By Rev. Dr. Andrew T. Dibb
A Christmas Doctrinal Class by Rev. Andrew M.T. Dibb
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary.
So begins the wonderful story of the Lord's conception in the Gospel of Luke. The scene is familiar to each of us: Mary is at home, when suddenly she sees the angel Gabriel and hears his words of great joy:
"Rejoice, highly favoured one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!" (Luke 1:28)
An angel is a messenger of the Lord. In the Word angels came to bring wisdom and comfort, hope and the good news, the “euangellion” or Gospel, to those to whom the Lord wanted His presence revealed. This Gospel is the teaching that the Lord Jesus Christ was born into this world, that He made it possible for all people to be saved and brought into His kingdom. Thus the angel Gabriel came in excitement to Mary to inform her that she was the Lord’s choice as His natural mother.
When Mary saw the angel Gabriel, she didn't know that he was the human form of an entire society of angels. Nor did she know that his greatest love is to tell people about the Lord, especially that He would be born into the world to save the human race from spiritual bondage.
The scene of the angel Gabriel announcing to Mary that she would conceive and bear a son, and call His name Jesus, is one of the most poignant in the Word. Mary was a simple person, living in Galilee far away from the centre of worship at Jerusalem. She was neither highly educated nor socially well connected, except that she descended from Israel’s greatest king, David. There is a beautiful innocence in Mary’s simplicity. The last thing she expected in life was to see an angel. The image we have of Mary is of a demure young maiden, a virgin in every sense, for, as she said to the angel, 'I do not know a man'. Her state of life was that of a young woman about to embark on her married life to Joseph, but still living at home with her parents. The marriage had not yet been celebrated.
It is central to the Christmas story that Mary was betrothed to Joseph when the angel Gabriel appeared to her. This fact is mentioned in the lesson we read in the Gospel of Luke, where it is plainly stated that she was a 'virgin betrothed'. In Matthew we are again told that Mary was 'betrothed to Joseph'. This means that she had been promised as a wife to Joseph. In our culture, we would say that they were engaged to be married.
There are several good reasons why Mary should have been in this state when she conceived the Lord:
- In the Jewish Church of that time betrothal was considered marriage, although the marriage had not yet been consummated. This meant that the people around her considered Mary a woman, and it also meant that her mind was focusing on the upcoming marriage and future life as a wife and a mother.
- She was expected, during this period of betrothal, to remain in a state of order. She was not free to come into romantic contact with any other man, and she certainly was not permitted to have sexual intercourse with any man, including her husband to be.
The angel appeared to her in this state precisely for that reason - the child who was to be conceived needed to be conceived in a state of virginity, and there could be no question down the ages that Jesus was the son of an ordinary man. This is why Mary protested that she could not conceive because she 'had not known a man'.
There is a very good reason for this: the doctrines tell us that the human soul is transmitted as the living principle of the masculine seed. That soul, or internal human is passed from father to child, is an image of the father's own soul - although the life in it is from the Divine Itself. When a child is conceived, that human soul can receive life from the Lord, and, using the life in it, begins to draw from the mother the various substances needed to form the human body. When the child is born, he or she becomes an individual, drawing life from the Lord, and potential spiritual things from both mother and father, and the body from the mother. Thus there is a complete mixing of parents in the birth of a child.
When the angel Gabriel came to Mary, he announced the birth of the Lord. It was to be a miracle of all miracles, for according to prophecy a virgin would conceive and bear a son. He was conceived of the Holy Spirit. His soul was Divine, given to Him by the Father, or, put another way, the soul within Jesus was not limited and finite as our souls are, but infinite and eternal, and capable of overcoming the powers of hell and saving the human race.
Here's an excerpt from Swedenborg's work, Arcana Coelestia 1999: "But the Lord's Internal was Jehovah Himself, since He was conceived from Jehovah, who cannot be divided or become the relative of another, like a son who has been conceived from a human father. For unlike the human, the Divine is not capable of being divided but is and remains one and the same. To this Internal the Lord united the Human Essence. Moreover because the Lord's Internal was Jehovah it was not, like man's internal, a recipient form of life, but life itself. Through that union His Human Essence as well became life itself. Hence the Lord's frequent declaration that He is Life, as in John,
As the Father has Life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have Life in Himself. John 5:26."
Yet even a soul such as that, if it is to live and walk amongst the people of this earth, must be clothed in a body. The Lord always operates within the boundaries of the order of creation - and order dictates that a soul must be clothed with a material body.
At first the father’s soul is clothed with human elements, for it begins as a reproduction of the father’s own soul, then,
"during its descent, … the soul is enveloped by elements of a type that have to do with the father's natural love. This is the source from which hereditary evil springs." (Conjugial Love 245)
And so the Lord needed an orderly environment in which to be born. Mary was chosen as His mother because, according to the Lord's all-seeing wisdom, He saw that she would be willing to carry this child, and she would be able to nurture Him in such a way that He would grow up prepared for the great work ahead of Him.
