The Bible

 

Luke 2

Study the Inner Meaning

           

1 Now it came to pass in those days, there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be enrolled.

2 This was the first enrolment made when Quirinius was governor of Syria.

3 And all went to enrol themselves, every one to his own city.

4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David;

5 to enrol himself with Mary, who was betrothed to him, being great with child.

6 And it came to pass, while they were there, the days were fulfilled that she should be delivered.

7 And she brought forth her firstborn son; and she wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

8 And there were shepherds in the same country abiding in the field, and keeping watch by night over their flock.

9 And an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people:

11 for there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.

12 And this [is] the sign unto you: Ye shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men in whom he is well pleased.

15 And it came to pass, when the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing that is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

16 And they came with haste, and found both Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in the manger.

17 And when they saw it, they made known concerning the saying which was spoken to them about this child.

18 And all that heard it wondered at the things which were spoken unto them by the shepherds.

19 But Mary kept all these sayings, pondering them in her heart.

20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, even as it was spoken unto them.

21 And when eight days were fulfilled for circumcising him, his name was called JESUS, which was so called by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

22 And when the days of their purification according to the law of Moses were fulfilled, they brought him up to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord

23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord),

24 and to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.

25 And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Spirit was upon him.

26 And it had been revealed unto him by the Holy Spirit, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ.

27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, that they might do concerning him after the custom of the law,

28 then he received him into his arms, and blessed God, and said,

29 Now lettest thou thy servant depart, Lord, According to thy word, in peace;

30 For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,

31 Which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples;

32 A light for revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of thy people Israel.

33 And his father and his mother were marvelling at the things which were spoken concerning him;

34 and Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this [child] is set for the falling and the rising of many in Israel; and for a sign which is spoken against;

35 yea and a sword shall pierce through thine own soul; that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.

36 And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher (she was of a great age, having lived with a husband seven years from her virginity,

37 and she had been a widow even unto fourscore and four years), who departed not from the temple, worshipping with fastings and supplications night and day.

38 And coming up at that very hour she gave thanks unto God, and spake of him to all them that were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

39 And when they had accomplished all things that were according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth.

40 And the child grew, and waxed strong, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.

41 And his parents went every year to Jerusalem at the feast of the passover.

42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up after the custom of the feast;

43 and when they had fulfilled the days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and his parents knew it not;

44 but supposing him to be in the company, they went a day's journey; and they sought for him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance:

45 and when they found him not, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking for him.

46 And it came to pass, after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both hearing them, and asking them questions:

47 and all that heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.

48 And when they saw him, they were astonished; and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I sought thee sorrowing.

49 And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? knew ye not that I must be in my Father's house?

50 And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them.

51 And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth; and he was subject unto them: and his mother kept all [these] sayings in her heart.

52 And Jesus advanced in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

  

   Study the Inner Meaning

Exploring the Meaning of Luke 2      

By Rev. Dr. Ray Silverman

This painting by Richard Cook  of the newborn baby Jesus, with Mary and Joseph, evokes the spiritual power of this long-awaited advent.

Chapter 2

The Babe Lying in a Manger

1. And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled.
2. This enrolling was  first  made when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
3. And all went to be enrolled, everyone to his own city.
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 from the house and family of David,
5. To be enrolled with Mary his betrothed wife, being great with child.
6. And it came to pass, [that] while they were there, the days were fulfilled that she should bring forth;
7. And she brought forth her firstborn
Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling-clothes, and laid Him in the manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.


Whereas chapter one focused on the birth of John the Baptist, chapter two focuses on the birth of Jesus the Christ. It begins with a simple description of  Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem. This journey was necessary because a proclamation had gone out from Caesar Augustus, declaring that all people must return to their city of birth to be registered. So “Joseph went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem … to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child” (Luke 2:4-5). 

In contrast to the royal decree of Caesar Augustus, proclaiming that “all the world should be registered,” we are given the simple story of Mary and Joseph seeking lodging in Bethlehem, and finding none. The only thing they could find was the shelter of a lowly stable, and the only crib for their baby was a manger—a feeding trough for animals.

“And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in the manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2::6-7).

The story of God coming to earth and finding “no room” in the inn is rich with spiritual meaning. It symbolizes the way in which our lives can become so busy, so filled with the concerns of daily living, that we have no room — no place in us — where Christ can be born. It also symbolizes how quietly and unobtrusively the miracle birth takes place in our lives.

There is something profound about Christ being laid in a place where animals feed.
Interestingly, this is the only gospel that mentions the manger, and it does so three times. In verse seven we read that “they laid Him in a manger.”

In verse twelve we read, “This will be a sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And in verse sixteen we read, “And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby who was lying in a manger.” The symbolic picture of the Holy Babe, lying in a feeding trough, foreshadows a great reality—that Jesus is the very source and sustenance of our spiritual lives, even as food is the source and sustenance of our natural lives. This is why He would later say to His disciples as He invited them to eat the Passover bread, “This is My body” (Luke 22:19).

In a gospel which focuses on the development of the understanding, it is most appropriate to understand the significance of a “manger” — a place where animals feed. Our own understanding feeds on truth that comes to us from God. This is the truth that will nourish us on our spiritual journeys, feed our hunger for spiritual knowledge, and help us to develop a strong inner spirit. Again, it warrants repeating that this is the only gospel that mentions the “manger.” 1

Keeping Watch

8. And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the field, and keeping watch  over their flock by night.
9. And behold, the angel of the Lord stood by them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they feared with great fear.
10. And the angel said to them, “Fear not; for behold, I bring  you  good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people.
11. “For to you is born  this day a savior, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David.
12. “And this [shall be] the sign to you: you shall find [the] babe wrapped in swaddling-clothes, lying in a manger.”
13. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14. “Glory in the highest to God, and on earth peace, good will among men.”
15. And it came to pass, as the angels went away from them into heaven, the men, the shepherds, said one to another, “Let us now go  even to Bethlehem, and see this saying that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.”
16. And they came in haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in the manger.
17. And when they had seen, they made known abroad the saying which was spoken to them concerning this little Child.
18. And all who heard marveled at those things which were spoken to them by the shepherds.
19. But Mary kept  all these sayings, pondering [them] in her heart.
20. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, as it was spoken to them.


