The Bible

 

Luke 1:26-38 : The Annunciation to Mary

Study the Inner Meaning

        

26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,

27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.

28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.

29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.

30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.

31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.

32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:

33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?

35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.

37 For with God nothing shall be impossible.

38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

   Study the Inner Meaning

Luke 1: Build your Spiritual Mind      

By Rev. Dr. Ray Silverman

A frozen bubble shines with light.

Chapter One

[See this side by side with the text of Luke 1.]

From Mark to Luke

1. Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to draw up a narrative concerning those matters which have been fulfilled among us,
2. even as they delivered them unto us, who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word,
3. it seemed good to me also, having traced the course of all things accurately from the first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus;
4. that thou mightest know the certainty concerning the things wherein thou wast instructed.


Thinking above

As we have seen, the Gospel According to Mark begins with John the Baptist preaching repentance for the remission of sins. It is, in many ways, the major theme of Mark. But like any fine symphony, there are minor themes as well. One of those minor themes in Mark is the importance of belief. Therefore, in Mark the first words spoken by Jesus contain both themes—the major theme of repentance, and the minor theme of belief. As Jesus says in His opening comment in that gospel, “The kingdom of God has come near, Repent and believe the gospel!” (Mark 1:15).

In the original Greek, the word for repentance is μετάνοια (metanoia), which means, quite literally, “thinking above” (meta = above + noia = thinking). Repentance begins with the recognition and acknowledgement of sin in ourselves. As self-love and personal ambition are subordinated, higher ideals begin to predominate. We begin to focus on loving God and serving our neighbor. In other words, we begin to think above and beyond our usual modes of thought. We see that there is more to life than the satisfaction of our temporal desires. In the process, we come to believe in and be led by higher truth. That’s why the words “repent” and “believe” are tied so closely together. In the last chapter of Mark, Jesus says, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16) 1 .

Focusing on belief

In Mark, as we have seen, there was a gradual transition from a focus on repentance to a focus on belief—a focus that continues as we begin the Gospel According to Luke. Consider, for example, the opening words of Luke: “Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which are most surely believed among us . . .” (Luke 1:1).

These opening words are significant. Things are not merely “believed”; they are “most surely believed.” 2

Belief, like faith, is associated with our understanding. It is about the rational, intellectual side of the human mind. Belief, however, is not blind faith. Quite the opposite; we come to believe or to have true faith through the disciplined use of our understanding. It is an intellectual process involving a rational sight of truth—whether it be a natural truth about physics or a spiritual truth about the incarnation. For example, after thinking about a point someone has made, and seeing the truth contained in the person’s comments, we might say, “I believe you have a point there,” or “I see what you mean.” The opening words of Luke, then, with so many references to “belief” indicate that this gospel will focus on the opening of the intellect, and the deepening of the understanding. In fact, it is in Luke where we read the words, “He opened their understanding” (Luke 24:45). 3

The opening verses of Luke contain several words and phrases that suggest the intellect. As we have already pointed out, verse 1 speaks about those things that are “most surely believed.” In verse 2, the author of Luke speaks about “those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses” (Luke 1:2). In the Word, terms that refers to the “eyes,” or “vision,” or “sight” represent inner vision, or the lack of it. In common speech, the expressions “Now I understand,” and “Now I see” are synonymous. We also say, “None are so blind as they who will not see,” “Look on the bright side,” and “That was a real ‘eye-opening’ experience.” In each case, we are using physical imagery to describe mental and spiritual conditions. That’s why the term “eye-witnesses” in this verse signifies some aspect of the understanding. Then, in verse 3 the author tells us that he “had perfect understanding” (Luke 1:3). 4

In our study of Matthew and Mark, we noted the importance of the first and last words of each gospel. We pointed out that the opening and closing words provide the key to the leading message in that gospel. Glancing ahead to the conclusion of Luke we find that the last words are, “And they worshipped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God” (Luke 24:53). Here the references to “Jerusalem” and “temple” indicate that we are dealing with the human intellect, the level of the mind that is involved in thoughts and reasons rather than emotions and feelings. This is because the correspondence of the word “Jerusalem” is with matters of learning, teaching, doctrine and instruction. The people went to Jerusalem to learn about the truths of faith. 5

Similarly, when we read that “they were continually in the temple,” we can know that this, too, treats of our thinking and reasoning faculty. The temple in Jerusalem was made of whole stones, and stones throughout the Word represent truths. So, this reference to being “continually in the temple” also refers to that side of the human mind which is concerned with matters of truth, faith, and belief. 6

The Gospel of Luke, then, begins with a brief introduction which is filled with references to faith, belief, instruction, and understanding. As the four-verse introduction ends, we are left with a very clear reference to the intellectual level of the mind: “That you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed” (Luke 1:4).

With so many references to belief, knowledge, and instruction in the opening verses, it is clear that this gospel will focus on matters that involve the intellect, and the deepening of our understanding. It will be an attempt “to set in order” an account of those things “which are most surely believed.” It will be about that “holy temple”—the place in our minds where we deeply contemplate truth, meditate on the Word, and turn to the Lord in prayer. All of this is what it means to be “in the temple.” 7

The Angel Gabriel Comes to Zacharias

5. There was in the days of Herod, king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abijah: and he had a wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.
6. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.
7. And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were [now] well stricken in years.
8. Now it came to pass, while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course,
9. according to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to enter into the temple of the Lord and burn incense.
10. And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the hour of incense.
11. And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of altar of incense.
12. And Zacharias was troubled when he saw [him], and fear fell upon him.
13. But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: because thy supplication is heard, and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.
14. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.
15. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and he shall drink no wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb.
16. And many of the children of Israel shall be turn unto the Lord their God.
17. And he shall go before his face in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient [to walk] in the wisdom of the just; to make ready for the Lord a people prepared [for him].
18. And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.


After the brief introduction, filled with words that suggest the intellect and the understanding, we read of Zacharias, a priest: “There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest, named Zacharias” (Luke 1:5). It is important to note that the first episode in Luke tells the story of a priest who is employed in the temple. A priest working in the temple is a picture of the human understanding doing its proper work. 8

As the story continues, we learn that Zacharias is serving “in the days of Herod, the king of Judea” (Luke 1:5). Herod pictures the corrupt hereditary will. It is our lower nature, the part of us that is hell-bent on making itself king by declaring itself as all-powerful and all-knowing. It is the part of the human mind that sets itself up as sole arbiter of right and wrong. It will not tolerate any competitors—not even the King of Kings. This is the same Herod who murdered his wife, his three sons, his uncle, his mother-in-law. his brother-in-law, and commanded that all boys in Bethlehem, two years of age and younger, should be put to death. Suspicious of all threats to his power, he will not only refuse to acknowledge any truth that opposes his corrupt will, but he endeavors to destroy it at its birth. For Herod, the only power that exists is his own (see Matthew 2:16).