Yet Mary had to be in a state of order herself. In ancient Israel, to bear a child meant that she had to be married, and yet to preserve the honesty of the conception and ensure that the soul was Divine, not human, she had to be in the state before actual physical union with Joseph had taken place - otherwise the Lord could have been Joseph's son. So she had to be betrothed, and no motive should be found as a basis for accusations against the Virgin Birth.
It was partly for this reason that when Joseph heard that she was carrying a child he decided to put her away. Effectively this meant he planned to divorce her. According to the law of Moses, a betrothed woman carrying a child had broken the rules. Ideally speaking, the man responsible should be put to death. Joseph had no idea who the man was, but assumed that there was one. He was, however, a kind man, and so decided not 'to make her a public example', but to put her away privately.
It was at this juncture that the angel Gabriel came to Joseph in a dream, and soothed his fears. 'The child she is carrying,' the angel said, 'is conceived by the Holy Spirit.' Now Joseph understood, and the state of betrothal could continue, and order could be maintained so that the Lord could be born into this world with the full appearance of two loving parents, bound together in marriage after an orderly betrothal.
We now need to expand our vision of the Lord's life in this world. The conception of the Lord was but the first step in his development. He had to be born and grow up. His mind and body had to develop as does our own. The home of Mary and Joseph was needed to provide a stable and orderly environment for Him where He could live and grow, undergoing not only physical and mental development, but also the very processes by which His Divine soul could become present within His natural mind.
In picking these two people to be his 'parents' in the natural world, the Lord was able to provide for the future as well. The Word does not tell us anything about the marriage relationship between Joseph and Mary. We know that Joseph was obedient to the angel when he was told to take Mary and the infant Lord down to Egypt to escape Herod's cruelty. We know that each year they travelled to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. We know that had other children, whom likewise they loved and nurtured. But that is about all we know.
The book, Conjugial Love, by Emanuel Swedenborg, however, gives us some insights into the kind of orderly relationship they had. They begin in the concept of Betrothal, for betrothal is introductory to marriage. The kinds of preparation people make for their marriages determine a great deal the course their marriage will follow. The fact that Mary in her betrothed state had 'not known a man' indicates that she took the responsibilities of that state serious. Similarly, the fact that Joseph immediately knew that he was not the father of the child Mary carried indicates a similar seriousness about the state of betrothal. They were both innocent of any wrongdoing, and were obviously committed to building a life together based on the firm foundation of proper preparation.
Their betrothal prepared them for their future life together as man and wife, and, thus as the Lord's parents on earth. Betrothal is a preparation for marriage. It is a time when the minds and spirits of the two partners begin to grow together.
The teachings of the New Church tell us that true marriage, or conjugial love as it is often called, is a meeting and union of two minds. A true marriage is one in which the couple recognises the essential differences between masculinity and femininity, and rejoices in those differences without any attempt to dominate the other. In order for a couple to come into a true appreciation of each other, they need to put aside physical love to foster and nurture spiritual love. This is why Mary and Joseph lived apart during this stage of their relationship, and why they refrained from sexual activity, for in that way they made it possible for their minds to soar, and be united at the highest levels of idealism.
The book Conjugial Love tells us that in this state the mind of each partner is opened by his or her spiritual love. They are able to reach higher levels of love and commitment to each other as they foster the growth of mutual understanding unencumbered by physical things. The passage describing this development, then, goes on to describe how when a couple marry their love descends from the mind to the body. It is worth reflecting on the statement that
"It needs to be known that the quality of conjugial love as it comes down is determined by the height to which it climbs. If it reaches the heights it comes down chaste, but if it does not, it comes down as unchaste." (Conjugial Love 302).
With Mary and Joseph we can but only assume that their love reached its heights during their betrothal, and that their marriage was one of purity and chastity. Chastity in this sense means a marriage love between two people that has been cleansed of all impurities. In such a state the husband and wife enjoy the full pleasures of marriage, beginning on the spiritual level with a full meeting of minds, and descends into the body, where their love is consummated.
A marriage of this kind provides the most wonderful environment, for the love between the husband and wife provides a state of tranquillity and peace in which children can be reared. This is the kind of environment the Lord chose to be born into. He knew that during his life in this world He would have to face the most terrible of temptations. He knew that He would have to battle against hell continuously, and face the disbelief of the people around Him. His first thirty-three years were a preparation for this work lying before Him. And so He chose to be born to a couple who were in a state of order, who because of that order, were willing to receive Him into their lives, to nurture Him as if He was their own.
There is a message in this for us. Each one of us wants the Lord to be born into our own lives, and He is willing to come to us. "Behold,' He says, 'I stand at the door and knock'. Yet He can only enter into us to the degree that we bring our lives into order. Mary and Joseph clung to their betrothal - they committed themselves and stood fast. That is what the Lord wants us to do: to commit ourselves to Him, to live according to His Word in every detail of our lives, especially in our relationships with others, in our preparation for marriage, and in our marriages themselves. As we do, then He enters into us, establishes His presence there, and lifts us up to heaven.