The setting for the next episode shifts from the stable to the countryside: “Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night” (Luke 2:8). A key phrase here is “keeping watch.” Once again, as in the prologue where it is said that they were “eyewitnesses” (Luke 1:2), there is a reference to sight — this time in the phrase, “keeping watch.” This corresponds to the operation of the intellect, the part of our mind that understands, reasons, analyzes, and “watches.” In this case, watching over the “flocks,” refers to our God-given ability to watch over and guard those tender, innocent thoughts and feelings that God has given us. These are the states in us that want to follow God and live according to His Word. Like sheep who follow their shepherd, we follow where God leads, receiving both goodness (green pastures) and truth (still waters) from Him. Then, like a shepherd who guards the flock and watches over them, we make sure that false thoughts and negative emotions do not break in to harm the “sheep” — especially at night. And so we read that these shepherds were “keeping watch over their flocks by night.” 2

On an individual level, we must be ever vigilant, keeping watch over the “flocks” within us. We need to observe our thoughts and feelings, noticing the subtle changes as they occur. This kind of self-examination is essential; without it we open ourselves to be preyed upon by wolves of every sort, the kind that would sneak in and destroy every innocent thought and tender emotion we might have. We must, therefore, be good shepherds, guarding our heavenly thoughts and feelings. We must learn to “keep watch.” 3

In addition to protecting our innocent states, keeping watch also helps us to be aware of the noble thoughts and benevolent emotions that are flowing in from God. This is the light which is given while we are watching for the coming of the Lord, even in our darkest states. As it is written: “And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them” (Luke 2:9)

The great light which shone upon the shepherds was accompanied by a wonderful proclamation: “Behold,” says the angel, “I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people” (Luke 2:10).

This is only the beginning of the proclamation, but it is interesting to compare it to the proclamation that began this chapter, announcing that all the world should be registered. The contrast between the two proclamations is striking. The royal decree of Caesar Augustus is about the census, civil government, and taxation. But the angelic proclamation is about the advent of the Lord in our lives. “I bring you good tidings of great joy,” says the angel, “which will be to all people.”

The wonderful proclamation continues: “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

The proclamation is accompanied by another  burst of light and there is even greater glory as the words of the angel are supported by a host of other angels: “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God” (Luke 2:13). In words of highest praise, now proclaimed by a multitude of angels, the angelic proclamation continues: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to all people” (Luke 2:14).

This was the manner in which the miraculous birth of Jesus was proclaimed to the shepherds. In response, the shepherds promptly went to Bethlehem to visit Mary, Joseph, and the Christ-child. After their visit, they made widely known all things told them concerning the child. Their immediate willingness to proclaim the Good News everywhere is contrasted to Mary who “kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

The response of the shepherds reminds us of the Gospel of Mark, so full of the spirit of evangelization and proclamation. At the end of that gospel the disciples “went out and preached everywhere” (Mark 16:20), just as the shepherds do in the Gospel of Luke: “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them” (Luke 2:20).

But with Mary, it is very different. Instead of going out to preach the gospel, as do the shepherds, Mary is quiet, contemplative, and reflective. She ponders all these things in her heart. Her actions represent a key theme in this gospel: reflection, thought, and the development of a deeply spiritual understanding.

Simeon and Anna

20. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, as it was spoken to them.
21. And when eight days were fulfilled for the circumcising of the little Child, His name was called Jesus, which He was called by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.
22. And when the days of her purification were fulfilled, according to the Law of Moses, they brought  Him  up to Jerusalem, to present [Him] to the Lord,
23. Even as it is written in the Law of the Lord, that every male opening the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;
24. And to give the sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, A pair of turtle doves, or two young doves.
25. And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name [was] Simeon; and this man [was] just and circumspect, waiting for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
26. And a response  was  made to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.
27. And he came by the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents were bringing in the little Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law,
28. He even received Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said,
29. “Now Thou sendest Thy servant away in peace, O Lord, according to Thy saying;
30. “For my eyes have seen Thy salvation,
31. “Which Thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples;
32. “A light for a revelation for the nations, and the glory of Thy people Israel.”
33. And Joseph and His mother marveled at the things which were spoken concerning Him.
34. And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this [Child] is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be spoken against.
35. “And also a sword shall pass through thine own soul, that the reasonings of many hearts may be revealed.”
36. And there was Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher; she was advanced in many days, having lived with a husband seven years from her virginity;
37. And she [was] a widow of about eighty-four years, who stood  not  back from the temple, serving [God] with fasting and prayers night and day.
38. And she, standing by at the hour itself, confessed the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those that waited for redemption in Jerusalem.
39. And when they had finished all things according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth.


As we have pointed out, the central theme of Luke is the development of the understanding. In keeping with this theme, it is appropriate that the next scene takes place in the temple. This time the occasion is the ritual of purification which normally took place forty days after a birth.  It is here, where an old man named Simeon first encounters the Child Jesus. As we read the description of Simeon’s experience, we note how often the story focuses on his “sight” and on what he “sees.” We read that “it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seenthe Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:26). And when Simeon comes into the temple, he takes the Child up in his arms and says, “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to your Word. For my eyes have seenYour salvation” (Luke 2:29-30).

Just as Zacharias had prophesied about “a light” that would shine in the darkness,(Luke 1:79), just as the shepherds beheld a great light — the “glory of the Lord” — shining upon them, the true Source of that light is now shining upon Simeon as he gazes upon the face of the Child. Deeply inspired, Simeon continues his prophecy: “My eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared for all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel” (Luke 2:30-32).

Turning to Mary, Simeon says, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be spoken against (yes, a sword shall pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:35).

Simeon’s words are full of prophecy. There is a power that enables each of us to live according to the truth we know. And those who receive this power shall “rise,” while those who reject it shall “fall.” It is exactly as Simeon says: “Behold this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel.”

Because none of us is perfect, we will all undergo times of doubt and times of trial. There will be times when we feel the “piercing of the sword.” Even Mary would not be exempt. She would witness the horror of her own Son’s crucifixion, and feel a mother’s pain and anguish. Indeed, as Simeon had told her, “a sword shall pierce through your own soul also.”

It’s part of the journey. While our suffering might not be as great as Mary’s when she stood near the cross, nor as grievous as Jesus’ as He was crucified, there will be times when we too will experience sorrow, loss, and grief—times that may be so painful that it will feel as though a sword has pierced through our own soul. But these times are not to be avoided or feared. They can instead be opportunities to renew our faith, confirm our belief in God, and resolve to go forward. These are the times when our most cherished values will be challenged, and our deepest thoughts will be made manifest. These times and these trials are allowed to come into our lives so that our true nature may be exposed and “the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

But no matter how desperate our situation, or how grievous our trials, there is still a quiet place in our hearts that waits patiently for God. This faith is represented by Anna the prophetess, who, like Simeon, is led to the temple at that very moment. After a seven-year marriage, she remained as a widow for many years. Now, at the age of eighty-four, she has never departed from the temple. Instead, she has chosen to remain faithful, “serving God with fasting and prayers night and day” (Luke 2:37).

It is noteworthy that both Simeon and Anna were drawn to the temple presentation at the very same time. Together they represent the essential spiritual affections—the affection for truth (Simeon) and the affection for goodness (Anna), which are necessary for “the performance of all things according to the law of the Lord” (Luke 2:39). Whenever these two qualities combine in us, we know we are in the presence of God, that the Holy Spirit is upon us, and that our eyes have seen His salvation. 4

This is not a one-time experience. It is an experience which continues to grow within us, an experience which becomes stronger over time. As it is written, “And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him” (Luke 2:39).

