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Luke 1:26-38 : The Annunciation to Mary

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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.

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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)

From Swedenborg's Works

 

True Christian Religion #111

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111. The second experience 1 .

In the natural world people's speech is twofold, because so is their thought, for it may be external or internal. For one can speak as a result of internal thought and at the same time of external thought, or simply as the result of external thought without the internal, or even contrary to it. This is the origin of pretence, insincerity and hypocrisy. But in the spiritual world people do not have twofold speech but only one way of speaking; they speak as they think, otherwise the sound of their voices is harsh and hurts the ears. One can, however, still keep quiet and not reveal the thoughts arising in the mind. Consequently a hypocrite on coming into the company of wise people either goes away, or hurries into a corner of the room, makes himself inconspicuous and sits in silence.

[2] There was once a large assembly in the world of spirits to discuss this subject. They said that being unable to speak except as one thought was hard for those who did not have right ideas about God and the Lord, when they mixed with good people. The middle of the assembly consisted of people from the Reformed Churches, many of them clergy, and next to them were the Roman Catholics and their monks. To begin with, both parties said that this was not hard. 'What need is there,' they said, 'to speak otherwise than one thinks? And if perhaps anyone does not think aright, can he not keep his mouth shut and be silent?'

A clergyman said: 'Is there anyone who does not think aright about God and the Lord?'

But some people in the assembly said: 'Let us put them to the test.' So they told those who have a firm conviction about God as a Trinity of Persons to think about and say 'One God'. They could not do so; they twisted and screwed up their mouths into all kinds of shapes, but were unable to utter any words except those which agreed with their thoughts, and these were about three Persons, so consequently three Gods.

[3] They went on to tell those who had convinced themselves of the doctrine of faith separated from charity to name 'Jesus'. They could not do so, though they were able to say 'Christ', and also 'God the Father'. This surprised them and they asked why. The reason they discovered to be the fact that they had prayed to God the Father for the sake of His Son, and not to the Saviour Himself; and 'Jesus' means Saviour.

[4] Then they were told to think about the Lord's Human and say 'the Divine Human'. None of the clergy present was able to do so; but some of the laymen could. So they made this the subject of a profound debate. Then (i) the following passages from the Gospels were read to them:

The Father gave all things into the hand of the Son, John 3:35.

The Father gave the Son power over all flesh, John 17:2.

All things were handed to me by the Father, Matthew 11:27.

All power has been given to me in heaven and on earth, Matthew 28:18.

'Now keep in mind,' they were told, 'that Christ both in His Divine and in His Human is the God of heaven and earth, and while doing so say the Divine Human.' But they were still unable to do so; and they said that although they could retain some thoughts coming from their understanding of the subject, still they could not acknowledge this at all, and that was the reason for their failure.

[5] (ii) Then the passages from Luke (Luke 1:32, 34-35) were read to them, which prove that the Lord in His Human was the Son of Jehovah God, and that He is there called 'the Son of the Most High', and in many other passages 'the Son of God', as well as 'the Only-begotten'. They begged them to keep this in mind, and also that the only-begotten Son of God who was born in the world must inevitably be God, just as His Father is God, and then to say 'the Divine Human.' But they said: 'We cannot, because our spiritual, that is, interior thought does not permit any but similar ideas to enter the thought which is nearest to speech.' As a result they said they perceived that now they were not allowed to divide their thoughts, as they had in the natural world.

[6] (iii) Next, these words of the Lord to Philip were read to them:

Philip said, Lord, show us the Father; and the Lord said, He who sees me sees the Father; do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? John 14:8-11.

Also other passages stating that the Father and He are one (e.g, John 10:30). They were told to keep these in mind, and so to say 'the Divine Human.' But because their thought was not rooted in the acknowledgment of the Lord as God in His Human too, they screwed up their mouths until they became indignant, wanting to force their mouths to utter the words, but being unable to do so. The reason was that the ideas one thinks of, which are derived from acknowledgment, are identical with the words of language, when one is in the spiritual world. In the absence of those ideas, the words will not come, for speaking is putting ideas into words.

[7] (iv) Then the following passage was read to them from the doctrine received throughout the Christian world:

The Divine and the Human in the Lord are not two, but one, in fact one Person, united like soul and body in man.