Conjugial Love 302
19. The Lord as the Divine-Human One Is Called “The Son of God” and as the Word Is Called “The Son of Humanity”
The church knows only that the Son of God is the second person of the Godhead, distinct from the person of the Father, which results in a belief in a Son of God born from eternity. Since this is everywhere accepted and is about God, there is neither ability nor permission to think about this matter at all intelligently, not even about what it means to be “born from eternity.” This is because people who think about it intelligently inevitably find themselves saying, “This is completely beyond me. Still, I say it because everybody else says it, and I believe it because everybody else believes it.” They should realize, though, that there is no Son from eternity; rather, the Lord is from eternity. Only when they realize what “the Lord” means and what “the Son” means can they think intelligently about a triune God.
 As for the fact that the Lord’s human side-conceived by Jehovah the Father and born of the Virgin Mary-was the Son of God, this is obvious from the following in Luke:
The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city in Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, from the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. Having come in, the angel said to her, “Greetings, you who have attained grace. The Lord is with you; you are blessed among women.” When she saw him, she was troubled by what he said and considered what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary: you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive and bear a Son, and you will call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest.” But Mary said to the angel, “How will this take place, since I have not had intercourse?” The angel replied and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will descend upon you, and the power of the Highest will cover you; therefore the Holy One that is born from you will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:26-35)
This passage says “you will conceive and bear a Son. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest, ” and again, “The Holy One that is born from you will be called the Son of God.” We can see from this that it is the human nature conceived by God and born of the Virgin Mary that is called “the Son of God.”
 In Isaiah,
The Lord himself is giving you a sign. Behold, a virgin will conceive and bear a son, and she will call his name “God with us.” (Isaiah 7:14)
We can see that the Son born of the Virgin and conceived by God is the one who will be called “God with us” and is therefore the one who is the Son of God. There is further support for this in Matthew 1:22-23.
(References: Matthew 1:23)
 In Isaiah:
A Child has been born to us; a Son has been given to us. Leadership is upon his shoulder; and his name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, God, Hero, Father of Eternity, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
It is the same here, since it says “A Child has been born to us; a Son has been given to us, ” who is not a Son from eternity but a Son born into the world. We can see this also from what the prophet says in 6 there and from the words of the angel Gabriel to Mary (Luke 1:32-33), which are similar.
 In David:
“I will proclaim concerning the statute, ‘Jehovah has said, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.”’” Kiss the Son or he will become angry and you will perish on the way. (Psalms 2:7, 12)
It does not mean a Son from eternity here either, but a Son born in the world, because this is a prophecy about the Lord who is going to come. So it is called a statute about which Jehovah was making a proclamation to David. “Today” is not “from eternity” but is in time.
 In David:
I will place his hand on the sea. He will cry out to me, “You are my Father.” I will make him the firstborn. (Psalms 89:25-27)
This whole psalm is about the Lord who is going to come, which is why it means the one who will call Jehovah his Father and who will be the firstborn-therefore the one who is the Son of God.
 The same holds true elsewhere, when he is called “a shoot from the trunk of Jesse” (Isaiah 11:1), “the branch of David” (Jeremiah 23:5), “the seed of the woman” (Genesis 3:15), “the only-begotten” (John 1:18), “a priest forever” and “the Lord” (Psalms 110:4-5).
 The Jewish church understood “the Son of God” to mean the Messiah whom they were awaiting, knowing that he would be born in Bethlehem. We can see from the following passages that they understood “the Son of God” to be the Messiah. In John:
Peter said, “We believe and know that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (John 6:69)
In the same:
You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is going to come into the world. (John 11:27)
The high priest asked Jesus whether he was the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus said, “I am.” (Matthew 26:63-64; Mark 14:62)
These things have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. (John 20:31; also Mark 1:1)
“Christ” is a Greek word and means “anointed, ” which is what “messiah” means in Hebrew. This is why it says in John, “We have found the Messiah (which is translated, the Christ)” (John 1:41). And in another passage, “The woman said, ‘I know that the Messiah is coming, who is called the Christ’” (John 4:25).
(References: Mark 14:61-62)
 I pointed out in the first chapter  that the Law and the Prophets (or the whole Word of the Old Testament) are about the Lord, so the Son of God who is going to come cannot mean anything but the human nature that the Lord took upon himself in the world.
 It follows, then, that this is the meaning of the Son mentioned by Jehovah from heaven when Jesus was being baptized: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22), since his human nature was being baptized. Likewise when he was transfigured: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear him” (Matthew 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35).
Then there are other passages as well, such as Matthew 8:29; 14:33; 27:43, 54; Mark 3:11; 15:39; John 1:18, 34, 49; 3:18; 5:25; 10:36; 11:4.