Zacharias, however, who represents our ability to understand higher truth, acknowledges that there is a power greater than himself and obediently submits to it. We read, therefore, that Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth “were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord” (Luke 1:6). Unlike Herod, Zacharias and his wife, Elizabeth, are both righteous before God. At this point in the story, however, they have no children “because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years” (Luke 1:7). 9

When we first encounter Zacharias, he is burning incense in the temple of the Lord. It is an image of the life of prayer. The gentle, sweet-smelling smoke of incense rising upwards in the temple, symbolizes the way prayers ascend heavenwards in our mind. Suddenly, while Zacharias is at prayer, the angel Gabriel appears to him, and says, “Do not fear Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John” (Luke 1:13). 10

The son that will be born will be named “John.” He will grow up to become John the Baptist who will prepare the way for the Lord. What is it in our own lives that “prepares the way for the Lord?” It is our desire to understand truth, beginning with a genuine affection for the letter of the Word — those basic stories and literal truths that we first encounter. This is the first step in our spiritual development, and it is represented by the birth of John the Baptist in us. As the angel puts it, John’s coming into the world will bring “joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.” The angel goes on to promise that “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15). In other words, John the Baptist (the literal sense of the Word) will also contain the internal sense—the very soul of the Word. He will be “filled with the Holy Spirit.” Gradually, as our understanding deepens, the literal meaning of the Word seems to disappear while the spiritual meaning shines forth. Even as the body fades, the spirit continues to grow. 11

But this does not happen immediately. Even though Gabriel proclaims that Elizabeth will indeed bear a child, Zacharias remains doubtful. He wonders how this can happen: “How can this be?” he says. “For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years” (Luke 1:13). Zacharias’ question represents the human understanding in a state of doubt as to whether it can learn anything new. “I am old in age” says Zacharias. His question represents a state of doubt. At such time times, questions may arise. Is it too late to learn anything new? we might ask. Is it too late to change my mind? Have I become so ingrained in a certain way of thinking that I cannot conceive of anything else? The answer, which is contained in this episode, is “No. It is not too late. For those who trust in the Lord and walk in His ways, new truth can always be learned. For those who truly desire to be wise, it is never too late to learn. Our spiritual instruction and learning can continue forever. 12

Elizabeth Conceives

19. And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and I was sent to speak unto thee, and to bring thee these good tidings.
20. And behold, thou shalt be silent and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall come to pass, because thou believedst not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.
21. And the people were waiting for Zacharias, and they marvelled while he tarried in the temple.
22. And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: and he continued making signs unto them, and remained dumb.
23. And it came to pass, when the days of his ministration were fulfilled, he departed unto his house.
24. And after these days Elisabeth his wife conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying,
25. Thus hath the Lord done unto me in the days wherein he looked upon [me], to take away my reproach among men.


It is one thing to know what is true, and to offer prayers to God. like incense rising toward heaven. This is the part of the mind that Zacharias represents. But it is quite another to receive that truth in heart, to be deeply affected by it, and to bring it forth, as a woman brings forth a child—into life, into our daily actions. This is the part of the mind that Elizabeth is about to represent. But until she does so, she will be in a state of spiritual barrenness. Whatever the cause of that barrenness—whether it can be attributed to a doubtful understanding (Zacharias) or a hesitant will (Elizabeth) or both—spiritual barrenness has its origin in a lack of complete faith. It is the inability to totally believe the Word of the Lord. When belief is sure (“most surely believed”), there is no distinction between faith and action. An individual then bears spiritual fruit. But whenever there is doubt, uncertainty and hesitation, there will be barrenness.

In Zacharias, this state of uncertainty is represented by muteness—the inability to confess the Lord because of a faith that is not yet complete, an understanding that is not yet fully opened. This is why Gabriel tells Zacharias that he will be mute till these things actually happen. Glancing back to the end of Mark we notice that one of the signs which followed belief was that “they will speak with new tongues” (Mark 16:17).

But there is a positive side to Zacharias’ muteness. As he quiets the internal chatter—as each of us must—the questions, doubts and uncertainties begin to subside. He enters a deeper level of contemplation and prayer. This is Zacharias in the temple, praying — a beautiful picture of the understanding in a state of humility, willing to learn; it is receptive, and eager to be instructed. It is a time of patient waiting, searching the scriptures, meditating on them, and pondering the wonders of the Lord’s Word.

It is during these quiet times of introspection in the light of the Lord’s Word that spiritual vision arises; we come to see the truth about ourselves, and we get a clearer understanding of our relationship to God and to others. This is why quiet reflection is so important. It is a time to grow closer to God so that He might open our spiritual eyes. In the language of sacred scripture, this is contained in the following words: “And the people waited for Zacharias and marveled that he tarried so long in the temple. But when he came out … they perceived that he had seen a vision” (Luke 1:22)

It should be noted that it was necessary for Zacharias to come out of the temple, but not until his service was completed there. It was then that his wife was able to conceive. In every human being there is a Zacharias, a side which must perform the temple duties—the reading and meditating upon the Word of God. It is the part of us that tarries in the temple, leading a life of contemplation and prayer. Although this is essential, new life cannot be conceived in this state. We must leave the temple of study and prayer; we must go forth into life. Like Zacharias, we must first develop our understanding; we must tarry in the temple long enough to get the vision. And then we must allow the vision to lead us onwards to useful endeavor. And so we read, “Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived” (Luke 1:24).

It should also be noted that in the last chapter of this gospel, Jesus tells His disciples to “Tarry in Jerusalem until you receive power from on high” (Luke 24:49). So, this gospel—the gospel that focuses on the reformation of the understanding—begins and ends in the temple.

A Greater Miracle

26. Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
27. to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.
28. And he came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord [is] with thee.
29. But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this might be.
30. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God.
31. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.
32. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:
33. and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
34. And Mary said unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
35. And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee: wherefore also the holy thing which is begotten shall be called the Son of God.
36. And behold, Elisabeth thy kinswoman, she also hath conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her that was called barren.
37. For no word from God shall be void of power.
38. And Mary said, Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.


The conception of John the Baptist is indeed a miracle, for he is born to an elderly couple that has never been able to bear children. But in the next episode we learn of an even greater miracle—Jesus is born to a virgin. We read, “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. And having come in, the angel said to her, ‘Rejoice highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women’” (Luke 1:26-28).

While the birth of John represents an awakened understanding of the literal sense of the Word, it is still relatively external—something that takes the cooperation of our human understanding, even as it takes Zacharias’ cooperation to produce an offspring. But when it comes to the deeper matters of the spirit, the human understanding plays a limited role. Its primary function, represented by Joseph, is to humbly recognize and accept the birth of new insights and new affections, while acknowledging that we have contributed nothing from ourselves: these miraculous births have a Divine—not a human—origin. They are from God, not from man. 13

The Meeting of Mary and Elizabeth (Good Meets Truth)

39. And Mary arose in these days and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah;
40. and entered into the house of Zacharias and saluted Elisabeth.
41. And it came to pass, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit;
42. and she lifted up her voice with a loud cry, and said, Blessed [art] thou among women, and blessed [is] the fruit of thy womb.
43. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come unto me?
44. For behold, when the voice of thy salutation came into mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.
45. And blessed [is] she that believed; for there shall be a fulfilment of the things which have been spoken to her from the Lord.
46. And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,
47. And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
48. For he hath looked upon the low estate of his handmaid: For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
49. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; And holy is his name.
50. And his mercy is unto generations and generations On them that fear him.
51. He hath showed strength with his arm; He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their heart.
52. He hath put down princes from [their] thrones, And hath exalted them of low degree.
53. The hungry he hath filled with good things; And the rich he hath sent empty away.
54. He hath given help to Israel his servant, That he might remember mercy
55. (As he spake unto our fathers) Toward Abraham and his seed for ever.
56. And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned unto her house.
57. Now Elisabeth's time was fulfilled that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son.
58. And her neighbors and her kinsfolk heard that the Lord had magnified his mercy towards her; and they rejoiced with her.


There is a certain level of excitement generated when people come into a new sight of the truth, and when their minds are raised into the light of some clearer understanding. And yet, there is a vast difference in degree between this sort of intellectual excitement, and the joy which can be experienced when that new level of understanding is combined with the birth of the desire to live according to it.

This moment of great joy, when goodness meets truth, is represented in these beautiful words of scripture: “Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:39-41).

