Commentary

 

The Joy of the Angels at the Lord's Birth

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By Rev. Eric Carswell

The Annunciation to the Shepherds, By Henry Ossawa Tanner - http://www.artnet.de/artist/16406/henry-ossawa-tanner.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4864375

Then the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11)

These words of the angel were truly good tidings of great joy for all people. Although neither the shepherds nor anyone else in the world really understood the importance of what was begun that night, the angels did, and they had been unceasingly awaiting this event for centuries. They knew why there was cause for great rejoicing. The promised Messiah, the Savior and Redeemer of mankind, had finally been born. The unbounded joy of the heavens was seen by the shepherds. Suddenly with the angel who had spoken to them there was a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." (Luke 2:14)

Why were the angels so joyful? We can hear the excitement in the voice of the angel that spoke to the shepherds. And we can imagine the shiver of wonder that must have filled the shepherds as they heard the resounding sound of the angelic multitudes praising God. What was the source of the angels' joy? What did the birth of the Lord on earth mean to them?

The angels had known that the Lord would be born on earth ever since the first hint of evil had appeared in mankind. At the moment that the first of the Lord's people began to turn away from innocently following Him the angels could foresee in a general way what would happen. With the human mind working the way that it did and does, the angels could foresee that the power of evil, once begun, would gradually increase. (cf. Arcana Coelestia 4687:2) With horror they recognized that eventually the human race would turn so far away from the Lord that it would no longer know anything true nor be able to do anything good. They recognized that the human race would turn completely from the Lord's life and His blessings, and they knew that when a complete separation took place, no human being would ever choose a heavenly life and would be condemned to the anger, discontent and destructiveness of an evil life.

Yet at the time of the first hint of evil, the Lord immediately foretold in prophecy that He would be born as a Savior to ensure that all people would always have a real choice between a heavenly life and a hellish one. By prophecies given to people on earth, both they and the angels knew that the Lord would make His advent. The angels understood that He would come as the Word made flesh, as a light to the world. He would let His infinite soul slowly fill a natural body. He would allow a mind to form within the workings of a natural brain - one precisely like yours and mine. He would learn the stories and laws of the Old Testament just like a child today can learn them. Then He would do something that no finite mortal could. He would slowly reveal to that natural mind and to the universal spiritual world the infinite life within revealed truth. He took words and ideas of truth that could exist within a human mind and showed their hidden glory. This revelation was an essential part of His mission on earth. It was an essential part of the process that the Writings of the New Church call “the glorification.” The Lord showed the infinite wisdom and the infinite love that had been hidden by the darkness of evil and the obscurity of limited human thought. The Lord Jesus Christ gave a power to revealed truth that is the salvation of all who seek to follow it - to all who follow revealed truth while seeking to serve their fellow human beings. The Lord became the Word made flesh so that we might behold His glory, so that we might have the light that will give us life.

All this lay in the distant future when the Lord's birth was first prophesied. Yet the prophecies themselves had great power. Yes, they were reassuring words, but they were something more. Faith in the promise of these prophecies accomplished something extremely powerful in itself. Faith in the Lord who was to come, brought about a loving relationship between human beings and God. (Arcana Coelestia 2034) This faith gave life and blessings to countless people. It sustained many in the human race till the Lord's birth actually occurred.

Over and over again, the Lord renewed the promise of His coming. But much time passed, and the promise of the Messiah was nearly forgotten. A few held onto their hope and waited, looking daily for the Lord to come. Wise men far distant from Judea watched the night sky looking for the sign that the Messiah had been born, and when they saw the star of wonder, they journeyed to bring gifts to the young infant. An old man in Jerusalem also waited for the Savior. When Simeon saw the infant Jesus and held Him in his arms. From a contented heart he spoke the remarkable words, "Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared before the face of all people: A light to give light to the Gentiles and the glory of Your people Israel." (Luke 2:29-32)