In the Temple with the Scholars

40. And the little Child grew, and became strong in Spirit, filled full with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.
41. And His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the festival of the Passover.
42. And when He was twelve years [old], they went to Jerusalem according to the custom of the festival.
43. And having finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, and Joseph and His mother knew [it] not.
44. But supposing Him to be among those on the way with [them], they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among [their] kinsfolk and acquaintances;
45. And finding Him not, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him.
46. And it came to pass, after three days, that they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both hearing them, and asking them questions.
47. And all that heard Him were amazed at His understanding and answers.
48. And seeing Him they wondered; and His mother said to Him, “Child, why hast Thou done this to us? Behold, Thy father and I have sought Thee, grieving.”
49. And He said to them, “Why [is it] that you have sought Me? Knew you not that I must be in what [is] My Father’s?”
50. And they understood not the saying which He spoke to them.
51. And He came down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and His mother kept all these sayings in her heart.
52. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in age, and in grace with God and men.


As the narrative continues, the language of scripture reflects the gradual development of Jesus from the “Babe” (Luke 2:12), to the “Child Jesus” (Luke 2:27) to the “Boy Jesus” (Luke 2:43). In the next episode, we discover that the “Boy Jesus” is now twelve years old. His parents have taken Him to the temple at Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of the Passover: “And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast” (Luke 2:42).

But when Joseph and Mary departed, and were already on their way back home, they discovered that Jesus was not with them. In fact they had already gone a whole day’s journey before they realized that Jesus was missing. Most likely, they had been traveling with many other people and had therefore assumed that Jesus was somewhere among them. But after inquiring among their traveling companions, and still not finding Him, they returned to Jerusalem. “And so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46).

Jesus is “in the temple.” He is listening to the learned men and asking them questions. The theme of the understanding, its growth and development, continues: “And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers” (Luke 2:47).

When Joseph and Mary return to Jerusalem, they find tarrying in the temple, His mother speaks to Him first: “Son,” she says, “why have you done this to us?” She then continues, with another reference to sight: “Look,” she says. “Your father and I have sought You anxiously” (Luke 2:48). Jesus replies with words that reveal His true identity: “Why is it that you sought Me?” says Jesus. “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49). As the episode comes to its conclusion, Jesus returns to Nazareth with his parents, and is obedient to them, but “His mother kept all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51). Jesus knew that it was altogether fitting and proper to obey the commandment, “Honor your father and mother.” But He also knew that His higher duty was to honor His Father in heaven.

This is why Jesus said, “I must be about My Father’s business.” His parents, however, “did not understand the statement which He spoke to them” (Luke 2:50).

Even though His words must have been confusing to them, Mary continued to ponder their meaning. It is interesting to recall that Mary had a similar response after the visit of the shepherds. There we read that “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). In both cases, Mary’s response becomes emblematic of that deeper response to Jesus’ words that we are each called to make. It is a calling that invites us to ponder, reflect, and meditate on the meaning and significance of Jesus’ words in our own lives.

It should also be noted that apart from the birth in the stable and the appearance of the angels to the shepherds, the temple remains the focal point of most of the episodes in these first two chapters. Luke begins with Zacharias in the temple. Then, in chapter two, the Child Jesus is presented in the temple and Simeon prophesies in the temple. Then there is Anna “who did not depart from the temple but served God with fasting and prayers night and day.” And now, at the end of this second chapter, when it was time to leave the temple, we read that Jesus did not want to leave the temple, Jesus did not want to go. Instead, He chose to remain in the temple where He could, as He put it, “Be about My Father’s business.”

When we reflect on Zacharias’ prayers in the temple; when we consider Mary’s role as the pondering, thoughtful mother; when we think of Jesus, even as a young child, sitting in the temple, listening to the law, and asking questions, we cannot help but wonder about these references to a contemplative, prayerful, truth-seeking, life — devoted to the development of the understanding. The emphasis is upon the contemplative aspect of our lives, a commitment to prayer, and a willingness to “ponder in our heart” all the things of God. In this stage of our spiritual development, our focus is on learning and understanding the Word of God. Like Jesus, we must be “about our Father’s business.”

Footnotes:

1. De Verbo 7: “The manger in which the baby Lord was found by the shepherds means spiritual nourishment, because horses which feed from a manger mean matters of the intellect.” See also True Christian Religion 277: “The manger in a stable means spiritual nourishment for the understanding.”

2. Apocalypse Explained 314:2: “The ‘flock that He shall feed as a shepherd,’ signify those who are in the good of charity; and the ‘lambs that He shall gather into His arm,’ signify those who are in love to Him.” See also Arcana Coelestia 10076: “They who are in charity and innocence are called ‘sheep’ and ‘lambs.’”

3. Arcana Coelestia 10134:11: “The ‘watchman’ in the internal sense means one who observes the states of the church [i.e., one’s internal state] and the changes it undergoes.” See also Arcana Coelestia 2796: “People do not know that changes of state in the understanding of their thoughts and the affections of their will are going on continually within them. This is because they do not reflect…. The case is that all things are disposed by means of the spirits and angels with people; and all their states and changes of states are therefrom…. It has also been given to know and observe what spirits and angels were with me, and what states they induced.”

4. Apocalypse Explained 443:5: “Simeon signifies obedience, the faith of charity, and the affection for truth…. For ‘Simon’ in Hebrew signifies hearing, hearkening, and obedience.” See also Apocalypse Explained 1121: “A widow signifies one who is in the affection for good, and from that affection desires truth.”

From Swedenborg's Works

Explanations or references:

Arcana Coelestia 870, 1422, 1457, 1884, 2921, 3008, 3195, ...

Apocalypse Revealed 56, 289, 417, 478, 483, 598, 629, ...

Doctrine of the Lord 9, 32, 34

Doctrine of the Sacred Scripture 86

Heaven and Hell 441

True Christian Religion 85, 89, 113, 158, 251, 288, 506, ...


References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 80, 183, 331, 340, 430, 460, 612, ...

On the Athanasian Creed 45, 136

Canons of the New Church 30

Coronis (An Appendix to True Christian Religion) 33

De Verbo (The Word) 1, 7, 19

Spiritual Experiences (Interim Diary) 4734

Marriage 85, 89

Scriptural Confirmations 2, 4, 6, 10, 11, 13, 31, ...

Related New Christian Commentary

  Stories and their meanings:



Hop to Similar Bible Verses

Genesis 17:12, 32:3, 37:11, 46:30

Exodus 12:18, 13:2, 12, 23:14, 15

Leviticus 12:4, 8

1 Samuel 2:21, 26, 14:10, 20:6

1 Kings 1:48

2 Kings 19:29

Psalms 26:8, 103:21, 119:99

Proverbs 3:4, 10:29, 18:15

Isaiah 8:14, 9:2, 5, 6, 11:2, 40:1, 42:6, 46:13, 49:13, 52:9, 10, 57:19, 60:1, 19

Ezekiel 3:12

Daniel 7:10

Zephaniah 3:20

Bible Word Meanings

came to pass
The phrase “it came to pass,” often also translated as “it happened,” generally indicates the end of one spiritual state and the beginning of a...

world
The term "world" has both general and more specific meanings in the Bible, including the relatively literal sense of the natural, physical world. In more...

the first
'Resurrection' signifies salvation and eternal life. 'The first,' mentioned in Revelation 20:5, 6, does not mean a first resurrection, but the essence and primary part...