Elizabeth is delighted and amazed by this wondrous experience. But she also wonders why it has been granted to her. This experience is available to each of us. It takes place whenever a good impulse arises in us. This “arising” is represented by Mary’s taking the initiative and visiting her cousin, Elizabeth who is pregnant with a son who will be called “John the Baptist.” As soon as Mary arrives Elizabeth’s son leaps in the womb. Spiritually seen, this is a picture of some truth in our lives (John the Baptist) springing to life when touched with goodness.

Elizabeth wonders why she has been granted such a privilege, saying: “Why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43). Her question is an important one. What is it that gives life to the truth that we carry in the womb of our minds? The answer is given by Elizabeth herself, as she praises Mary: “Blessed is she who believed, for there will be fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord” (Luke 1:45).

Blessed is she who believed.” This is a key statement, and it is fundamental to understanding the central message of this gospel. As we shall see, in episode after episode, those who believe will be blessed. Those who have faith will be saved. Again and again, people will hear Jesus saying to them, “Your faith has made you well.” Goodness will come to those who hold truth in their minds and long to put it into their lives.

True faith — the kind that can “make us well” — must be distinguished from blind faith. Genuine belief, is not a matter of believing something because others tell us it is true. Nor is it a matter of believing things that make no sense to us, even if learned authorities tell us that ‘these things must be taken on faith.” True faith is much deeper and more personal. It is the blessed acknowledgment that something is really so because it is really true. For example, God is good — all the time. God loves everyone — all the time. There are no exceptions. It is really so. In spite of any appearances to the contrary, we simply know that this is true, This is the gift of perception, the blessed ability to believe the truth because we perceive it to be true. This blessed assurance is given to all who trust in God and believe in God’s goodness: “Blessed is she who believed.” 14

Whenever we come into a state of belief, there comes with it a sense of something flowing into us from within; it is as though God is with us, reassuring us that “this is true.” It is an inner perception that something is true or not. And the central most universal truth of the Christian faith is belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is confidence that he saves. The more we strive to do His will, the more confident do we become that He will save us. This is true faith. This is what it means, most deeply, to believe. 15

The Naming of John

59. And it came to pass on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him Zacharias, after the name of the father.
60. And his mother answered and said, Not so; but he shall be called John.
61. And they said unto her, There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name.
62. And they made signs to his father, what he would have him called.
63. And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, His name is John. And they marvelled all.
64. And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue [loosed], and he spake, blessing God.
65. And fear came on all that dwelt round about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judaea.
66. And all that heard them laid them up in their heart, saying, What then shall this child be? For the hand of the Lord was with him.
67. And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying,
68. Blessed [be] the Lord, the God of Israel; For he hath visited and wrought redemption for his people,
69. And hath raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of his servant David
70. (As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets that have been from of old),
71. Salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us;
72. To show mercy towards, our fathers, And To remember his holy covenant;
73. The oath which he spake unto Abraham our father,
74. To grant unto us that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies Should serve him without fear,
75. In holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76. Yea and thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Most High: For thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to make ready his ways;
77. To give knowledge of salvation unto his people In the remission of their sins,
78. Because of the tender mercy of our God, Whereby the dayspring from on high shall visit us,
79. To shine upon them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death; To guide our feet into the way of peace.
80. And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his showing unto Israel.


After Elizabeth gave birth to her son, the time came for the naming of the baby. Everyone thought that the baby would be named “Zacharias,” after his father. But Elizabeth said, “No, his name shall be John” (Luke 1:60). This was a surprise to everyone because none of the relatives had ever had that name. When it came time for Zacharias to speak, he asked for a writing tablet and wrote the simple words, “His name is John” (Luke 1:63). Immediately afterwards the muteness that had descended upon Zacharias departed, and he begins to speak words of praise for the Lord. “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel,” he said, “for He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David … that we should be saved from our enemies” (Luke 1:68-71).

Something wonderful has happened to Zacharias. His spirit-filled words are full of confidence in the saving power of God. As his prophecy continues, he speaks directly about the mission that his newly born son is to fulfill: “And you, child will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His way, to give knowledge of salvation to His people … to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:76, 77, 79).

Originally, we saw Zacharias as an old priest performing rituals in the temple. But now we see Zacharias as a transformed being, filled with the Holy Spirit. He is no longer the old priest who represented the faith of the former church—a faith that was based on obedience to rituals and traditions, however well-meaning or righteous. That was the “former church” in us—a state of mind where we may have indeed gone through the motions of prayer, but without a solid faith. In our former faith there may have been doubt as to whether God even heard our prayers. This is why the angel spoke to Zacharias, removing his doubt by saying, “Your prayer is heard.” The angel then added this promise: “Your wife Elizabeth shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name John” (Luke 1:13).

This, of course, is what came to pass. The angel’s words were true, and a son was born. Zacharias now knows that God does indeed answer prayers. In the spiritual dimension of our lives, this is a significant lesson about the power of faith. Every anxiety, every worry, and every concern can be taken away if we have faith in God. While our pleas for riches and fame may not be satisfied, our prayers for patience, courage, love, and understanding will always be fulfilled. God answers our prayers, and responds to our needs, but we must first have faith that our prayers are heard, and that our needs are understood. This is to “believe in Him.” It is to have confidence that He gives us the light “to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79).

As this episode draws to a conclusion, we read that John “grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the desert till the day of his manifestation to Israel” (Luke 1:80). This pictures the way our understanding of the literal sense of the Word continues to grow and develop as we continue to meditate on it and dwell upon its significance in our lives. Though we may not see immediate results, or any specific connection between the stories in the Word and our daily activities, something is nevertheless taking place deeply within our spirit. The time will come when those literal words of scripture will take on new meaning for us. Just as Mary, the mother Jesus came to Elizabeth, the mother of John, we will begin to sense the Lord’s goodness touching the literal truth of the Word we hold in our minds, and new applications will spring to mind.

The message then is to remain rooted in sacred scripture. If we hold the Word of God in mind, even the most literal stories, God can work miracles within us at a deeper level. Although John the Baptist in us will remain “in the desert” for a while, as long as we remain faithful to the Word, and to Him who gave it to us, those literal truths will take on more and more power. They will grow “stronger in spirit” until they come forth as loving actions in our lives. In the words of sacred scripture, John the Baptist “grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the desert till the day of his manifestation to Israel” (Luke 1:80)

Footnotes:

1. Arcana Coelestia 9032: “In the internal sense ‘being baptized’ means being regenerated, and being regenerated is being led into the good of love and charity by means of the truths of faith. From this it is clear that the truth as stated in the literal sense of the Word agrees with the truth as presented in religious teachings, provided that what is meant spiritually by ‘being baptized’ is understood. And the reason why it says that ‘one who does not believe will be condemned’ is that an unbeliever cannot be baptized, that is, be regenerated.”

2. It should be recalled that at the end of Mark, we pointed out that repentance comes first. Next in order is the reformation of the mind, or the establishment of a sound belief based on understanding. See True Christian Religion 571: “After repentance, next in order comes reformation…. Reformation is a state of thought from the understanding.”

3. Apocalypse Explained 1100:23: “There are people at the present day who wish the understanding to be kept under obedience to faith, holding even that a thing must be believed and not understood, and claiming that intellectual faith is not true faith.” See also Apocalypse Revealed 914: “Blind faith is faith separated from the understanding…. Hence it is, that they are: ‘Blind leaders of the blind. And when the blind lead the blind, both fall into the ditch’ (Matthew 15:14)…. Therefore, my friend, go to the Lord, and shun evils as sins, and reject faith alone, and then your understanding will be opened, and you will see wonderful things, and be affected by them.”

