The Bible

 

Matthew 2 : Two Stories of Christmas

Study the Inner Meaning

        

1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,

2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.

5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,

6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.

8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.

10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

13 And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.

14 When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt:

15 And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.

17 Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying,

18 In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.

19 But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt,

20 Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child's life.

21 And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel.

22 But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee:

23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.

   Study the Inner Meaning

Exploring the Meaning of Matthew 2      

By Rev. Dr. Ray Silverman

Chapter 2.

After Jesus is Born

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1. And when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came Magi from the east into Jerusalem,

2. Saying, “Where is He that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him.”

3. But having heard, Herod the king was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.

4. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where Christ should be born.

5. And they said unto him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for thus it is written by the prophet:

6. ‘And thou Bethlehem, [of] the land of Judah, art by no means the least among the governors of Judah, for out of thee shall come a Governor, who shall shepherd My people Israel.’”

7. Then Herod, privately calling the Magi, precisely inquired of them at what time the star appeared.

8. And sending them to Bethlehem, he said, “Go and search earnestly for the little Child; and when you have found [Him], report to me, so that I also may come and worship Him.”

9. And when they had heard the king they went [out]; and behold, the star which they saw in the east went before them, till it came [and] stood over where the little Child was.

10. And having seen the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.

11. And coming into the house, they found the little Child with Mary His mother, and falling [down] they worshiped Him; and opening their treasures, they offered to Him gifts: gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

12. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed into their own country by another way.

13. And when they had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appears in a dream to Joseph, saying, “Arise and take the little Child and His mother, and flee into Egypt, and be there until I tell thee; for Herod is about to seek the little Child to destroy Him.”

14. And when he arose, he took the little Child and His mother by night, and departed into Egypt,

15. And was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was declared by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt have I called My Son.”

16. Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked by the Magi, was exceedingly wrathful, and sent out and slew all the boys that were in Bethlehem, and in all her borders , from two years and under, according to the time which he had precisely inquired of the Magi.

17. Then was fulfilled what was declared by Jeremiah the prophet, saying,

18. “A voice was heard in Rama, lamentation, and weeping, and much howling, Rachel weeping [for] her children; and she was not willing to be comforted, because they are not.”

19. And when Herod was dead, behold, the angel of the Lord, in a dream appears to Joseph in Egypt,

20. Saying, “Arise, take the little Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel; for they are dead who sought the soul of the little Child.”
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Joseph’s struggle within himself — as to whether or not to accept Mary and the child — represents the spiritual battle which each of us must undergo in the course of our regeneration. It is one thing to receive the Lord in the understanding (represented by Joseph), but quite another to allow Him to order the things of our will — represented by the angel telling Joseph to take Mary as his wife. This is the fiercer battle which now begins “after Jesus is born.”

The antagonist is Herod, the king of Judea at the time of Jesus’ birth. Comfortable and secure in his role as the supreme ruler of the land, Herod is deeply troubled by the report of the Wise Men who say, “Where is He who is born King of the Jews?” Spiritually seen, Herod, as king of Israel, represents total self-absorption, our corrupt hereditary will, setting itself up as the ruler of our lives. This is our state after fourteen generations of captivity in Babylon — a state in which we are governed by our basest emotions: greed, control, anger, fear, hatred and jealousy. We can be sure that whenever we find ourselves in a state like this, Herod is sitting comfortably and securely on his throne. He is a tyrannical ruler, easily threatened, but not easily dethroned. His motivating force is to destroy the Lord in us — even at His birth — rather than relinquish his control over us.

God knows that we need divine protection from the wrath of Herod who represents our selfish desire to control. God therefore speaks to Joseph (as He does to us) in a dream, saying “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and remain there until I bring you word; for Herod is about to seek the young Child to destroy Him” (2:13).

Egypt, at that time, was a world center for education and learning. Medicine, mathematics, poetry and many other fields of study were flourishing. So Jesus’ flight into Egypt represents the need that all of us have for basic education, not just the standard three “R’s,” (reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic) but the fourth “R” as well — the basics of religion.