Every one
The phrase “Every one,” where it occurs in Genesis 20:7, signifies every thing or all things.

own
In many cases, the spiritual meaning of "own," both as a verb and as an adjective, is relatively literal. When people are described as the...

city
Cities of the mountain and cities of the plain (Jeremiah 33:13) signify doctrines of charity and faith.

galilee
when Galilee is mentioned in the Bible, it's referring to the "gentiles", to the spiritual states of people who were not in the Jewish church....

bethlehem
There is a strong relationship between Ephrath and Bethlehem in the Bible; they might be two different names for the same town, or it’s possible...

swaddling clothes
Swaddling clothes signify first truths, which are truths of innocence, and which are also truths of the Divine love. –Apocalypse Explained 706...

manger
The manger where the shepherds found the infant Lord symbolized spiritual nourishment. –De Verbo 7...

over
'Over' or 'upon' in the Word, signifies being within, because the highest part in successive order becomes inmost in simultaneous order. This is why the...

angel
"Angels" in the Bible represent qualities of the Lord himself, or a variety of things that come directly from the Lord. On a lower level...

glory
Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving (Rev. 7.) signify divine spiritual things of the Lord.

shone
“Light” in the Bible represents divine truth, ideas which pour out to us from the Lord’s infinite love. It makes sense, then, that when something...

said
As with many common verbs, the meaning of “to say” in the Bible is highly dependent on context. Who is speaking? Who is hearing? What...

saviour
The Lord from the essential divine, through the divine human, is the savior. The Lord became the savior by His spiritual temptations, or combats.

christ
Christ is one of the names of the Lord. It derives from Greek, and means "the anointed one," a King or Messiah. Christ as King...

sign
The Bible often speaks of signs and miracles as things that convinced people of the Lord's leading. Swedenborg divides the two, identifying "signs" as things...

highest
'Highest' denotes the 'inmost,' because interior things, with person who is in space, appear as higher things, and exterior things as lower. But when the...

peace
In ordinary life, we tend to think of "peace" as essentially "a lack of conflict." As a nation, if we're not at war, it's a...

angels
"Angels" in the Bible represent qualities of the Lord himself, or a variety of things that come directly from the Lord. On a lower level...

heaven
"Air" in the Bible represents thought, but in a very general way – more like our capacity to perceive ideas and the way we tend...

us
Angels do give us guidance, but they are mere helpers; the Lord alone governs us, through angels and spirits. Since angels have their assisting role,...

go
In the physical world, the places we inhabit and the distances between them are physical realities, and we have to get our physical bodies through...

see
The symbolic meaning of "seeing" is "understanding," which is obvious enough that it has become part of common language (think about it; you might see...

made known
In natural language the word "manifest" simply means to make something clear or obvious. A unique use, in fact, has to do with shipping; a...

saw
The symbolic meaning of "seeing" is "understanding," which is obvious enough that it has become part of common language (think about it; you might see...

spoken
Like "say," the word "speak" refers to thoughts and feelings moving from our more internal spiritual levels to our more external ones – and ultimately...

heard
Thanks to modern science, we now understand that hearing actually happens in the brain, not the ears. The ears collect vibrations in the air and...

wondered
In Revelation 13:3, 'all the world wondered after the beast,' signifies that faith alone was gladly received and became the doctrine of the whole church.

glorifying
'To glorify' signifies acknowledgment and confession.

seen
The symbolic meaning of "seeing" is "understanding," which is obvious enough that it has become part of common language (think about it; you might see...

the law
Jews at the time of Jesus had a number of ways to break down and describe the books of the Old Testament. Among the more...

moses
Moses's name appears 814 times in the Bible (KJV), third-most of any one character (Jesus at 961 actually trails David at 991). He himself wrote...

written
If knowing what’s right were the same as doing what’s right, we would all be thin, healthy, hard-working, law-abiding, faithful to our spouses and free...

openeth
To open,' as in Revelation 9, signifies communication and conjunction.

righteous
The word "righteous" has taken on a bit of negative shading in modern language. That may be because we hear it most often as part...

Holy spirit
In the Word, the 'Holy spirit' means divine truth, and also the divine virtue and operation that proceed from God. (True Christian Religion 139)In another...

spirit
'The seven spirits' in Matthew 12:45 signify all falsities of evil, and as a result, a total extinction of goodness and truth. 'The seven spirits'...

upon
'Upon' or 'over' signifies being within.

the temple
'Solomon's temple' represents heaven and the church.

parents
'Parents' signify the goods and truths of the church.

might
'Might' denotes the forces or power of truth.

prepared
In general, when something is "prepared" in the Bible it means that it is in the proper spiritual order, which happens when our hearts and...

rising
It is common in the Bible for people to "rise up," and it would be easy to pass over the phrase as simply describing a...

pierce
Piercing Jesus Christ,' means the destruction of His divine truth in the Word.

hour
The Writings tell us that time and space are aspects of the physical world, but do not exist as we know them in the spiritual...

spake
Like "say," the word "speak" refers to thoughts and feelings moving from our more internal spiritual levels to our more external ones – and ultimately...

all things
The Lord is life itself, is the Creator of the universe, and is the source of life on an ongoing basis. So in a literal...

filled
'To satiate' relates to the extent of a person's will, for good or evil.

Wisdom
'Wisdom,' as in Revelation 5:12, related to the Lord, signifies His divine providence.

grace
The Lord’s essence and substance is love: pure, perfect and infinite. That love is formed through His pure, perfect, infinite wisdom and flows to us...

Feast of the Passover
The Feast of the Passover signifies celebration of the Lord on account of liberation from damnation.

twelve
'Twelve' signifies all aspects of faith, anywhere the number occurs, either in the historical or prophetical Word. The twelve sons of Jacob, and the twelve...

three
The Writings talk about many aspects of life using the philosophical terms "end," "cause" and "effect." The "end" is someone’s goal or purpose, the ultimate...

sitting
If you think about sitting, it seems fair to say that where you're sitting is more important than that you're sitting. Sitting in a movie...

teachers
'Teachers' signify doctrine, or the doctrine of truth, and in the highest sense, divine truth.

asking
The words "ask" and "question" are used a number of different in natural language, and a number of different ways in the Bible. The spiritual...

questions
The words "ask" and "question" are used a number of different in natural language, and a number of different ways in the Bible. The spiritual...