4. Arcana Coelestia 2148: “By ‘eyes’ in the Word is signified the interior sight, or the understanding.”

5. Apocalypse Explained 204:6: “The reason that Jerusalem is called the holy city is that it signifies the church where the doctrinal things of truth are taught.”

6. Arcana Coelestia 8988:5: “By ‘stones’ in general signify truths, and ‘precious stones’ [gemstones] signify truths which are [directly] from the Lord.” See also Arcana Coelestia 1298: “It was commanded that the altar [in the temple] should be built of whole stones, not hewn, and it was forbidden that any iron should be moved upon them (Deuteronomy 27:5-7; Joshua 8:31). This is because hewn stones, and stones on which iron has been used, signify what is artificial … and what is from a person’s own reasoning and imagining.”

7. Arcana Coelestia 2048: “The word ‘temple’ signifies the truth of faith in a person.” See also Arcana Coelestia 3700:2: “When a temple is mentioned there occurs to the angels the idea of truth.” This is because temples are built of stone, and stones, throughout the Word signify truth. In this regard we read the following in Arcana Coelestia 8941:6: “The temple at Jerusalem was built of whole stones…. For the ‘temple of the Lord’ represented the Divine Truth.”

8. Arcana Coelestia 10327: “A priest signifies a representative of the Lord’s spiritual kingdom . . . and the incense of spices signifies a representative of worship from truths.”

9. Apocalypse Explained 638:13: “In the internal sense, which is the sense of the spirit of the Word, by ‘wife’ is signified the affection for truth.”

10. Arcana Coelestia 9475: “Incense signifies the things of worship that are perceived with delight, such as acts of thanksgiving, adoration, prayer.”

11. Arcana Coelestia 5620:12: “John the Baptist represents the Lord as to the Word, which is the Divine Truth on earth….The ‘clothing of camel's hair’ signifies that the Word, such as is its literal sense as to truth (which sense is a clothing for the internal sense), is natural; for what is natural is signified by ‘hair,’ and also by ‘camels.’ His ‘food being of locusts and wild honey’ signifies the Word such as is its literal sense as to good; the delight of this is signified by ‘wild honey.’” See also Arcana Coelestia 4857:3: “The spiritual sense lives within the literal sense as a person's spirit lives within a person’s body. Like a person's spirit the spiritual sense continues live when the literal sense fades away. Therefore, the internal sense may be called the soul of the Word.”

12. Divine Providence 334: “Every angel is perfected in wisdom to eternity. But each is thus perfected in keeping with the degree of his affection for goodness and truth which he had when he departed from the world. It is this degree that is perfected to eternity.

13. Apocalypse Explained 475:20: “John only inaugurated them [the Jewish people] into knowledges from the Word respecting the Lord, and thus prepared them to receive Him, but the Lord Himself regenerates people by means of divine truth and divine good proceeding from Him.”

14. Faith 1-2: “At the present day the term ‘faith’ is taken to mean the mere thought that the thing is so because the church so teaches, and because it is not evident to the understanding. For we are told to believe and not to doubt, and if we say that we do not comprehend, we are told that this is just the reason for believing. So that the faith of the present day is a faith in the unknown and may be called blind faith…. This is not spiritual faith. Real faith is nothing else than an acknowledgment that the thing is so because it is true; for one who is in real faith thinks and says, ‘This is true, and therefore I believe it.’”

15. Faith 36: “The Universal of the Christian Faith is to believe in the Lord, for through believing in Him there is effected conjunction with Him, by which comes salvation. To believe in Him is to have confidence that He will save, and as no one can have this confidence except one who lives aright, therefore this also is meant by believing in Him.”

From Swedenborg's Works

Explanations or references:

Arcana Coelestia 2798, 2921, 3305, 3421, 5313, 9229, 10248

Apocalypse Revealed 56, 173, 294, 373, 481, 504, 520, ...

A Brief Exposition of New Church Doctrine 44, 120

Conjugial Love 82

Doctrine of the Lord 19, 29, 40, 42

True Christian Religion 82, 88, 92, 93, 98, 111, 112, ...


References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 253, 328, 376, 677, 815, 852, 1069, ...

On the Athanasian Creed 30, 38, 216

Canons of the New Church 17, 39, 40, 43

De Domino 38

Justification 10, 13

Spiritual Experiences 4332

Marriage 82, 88, 92, 93, 98, 111, 112

Scriptural Confirmations 2, 13

Related New Christian Commentary
Hop to Similar Bible Verses

Judges 5:24, 6:12, 16

Ruth 3:11

2 Samuel 7:12, 13, 16, 23:5

1 Chronicles 17:12

Psalms 2:7, 45:7, 132:11

Isaiah 7:14, 9:6, 49:1, 5

Jeremiah 23:5

Daniel 2:44, 7:14

Obadiah 1:21

Micah 4:7

Bible Word Meanings

sixth
Like most numbers in the Bible, "six" can have various meanings depending on context, but has a couple that are primary. When used in relation...

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...

Gabriel
Gabriel signifies an angelic society in heaven that is made up of people who teach from the Word, particularly about the Lord’s advent.

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....

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...

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...

Fear not
Fear not, as in Revelation 1:17; Daniel 10:5, 12; Matthew 17:5, 7; 28:10, etc., signifies resuscitation to life, and at the same time adoration from...

name
It's easy to see that names are important in the Bible. Jehovah changed Abram and Sarai to Abraham and Sarah, changed Jacob to Israel and...

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...

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...

Jacob
Jacob is told twice that his name will now be Israel. The first time is when he wrestles with an angel on his journey to...

ever
“Age” is used in slightly different ways in natural language, and those differences are reflected in the word’s spiritual meanings. All the variations, though, reflect...

kingdom
In the most general sense, a kingdom in the Bible represents a church. In a more specific sense, a kingdom represents a church in regards...

seeing
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...

answered
To "answer" generally indicates a state of spiritual receptivity. Ultimately this means being receptive to the Lord, who is constantly trying to pour true ideas...

ghost
There are two aspects to the life of each person. We might call them "heart" and "mind," a part of us that wants and feels...

upon
'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...

son of god
Swedenborg offers different angles on the phrase "the Son of God," sometimes saying that it refers to the "divine human" and sometimes saying it refers...

Videos from the Swedenborg Foundation

The videos shown here are provided courtesy of our friends at the Swedenborg Foundation. You can find out more about them here: swedenborg.com.


How to Understand the Trinity - Swedenborg and Life

“The Trinity is well known to the Christian world, yet in other ways it is unknown.” Swedenborg asserts the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one the way our soul, body, and actions are one.

Related Music

The Magnificat

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.


 Angel Appears to Joseph
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Angel Appears to Mary
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Angel Appears to Zacharias
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 with Mary
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Angel with Zacharias
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Annunciation
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

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

 Blessings: Good Tidings of Great Joy
Blessings to say at mealtime.
Activity | Ages over 7

 Call His Name Jesus
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Christmas Joy and Happiness
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 Elizabeth Greets Mary
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 His Name Is John
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 His Name Will Be Called: The Development of the Lord in Our Lives
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 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

 John the Baptist
Compare the birth of John the Baptist with the birth of Jesus Christ. What do the births of these men mean in our lives?
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

 Mary and Elizabeth
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Mary's Song of Praise
Mary's song of praise, often called the Magnificat, in a color border.
Picture | Ages over 15

 Mary Visits Elizabeth
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Naming John the Baptist
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Our Savior
Article | Ages 15 - 17

 Picture of the Angel Gabriel
Project | Ages up to 10

 Prophecies of the Advent
Prophecies of Jesus' advent on earth often use the image of new light dawning in darkness to describe the spiritual impact His birth would have on the world.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

 Quotes: Good Tidings of Great Joy
Teaching Support | Ages over 15

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

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

 The Angel Appearing to Mary
Use oil pastels and watercolors to show the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary.
Project | Ages 7 - 14

