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
From Swedenborg's Works

Explanations or references:

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

Apocalypse Revealed 277, 503, 526, 913

Sacred Scripture 23

True Christian Religion 205


References from Swedenborg's unpublished works:

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

Exodus 4:19, 22

Numbers 23:22, 24:17

Joshua 5:14

2 Samuel 2

1 Kings 11:40

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

Word/Phrase Explanations

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...

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.

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.

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...

wise
'The learned,' or 'wise,' who 'shall shine as the stars,' are people who are in good.

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...

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...

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...

mother
Father, son, mother, and daughter, as in Luke 12:51, 53: By father against son, and by son against the father, is understood evil against truth,...

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...

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
In John 14:6, 'the way is doctrine,' 'the truth' is every thing pertaining to doctrine, and 'the life' is the essential good which is the...

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
Generally speaking things that are seen as lower physically in the Bible represent things that are lower or more external spiritually. In some cases this...

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 (Jer. 33:13) signify doctrines of charity and faith.

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)

From Swedenborg's Works

 

Arcana Coelestia #10177

Arcana Coelestia (Elliott translation)      

Study this Passage

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10177. 'And you shall make an altar for burning incense' means that which is representative of the Lord, of His hearing and receiving with pleasure everything of worship that springs from love and charity. This is clear from the meaning of 'an altar for burning incense' as that which is representative of such things of worship as are raised up to the Lord. The fact that they are things springing from love and charity will be evident from what follows below. 'An altar' has the same meaning as whatever is placed on it; and this is so because the altar is that which contains and whatever is placed on it is the contents, and container and contents make a single unit, like a table and the bread that is on it or a cup and the wine that is in it.

[2] The reason why an altar and not a table was made for burning incense was that among the Israelite nation altars were the chief representative signs of worship springing from love. For fire burned on them, and 'fire' means the love and charity from which worship springs. Regarding altars, that they were the chief representative signs of worship, see 4192, 4541, 8623, 8935, 8940, 9714.

[3] The reason why the altar of incense represented the hearing and receiving of everything of worship that springs from love and charity was that the creation of the cloud of smoke was a sign of that which is raised up on high, and the odour of the smoke was a sign of that which is pleasing, consequently of that which is heard and received by the Lord. And what springs from love and charity, this alone is pleasing to and received by the Lord. This also explains why that altar was overlaid with gold and was called the golden altar; for 'gold' means the good of love and charity, see the places referred to in 9874, and what has been stated in 9874, 9881.

[4] The reason why that alone which springs from love and charity is pleasing to the Lord, and is therefore heard and received by Him, is that love constitutes all that a person is; for a person is such as his love is. This explains why angels in heaven live as embodiments of love and charity. To them the form of love and charity is the human form, because the Lord, who is within them and gives them form, is - as to His Divine Human - Divine Love itself. From their faces therefore, from their speech, from their gestures, and especially from the spheres of their affections which flow out of them to a long way off, one can perceive clearly what kinds of love reign in them.

[5] And since love to the Lord and charity towards the neighbour originate in the Lord, and since love is a spiritual bonding, whatever emanates from these is heard and received by the Lord. Any holy and religious respect paid to Him that does not spring from them is indeed heard but it is not received with pleasure. It is a hypocritical holiness and respect, something merely outward, devoid of anything inward. Outward holiness devoid of anything inward reaches no further than the outskirts of heaven and dwindles away there. But outward holiness springing from inward reaches right on into heaven, according to the essential nature of that inward holiness, thus reaches towards the Lord. For outward holiness devoid of that inward holiness is a product solely of the lips and movements of the body, whereas outward holiness springing from inward comes at the same time from the heart. Regarding these two kinds of holiness, see what has been stated and shown in 8252-8257.

[6] In the tent of meeting outside the veil there was the table on which the loaves of the presence were laid, also the lampstand with its lamps, and the altar of incense. The loaves of the presence represented love to the Lord, the lamps of the lampstand represented charity and faith, and the incense on the altar represented worship springing from them, which is why it was burned every morning and every evening, when the lamps were 'adorned'. From this as well it is evident that the burning of incense represented worship of the Lord which springs from love and charity. The actual tent in which those objects resided represented heaven, where all worship is such. The loaves represented celestial good, which is the good of love to the Lord, see 9545; the lampstand represented spiritual good, which is the good of charity towards the neighbour and the good of faith, 9548-9561; and the tent represented heaven, 9457, 9481, 9485, 9784, 9963.

[7] When the word 'worship' is used the holiness which is expressed by means of prayers, adorations, thanksgivings, and similar acts of devotion that emanate from inward feelings of love and charity should be understood. These constituents of worship are what should be understood by 'the burning of incense', as may be recognized from the following places: In David,

My prayers are acceptable, [as] incense before You. Psalms 141:2.

In John,

The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. Revelation 5:8.

In the same book,

An angel holding a golden censer ... And much incense was given to him, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar which was before the throne. The smoke of the incense went up from the prayers of the saints. Revelation 8:3-4.