Related Music

Angels We Have Heard on High

The Philadelphia Brass Ensemble


Once in Royal David's City

Stephen Cleobury - Choir of King's College, Cambridge


Away in a Manger

John Rutter, The Cambridge Singers and Orchestra


Christmas Night

The Cambridge Singers, City of London Sinfonia, John Rutter


It Came Upon a Midnight Clear

The Philadelphia Brass Ensemble - Richard S. Willis


Handel: Messiah

English Baroque Soloists, Monteverdi Choir, John Eliot Gardiner


O Little Town of Bethlehem

The Philadelphia Brass Ensemble - Lewis H. Redner


O Holy Night

Solo piano, by Solomon Keal.

Resources for parents and teachers

The items listed here are provided courtesy of our friends at the General Church of the New Jerusalem. You can search/browse their whole library at the New Church Vineyard website.


 A Child Is Born
A lesson for younger children with discussion ideas and a project.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 4 - 6

 Adoration of the Shepherds
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Adventus Domini
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Angel Appears to the Shepherds
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Angelic Appearances at the Time of the Advent
A sermon about the angel Gabriel's appearances to different people and how this pictures aspects of the preparation we must do for the Lord's birth in our own lives. 
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 Angel of the Lord
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Angels and Stars at Christmas Time
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 9 - 12

 Angel with Shepherds
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Anna and Simeon
Shows Anna and Simeon who give thanks to the Lord for being allowed to see baby Jesus, the Savior of the world.
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Anna and Simeon
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 A Sign to the Shepherds
An in-depth sermon exploring the internal meaning of the Lord's birth on earth and the circumstances surrounding it.
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 Baby Jesus
This lesson discusses a story from the Word and suggests projects and activities for young children.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 4 - 6

 Baby Jesus and Shepherd
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Baby Jesus in a Manger Scene
A simple representation of the nativity which shows the baby Lord, Mary, Joseph, and two sheep. 
Project | Ages 4 - 14

 Baby Lord with Sheep Trip-tych
When finished, the triptych pictures sheep on either side of the baby Lord in the manger.
Project | Ages 7 - 14

 Behold His Glory
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 Birth of the Lord
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 9 - 12

 Born in a Stable
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Born in the City of David
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Christmas Candles
A family article on how beautiful candles at Christmastime can remind us of the "glory of the Lord" that shone around the angel who appeared to the Shepherds on the first Christmas.
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 Compare Joshua with Jesus
Complete a chart comparing Joshua and Jesus. Who were theys fighting? Where did they go? How did they show courage?
Activity | Ages 9 - 13

 Correspondences of Light
Illustrations of three stories in the Word that talk about light. (Quotations are the King James translation.)
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Do Not Be Afraid
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 Dramatize the Story of the Lord's Birth
Dramatize the story of the shepherds while someone reads the story from the Word.
Activity | Ages 4 - 10

 Five Christmas Scenes
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 For Unto You Is Born This Day
A beautiful illustration of the angel Gabriel appearing to the shepherds.
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 For Unto You Stained Glass Window
A lovely picture drawn in the style of a stained glass window.
Project | Ages 4 - 14

 Glory, Peace and Good Will
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 Glory to God
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Glory to God in the Highest
Beautiful coloring page of the angels appearing to the shepherds.
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Glory to God in the Highest
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 Glory to God (join 2 pages together)
Join two coloring pages to make a larger version of this project, showing the angels appearing to the shepherds.
Project | Ages 7 - 17

 Good Tidings of Great Joy
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Heavenly Host of Angels Mobile
Project | Ages 4 - 10

 Host of Angels Stenciled Wall Hanging
Use the stencil to create lovely wall hanging of the host of angels.
Project | Ages 4 - 14

 Immanuel
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 In a Manger
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 In Your Hearts Make Speedy Room
Let us be like the shepherds and the wise men by making sure that there is room for the Lord in our minds and in our hearts. 
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 Jesus Amazes Scholars
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Jesus Amazes the Scholars
This lesson discusses a story from the Word and suggests projects and activities for young children.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 4 - 6

 Jesus at Twelve Years Old
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Jesus' Childhood
People are born without a set purpose and develop a purpose as they learn and choose a pathway. Jesus was born with an identity and a purpose; He had to discover His identity and become true to it.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

 Jesus in the Temple
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Jesus, Mary, and Joseph
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Jesus with Scholars at the Temple
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Joy in the Coming of Our Lord
Like the star that led the wise men, the truth will lead us to the Lord and make us happy. But the real joy in our lives will be when we come to the Lord offering gifts to Him, as the wise men did.
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 Joy to the World the Lord Is Born
Article | Ages 7 - 14

 Looking for the Lord
Simeon was a wise, old man who had been looking for the Lord. Would he have recognized the Lord, had he not been looking for Him? What are some ways that we can look for the Lord? 
Activity | Ages over 15

 Mary and Joseph Travel to Bethlehem
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Mary and the Baby Lord
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Memory Verse: Glory of the Lord
Activity | Ages 4 - 14

 Memory Verse: Good Tidings of Great Joy
Activity | Ages 4 - 14

 Memory Verse: Unto Us a Child Is Born
Activity | Ages 4 - 14

 Mother and Child
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Nativity
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 No Room at the Inn
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 No Room in the Inn
Worship Talk | Ages 4 - 6

 Our Innocent Reception of the Christmas Story
All the particulars of the Christmas story are designed to raise our thoughts to the Lord as God-Man.
Article | Ages over 18

 Our Savior
Article | Ages 15 - 17

 Picture of the Angels Appearing to the Shepherds
Explains how you can depict this story with oil pastels on dark paper.
Project | Ages 7 - 10

 Pop-up Crèche Card for Christmas
A lovely project to color and assemble. Designed by Eudora Sellner Walsh.
Project | Ages 7 - 17

 Presentation at the Temple
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Presentation at the Temple
Because he was such a good man, the Lord opened Simeon's spiritual eyes so that he could see immediately that this baby was the Lord come to earth. Sample from the Jacob's Ladder Program, Level 3, for ages 8-9.
Religion Lesson | Ages 8 - 9

 Quotes: Glory of the Lord
Teaching Support | Ages over 15

 Quotes: Prophecies of the Advent
Teaching Support | Ages over 15

 Quotes: Unto Us a Child Is Born
Teaching Support | Ages over 15

 Scroll of Angelic Appearances in Christmas Story
Project | Ages 7 - 14

 Selected Quotes: We Will Rejoice in His Salvation
Selected quotations from the Word about giving thanks because the Lord came into the world as our Savior.
Teaching Support | Ages over 12

 Shepherd and Lamb Stained Glass Window
Use the pattern to make a window showing a shepherd looking upward.
Project | Ages 7 - 14

 Shepherding Our Children
As parents we have the opportunity and the responsibility to do what shepherds are meant to do for our children--our flock.
Article | Ages over 18

 Shepherd Ornament
Use pipe-cleaners, a wooden bead (for the head), polyfill, and fabric to make this shepherd boy.
Project | Ages 7 - 14