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

 The Angel Appears to Mary
A lesson for younger children with discussion ideas and a project.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 4 - 6

 The Angel Appears to Mary Mobile
Make a simple mobile to show the angel Gabriel coming to tell Mary that she would give birth to a Son and should name Him Jesus.
Project | Ages 3 - 8

 The Angel's Promise to Mary
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 The Annunciation
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 The Birth of John
Zacharias and Elizabeth were very good people who wanted a child very much. The Lord answered their prayers. John was born to help prepare people to learn from the Lord. Sample from the Jacob's Ladder Program, Introductory Level, for ages 5-6.
Religion Lesson | Ages 5 - 6

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

 The Magnificat
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 The Maidservant of the Lord
Spiritual tasks offer a reflection on a Biblical story and suggest a task for spiritual growth.
Activity | Ages over 18

 The Mother of the Lord
Imagine what it must have been like to suddenly see an angel and be told such great news.
Worship Talk | Ages 4 - 6

 The Name Mary
Article | Ages 15 - 17

 The Savior
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 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

 Understanding the Virgin Birth
Article | Ages 15 - 17

 Zacharias and the Angel
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Zacharias’s Dumbness
Article | Ages 15 - 17

 Zacharias Sees Angel
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

Commentary

 

You Shall Bear a Son

     

By Rev. Eric Carswell

The Annunciation, 1898, Philadelphia Museum of Art.
By Henry Ossawa Tanner - http://freechristimages.org/biblestories/annunciation.htm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4864374

"The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God." Luke 1:35

What amazing words these must have been to Mary, a young woman, when she first heard them. Just minutes before she had probably been engaged in some mundane task of daily life in her mother's home, perhaps grinding flour or baking bread, maybe weaving or spinning wool into yarn. If she was like most young women who are shortly to be married, her mind would have been turned to her future life with Joseph, what their home would be like, the children they would have and the life that they would lead together. Happy images of the future would have filled her thoughts. She would have had her hopes, dreams and expectations--images of how her life would be as the future wife of Joseph.

Suddenly with the appearance of the angel Gabriel, her visions of the future contained a new and dramatically different element. The angel told her that she was highly favored and blessed among women, that the Lord was with her and that she would soon conceive and bring forth a son whose name would be Jesus. This child would be given the throne of Mary's ancient forebear, King David, and reign forever.

Mary voiced the question of how this would take place. She knew the order of natural conception and knew that the angel's message did not fit into this order. In explanation the angel Gabriel told her of the greatest miracle of all time saying, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God."

We are called to believe that miracles do occur. Some people are troubled by the idea of miracles based on their picture of cause and effect in this world. They have accepted that the only causes are natural ones, the laws of physics and so on. For such a person the idea of Jesus being born without a natural father is fantastic beyond belief.

But we are called to believe that miracles have and do occur. There are forces that attack this belief. We have grown up in a culture that has a strong sense of natural order. Science today is capable of explaining so many events that previously were mysteries. It is capable of explaining them by means of fundamental laws of nature. For some this sense of natural law can become so strong that the Lord's active presence within creation vanishes. For some there is no Divine intervention within this system. All is fixed and moves along with changes taking place by mere random accident. But it could be noted that according to natural law most changes result in more chaos, not less chaos. Changes tend toward the break down of a higher order into a lower one.

Think of the example of a person quickly typing out a document on a computer. You would expect that errors would be introduced into the typing. What is the likelihood that the errors would improve the original document? It’s possible, but rather unexpected. But the argument for pure natural evolution is that given enough time and the forces of natural selection life as we now know it has developed. Asserting that human life came about purely by random accidents starting with the genetic code of the most primitive life millions of years ago seems akin to saying that given enough time and enough typed copies a simple child’s nursery rhyme could evolve into a Shakespearean play without any plan or higher thought being involved.

We are called to believe that miracles do occur. However, the Writings for the New Church have taught us that we are not to expect to see the miracles of the Old and New Testaments performed today in the same way they were performed in the time those books were written. We read:

The reason miracles are not done at this day, as before, is that miracles compel, and take away free will in spiritual things; and from being spiritual, they make a person natural. All in the Christian world . . . can become spiritual; and they become spiritual solely from the Lord through the Word; and the faculty for this would perish if they were brought to believe through miracles. (True Christian Religion 501)

Partially based on statements such as this, a person can come to a pattern of thinking that does not believe in the Lord’s ability to affect things for good in a miraculous way even today. A person could believe in God, but still tend to view the progression of his or her life as following laws of a machine-like system. Anything that does not fit into this fixed system is believed to be a miracle that would take away spiritual freedom--the very freedom that the Lord was born into the world to reestablish.

Perhaps, though, it is too easy for us to become too limited in our view. So limited that we block out a sight of the miracles that can occur within our own lives without taking away our spiritual freedom. Perhaps it is too easy for this limited point of view to block out a sense of the Lord's presence, a sense of the Holy Spirit's presence. How does the Lord reach out to touch our lives?

What of Mary's life? The events surrounding the first Christmas were a major intervention within her life. The same is true of her husband to be, Joseph. Both of them could have denied the possibility of a miraculous conception and this state of denial would have been far more damaging than that of Zacharias's. Could the Lord's birth ever have taken place if Mary was not willing to accept the angel's words? Her firstborn was to have a continuing effect throughout her whole life. His presence was not without many events that brought a sense of awe and wonder to both Mary and Joseph. We know of at least one event that showed that raising Jesus was not always easy. At age 12, they spent three anxious days searching for Him, only to find Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of teachers, listening and asking questions.

In addition to the way in which Jesus' birth and life intervened in Joseph and Mary's life, think of the way His presence affected the disciples. Many of them were happily going about their daily jobs when they were called to leave all behind and follow Him. While this intervention sometimes involved something of the miraculous, it also involved an element of free will. Just as Joseph and Mary could have resisted the words of the angel announcing that the Lord would be born, so also the disciples could have heard the Lord call them to follow and shook their heads and returned to their work. There were many, many others who were influenced in this same way. Many others who heard the Lord's words calling to them and had their lives profoundly influenced by what He said.

The Lord comes to each of us in our lives many times each day. While we may not have anything occur in our lives that an objective observer would call miraculous, it is not true that our lives will follow some pre-established route, set by our inborn nature and directed by compelling experience of the natural world. The Lord's first birth represents the way in which He comes in any age to anyone who will receive Him. Just as the words of the angel Gabriel would have been a dramatic intervention within the happy normalcy of the future that Mary would have envisioned, so also the Lord can come to us announcing the conception of a future for us that is far different from the one our natural mind would envision. The Lord comes to us offering and promising a far different set of reactions to daily events from the ones we presently have--a different perspective, a far greater patience in some areas and a stronger resolve and commitment in others. He comes to us bringing light to areas of thoughts that we had resigned ourselves to being in deep darkness and bringing warmth to much that we might otherwise have done from need or duty.

The angel Gabriel was sent to a virgin, whose name was Mary. Ancient prophecies had promised that the Messiah would be born as the child of a young woman. Several hundred years after this prophecy was given, a Greek version of the Old Testament called the Septuagint, introduced a new element of the miraculous by using a word in this prophecy that was not the general one for a young woman, but rather the distinctive Greek term for "virgin." When the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, the gospel of Matthew records that he quoted this prophecy according to the way it is presented in the Septuagint. The Writings for the New Church make it quite clear that this seemingly added idea is correct and even essential in our understanding of the Lord's advent.

