlocks, a favorite nineteenth century walking and picnicking site along the river, much celebrated in the writings of the transcendentalist authors.    Hawthorne wistfully wrote: “At one spot there is a lofty bank, on the slope of which grow some hemlocks, declining across the stream with outstretched arms, as if resolute to take the plunge.  In other places the banks are almost on a level with the water; so that the quiet congregation of trees set their feet in the flood and are fringed with foliage down to the surface.”  This is a transcendentalist deeply experiencing life beyond his mere senses.

The river turns east again through marshland and swamp, past the farm of the fur trapper Simon Willard, as Nashawtuc Hill rises above us.  Nashawtuc, which in Algonquin means hill between rivers, is a glacial drumlin rising 250 feet above the Sudbury and Assabet rivers at their confluence to form the Concord.  Many indigenous people lived summers along the Atlantic coast, where they began interacting with European fishermen and explorers early in the sixteenth century, and they would travel back up the Merrimack and Concord rivers to spend the rest of the year within easy walking distance of Nashawtuc Hill.

Members of indigenous tribes in this area in the fifteenth century numbered in the tens of thousands.  However, after European contact, a plague broke out among the indigenous people, decimating their numbers, and over the following years outbreaks of small-pox continued to kill off even those who had survived the earlier plagues or death in various outbreaks of war with white settlers.  By the 1630’s European warfare, plagues and diseases had reduced their numbers over ninety percent to just a few hundreds of indigenous people.

William Wood was an English explorer, adventurer, and propagandist, who in 1632 published a pamphlet in London encouraging white Anglo-Saxon Protestant emigration to this new land of Massachusetts, and he included a map showing the confluence of these three rivers which he, like the indigenous people, called the Musketaquid watershed.

He described empty meadows and fields for the taking standing ready to be easily cultivated.  Simon Willard was an English beaver fur trapper who in the 1630’s was living here among the indigenous people.  In 1635 he co-led with Rev. Peter Bulkeley a group of English colonists to become founders of Concord.   While the other colonists initially settled on the east side of the Sudbury and Concord rivers, he chose to make his home on the west side of Nashawtuc Hill, near the 17th century primary village site of the few remaining indigenous peoples.

Many Concordians befriended the indigenous people.  But by the end of the 17th century the last fifty-eight survivors were rounded up by colonial soldiers, imprisoned in Boston Harbor, and those who did not die were sold into slavery.  This is perhaps Concord’s original sin.  We often tell the story differently, but White Anglo-Saxon colonists coming to this land led to the indigenous peoples’ deaths and destruction.