 Shepherds Coming to See the Baby Lord Diorama
Project | Ages 7 - 14

 Shepherds in the Same Country: Raising Our Children in Cooperation with the Lord
If we are blessed to be parents, the Lord has entrusted us with human lives who may become angels in heaven.
Article | Ages over 18

 Shepherds Visit Baby
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Shepherds Watching Their Flock
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Shepherds with Flock at Night
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Signs of the Lord’s Birth
Things that are precious must be protected. We wrap them up, we put them into a strong box or in a locked room. Nothing could be more precious than the infant Savior who was born that first Christmas.
Worship Talk | Ages 15 - 17

 Simeon
Article | Ages 15 - 17

 Simeon and Anna
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Simeon and Anna Witness
Simeon and Anna were led by the Spirit into the temple to witness baby Jesus. What is Jesus' birth in our lives? How and where can we witness it?
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

 Simeon and the Baby Lord
Simeon had waited every day in the temple, patiently for many years, for he had been told that he would not “see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”
Worship Talk | Ages 4 - 6

 Simeon Holds the Infant Lord
Shows Mary and Joseph bringing Jesus to the temple where Simeon recognizes the baby as the Lord come to save the world.
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Simeon: Just and Devout, Waiting
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 Simeon Prophesies
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Simeon's Blessing
Simeon's blessing on the baby Lord from Luke 2 in a color border.
Picture | Ages over 15

 Standing Sheep
Use the pattern to cut out a paper sheep, then add some fluffy cotton to the sides.
Project | Ages 4 - 10

 Star Out of Jacob
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Suddenly, a Multitude
The great God of the universe took on a human nature and came down into His creation.
Worship Talk | Ages over 15

 Swaddling Clothes
A family talk describing what swaddling clothes are and how they were used in Biblical times to keep babies safe and warm.
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 The Angels Bring Good News
A poem about the shepherds in the Christmas story.
Activity | Ages 4 - 12

 The Angels Rejoice
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 The Birth of the Lord
A New Church Bible story explanation for teaching Sunday school. Includes lesson materials for Primary (3-8 years), Junior (9-11 years), Intermediate (12-14 years), Senior (15-17 years) and Adults.
Teaching Support | Ages over 3

 The Birth of the Lord
Lesson outline provides teaching ideas with questions for discussion, projects, and activities.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 7 - 10

 The Birthplace of the Lord
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 The Boy Jesus Amazes the Scholars
Lesson outline provides teaching ideas with questions for discussion, projects, and activities.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 7 - 10

 The Glory of the Lord
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 The Herald Angel
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 The Joy of the Angels at the Lord’s Birth
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 The Light Shineth in Darkness
Article | Ages 15 - 17

 The Lord Is Born
Just like the shepherds, the Lord wants you to know about this beautiful story, too.
Story | Ages 4 - 6

 The Lord’s State at Birth
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 The Number Twelve in the Word Crossword Puzzle
Discover times when the number twelve appears throughout the Word.
Activity | Ages 9 - 13

 The Savior and the Shepherds
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 The Shepherds Come
This lesson discusses a story from the Word and suggests projects and activities for young children.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 4 - 6

 The Shepherds Visit
The Word is the story of ourselves. What are our "sheep", "shepherds", and the miracle of the Lord's birth in our lives?
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

 The Spread of the Lord's Word
We can be like the shepherds and others who have spread the good news as we learn about the Lord and find ways to tell people. Maybe this Christmas you can share your enjoyment of the story of the Lord’s birth with a friend or neighbor. Sample from the Jacob’s Ladder Program, Level 5, for ages 10-11.
Religion Lesson | Ages 10 - 11

 They Came With Haste
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 They Found Him in a Manger
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 Those Who Saw the Lord
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 Three Christmas Initial Letters
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Three Christmas Scenes
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Turned Away from the Inn
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Unto You Is Born This Day
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Where Can We Find the Lord?
There was no room for the Lord in the inn so the Lord was born in a stable and laid in a manger. Fold a piece of paper in half and picture the Lord in a manger on one half. On the other half, show where we can find the Lord—in His Word. 
Project | Ages 4 - 14

 Where The Lord Was Born
This family talk explains why the Lord wasn’t born in a special place where all the important people could find Him and why the shepherds were the first people to see the Lord. 
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 Wrapped in Swaddling Clothes
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Young Jesus Amazes the Scholars
A lesson for younger children with discussion ideas and a project.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 4 - 6

Commentary

 

Exploring the Meaning of Luke 2

     

By Rev. Dr. Ray Silverman

This painting by Richard Cook  of the newborn baby Jesus, with Mary and Joseph, evokes the spiritual power of this long-awaited advent.

Chapter 2

The Babe Lying in a Manger

1. And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled.
2. This enrolling was  first  made when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
3. And all went to be enrolled, everyone to his own city.
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 from the house and family of David,
5. To be enrolled with Mary his betrothed wife, being great with child.
6. And it came to pass, [that] while they were there, the days were fulfilled that she should bring forth;
7. And she brought forth her firstborn
Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling-clothes, and laid Him in the manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.


Whereas chapter one focused on the birth of John the Baptist, chapter two focuses on the birth of Jesus the Christ. It begins with a simple description of  Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem. This journey was necessary because a proclamation had gone out from Caesar Augustus, declaring that all people must return to their city of birth to be registered. So “Joseph went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem … to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child” (Luke 2:4-5). 

In contrast to the royal decree of Caesar Augustus, proclaiming that “all the world should be registered,” we are given the simple story of Mary and Joseph seeking lodging in Bethlehem, and finding none. The only thing they could find was the shelter of a lowly stable, and the only crib for their baby was a manger—a feeding trough for animals.

“And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in the manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2::6-7).

The story of God coming to earth and finding “no room” in the inn is rich with spiritual meaning. It symbolizes the way in which our lives can become so busy, so filled with the concerns of daily living, that we have no room — no place in us — where Christ can be born. It also symbolizes how quietly and unobtrusively the miracle birth takes place in our lives.

There is something profound about Christ being laid in a place where animals feed.
Interestingly, this is the only gospel that mentions the manger, and it does so three times. In verse seven we read that “they laid Him in a manger.”

In verse twelve we read, “This will be a sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And in verse sixteen we read, “And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby who was lying in a manger.” The symbolic picture of the Holy Babe, lying in a feeding trough, foreshadows a great reality—that Jesus is the very source and sustenance of our spiritual lives, even as food is the source and sustenance of our natural lives. This is why He would later say to His disciples as He invited them to eat the Passover bread, “This is My body” (Luke 22:19).