Religious truth, especially the most basic, can help defend us against the onslaughts of Herod — the despot of our lower nature, a fierce tyrant who strives to murder everything that is true in us, even in its most innocent beginning. This is represented by Herod’s massacre of the male children in and around Bethlehem: “Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem, and in all its districts, from two years old and under” (2:16; emphasis added).

The name “Bethlehem,” comes from two Hebrew words: “Beth” meaning “house” and “lechem” meaning “bread.” Therefore, Bethlehem means “House of Bread” — a place of spiritual nourishment. In the context of this episode, Herod’s destruction of all the male children of Bethlehem, two years old and under, represents how evil inclinations can destroy our earliest impulses to learn truth. These earliest desires to acquire knowledge of truth are symbolized by the male babies of Bethlehem. Whenever we fall into states of cynicism and skepticism, refusing to learn or trust the simple teachings of the Word, whenever we find ourselves without desire to seek the truth, and whenever the distractions of the world lure us away from the quest for wisdom, we can know that “Herod” has risen up in our hearts. A massacre has begun. “Herod in us” is striving to murder the innocent and tender qualities that have been born in our heavenly Bethlehem.

But if we flee to and remain in Egypt (as Jesus does), we will be protected. It is the place where our instruction begins. This is a temporary, but essential part of our spiritual development; temporary because we must eventually return to the land of Canaan where the truth will be applied to our lives; and essential, because these basic, natural truths are the only means by which we can be prepared to receive the higher insights that will eventually flow in from above. 1

For most of us, the period of our instruction in basic truths can last for many years, well into adolescence and beyond. In fact, it never really ends. Throughout our lives we will continue to acquire knowledge, both worldly and spiritual. We will, as it were, “go down into Egypt.” And, as we do so, learning truth and putting it into our lives, we will begin to see how the literal teachings of scripture “open up” like parting clouds, revealing more and more of the interior truths they contain.

In Jesus’ own case, this process of acquiring basic truth was much more rapid. Although Matthew does not tell us how long Jesus remained in Egypt, we can safely assume He was still quite young when He left, for an angel of the Lord came to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the soul of the young Child’s are dead” (2:20; emphasis added).

Growing up in Nazareth

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21. And he arose, [and] took the little Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel.

22. And hearing that Archelaus reigned in Judea instead of his father Herod, he feared to go thither; but being warned in a dream, he departed into the parts of Galilee.

23. And coming, He dwelt in a city called Nazareth, so that it might be fulfilled which was declared by the prophets, that He should be called a Nazarene.
---

Eventually, Joseph, Mary, and the young Child decide to return to Judea. This represents the next step in our spiritual journey. Once we have learned the simple, basic, most literal truths of the Word (sojourning in Egypt), it is time to return to Judea. It is time to be further instructed, and to see what is more interiorly concealed within the letter of the Word. This is a necessary step in every person’s spiritual development. The letter of the Word serves as a literal history of people and places; it is an introduction to basic truth. It does not, however, reveal the full details of our spiritual journey, or provide the kind of discernment we need for the refinement of our souls. Not yet, but that will surely come when we are ready to receive further instruction.

Meanwhile, as the divine narrative continues, Joseph is “warned by God in a dream” that it is not yet time to return to their home. Though Herod is dead, his son is still in power. And so Mary, Joseph, and the young Child turn aside into the region of Galilee, into a city called Nazareth. This is yet another step on the journey of spiritual development. In the language of sacred scripture, it could be called, “growing up in Nazareth.

But what does it mean to “grow up in Nazareth”?

Nazareth of Galilee was a primitive region populated mostly by farmers, fishermen and uneducated tradespeople who knew very little about theology or the laws of the temple.

Unlike the well-educated (but misguided) religious leaders in Judea, the people of Galilee were not part of the religious establishment of the time. Although they had a strong belief in God, they were not familiar with the main doctrines taught by the religious leaders or the traditions of the temple authorities. And yet, a simple belief in God is often better than a more complicated belief system based on human reason rather than divine revelation. In this regard, the “learned world” often looks down upon people who believe in simplicity that there is a God, and that God is good. 2

The simple, hard-working, good people of Nazareth, therefore, symbolize the humility and simplicity we need to believe in God and live according to His teachings. It is remarkable that almost all the early disciples came from Galilee. It was not their theological training that made them receptive to the teachings of Jesus — for they had very little. In fact, it might be said that it was the absence of theological training — or to be more precise, the absence of false and misleading theology — that made them receptive to Jesus’ words. 3