Simeon certainly understood something of the meaning of the Lord's birth. Yet almost no one else in the world did. But the angels knew what the advent meant. The prophecies of the Lord's coming had been essential for the angels too. We are taught that if the process of the Lord's glorification had not been shown to the angels through the internal sense of the Word and also in the rites of the Jewish Church, the Lord would have been obliged to come into the world immediately after the fall of the first church from the golden age of mankind. (Arcana Coelestia 2523:1) For the angels the Old Testament served as a detailed prophecy of even the smallest aspects of the Jesus' life. From the Old Testament the angels knew the actual thoughts and perceptions of His whole life in the world.

The prophecy sustained hope with the angels. It held in check their fears when they foresaw the growing power of evil. Their deep apprehension was not just a general concern for a matter of principle or for the battle of evil against good in an abstract form. They were concerned for the salvation of each individual soul. They could see that the possibility of anyone getting to heaven was greatly endangered.

The angels are keenly aware of the state of the church with the human race. We provide a foundation for them. When the church within the hearts and minds of people in this world is weak and ignorant, the foundation is threatened. We are told of the sadness of angels when the people of the church are misled by false ideas and motivated by evil. Yes, the heavens are dependent on the people who make up the church on earth. If that quality of the church with human beings should completely fail, the heavens presently associated with us would have to be transferred to rest on other earths, and life would cease on this earth.

However, the concern of the angels was not for their own welfare. Their concern was for the happiness of others. They seek above all else to bring happiness to others. We read that "to save a soul from hell, the angels would regard death as nothing, indeed if it were possible, they would undergo hell for that soul." (Arcana Coelestia 2077:2) The angels suffered with and for those who wandered in spiritual darkness. They mourned over the sadness that filled the lives of so many. They waited and could do little to make life better for all who suffered. They waited, praying, hoping. They knew that the darkness and suffering would end when Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer, came in glory. So it was that when the Lord was born, the angels rejoiced. They rejoiced the night of the first Christmas so long ago. And with joy they brought the news to a small group of shepherds who were in the fields that night watching over their flocks.

Yet they knew that the Lord's birth was only the beginning. Jesus would grow from infancy to adult life. He would undergo continual battles against the mind-numbing power of evil. His battles would continue to the final trial of the cross. The completion of His work would come as He rose from the tomb on the first Easter. He rose not merely as Jesus, but as the infinite God, Jesus Christ our Lord appearing in flesh and blood.

On the first Christmas, the angels knew that much had to occur before mankind was truly free to chose a life different from the misery and spiritual emptiness of hell. But after centuries of waiting, hoping and praying for this event, it had now begun. In the words of the angel, the birth of the Lord was indeed good news of great joy for all people.

The Lord’s birth and life did not mean that evil loves and false ideas became powerless. The Lord re-established the freedom to choose good loves and true ideas and many have and will choose them, but not all. Our hearts can be saddened and sometimes discouraged or angered by the evil that we can see large and small. There is a memorable experience taking place in the life after death that Swedenborg relates which dealt with a time of discouragement of his own (Conjugial Love 81). He had been reflecting on the terrible state of marriage with so many and was grieved in spirit. As he walked and talked sadly with an angel about these things there was suddenly a dazzling burst of light that lit up the whole sky and he heard the sound of a mighty angelic choir echoing across the sky. The angel explained the different songs of celebration they were hearing related to the Lord’s advent such as:

The voice of one crying in the wilderness, "Prepare the way of Jehovah...." ...Behold, the Lord Jehovih comes in strength.... He will feed His flock like a shepherd. (Isaiah 40:3, 10-11)

Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given..., whose name shall be...Wonderful, Counselor, God, Hero, Father of Eternity, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

And there were also quotations about the Lord’s second coming. Swedenborg relates, “When I heard these things and understood their meaning, as a result my heart leapt, and I went home filled with joy” (Conjugial Love 81:5).