[8] Since incense was a sign of worship and of its being raised up, thus of its being heard and received by the Lord, Moses commanded [those who rebelled against him] to take censers with incense in them, and to burn it before Jehovah, in order that they might consequently know whom Jehovah would choose, thus whom He would hear, Numbers 16:1ff. And when the people grumbled Aaron ran with incense, into the midst of the congregation, when a plague began, and in so doing stopped it, Numbers 16:46-48. In Malachi,

From the rising of the sun even to its setting Jehovah's name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense has been offered to My name, and a pure minchah. Malachi 1:11.

'A pure minchah' is added because the good of love is meant by it, 10137. In Moses,

The sons of Levi will teach Jacob [Your] judgements and Israel Your law. They will put incense in Your nose, and burnt offering on Your altar. Deuteronomy 33:10.

The expression 'putting incense in the nose' is used because perception is meant by 'the nostrils', 4624-4634. 'Burnt offering' is added here because by this too that which springs from the good of love is meant.

(References: Numbers 16:44-49)


[9] But in the contrary sense 'burning incense' means worship springing from contrary loves, namely self-love and love of the world, for example burning incense to other gods, Jeremiah 1:16; 44:3, 5; burning incense to idols, Ezekiel 8:11; 16:18; and burning incense to the baalim, Hosea 2:13.

(References: Ezekiel 8:10-11)


[10] Because the burning of incense served to mean such things as rise upwards to and are accepted with pleasure by the Divine it was also one of the religious practices among gentiles. The use of frankincense, censers, and incense-boxes by the Romans and other nations is well known from historical evidence. That kind of religious practice was derived from the Ancient Church, which was spread through many regions of Asia, such as Syria, Arabia, Babylon, Egypt, and Canaan. That Church had been a representative Church, thus a Church consisting in outward forms that represented inner realities, that is, celestial and spiritual things. A large number of religious practices, one of which was the burning of incense, were passed on from that Church to surrounding nations, and from these through Greece into Italy. Another practice like this was the care of the perpetual fire entrusted to chaste virgins whom they called the Vestal Virgins.

[11] The incense that was burned in the Ancient Church, and consequently in the Israelite Church, was prepared from fragrant substances, such as stacte, onycha, galbanum, and frankincense, because perception was meant by an odour, and delightful perception by a fragrant odour, see 925, 1514, 1517-1519, 3577, 4624-4634, 4748, 10054. But 'frankincense' in particular means the truth of faith, and therefore when frankincense is mentioned in the Word oil, bread, minchah, or else gold, by which the good of love is meant, is linked with it, as in Isaiah,

All those from Sheba will come. They will bring gold and frankincense, and will proclaim the praises of Jehovah. Isaiah 60:6.

Similarly those who came from the east, in Matthew,

Wise men from the east came, seeking the Lord who had then been born ... opening their treasures; and they presented gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Matthew 2:1-2, 11.

In the Word those who were from the east and were called 'sons of the east' mean people who possessed the cognitions or knowledge of goodness and truth, see 3249, 3762. 'Sheba' has the same meaning, 1171, 3240. And for the meaning of 'gold' as the good of love, see the places referred to in 9874 or 9881.

[12] In Jeremiah,

They will bring burnt offering and sacrifice, and minchah, and frankincense. Jeremiah 17:26.

'Minchah' in like manner means the good of love, 9992, 10137. From all this it is evident that in the Word 'frankincense' means truth that composes faith; for where good is spoken of in the Word, so too is truth, on account of the heavenly marriage, which is that of goodness and truth, in every single part of it, see the places referred to in 9263[end], 9314. For the same reason also oil as well as frankincense was placed on a minchah, Leviticus 2:1-2, 15, though not on a minchah required for a sin offering, Leviticus 5:11, nor on a minchah for jealousy, Numbers 5:15. The reason why they were not placed on these minchahs was that such minchahs were presented for expiation from evils, and as long as a person is at the stage of expiation he cannot receive the good of love or truth of faith, because evils stand in the way. It is different after they have been expiated or removed.

[13] The good of love cannot be imparted to anyone unless at the same time the truth of faith is as well. For good brings truth into being, and in that truth it acquires a particular quality and receives an outward form. This was why every minchah had frankincense on it, as did the loaves of the presence which were laid on the table in the tent of meeting, Leviticus 24:7, the good of love being meant by 'loaves', 3478, 3813, 4211, 4217, 4735, 4976, 8410, 9323, 9545, 10040, 10137.

(References: Exodus 30:1; Ezekiel 8:10-11)

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Inbound References:

Arcana Coelestia 10182, 10198, 10199, 10201, 10272, 10295, 10296, 10298, 10331, 10343, 10402

Heaven and Hell 86

The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 62, 129, 279, 305, 307


References from Swedenborg's unpublished works:

Apocalypse Explained 242

Other New Christian Commentary

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


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