Galilee, then, and the city of Nazareth which was in the region of Galilee, represent the simplicity of heart and the goodness of life that can receive God openly without skepticism or negativity. Because their religious principles are simple and uncomplicated — love God, love your neighbor — these people can receive Jesus’ teachings readily and with joy. All this is contained in the scriptural statement that Jesus grew up in Nazareth of Galilee, in the “land of the Gentiles.” 4 These words speak about a state in us “where Jesus grows up” — a state in which we are willing to receive basic truths simply, uncritically, and with joy.

As we shall see later in the narrative, the fact that Jesus grows up in Nazareth, in the land of the Gentiles, will be held against Him. The religious leaders will regard Him as poor and uneducated, untrained in their religious tenets, and therefore incapable of understanding or conveying spiritual truth to anyone. And yet, as this episode closes, we learn that His growing up in Nazareth is the fulfillment of prophecy, for we read, “And He came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, ‘He shall be called a Nazarene’” (2:23).

As we reflect on this miraculous moment in the early life of Jesus, it becomes evident that those simple, most basic truths we learn (Egypt) must be protected in a place of simple trust and unalloyed faith (Nazareth of Galilee). This is a necessary stage in which early truths from the letter of the Word can deepen and develop. It is why we feel a natural desire to protect the innocence of children from corrupting influences — Herod, and the son of Herod. And it is the same with each of us as we learn new truth from the letter of the Word, and allow it to grow up within us in a state of simple faith.

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Footnotes:

1. Arcana Coelestia 1462:6: “That the Lord when an infant was brought into Egypt, signified the same that is here signified by Abram [instruction in truths from the letter of the Word]; and it took place for the additional reason that He might fulfill all the things that had been represented concerning Him. In the inmost sense the migration of Jacob and his sons into Egypt represented the first instruction of the Lord in knowledges from the Word.” See also Apocalypse Explained 654.

2. Apocalypse Explained 447:5: “Galilee signifies the establishment of the church with the Gentiles who are in the good of life and who receive truths.”

3. Arcana Coelestia 4760:4: “It is well-known that the learned have less belief than the simple in a life after death, and that in general they see Divine truths less clearly than the simple do. The reason is that they consult facts, of which they possess a greater abundance than others, with a negative attitude, and by this destroy in themselves any insight gained from a higher or more interior position. Once this has been destroyed they no longer see anything in the light of heaven but in the light of the world; for facts exist in the light of the world, and if they are not lit up by the light of heaven they bring darkness, however different it may seem to be to them. This was why the simple believed in the Lord but not the scribes and Pharisees, who were the learned in that nation.”

4. Apocalypse Explained 730: “Gentiles signify those who are in ignorance of truth, and yet are in the good of life according to their religious principle, from which they have a desire for truths.”

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From Swedenborg's Works

Explanations or references:

Arcana Coelestia 113, 117, 1171, 1462, 1502, 1540, 2135, ...

Apocalypse Revealed 277, 503, 526, 913

Doctrine of the Sacred Scripture 23

True Christian Religion 205


References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 72, 242, 324, 422, 433, 448, 449, ...

Coronis (An Appendix to True Christian Religion) 2, 41

Scriptural Confirmations 2, 4, 6, 9, 12, 14, 31, ...

Hop to Similar Bible Verses

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Numbers 23:22, 24:17

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1 Chronicles 2

Psalms 72:10, 78:71

Isaiah 11:1, 40:11, 60:6

Jeremiah 26:21, 31:15

Hosea 11:1

Jonah 4:6

Micah 5:1, 2

Bible Word Meanings

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

wise
At its heart, wisdom is love's imperative desire to take form. That's a tricky statement, but think of it this way: If you love someone,...

jews
It would be simple to think that when the Bible mentions "Jews" it is simply talking about the descendants of the tribe of Judah, the...

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

star
'Stars' signify the knowledge of truth and good. 'Stars' are frequently mentioned in the Word, and always signify goods and truths, but in an opposite...

come
Coming (Gen. 41:14) denotes communication by influx.

worship
To adore, in the Word, signifies to acknowledge and believe.