There are two distinct reasons for the importance of a belief in the virgin birth. One reason has to do with the essential need for Jesus to be born with a natural mother but without a natural father if He was going to become our Savior and Redeemer. It was crucial for the work of Jesus that He not derive from His birth any of the internal evils that are passed on through the soul provided by the natural father in any natural conception. His soul and life came directly from the infinite God. His developing mind and life were the ever more perfect manifestation in human form of the Father and creator, our Lord and God. But it was important that He take on a natural mind at first empty of any experience and knowledge as you and I were born with. It was important that He take on the hereditary inclinations to evil that birth to a natural mother brought to His life.

The second reason for believing in the virgin birth exists because of the representation of the term virgin and what this says about how the Lord comes to us in our lives. We are told that a virgin represents someone who willing to have his or her life affected by truth. In this story, Mary represents a state of mind in each of our lives that is not controlled by self interest nor committed to a determined course of action. It is a state of mind that is open to new possibilities.

The Lord comes to us to each of us bringing the promise of a new conception of life just as the angel Gabriel came to the virgin Mary. He comes promising a rebirth or regeneration of life that is radically different from the one we come by naturally. It is not to the hustle and bustle of established life that He appears, but rather to those states of mind that, like the virgin Mary, look forward to something new and different and most importantly are willing to receive the conception of this new life. The life that comes to us naturally, apart from any presence of the Lord, is like a child conceived of a human father and mother. Without the Lord's presence, this life cannot have any other basis than self-interest and worldly concern. Experience may teach us to broaden this self-interest and to temper these concerns, but apart from the Lord's advent within our lives they will never rise above this level. The Lord is born within each of our lives within the states of mind that are willing to be affected by what the Word teaches--by the states of mind that are willing to rise above the prompting of our natural inclinations to be self-serving and natural in our interests, thoughts and actions. He is born within the states of mind that are willing to turn outward to recognize and serve the needs of those around us. He is born within the states of mind that are willing to recognize that natural things exist to serve the needs of mankind and creation as a whole and have their proper uses as well as their abuses.

Our preparation for the celebration of Christmas, more than any other event of the season, tends to turn people outward to others. It is a time that can help us to recognize the community of caring people that we live in. And it is a time that can remind us that many are in need--there are many people who can use our help. This help may be a matter of providing food, clothing and shelter for those have not been able to or have not yet come to be provident enough to provide them for themselves. It can be a matter of giving a hand to someone who could use some help with a job, sharing some burden with them. Christmas is a time when we give gifts that symbolize and love and friendship for others. The most lasting gifts are those that we give when we recognize the spiritual needs of others—when we recognize that, by our words and actions, we can help the Lord bring loving warmth to another person's life. We, by our words and actions, can bring the light of greater understanding to another person's life. We have the capability of helping others receive far greater blessings in life than they might otherwise. Our preparation for and celebration of Christmas can remind us of how a truly Christian life is one of wisely giving and of serving. The state of mind that receives this reminder is the one imaged by the virgin, Mary.

The Lord comes to each of us in our lives, just as the angel Gabriel came to Mary. He comes telling of events that can take place, if we are willing, which far exceed anything we might picture ourselves. He promises us a new life, born within our own, but not taking its source from us. He promises the presence of the Holy Spirit within this new life. He comes with a miraculous intervention in the natural course of events. The words of the angel Gabriel to Mary are also words to us with the promise of a new life that will profoundly affect what we care about, think and do each day throughout the year. These words are the promise of a new life for each of us.

After the close of this service you are invited to take the sacrament of the Holy Supper. This act of worship represents our desire to receive the Lord’s gifts of love and wisdom within our lives, represented by our eating of the bread and drinking of the wine. There is a powerful reminder of the words of the angel Gabriel in The True Christian Religion description of this sacrament

...the Holy Supper for those who approach it worthily is a kind of guarantee and seal put on their adoption as sons of God ... the Lord is then present and introduces into heaven those who are born of Him, that is, who are regenerated. (True Christian Religion 728)

As the angel Gabriel said to Mary, so the Lord would say to us, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God."

(References: Arcana Coelestia 1573 [1-8]; Isaiah 7:1-15; Luke 1:26-38)

The Bible

 

Matthew 1:20

Study the Inner Meaning

              

20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.

   Study the Inner Meaning

Exploring the Meaning of Matthew 1      

By Rev. Dr. Ray Silverman

This is actually a painting of Joseph's second dream, when he is warned by an angel that Herod will seek to kill the baby Jesus. We're using it here to illustrate Joseph's first dream, when an angel tells him that Mary's baby will be the Messiah. By Workshop of Rembrandt - Web Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork, Public Domain.

Chapter 1. The Book of the Birth of Jesus Christ

---
1. The book of the birth of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
---

The first words said in Matthew are “The book of the birth of Jesus Christ.” 1 In the original Greek, the very first word of the New Testament is Βίβλος (Biblos). meaning “Book.” Let us pause to ask, “What is meant by the term ‘book’? What is the universal or “internal sense” of this word?”

In the literal sense, a book is a collection of printed pages, bound together, and enclosed between covers that serve to protect the contents. More figuratively, we sometimes speak about our “book of life”; it is the record of our lives, containing everything we have ever done, thought, felt, loved and intended. In brief, it is really our essential self, our fundamental nature. So the term book in scripture represents much more than a physical book; it stands for every moment of our lives, what we have thought, what we have felt, and especially what our true motives have been — in short, the entire, interior content of our life. In other words, “the book of our life” is our true nature. 2

So, we are about to read a book — not just any book — but a book about the inmost states of a person’s life; it’s a book about motives and intentions; it’s about someone’s true character. And in this case, as the first verse clearly states, it’s a book about Jesus Christ.

Taken literally, this book will tell us about the external facts of Jesus’ life: His ancestry, His birth, His life, His death, and His resurrection. And as we read at a more spiritual level, we come to see that this book is about Jesus’ inner life — the revelation of His true character. This is the internal sense; it is the sense beyond and within the letter of scripture. It’s not just about external words and deeds; it’s about the thoughts and feelings within those words and deeds — the loving intentions that gave rise to everything that Jesus said and did.

As we study the internal sense of the events surrounding the life of Jesus, we begin to realize that the story of Jesus’ life parallels our own. We come to see that the gospel is not only a story about God’s coming to earth in the name and form of Jesus Christ; it is also a story about how God is “born” in each of us, “crucified” in each of us, and “rises again” in each of us. In other words, the gospels are not just about Jesus — although His story is crucially important; it’s about how God incarnates within each of us, how love and wisdom can take on flesh and blood within each of us, and how each of us can experience a new birth into spiritual life. It’s a wonderful, complex story not only about the temptations we must face, but also about the possibility of resurrections to new life in every moment.

In other words, the wonderful story about how God came to earth as Jesus Christ, was born in Bethlehem, grew up in Nazareth, performed miracles in Galilee, was crucified in Jerusalem and rose again is our story as well. It discloses the way God secretly fashions a new nature within each of us according to our willingness to live according to His will.

It should be noted, however, that spiritual development does not take place suddenly. It is a gradual process which takes place within every individual to the extent that a person strives to overcome tendencies towards self-will and self-absorption. Rather than being “reborn” in a moment, people who are regenerating are being born again and again as they enter ever higher levels of spiritual consciousness. These successive “births” are wondrously illustrated in the opening verses of Matthew where we read about the the “birth” or, as it is also translated, about the “generation” of Jesus Christ.

