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

 

Psalms 78:71

Study the Inner Meaning

              

71 From following the ewes great with young he brought him to feed Jacob his people, and Israel his inheritance.

   Study the Inner Meaning

Exploring the Meaning of Psalms 78      

By Rev. Julian Duckworth

Psalm 78. God’s kindness to rebellious Israel.

Psalm 78 is an unusually long psalm of seventy-two verses. This length is justified by the nature of its contents. The psalm recounts of God’s faithfulness to the people of Israel, but also their repeated unfaithfulness and disobedience, after which the Lord shows forgiveness and restores them, only for them to fall away once more. It is in many ways the story of the history of Israel in the Old Testament.

The spiritual meaning of this great theme is that it also describes our spiritual situation. Our spiritual journeys are uneven at best. We tend to make up our minds to follow the Lord, but then eventually to fall away into self-centred states and forget about Him. The Lord is completely understanding of this situation as it is with us, and he will always aim to bring us back. For us, it is our need to be alert to what makes us fall away and, to the best of our ability, to break that pattern, realising that it is a tendency we have, and that we will always need to mindful about. (See New Jerusalem 163)

In light of the length of this psalm we will choose some very important parts of it and look at the spiritual meaning they contain. The second verse introduces the coming narrative of Israel by saying, “I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old” which, by implication, is saying that the whole history of Israel which is to be re-told is a parable and in its own way is a dark saying which has profound depths to its meaning. (Arcana Caelestia 4314.2, 5)

Verses 5 to 8 suitably mention that the Lord established a law in Israel and commanded the fathers to teach it to their children so that each generation would know the law of the Lord, and not forget this law but keep it, unlike their fathers. The reality of that intention of the Lord will be seen in the coming catalogue of Israel’s departure from the law of the Lord. (Arcana Caelestia 9049.2)

Verses 9 to 11 mention the disobedience of the children of Ephraim, turning back in the day of battle even though they were armed with bows. The spiritual meaning here is that Ephraim represents our tendency to rebel against the whole spiritual integrity which the Lord brings us, as with the tribes of Israel. This is because Ephraim, a large tribe, rebelled against the other tribes and also complained about its territory in Canaan, feeling that, as a tribe of Joseph, it should have been given a larger possession. (Arcana Caelestia 3574.2)

From verse 12 onwards, the repeating pattern gets disclosed, each time speaking powerfully about the Lord’s provision for his people and his love for them and his forgiveness of them, and then it speaks of Israel saying, “But they sinned even more before him”. This leads to the Lord bringing hardship on Israel so that they turn back to the Lord in their need and he feeds them with the food they need, with manna and angels’ food and quails and food in abundance, and yet, in spite of this, they still sinned.

He brought them out of Egypt after showing signs of his might and power, and led them in the years of the wilderness, and they rebelled and complained. It appears to be an endless cycle, but the end of the psalm tells us that the Lord did not choose the tribes of Joseph but that of Judah to be his appointed, and he chose David to shepherd his people which he did by the integrity of his heart and the skilfulness of his hands. (Arcana Caelestia 343)

The spiritual meaning all through this important psalm is there in three ways: first, it points out the perfect unchanging love and faithfulness to us that the Lord has for all of us, imperfect as we are; second, that we will repeatedly fall away and be brought back because that is what we are like, and third, that the Lord does not look to the present but to eternal things in his love and intention for us, pictured by David at the close of the psalm. (Divine Providence 46)

From Swedenborg's Works

Main explanations:

The Inner Meaning of the Prophets and Psalms 328


Other references to this verse:

Apocalypse Revealed 3, 383


References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 409, 482

Related New Christian Commentary

  Stories and their meanings:



Hop to Similar Bible Verses

2 Samuel 20:19, 24:17

Ezekiel 34:23

Matthew 2:6

Bible Word Meanings

following
The basic meaning of "follow" in the Bible is pretty obvious if we consider what it means to "follow the Lord." That obviously doesn't mean...

feed
When the Bible talks about "feeding" it is generally referring to instruction in spiritual things – teaching people the true concepts that can lead them...

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

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

inheritance
In Biblical times, possessions passed from fathers to sons, a patriarchal system that would not be accepted in today's society – but one that is...

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.


 Prayers for Adults: Bread of Heaven
Activity | Ages over 18

 Prayers for Teens: Bread of Heaven
Activity | Ages 15 - 17

 The Kingdom of Heaven
The way to build the kingdom of heaven within your mind and heart is to do the activities that are represented in these parables on a day-by-day basis
Worship Talk | Ages over 18


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