In a gospel which focuses on the development of the understanding, it is most appropriate to understand the significance of a “manger” — a place where animals feed. Our own understanding feeds on truth that comes to us from God. This is the truth that will nourish us on our spiritual journeys, feed our hunger for spiritual knowledge, and help us to develop a strong inner spirit. Again, it warrants repeating that this is the only gospel that mentions the “manger.” 1

Keeping Watch

8. And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the field, and keeping watch  over their flock by night.
9. And behold, the angel of the Lord stood by them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they feared with great fear.
10. And the angel said to them, “Fear not; for behold, I bring  you  good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people.
11. “For to you is born  this day a savior, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David.
12. “And this [shall be] the sign to you: you shall find [the] babe wrapped in swaddling-clothes, lying in a manger.”
13. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14. “Glory in the highest to God, and on earth peace, good will among men.”
15. And it came to pass, as the angels went away from them into heaven, the men, the shepherds, said one to another, “Let us now go  even to Bethlehem, and see this saying that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.”
16. And they came in haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in the manger.
17. And when they had seen, they made known abroad the saying which was spoken to them concerning this little Child.
18. And all who heard marveled at those things which were spoken to them by the shepherds.
19. But Mary kept  all these sayings, pondering [them] in her heart.
20. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, as it was spoken to them.


The setting for the next episode shifts from the stable to the countryside: “Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night” (Luke 2:8). A key phrase here is “keeping watch.” Once again, as in the prologue where it is said that they were “eyewitnesses” (Luke 1:2), there is a reference to sight — this time in the phrase, “keeping watch.” This corresponds to the operation of the intellect, the part of our mind that understands, reasons, analyzes, and “watches.” In this case, watching over the “flocks,” refers to our God-given ability to watch over and guard those tender, innocent thoughts and feelings that God has given us. These are the states in us that want to follow God and live according to His Word. Like sheep who follow their shepherd, we follow where God leads, receiving both goodness (green pastures) and truth (still waters) from Him. Then, like a shepherd who guards the flock and watches over them, we make sure that false thoughts and negative emotions do not break in to harm the “sheep” — especially at night. And so we read that these shepherds were “keeping watch over their flocks by night.” 2

On an individual level, we must be ever vigilant, keeping watch over the “flocks” within us. We need to observe our thoughts and feelings, noticing the subtle changes as they occur. This kind of self-examination is essential; without it we open ourselves to be preyed upon by wolves of every sort, the kind that would sneak in and destroy every innocent thought and tender emotion we might have. We must, therefore, be good shepherds, guarding our heavenly thoughts and feelings. We must learn to “keep watch.” 3

In addition to protecting our innocent states, keeping watch also helps us to be aware of the noble thoughts and benevolent emotions that are flowing in from God. This is the light which is given while we are watching for the coming of the Lord, even in our darkest states. As it is written: “And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them” (Luke 2:9)

The great light which shone upon the shepherds was accompanied by a wonderful proclamation: “Behold,” says the angel, “I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people” (Luke 2:10).

This is only the beginning of the proclamation, but it is interesting to compare it to the proclamation that began this chapter, announcing that all the world should be registered. The contrast between the two proclamations is striking. The royal decree of Caesar Augustus is about the census, civil government, and taxation. But the angelic proclamation is about the advent of the Lord in our lives. “I bring you good tidings of great joy,” says the angel, “which will be to all people.”

The wonderful proclamation continues: “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

The proclamation is accompanied by another  burst of light and there is even greater glory as the words of the angel are supported by a host of other angels: “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God” (Luke 2:13). In words of highest praise, now proclaimed by a multitude of angels, the angelic proclamation continues: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to all people” (Luke 2:14).

This was the manner in which the miraculous birth of Jesus was proclaimed to the shepherds. In response, the shepherds promptly went to Bethlehem to visit Mary, Joseph, and the Christ-child. After their visit, they made widely known all things told them concerning the child. Their immediate willingness to proclaim the Good News everywhere is contrasted to Mary who “kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

The response of the shepherds reminds us of the Gospel of Mark, so full of the spirit of evangelization and proclamation. At the end of that gospel the disciples “went out and preached everywhere” (Mark 16:20), just as the shepherds do in the Gospel of Luke: “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them” (Luke 2:20).

But with Mary, it is very different. Instead of going out to preach the gospel, as do the shepherds, Mary is quiet, contemplative, and reflective. She ponders all these things in her heart. Her actions represent a key theme in this gospel: reflection, thought, and the development of a deeply spiritual understanding.

Simeon and Anna

20. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, as it was spoken to them.
21. And when eight days were fulfilled for the circumcising of the little Child, His name was called Jesus, which He was called by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.
22. And when the days of her purification were fulfilled, according to the Law of Moses, they brought  Him  up to Jerusalem, to present [Him] to the Lord,
23. Even as it is written in the Law of the Lord, that every male opening the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;
24. And to give the sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, A pair of turtle doves, or two young doves.
25. And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name [was] Simeon; and this man [was] just and circumspect, waiting for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
26. And a response  was  made to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.
27. And he came by the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents were bringing in the little Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law,
28. He even received Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said,
29. “Now Thou sendest Thy servant away in peace, O Lord, according to Thy saying;
30. “For my eyes have seen Thy salvation,
31. “Which Thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples;
32. “A light for a revelation for the nations, and the glory of Thy people Israel.”
33. And Joseph and His mother marveled at the things which were spoken concerning Him.
34. And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this [Child] is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be spoken against.
35. “And also a sword shall pass through thine own soul, that the reasonings of many hearts may be revealed.”
36. And there was Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher; she was advanced in many days, having lived with a husband seven years from her virginity;
37. And she [was] a widow of about eighty-four years, who stood  not  back from the temple, serving [God] with fasting and prayers night and day.
38. And she, standing by at the hour itself, confessed the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those that waited for redemption in Jerusalem.
39. And when they had finished all things according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth.


As we have pointed out, the central theme of Luke is the development of the understanding. In keeping with this theme, it is appropriate that the next scene takes place in the temple. This time the occasion is the ritual of purification which normally took place forty days after a birth.  It is here, where an old man named Simeon first encounters the Child Jesus. As we read the description of Simeon’s experience, we note how often the story focuses on his “sight” and on what he “sees.” We read that “it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seenthe Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:26). And when Simeon comes into the temple, he takes the Child up in his arms and says, “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to your Word. For my eyes have seenYour salvation” (Luke 2:29-30).

Just as Zacharias had prophesied about “a light” that would shine in the darkness,(Luke 1:79), just as the shepherds beheld a great light — the “glory of the Lord” — shining upon them, the true Source of that light is now shining upon Simeon as he gazes upon the face of the Child. Deeply inspired, Simeon continues his prophecy: “My eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared for all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel” (Luke 2:30-32).

Turning to Mary, Simeon says, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be spoken against (yes, a sword shall pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:35).

Simeon’s words are full of prophecy. There is a power that enables each of us to live according to the truth we know. And those who receive this power shall “rise,” while those who reject it shall “fall.” It is exactly as Simeon says: “Behold this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel.”

Because none of us is perfect, we will all undergo times of doubt and times of trial. There will be times when we feel the “piercing of the sword.” Even Mary would not be exempt. She would witness the horror of her own Son’s crucifixion, and feel a mother’s pain and anguish. Indeed, as Simeon had told her, “a sword shall pierce through your own soul also.”