The term “generation,” spiritually seen, refers to the successive births of all things that are of love and faith. As we grow in our ability to receive God’s love, “Jesus” is being successively born in us; as we grow in our ability to receive God’s wisdom, “Christ” is being successively born in us. In brief, “the book of the generation of Jesus Christ,” refers to the miraculous way in which God generates new spiritual life in each of us. It is a book not only about Jesus and His gradual growth, but also about us. It’s a book about our gradual, sequential, perfectly ordered spiritual growth — a process called regeneration. 3

At first glance, the opening phrase, “The book of the birth of Jesus Christ,” seems to be nothing more than an introduction to a rather uneventful listing of Jesus’ ancestors in time. But seen more deeply, it is a summation of the spiritual history of humanity — the spiritual history of the human race up to the time of Jesus’ advent into the world. And at a deeper, more personal level, it is our own story, the story of our spiritual development. It is especially the story of our gradual opening to the advent of divine love and divine wisdom in our life, beginning with Jesus’ birth in us, and how His true nature gradually becomes our true nature until it can truly be said that we are “made in the image and likeness of God” (Genesis 1:26).

Son of David, Son of Abraham

At first, Jesus Christ is not seen as God Incarnate. He is seen as any other person born on earth — a man among men, descended from human beings, and having a specific ancestry. We read that He is descended from David, who in turn is descended from Abraham (υἱοῦ Δαυὶδ υἱοῦ Ἀβραάμ). But, as we shall see, a deeper look at this genealogy reveals that it is a record of how the human soul is gradually prepared for the birth of the Lord.

The genealogical table in Matthew includes fourteen generations from Abraham to David. This represents a succession of spiritual births in which we grow from early states of simple trust and obedient love (Abraham) into more developed states of understanding and truth (King David). But along with understanding and truth comes a forgetting of our earlier, simpler, more childlike states of trust and obedience. And so, there are fourteen more generations from David to the captivity in Babylon — a succession of births recording our gradual spiritual decline as the accumulation of hereditary evils increasingly overtake us and hold us captive.

This is spiritual “Babylon,” a state in which our primary concern is for ourselves, with little thought of loving others or serving God. At its worst, Babylon represents the desire to rule over others, and to control them. In brief, it is to deny others the right to make their own choices or to enjoy their own freedom. Instead, believing we know what is right for others, we make ourselves (either through direct rule, or more subtly through clever manipulation) their lord and master. Though it would be difficult to admit, whenever we do this, we have put ourselves in the place of God. 4

Our descent into total bondage to evil does not happen overnight; rather it comes about gradually as we rely more and more on ourselves and less and less on God. Finally, there are recorded fourteen more generations, during which time we fall into utter spiritual darkness. We begin to believe that we alone know the truth, and in doing so, we forget about God; we might even believe that God does not exist at all.

All would be lost if it were not for one thing. At first, we may hardly notice it at all, for it happens as inconspicuously as the birth of a child in a stable. It is a quiet occurrence without any particular grandeur, and yet it is the greatest, most significant moment in our lives. It is the birth of God in us; it begins as only a dim awareness that there is something holy, pure, and righteous in life, something that is both within us and beyond us. It is a dawning in the darkness; the one who called Himself “the light of the world” is about to be born in us. It is as if God is saying, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3).

The Genealogy

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2. Abraham begot Isaac; and Isaac begot Jacob; and Jacob begot Judah and his brothers;

3. And Judah begot Perez and Zara of Tamar; and Perez begot Hesrom; and Hesrom begot Aram;

4. And Aram begot Aminadab; and Aminadab begot Naasson; and Naasson begot Salmon;

5. And Salmon begot Boaz of Rahab; and Boaz begot Obed of Ruth; and Obed begot Jesse;

6. And Jesse begot David the king; and David the king begot Solomon of her [who had been the wife] of Uriah;

7. And Solomon begot Rehoboam; and Rehoboam begot Abijah; and Abijah begot Asa;

8. And Asa begot Jehoshaphat; and Jehoshaphat begot Joram; and Joram begot Uzziah;

9. And Uzziah begot Jotham; and Jotham begot Ahaz; and Ahaz begot Hezekiah;

10. And Hezekiah begot Manasseh; and Manasseh begot Amon; and Amon begot Josiah;

11. And Josiah begot Jechoniah and his brothers, at [the time] of the carrying away into Babylon;

12. And after the carrying away into Babylon, Jechoniah begot Salathiel; and Salathiel begot Zerubbabel;

13. And Zerubbabel begot Abiud; and Abiud begot Eliakim; and Eliakim begot Azor;

14. And Azor begot Zadok; and Zadok begot Achim; and Achim begot Eliud;

15. And Eliud begot Eleazar; and Eleazar begot Matthan; and Matthan begot Jacob;

16. And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.

17. Therefore all the generations from Abraham until David [are] fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon [are] fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon until the Christ [are] fourteen generations.
---

The first seventeen verses of Matthew record a succession of spiritual births. From one point of view, these spiritual births chronicle the development of the human race from first conception — creation itself — to the first coming of the Lord.

But from another point of view, these first seventeen verses reveal the descent of the Divine through the heavens — the Infinite God of the universe taking on a finite human form. This “finition” of the Divine was absolutely necessary, for if God were indeed to come to earth, He would have to do so in a way that we could grasp and understand. If He were to manifest Himself in all His glory, no one could possibly bear His presence any more than one could bear the heat and light of the sun touching the earth. His Glory and divinity would have to be clothed in humility and humanity. The burning fire of the divine love and the blinding glory of the divine truth must be accommodated to our ability to receive. 5

The greatest example of this is how the literal stories of scripture — although they are accommodated to finite, human understanding — contain infinite levels of truth. In this way the Word of God serves as an external container of inner truth, just as the body functions as a container for the soul. The same can be said of Jesus Christ who was born of Mary. His human body, conceived in Mary’s womb, served as an external covering for the Infinite Love and Wisdom that were His very essence — His Divine Soul.

This was the only way that Jehovah God could come to earth and be with us. It was necessary that He take on a human body, along with its corrupted heredity — the heredity He received in Mary’s womb. This is quite different from the idea that Jesus was born “without sin,” or that His mother, Mary, was “exempt from original sin.” 6

The case is very much the opposite. In fact, God needed to be born in the womb of an ordinary woman — a woman with ordinary faults and failings. And He had to do so in an ordinary way — just as He is born in each of us when we are ready to receive Him. In fact it was absolutely necessary that Mary be a normal person, inclined to evils of every kind, just like anyone else. In this way Jesus could take on, through Mary, a corrupted human heredity. Through this external covering, He could be like one of us, making Himself both approachable and accessible.

But making Himself accessible to human beings was only part of the plan. By taking on human fallibility through Mary, He also made Himself accessible to evil spirits. Clothed in a human body, with all of its limitations and inherited corruptions, He could be approached and attacked by hellish influences — evil spirits from hell who desired nothing more than to destroy Him, both soul and body. 7

This process might be compared to a “sting operation” in which Jesus made Himself potentially susceptible to evil — something altogether impossible if He had remained fully Divine. In taking on a body from Mary, along with its inclinations to evil, Jesus was able to “draw out” the evil spirits who openly attacked Him. Through successive combats of this nature, He gradually subjugated the hells and glorified His humanity.

When we read of Jesus’ life on earth in the literal narrative, we see little of this inner struggle, or what Swedenborg calls His “combats against the hells.” But a careful reading of the internal sense will show us in what way, and to what degree, God fought for us (in Jesus) — not just on the cross, but throughout His entire life on earth.

The Power of Adoption

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18. And the birth of Jesus Christ was in this way: His mother Mary, being betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, was found with child from the Holy Spirit.

19. And Joseph her husband, being just, and not willing to expose her to public infamy, intended to send her away privately.

20. And while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, fear not to take to thee Mary thy wife, for that which is begotten in her is from the Holy Spirit.

21. And she shall bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus; for He shall save His people from their sins.”

22. And all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was declared by the Lord through the prophet, saying,

23. “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which is, being translated, God with us.”