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

troubled
The Bible often talks of people being "troubled." The internal meaning is pretty straightforward; it indicates a state of spiritual turmoil, usually due to the...

chief priests
'The chief priests and scribes,' as in Matthew 20:18, signify the adulterations of good and the falsifications of truth.

scribes
'A scribe,' as in Isaiah 33:18, denotes intelligence. 'A scribe,' as in Matthew 23, signifies the Word from which doctrine is derived.

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

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...

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

the least
'Tittle' or 'the least' in the Word represents heavenly things.

least
The idea of "least" is not addressed directly in Swedenborg, but a central idea is relatively clear from several references to Matthew 25:40: And the...

governor
"Rulers" or "governors" in the Bible represent the most basic, most essential true ideas that guide us in life, ideas that spring directly from the...

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

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...

went before
To "go before" in the Bible means either to lead or to prepare, depending on context. When it is said of the Lord or things...

rejoiced
Feelings of joy and rejoicing flow from our affections, not from our thoughts. Some people might argue that that's not true, that you can rejoice...

joy
Feelings of joy and rejoicing flow from our affections, not from our thoughts. Some people might argue that that's not true, that you can rejoice...

worshipped
'Worship,' as in Revelation 13:12, signifies acknowledging something to be sacred in the church.

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

treasures
'Treasure,' as in Matthew 13:44, signifies divine truth in the Word.

gifts
The gift which Abraham gave to the sons of the concubines which he had, as in Genesis 25:6, signifies lots in the Lord's spiritual kingdom....

and frankincense
'Perfumes, ointment, and frankincense,' as in Revelation 18:13, signify spiritual aspects of worship.

frankincense
Frankincense was one of the three gifts presented by the wise men, sometimes called the magi, to Jesus. The three gifts - gold, frankincense, and...

and myrrh
In Genesis 37:25, 'spices, resin, and myrrh' signify interior natural truths joined to good in the natural level. Among the ancients, they used things with...

myrrh
Myrrh is a perfume and medicine made from the resin from a genus of thorn trees. In the Word, is represents our early knowledges about...

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

way
These days we tend to think of "roads" as smooth swaths of pavement, and judge them by how fast we can drive cars on them....

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...

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

seek
The meaning of "to seek" in the Bible is pretty straightforward, but there is a bit of nuance: Swedenborg tells us that in most cases...

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

fulfilled
When the Lord said that all things which were written concerning him were fulfilled, he meant that all things were fulfilled in their inmost sense.

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

under
In the Bible, things that are lower down, or under, physically, generally represent things that are lower or more external spiritually. In some cases, the...

mourning
'Weeping and wailing,' as in Revelation 18:15, signifies grief of the soul and heart, and so it has reference to the understanding and the will.

galilee
Galilee was the northernmost province of Biblical Judea, a hilly area relatively remote from the center of Jewish culture in Jerusalem and bordered by foreigners...

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

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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.


 Adoration of the Wise Men
Lesson outline provides teaching ideas with questions for discussion, projects, and activities.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 7 - 10

 Adoration of the Wise Men
A lesson for younger children with discussion ideas and a project.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 4 - 6

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

 Behold, the Star
Article | Ages 15 - 17

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

 Childhood of Jesus
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Christmas Star
Gives directions for assembling four large triangles into a beautiful star. 
Project | Ages 7 - 14

 Correspondences of Gold
Illustrations of three stories in the Word that mention gold. (Quotations are the King James translation.)
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Fall Down and Worship Him
Think about your day tomorrow, and prioritize your various activities by thinking about what the Lord wants you to do.
Activity | Ages over 15

 Five Christmas Scenes
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Flee to Egypt
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Flight into Egypt
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Flight into Egypt Silhouette
"Cut out the pieces to show the silhouettes of Mary and Joseph taking the young Child to Egypt, then assemble on a large piece of blue paper and add stars by using glitter or small star stickers. "
Project | Ages 7 - 14

 Following the Star
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 Follow the Star Dramatization
This simple dramatization of the story of the wise men following the star to find the baby Lord includes a script and an illustration of Mary, Joseph, and the young Child.
Activity | Ages 3 - 7

