Explanation(s) or references from Swedenborg's works:
By Rev. Peter M. Buss Sr.
In the Bible story of Jesus being born in Bethlehem, His birth on earth represents His birth in our hearts. His birth in us is the creation of unselfish love in our hearts. We cannot create this; only He can do it.
Before He can come to us we must do our part - obedience to His law, shunning the evils forbidden in the Ten commandments, doing good to the best of our abilities. The story of His birth follows those actions in our lives.
Luke 2:1: "And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place when Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city."
Rome was the earthly government at that time. It brought order - subject to its whims. It represents the external government of our own reasoning power - that ordered, logical process which can amass legions of thoughts in patterns and attack a problem with ruthless force.
The Emperor called a census. He wanted to know how many people he had so he could tax them better. This tells of our life, when we are trying to be good. We too gather our mental powers, put the things of our minds into a more proper order so that we can live our lives. We do it from a rather worldly perspective. We feel that we are good, and that we have the power to order our lives.
Think of that census. Think of all those families criss-crossing the land, each going to the place from whence they came. Remember that when the tribes came into Canaan hundreds of years earlier, each was given an inheritance, and in fact the families' genealogies were kept in their original cities, recording each birth and all the descendants. It made sense that Rome would call such a census in Judea and Galilee.
This shaking up of the families represent our re-ordering of our minds as we try to live good lives, obedient to God.
But unknown to Caesar or to Herod, one journey was taking place which would change the course of history. It was of the Lord's providence that the census took place, and that Joseph, who was living in Nazareth, not in Bethlehem, would make a journey. For while we are trying to order our minds, rearranging our priorities, there is a part of our minds which is lifted into a new realm.
Luke 2:4: "And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David."
Joseph was a carpenter - working with tools of iron on wood, shaping the wood into useful items. He represents the human understanding - perhaps particularly that part of the understanding which is interested in religious and truly moral matters. Joseph, carving wood into pleasant forms, stands for how we use our understanding to mold our goodness, believing that this will bring us true happiness.
But true happiness comes from a much more miraculous source. It comes from the Lord incarnate, flowing into our hearts from within.
However, as we use our understanding to seek for the meaning of life and of goodness, we are lifted up into higher thoughts. The journey of Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Judea, and especially to Bethlehem, represent a spiritual journey - the uplifting of our understandings to see deeper truths about life. Bethlehem, which means "the house of bread," represents the deepest meaning of the Lord's Word, a spiritual understanding of truth. So as Joseph went up to Bethlehem, our understandings are secretly raised up to see deeper truths. We think it's because we are working on understanding life. Joseph thought he obeyed Caesar's command, whereas it was the Lord's providence that led him to Bethlehem. So it is the Lord who secretly uplifts our thoughts.
David, the great king of Israel, represents spiritual thought also. Joseph was of the house of David. Our understanding seems to be very practical and earthly, but it is endowed with the power to see above the body and beyond the world. It is "of the house and lineage of David."
Luke 2:5: "To be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child."
As Joseph was promised to Mary, so our human understanding is promised in love to something rather precious inside of us. Mary, the virgin, represent the innocent affection for truth. Each of us has a strain of idealism deep within us. The understanding receives impulses from many sources, but as we try to obey the Lord it promises itself to the spiritual Mary - to a love of more innocent, apparently naive truth. We fall in love with ideals and with dreams of unselfish, worthwhile love.
We all have this idealism, for the Lord has secretly implanted it in our beings from the moment we are born, Every lovely feeling, every true thought, is stored within us by our loving God and becomes our spiritual Mary.
Joseph naturally thought that his marriage to Mary would produce a child who would bring them happiness. We think that if we marry our understanding to our ideals, we will build our happiness. And in one sense that is true. Yet in fact, it is the power of almighty God inflowing into our idealism that produces true love. As Joseph was not the father of Jesus, but was his natural guardian, so our understanding plays a role in our future happiness, but true love is a Divine birth within us. This is the true message of Christmas - that He who came to earth, He alone can warm people's hearts with love.
Luke 2:6: "And so it was, that while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered."
It took centuries for the Lord to be born on earth. During all that time He prepared people for His birth, and because of those promises, they looked forward to it.
We lose our innocence quite early, and feel, perhaps, that we are very selfish people. It takes time for the Lord to create love in our hearts. We'd love to become kind, totally loving people in an instant. That birth needs time and patience. But its time does come!
Luke 2:7: "And she brought forth her first born son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for Him in the inn."
He could have been born anywhere on earth - in the most splendid palace, heir to worldly power and might. He chose a humble stable. Partly this was because He didn't come to be an earthly power. As He said, "Who is greater? He who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves." (Luke 22:27).
But the reasons were greater than that. Even in Bethlehem He could not be born in the inn. The inn represents a place of instruction, a place where people gather and exchange thoughts. But the inn was full, even as in our own minds, we often think we know it all.
So He was born in a stable, where the horses feed. A horse, which carries us where we want to go, represents an understanding of specific truths which show us the way in life. It represents an understanding of spiritual truth. And He was wrapped in swaddling cloths, which represent simple, innocent truths, and laid in the place where horses come to eat. Innocent truths are the ones we are tempted to scoff at - simple ideas like "It's good to be good," or "It's wrong to hurt others," or "I can use my abilities to bring happiness to those I love." These are among the most fundamental teachings to be found in all of Scripture.
In other words, the Lord, when He descends into our minds and hearts, finds that in many parts of our lives our spiritual "inns" are full. We think we know very well how to make our way in life. So He chooses instead to move us with His love in a special part of our mind - where we seek spiritual truths, and we do so from innocence.
We all have a spiritual manger in our minds. Every person has an innocent spot, where she or he wants to learn, and where she feels humble in learning ideas which will make life so very much better than it is now.
Conclusion: Our Savior wants to come to all of us. He created us for heaven, and in order that we may know the joy of heaven He teaches us His laws. When we respond, then His love is born in our hearts, and that birth follows this orderly pattern:
1. All the ideas of our minds are brought into order - apparently by our own efforts. (The census).
2. A spiritual journey takes place. Our understanding is gradually raised up from thinking only of worldly values into a new light. We take our idealism (our spiritual Mary) with us into that light, to the spiritual Bethlehem.
3. The Lord is not born in those truths which we have filled and perverted with purely worldly values (the inn).
4. Instead He is born into those innocent truths from His Word which we have always trusted and loved, and easily understood (our manger).
5. They are wrapped in simple, clear observations (the swaddling cloths) which protect our newfound love as it grows within us.