It’s part of the journey. While our suffering might not be as great as Mary’s when she stood near the cross, nor as grievous as Jesus’ as He was crucified, there will be times when we too will experience sorrow, loss, and grief—times that may be so painful that it will feel as though a sword has pierced through our own soul. But these times are not to be avoided or feared. They can instead be opportunities to renew our faith, confirm our belief in God, and resolve to go forward. These are the times when our most cherished values will be challenged, and our deepest thoughts will be made manifest. These times and these trials are allowed to come into our lives so that our true nature may be exposed and “the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

But no matter how desperate our situation, or how grievous our trials, there is still a quiet place in our hearts that waits patiently for God. This faith is represented by Anna the prophetess, who, like Simeon, is led to the temple at that very moment. After a seven-year marriage, she remained as a widow for many years. Now, at the age of eighty-four, she has never departed from the temple. Instead, she has chosen to remain faithful, “serving God with fasting and prayers night and day” (Luke 2:37).

It is noteworthy that both Simeon and Anna were drawn to the temple presentation at the very same time. Together they represent the essential spiritual affections—the affection for truth (Simeon) and the affection for goodness (Anna), which are necessary for “the performance of all things according to the law of the Lord” (Luke 2:39). Whenever these two qualities combine in us, we know we are in the presence of God, that the Holy Spirit is upon us, and that our eyes have seen His salvation. 4

This is not a one-time experience. It is an experience which continues to grow within us, an experience which becomes stronger over time. As it is written, “And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him” (Luke 2:39).

In the Temple with the Scholars

40. And the little Child grew, and became strong in Spirit, filled full with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.
41. And His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the festival of the Passover.
42. And when He was twelve years [old], they went to Jerusalem according to the custom of the festival.
43. And having finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, and Joseph and His mother knew [it] not.
44. But supposing Him to be among those on the way with [them], they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among [their] kinsfolk and acquaintances;
45. And finding Him not, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him.
46. And it came to pass, after three days, that they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both hearing them, and asking them questions.
47. And all that heard Him were amazed at His understanding and answers.
48. And seeing Him they wondered; and His mother said to Him, “Child, why hast Thou done this to us? Behold, Thy father and I have sought Thee, grieving.”
49. And He said to them, “Why [is it] that you have sought Me? Knew you not that I must be in what [is] My Father’s?”
50. And they understood not the saying which He spoke to them.
51. And He came down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and His mother kept all these sayings in her heart.
52. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in age, and in grace with God and men.


As the narrative continues, the language of scripture reflects the gradual development of Jesus from the “Babe” (Luke 2:12), to the “Child Jesus” (Luke 2:27) to the “Boy Jesus” (Luke 2:43). In the next episode, we discover that the “Boy Jesus” is now twelve years old. His parents have taken Him to the temple at Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of the Passover: “And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast” (Luke 2:42).

But when Joseph and Mary departed, and were already on their way back home, they discovered that Jesus was not with them. In fact they had already gone a whole day’s journey before they realized that Jesus was missing. Most likely, they had been traveling with many other people and had therefore assumed that Jesus was somewhere among them. But after inquiring among their traveling companions, and still not finding Him, they returned to Jerusalem. “And so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46).

Jesus is “in the temple.” He is listening to the learned men and asking them questions. The theme of the understanding, its growth and development, continues: “And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers” (Luke 2:47).

When Joseph and Mary return to Jerusalem, they find tarrying in the temple, His mother speaks to Him first: “Son,” she says, “why have you done this to us?” She then continues, with another reference to sight: “Look,” she says. “Your father and I have sought You anxiously” (Luke 2:48). Jesus replies with words that reveal His true identity: “Why is it that you sought Me?” says Jesus. “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49). As the episode comes to its conclusion, Jesus returns to Nazareth with his parents, and is obedient to them, but “His mother kept all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51). Jesus knew that it was altogether fitting and proper to obey the commandment, “Honor your father and mother.” But He also knew that His higher duty was to honor His Father in heaven.

This is why Jesus said, “I must be about My Father’s business.” His parents, however, “did not understand the statement which He spoke to them” (Luke 2:50).

Even though His words must have been confusing to them, Mary continued to ponder their meaning. It is interesting to recall that Mary had a similar response after the visit of the shepherds. There we read that “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). In both cases, Mary’s response becomes emblematic of that deeper response to Jesus’ words that we are each called to make. It is a calling that invites us to ponder, reflect, and meditate on the meaning and significance of Jesus’ words in our own lives.

It should also be noted that apart from the birth in the stable and the appearance of the angels to the shepherds, the temple remains the focal point of most of the episodes in these first two chapters. Luke begins with Zacharias in the temple. Then, in chapter two, the Child Jesus is presented in the temple and Simeon prophesies in the temple. Then there is Anna “who did not depart from the temple but served God with fasting and prayers night and day.” And now, at the end of this second chapter, when it was time to leave the temple, we read that Jesus did not want to leave the temple, Jesus did not want to go. Instead, He chose to remain in the temple where He could, as He put it, “Be about My Father’s business.”

When we reflect on Zacharias’ prayers in the temple; when we consider Mary’s role as the pondering, thoughtful mother; when we think of Jesus, even as a young child, sitting in the temple, listening to the law, and asking questions, we cannot help but wonder about these references to a contemplative, prayerful, truth-seeking, life — devoted to the development of the understanding. The emphasis is upon the contemplative aspect of our lives, a commitment to prayer, and a willingness to “ponder in our heart” all the things of God. In this stage of our spiritual development, our focus is on learning and understanding the Word of God. Like Jesus, we must be “about our Father’s business.”

Footnotes:

1De Verbo 7: “The manger in which the baby Lord was found by the shepherds means spiritual nourishment, because horses which feed from a manger mean matters of the intellect.” See also True Christian Religion 277: “The manger in a stable means spiritual nourishment for the understanding.”

2Apocalypse Explained 314:2: “The ‘flock that He shall feed as a shepherd,’ signify those who are in the good of charity; and the ‘lambs that He shall gather into His arm,’ signify those who are in love to Him.” See also Arcana Coelestia 10076: “They who are in charity and innocence are called ‘sheep’ and ‘lambs.’”

3Arcana Coelestia 10134:11: “The ‘watchman’ in the internal sense means one who observes the states of the church [i.e., one’s internal state] and the changes it undergoes.” See also Arcana Coelestia 2796: “People do not know that changes of state in the understanding of their thoughts and the affections of their will are going on continually within them. This is because they do not reflect…. The case is that all things are disposed by means of the spirits and angels with people; and all their states and changes of states are therefrom…. It has also been given to know and observe what spirits and angels were with me, and what states they induced.”

4Apocalypse Explained 443:5: “Simeon signifies obedience, the faith of charity, and the affection for truth…. For ‘Simon’ in Hebrew signifies hearing, hearkening, and obedience.” See also Apocalypse Explained 1121: “A widow signifies one who is in the affection for good, and from that affection desires truth.”


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