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

 Gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Gifts of the Wise Men
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 His Star Still Shines
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

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

 Lacing Star
Print this star onto card stock, punch holes around the edge, then use yarn with sparkly (metallic) strands to “sew” around the edge of the star to make it sparkle.
Project | Ages 4 - 8

 Making Christmas Star Cookies
Ideas for decorating rolled cookies cut in the shape of stars. 
Project | Ages over 7

 Memory Verse: The Guiding Star
Activity | Ages 4 - 14

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

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

 Quotes: The Guiding Star
Teachings from the Lord's Word for Christmas about the guiding star.
Teaching Support | Ages over 15

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

 Quotes: Using Our Talents
Teaching Support | Ages over 15

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

 Show and Tell the Gifts of the Wise Men
Read about the three gifts in Matthew 2. Then show everyone some gold, frankincense and myrrh. Discuss ways we can give these symbolic gifts to the Lord.
Activity | All Ages

 Signs at Christmas
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 Star of Wonder
Four ways to picture the star in the dark of night.
Project | Ages 7 - 10

 Star Out of Jacob
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Star Out of Jacob with Quote
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Stars
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 9 - 12

 Story of the Wise Men Scene Boxes
Paint four sides of a box to show 4 different scenes from the story of the wise men.
Project | Ages 7 - 14

 Story of the Wisemen Stained Glass Windows
Make stained glass windows depicting the star of wonder, the three wise men following the star or the wise men presenting their gifts before the Lord.
Project | Ages 4 - 14

 Strange Gifts
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 The Christmas Star
As we think about stars at Christmas time, let us invite the Lord into our hearts and minds so that His Christmas star will light the way to heaven for us.
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 The Flight into Egypt
Angels came to Joseph in a dream to help protect the baby Lord. Angels can help protect us too. Sample from the Jacob's Ladder Program, Level 1, for ages 6-7.
Religion Lesson | Ages 6 - 7

 The Gold of the Wisemen
Gold stands for loving the Lord. This was the first gift that the wise men gave the Lord because it is essential for worshiping the Lord. You can give the Lord the gift of spiritual gold - the gift of love. 
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 The Guiding Star [salt crystal star]
Paint a beautiful guiding star and then use salt crystals on wet paint to make a starry sky for the background.
Project | Ages over 7

 The Innocence of Love
Worship Talk | 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 Murder of the Innocents and the Flight into Egypt
Within each one of us the Lord’s wonderful Providence keeps what is most important safe from harm. In time, this protection makes it possible for us to prepare ourselves to become angels in heaven.
Worship Talk | Ages 15 - 17

 The Slaughter of the Innocents
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 The Star of Bethlehem
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 The Three Gifts of the Wise Men
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 The Visit of the Wise Men
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 Visit of the Wise Men (3-5 years)
Project | Ages 4 - 6

 The Visit of the Wise Men (6-8 years)
Project | Ages 7 - 10

 The Visit of the Wise Men (9-11 years)
Project | Ages 11 - 14

 The Wise Men
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 The Wise Men
Two project ideas for picturing the wise men.  
Project | Ages 4 - 14

 The Wise Men
Spiritual tasks offer a reflection on a Biblical story and suggest a task for spiritual growth.
Activity | Ages over 18

 The Wise Men
The wise men brought gifts to the baby Lord. How are we to search for the Lord? What gifts should we bring Him?
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

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

 The Wise Men
A story for young children with color illustrations.
Story | Ages 4 - 10

 The Wisemen Diorama
Print this project onto thick paper (such as cover stock). Then color the wise men, the camels, and the background scene of Bethlehem and assemble a diorama with the wise men looking at the star. 
Project | Ages 7 - 14

 The Wisemen Present Gifts
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 The Wisemen Rejoice to See the Star
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 The Wise Men Worship the Lord
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Three Christmas Initial Letters
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Three Christmas Scenes
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Three Kings from the East
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Three Wise Men
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Why Does God Let Bad Things Happen?
Lesson and activities comparing what the Lord wills to what He permits so that people can be free to make heavenly or hellish choices in their lives.
Religion Lesson | Ages over 15