This is from the Athanasian Creed, and has been accepted by the Councils. Then they were told: 'This at least will give you some idea and enable you to acknowledge that the Lord's Human is Divine, because His soul is Divine. This is the doctrine of your church, and you acknowledged it in the world. Moreover, the soul is the very essence of a person, and the body is the form, and essence and form make one, like being and coming-into-being, or like the efficient cause which produces the effect and the effect itself.' They held this idea in mind, and tried by means of it to say 'the Divine Human', but still they could not. For the idea deep within their minds about the Lord's Human banished and drove out this new supplementary idea, as they called it.

[8] (v) After this the following passage from John was read to them:

The Word was with God, and the Word was God; and the Word was made flesh, John 1:1, 14.

and also this:

Jesus Christ is the true God and everlasting life. 1 John 5:20.

and from Paul:

In Christ Jesus all the fulness of the Godhead dwells bodily, Colossians 2:9.

John 2:9.

They were told to think along these lines: that God who was the Word became man; that He was the true God; and that all the fulness of the Godhead dwelt in Him bodily. They did so, but only in their external thought; for the resistance of their internal thought prevented them from saying the words 'the Divine Human.' They said frankly that they could not have any idea of a Divine Human, 'because God is God, and man is man; and God is a spirit, and we have never understood spirit as anything but wind or ether.'

[9] (vi) Finally they were told: 'You know that the Lord said:

Remain in me and I in you; he who remains in me, and I in him, bears much fruit, because without me you can do nothing, John 15:4-5.

Because some of the English clergy were present, a passage was read to them from one of the prayers used in the Holy Communion:

For, when we spiritually eat the flesh of Christ and drink the blood, then we dwell in Christ, and Christ in Us. 2

Now consider that this would be impossible, if the Lord's Human were not Divine, and then say 'the Divine Human', acknowledging this in your thought. But they were still unable to do so, because the idea was so deeply stamped on their minds that what is Divine could not be human, and what is human could not be Divine; and that the Lord's Divine was from the Divine of the Son born from eternity, while His Human was like that of any other man. They were told: 'How can you think this? Can the rational mind ever conceive of a Son born of God from eternity?'

[10] (vii) Then they turned to the Evangelical party and said that the Confession of Augsburg and Luther taught that the Son of God and the Son of Man were one Person in Christ, and that even in His human nature He was omnipotent and omnipresent; and this enabled Him to sit at the right hand of God the Father, and control all things in the heavens and upon earth, to fulfil all prophecies, be with us, and dwell and work in us; that there was no distinction in worship, because through the visible nature the invisible Godhead is worshipped; and that in Christ God is man and man is God. On hearing this they replied: 'Is that so?' They looked around and after a while said: 'We did not know this before; that is why we cannot say 'the Divine Human.' One or two said: 'We read that and wrote it, but when we pondered it in our hearts, they were only words, of which we had no inward notion.'

[11] (viii) Lastly they turned to the Roman Catholics and said: 'Perhaps you can name the Divine Human, because you believe that in your Eucharist Christ is wholly present in the bread and wine, and in every part of them. Moreover you worship Him, when you display and carry around the Host, as the Most Holy God. You also call Mary the mother of God. Consequently you acknowledge that she gave birth to God, that is, the Divine Human.' Then they tried to say the words, but because there then slipped in a material idea of the body and blood of Christ, and also a belief that His Human could be separated from the Divine, and in fact is so separated in the Pope, to whom only His human and not His Divine power was transferred, they could not pronounce them. Then a monk got up and said that he could think of the Divine Human in the case of the most holy Virgin Mary, or the patron saint of his monastery. Another monk came up who said: 'The idea which I now cherish in my mind enables me to say the Divine Human of his Holiness the Pope, rather than of Christ.' But then some of the Catholics pulled him back saying: 'You should be ashamed of yourself.'

[12] After this heaven appeared to open, and tongues like small flames were seen coming down and lighting on certain people. These then praised the Divine Human of the Lord, saying: 'Banish the idea of three Gods, and believe that in the Lord all the fulness of the Godhead dwells bodily, and that the Father and He are one, just as soul and body are one, and that God is not wind or ether, but is man. Then you will be linked with heaven, and the Lord will enable you to name Jesus and to say "the Divine Human."'

Footnotes:

1. This section is repeated with minor changes from Apocalypse Revealed 294.

2. These words are quoted in English in the original.

  
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Thanks to the Swedenborg Society for the permission to use this translation.


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