24. And Joseph, being awakened from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had directed him, and took to him his wife,

25. And knew her not, until she brought forth her firstborn Son; and he called His name Jesus.
---

As we have seen, verses one through seventeen record the developmental process by which the human soul is prepared for the birth of Jesus Christ. Next, in verses eighteen through twenty-five, the birth process itself is recorded, from conception to delivery. The language of the letter could not be more specific: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows.” Then comes this key statement: “After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit” (1:18)

It is marvelous how clearly this is stated in the literal sense of the Word. That which is born of Mary has no mortal father; rather, this Child is born of the Holy Spirit. Initially, Joseph is “minded to put her away secretly.” This is because Joseph knows that he is not the father of this child. In other words, Jesus does not have a human father — nor does He need one. That’s because the Father is in Him as His very soul. 8 It is quite clear, then, that Jesus is not the son of Joseph.” Jesus is born of “the Holy Spirit” — the Spirit of God descending to earth to take on human form. 9

The child conceived within Mary’s womb is not Joseph’s child, and Joseph knows it. And yet, even while Joseph struggles within himself, he is comforted by an angel who says “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to yourself Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (1:20-21).

Like all human beings, Joseph is naturally inclined to love his own offspring best, just as we tend to love our own ideas more than the ideas that are generated by others. In the corporate world, the phrase “not invented here” refers to the idea that we prefer to buy the products that our own company produces, rather than the products of a competitor. Similarly, the ego tends to be proud of its own ideas, even as parents take more pride in the accomplishments of their own offspring than in the achievements of other children.

But Joseph “being a just man” realizes that there is more going on than his own ego concerns. At this point, he represents a quality in us that can awaken to spiritual reality: “Being awakened from sleep,” Joseph does exactly what the angel of the Lord commands (1:24). This is a picture of how we gradually come to see that our highest thoughts and most tender feelings are not from us (“not invented here”), that they are not the result of our clever understanding, nor are they the product of our sympathetic nature. In other words, our highest thoughts and tenderest feelings are not our offspring; rather, they are gifts and blessings that come to us, and are given to us, so that we may adopt them as our own. This is sometimes referred to as “grace,” a gift that is freely bestowed upon us without our doing anything to earn it or deserve it.

Whenever we are “awakened from sleep,” like Joseph, we begin to see that the truth we have been given and the compassion we feel are always miraculous births — and that God is the true Father. The “Holy Spirit” has come upon us; all we have to do is adopt these noble thoughts and benevolent emotions — as Joseph did — as if they are our own. 10

Footnotes:

1. The Greek word for “birth” or “generation” is γενέσεως (geneseōs). It also means “nativity” or “nature.” In other words, the first words said in Matthew imply that this gospel will not just be about the Lord’s birth, but, more importantly, about His nature — His essential core. 2. Apocalypse Revealed 867: “And the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life, signifies that the interiors of the minds of them all were laid open, and by the influx of light and heat from heaven their quality was seen and perceived, as to the affections which are of the love or will, and thence as to the thoughts which are of faith or of the understanding, as well the evil as the good. . . . They are called ‘books,’ because in the interiors of the mind of everyone are inscribed all the things that he thought, intended, spoke, and did in the world from the will or the love, and thence from the understanding or faith; all these things are inscribed on the life of everyone, with so much exactness that not one of them is wanting.” (See also Apocalypse Revealed 867; Apocalypse Explained 267, 306:5.)

3. Arcana Coelestia 9325:2: “All things connected with childbirth are used in the internal sense of the Word to mean such things as are connected with spiritual birth, thus such as are connected with regeneration. The things connected with spiritual birth or regeneration are the truths of faith and forms of the good of charity; for through these a person is conceived and born anew. It is evident from a large number of places in the Word that such things are meant by ‘births,’ and plainly so from the Lord’s words to Nicodemus: ‘Truly, truly I say to you, unless a person is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” See also Arcana Coelestia 6239; Arcana Coelestia 8042:2; Apocalypse Explained 721.

4. SD 1130: “They who are meant by Babylon are in the loves of self and of the world above all in the whole world, and the worst ones are in the love of exercising command over others.”

5. Arcana Coelestia 8760:2: “The Divine Good itself is an infinite flame of ardor, that is, of love, and this flame no angel in heaven can bear, for he would be consumed like a person if the flame of the sun were to touch him without intermediate tempering. Moreover, if the light from the flame of the Divine love, which light is Divine truth, were to flow in without abatement from its own fiery splendor, it would blind all who are in heaven.”

6. This doctrine is called the “Immaculate Conception.” It asserts that Mary was born without sin. It was an “immaculate conception.” Therefore, her son, Jesus was also born without sin. In Catholic theology it is explained as follows: “The Blessed Virgin Mary in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin.” –Pope Pious IX, Ineffabilis Deus, December 8, 1854. 7. Throughout his teachings, Swedenborg makes it clear that “negative thoughts and feelings” are, in fact, the result of hellish influences. He refers to this as “influx” from real spiritual beings whom he refers to as “evil spirits.” These evil spirits are determined to fill us with their hatred, resentment, contempt, fear, jealousy, cunning, and revenge. According to Swedenborg, “Evil spirits are such that they hold man in deadly hatred, and desire nothing so much as to destroy him both soul and body” (Heaven and Hell 249)

8. The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 284: “Since the Father is in the Lord, and the Father and the Lord are one, and since we must believe in Him, and he who believes in Him has everlasting life, it is plain that the Lord is God. This is the teaching of the Word…. ‘A virgin shall conceive and bear a child, and His name shall be called God with us.’”

9. True Christian Religion 683: “The Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of the Most High God (Luke 1:32, 35); the only-begotten (John 1:18, 3:16); the true God and everlasting life (1 John 5:20); in whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily (Colossians 2:9); and He was not the son of Joseph (Matthew 1:25).

10. Divine Providence 321:4: “To believe and think, as is the truth, that all good and truth originate from the Lord and all evil and falsity from hell, appears as if it were impossible, when yet it is truly human and consequently angelic.” See also Interaction of the Soul and Body 14[4]: “For a person thinks and wills as if of himself; and this thinking and willing as if of himself is the reciprocal element of conjunction: for there can be no conjunction without reciprocity, just as there can be no conjunction of an active with a passive without reaction. God alone acts, and a person suffers himself to be acted upon; and he reacts to all appearance as if from himself, though interiorly it is from God.”

From Swedenborg's Works

Explanations or references:

Arcana Coelestia 9809

Apocalypse Revealed 613, 962

A Brief Exposition of New Church Doctrine 120

Doctrine of the Lord 21, 29

True Christian Religion 82, 140, 188


References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 815, 852, 1069, 1104

On the Athanasian Creed 46

De Domino 38

Marriage 82

Scriptural Confirmations 12, 81

Related New Christian Commentary

  Stories and their meanings:


  Spiritual Topics:



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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.


 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

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

 Angels in the Christmas Story
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 Christ, the Son of David
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 For Reflection: The Name Immanuel
Think about the name “Immanuel” which literally means “God with us.” How is the Lord with us?
Activity | Ages over 15

 God Born as a Baby
Jesus was not like other people. His Father was God, while his mother was human, allowing Jesus to fight and overcome the forces of hell.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

 God with Us
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 He Is God and King
Worship Talk | 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

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

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

 The Lord Come into the World
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 Lord Comes into the World (3-5 years)
Project | Ages 4 - 6

 The Lord Comes into the World (6-8 years)
Project | Ages 7 - 10

 The Lord Comes into the World (9-11 years)
Project | Ages 11 - 14

 The Savior
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 Understanding the Virgin Birth
Article | Ages 15 - 17


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