 Why the Lord Was Taken into Egypt
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 Wise Men Follow the Star
At the time of the Lord’s birth a beautiful star appeared in the night sky. It was a star of heavenly light and only people whose spiritual eyes had been opened could see it. Far away from Bethlehem, in the land to the east, this special star was seen by some wise men. Sample from the Jacob’s Ladder Program, Level 2, for ages 7-8.
Religion Lesson | Ages 7 - 8

 Wise Men from the East
Presents a dramatic word-picture of the wise men's journey and a message for us all: If you wish to be wise, and to be made happy with an exceeding great joy, follow the Lord's star.
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 Wisemen See Star
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Wisemen's Gift Ornaments
Make ornaments for your tree by printing pictures of wise men's gifts on stiff paper (such as cover stock). Then color the gifts, cut them out, and display on your tree.
Project | Ages up to 10

Commentary

 

Two Stories of Christmas

     

By Rev. Peter M. Buss Sr.

Joseph and Mary arrive in Bethlehem, by William Brassey Hole

There are two stories of Christmas. We usually blend them into one chronological account, but they are very distinct. One appears in the Gospel of Matthew, 1:18-25, 2:1-23, and the other in Luke 2: 6-20.

Matthew tells the story from Joseph’s point of view. The angel appears to him, telling him not to fear to take Mary as his wife, even though she is expecting a Child. He names the child. The wise men appear, and then Joseph is warned to flee to Egypt, and told to return when Herod died.

Luke is Mary’s story - in fact, she alone could have recounted these things to Luke. The story of Zacharias and Elisabeth; Mary’s visit to Elisabeth; the birth of John; the angel appearing to Mary, the birth of Jesus, and the tale of the shepherds all speak of Mary’s part in this event.

There are remarkably consistent differences in the accounts. In the Matthew story the angel always appears in a dream, and he gives commands. “Do not be afraid to take to yourself Mary your wife.” “Call His name Jesus.” “Do not return to Herod” was the command to the wise men. “Arise, take the young child and Mary his mother, and flee into Egypt.” “Return, for they are dead who sought the young Child’s life.” Specific commands, which Joseph and the wise men obeyed.

In the Luke story the angel is actually seen, and carries on conversations with both Zacharias and Mary. An angel choir appears to the shepherds. What is surprising is that no actual commands are given. Zacharias is told that his prayer will be answered, and he will have a son. Mary is told she will be with child of the Holy Spirit, and she willingly accepts it. The shepherds are told the tidings of great joy, but it is they who say, one to another, “Let us now go, even to Bethlehem, and see this thing which has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.”

Another amazing difference is the presence of Herod and his people in Matthew. He is shown in his wickedness and deceit, pretending to wish to worship Jesus while plotting to kill Him. He uses his counselors, none of whom are interested in the actual birth of the Christ, though they now know that a star has heralded His birth. Then there is the terrible story of Herod’s murder of the little ones around Bethlehem.

None of this appears in Luke. There is just a glancing reference: “There was in the days of Herod the king of Judea......” What a different tone, therefore, appears in Luke. It is one of peace and rejoicing, of wonder and gratitude, spoken from the heart by Zacharias, by Mary, and by Simeon. By contrast, Matthew tells of Joseph’s sadness and thought of putting Mary away privately, of Herod’s treachery and the sin of infanticide. And Matthew tells also how futile were Herod’s efforts, for the angel of the Lord provided that Joseph brought the infant Lord safely out of his reach.

So what are these two stories telling us about our lives, here, today? They speak of how the Lord is born in our minds and hearts. Let us leave Zacharias and Elisabeth and John out of this sermon. John represents repentance, and his birth precedes the birth of Jesus. But after we have repented of our sins, then the Lord Himself comes to be born in us. That birth is the implanting within us of charity - the ability to love others unselfishly. It is this birth which makes us into angels, which puts the stamp of eternal love in our hearts, which causes us to be “born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

When charity begins to become felt in us we respond in two distinct ways. Matthew tells how our understanding reacts to His coming. Luke speaks of how His birth receives a response in the new will which the Lord is creating in us.

Joseph seems to represent the good of truth. He was a carpenter, working with tools of iron on wood to shape it, and his very act pictures the efforts of the human understanding, taking the truths of revelation and working to apply them to a life of goodness.

Joseph at first feared that Mary had been unfaithful to him, and that the child was conceived of a man. When we have done the deeds of repentance, and the Lord begins to create this wonderful, heavenly love inside of us, we too will doubt. How can I, a person who has been selfish up to date, how can I feel these tender, loving thoughts towards others? How can I be moved to do kind deeds with no thought of reward? I must be deceiving myself. This is just human-born selfishness under another guise.

But an angel of the Lord told Joseph that this birth was unique in all of history. The angel represents an insight from within, the presence of the Lord within the truths that we have learned, which gives us assurance that indeed unselfish love can be ours. The Word has promised that it will be so. Don’t doubt it. You can be a truly loving, unselfish, caring person. And when you feel this love inside of you, call it by its proper name. Call it “Jesus,” which means, “Jehovah is the Savior.” Realize that this is salvation come into your heart.

Joseph obeyed the angel. We need to believe that charity can be ours, and unite ourselves to the innocent love for the truth (which is what Mary represents).

Then, when this beautiful charity blossoms in our hearts, new truths come to herald that birth. The wise men had studied the Word, knew that a star would appear when the Christ was born, and took a long journey to find Him. The truths they represent, learned because we are moved to study and reflect on His Word, are the ones that tell us how to live the life of love. They are conscious truths, and they spur us to action.

The wise men gave three gifts to Jesus, and for two thousand years they were the last people on earth to know why these gifts, and no others, were suitable. For there are only three things we can give to the Lord, only three things we can withhold. Myrrh represents obedience; frankincense, love to others; and gold, love to the Lord Himself. We can withhold these from the Lord and He cannot make us give them to Him. When moved by charity, we plan to offer Him the only gifts which we can possibly give - the offerings of a grateful heart to obey, to love His children, and to love Him.

But the Matthew story contains Herod also. Within each of us there is a powerful love of self, and all sorts of false and horrible thoughts are tied to it. Through this love the hells seek to kill our unselfish instincts. They use deceit, they even use the truths of the Word (as Herod did when seeking to know where Christ should be born). For much of our lives we have given a fairly free rein to our selfish impulses. They don’t relinquish their kingship over us without a struggle. The story of Herod speaks of the plots of the hells to destroy our love for others, and of how the Lord protects us. When we obey the commands of His Word our love grows, quietly and secretly, in a safe place where Herod cannot find it.

So we come to the gospel of Luke. Why is Herod not mentioned there? It is in the Lord’s amazing mercy that there are times when selfishness seems to be a distant memory. We know it’s there - “In the days of Herod the King,” Luke says. We know that battles lie ahead, but there are moments when we see the joy of life, and these feelings give us an inner reason to fight for heaven. When you first fall in love, you feel only unselfish love for that person. At times you read the Word, and feel in its pages the certainty of the Lord’s love, and its promise of a heaven, a life of charity, just for you!

Selfishness seems far off. You know it will come back, but right now you know that there is a life beyond selfishness. There truly is a greater love that leaves self behind, and at times, at oh-so-precious times, you are allowed to feel it. The Lord touches our hearts, and the best image of that is Christmas night in the stable in Bethlehem.

In our peaceful states there is Mary, the innocent affection for truth. We often call it idealism. It is a deep-seated conviction about the highest ideals in life. We see deeply into the Word, see the values it teaches, we want a value system that will last for all time. We want the Lord to be our God, the God of our hearts and minds. In our innocent times we just don’t question these things, we long for them. Mary, betrothed, and longing for marriage, represents this innocent love, longing to experience the full heavenly marriage of good and truth, to make ideals work.

Mary went to Bethlehem, for that little town represents new truth, the truth of the internal sense of the Word. To go from Galilee to Bethlehem is to go upward, into the deeper regions of our minds, and experience that love which is the birth of the Lord in us. It is to feel, in the living waters of the Word, that we do love others, and this love is “God with us.”

Yet the inn at Bethlehem had no room for the infant Jesus. Many spiritual truths in our minds have languished, and lost their meaning. Other needs have crowded them out, even falsified them. There are many places in our minds where we know the truth, but that knowledge is full of earthly concerns which take the joy, the wonder out of it.

In His mercy the Lord prepares other places in our minds. The spiritual manger stands for lower truths, simple ideals long held precious. For example, you have truths in your minds about how to care for infants and how to teach little children about the Word and how to care for the needs of the elderly or those who are hurting. You understand these truths. A manger, where horses feed, represents such an understanding.

And you have simple, innocent ideas in your minds also which are, as it were, wrapped around charity. These truths tell you that certain things hurt others, that certain things, said with gentleness, touch their hearts. These truths tell you when to deal gently with others, and when to be firm but loving at the same time. They are simple ideas from the Word, first truths, which keep charity warm in your heart. “....and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger.”

How beautiful is the story of the shepherds. They too represent interior truths, long held, which through the night of our selfish lives have kept us turning towards good values. They kept watch over our spiritual flock, our valuable feelings, even though we have often been selfish and uncaring. These values are called forth, and respond with joy when love is born in our hearts.

The story of Luke is one of a free response to the Lord and His creation of heaven in our minds. It is full of joy. Zacharias prophesied, with a heart full of gratitude. Mary’s soul magnified the Lord and her spirit rejoiced in God her Savior. Simeon gave thanks because he had seen the Lord’s salvation, prepared for all people. The shepherds returned, praising God for all that they had seen.

When you feel heartfelt gratitude in your lives because of a special love the Lord has granted you, - why then, stop, stand still, lift up your heart and rejoice in that moment. And know this: that if you persist in following Him, that special love will become your heaven. It will be a love born of no human father. The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you, and that holy love growing in you is indeed born of God.

Two stories of Christmas. Both so beautiful. The Lord gave each to us that we may see with our understandings, and feel in our hearts the wonder of this holy birth. They are secret stories, scarce felt because of the noisy pressures of worldly life, but revealed in all their wonder for the New Church. The spiritual Joseph and wise men are conscious, understood truths which are obeyed, and bring deep joy to the human mind. The spiritual Mary and Bethlehem and the manger and the swaddling cloths and the shepherds represent affections for deep ideals, and for practical ideas. These find inner happiness and peace when He comes to us.

For the greatest event in human history was the birth on earth of God Himself. And the greatest event in anyone’s life is when there is born to you the love from God that will never die. This is truly the spirit of Christmas.

(References: Matthew 2; The Apocalypse Explained 706)

The Bible

 

Matthew 1:18-25

Study the Inner Meaning

           

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.

19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.

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.

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 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,

23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

24 Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:

25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.

  

   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

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

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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.”

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From Swedenborg's Works

Explanations or references:

Arcana Coelestia 1925, 9809, 10154, 10819

Apocalypse Revealed 613, 962

A Brief Exposition of New Church Doctrine 120

Doctrine of the Lord 6, 19, 21, 29

True Christian Religion 82, 140, 188, 683

The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 284


References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 619, 815, 852, 1069, 1104

On the Athanasian Creed 30, 45, 46

De Domino 38

Marriage 82

Scriptural Confirmations 2, 12, 14, 29, 81, 86

Hop to Similar Bible Verses

Genesis 16:11, 20:3

Numbers 5:30, 31

Deuteronomy 24:1

Psalms 130:8

Isaiah 7:14, 8:10

Haggai 1:13

Bible Word Meanings

jesus christ
It is relatively well known that "Jesus" means "Savior" and "Christ" means "the anointed," but there are spiritual meanings that extend well beyond these natural...

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

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

just
He is said to be 'just' in a spiritual sense, who lives according to divine laws. They on the right hand being called 'just,' as...

Put
'To put' has reference to order, arrangement, application, and influx.

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...

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...

save
To be saved or rescued means getting true ideas that we can hold to even in the face of a storm of false thinking. Sometimes...

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

fulfilled
When the Lord said that all things which were written concerning him were fulfilled, he meant that all things were fulfilled in their inmost sense.

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

Emmanuel
'Immanuel, God with us' signifies the Lord as to the divine human.

God with us
'Immanuel, God with us' signifies the Lord as to the divine human.

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

Related Music

O Come, O Come, Emanuel

The Philadelphia Brass Ensemble

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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