As we well know this also did not mean that there would soon be an end to sorrow and trouble in marriages. But it did mean there was hope and a future. If we stare too much at the sorrow and trouble this can grow to be all we see and the Lord’s role will diminish into a relatively small abstraction. In this state of mind there is no rejoicing, little hope and little energy to do what we can. It is not what the Lord and His angels would wish for us.

When we consider the Lord's birth, we too can be joyful. If the Lord had not come, we would not be alive today. If the Lord had not bowed the heavens and come down, nothing could save us from the natural patterns of thought and choice that bring us and others pain and hurt, that bring the reality of hell to us. It is valuable for us to come to an acknowledgement of the destructiveness within these natural patterns of thought and choice.

But something of the true spirit of Christmas is shown in the joy of the angels. Their joy was not because they directly benefited by the advent. The nature of angelic love is to feel another's joy as its own. The joy of the angels was for all mankind. In their joy they recognized the significance of the advent for the lives of so many people.

We can form some idea of their joy if we think of what the Lord's coming means to all those whom we love. When we watch loved ones and others we know learn and grow, it is not always easy. Perhaps we worry that they are making bad choices and that we cannot prevent it without taking away their essential freedom. It is then that we need to remember the Lord's coming. Because the Lord was born into the world, He is able to be very near to teach and lead our loved ones with His infinite wisdom and infinite love. He has come for them to lead them to receive as much of the joy of heaven as they possibly can. We can perhaps realize with joy that things may not be as hopeless as they sometimes seem. A knowledge of the Lord’s role can actually increase the energy and focus we have to wisely help those around us. We can be encouraged by the thought that an infinite and loving God is near and also working unceasingly with all human beings. And as we see their joy when they do what is good and right, we can feel something of this joy as our own and give thanks to the Lord.

The sense of another's joy is magnified many times with the angels. This is the joy with which the angels celebrated the birth of the Lord. They were rejoicing at the Lord's expression of His love and mercy to all of us. If we can enter into this joy of the angels, we will sense something of the true joy of Christmas. When this joy fills our hearts, we may echo the words of the angelic chorus, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

(References: Luke 2:10)

From Swedenborg's Works

 

Arcana Coelestia #2034

Study this Passage

      
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2034. 'You and your seed after you' means that from Him there is a conjunction of all who have faith in Him. This is clear from the meaning of 'seed' as faith, dealt with frequently above, and from the meaning of 'after you' as following Him, dealt with above in 2019. Previously the subject has been the union of the Divine Essence with the Human Essence and of Human Essence with Divine Essence. But now it is the conjunction of the Lord with those who believe in Him, which is also why the word 'you' is repeated, that is to say, 'you shall keep My covenant' followed by 'you and your seed'. From this repetition of 'you' and from the coupling of it with 'seed' it is clear that in the internal sense conjunction is meant, in particular conjunction with those who constitute the seed, which has been shown in 1025, 1447, 1610, to mean the faith that inheres in charity. And the fact that faith is charity itself, see Volume One, in 30-38, 379, 389, 654, 724, 809, 916, 1017, 1076, 1077, 1162, 1176, 1258, 1798, 1799, 1834, 1844.

[2] Furthermore when the Lord speaks of the union of Himself with the Father He is at one and the same time speaking about His own conjunction with the human race since this was the reason for the union, as is clear in John,

That they may all be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be one in Us. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one even as We are one, I in them and You in Me. For I made known to them Your name, and I will make it known, that the love with which You have loved Me may be in them. John 17:21-23, 26.

These verses show that in the union of Himself with His Father the Lord had conjunction of Himself with the human race in view, and had this conjunction at heart because it constituted His love. Indeed all conjunction comes about through love, love being conjunction itself.

[3] Elsewhere in the same gospel,

Because I live you will live also; in that day you will know that I am in the Father, and you in Me, and I in you. He who has My commandments and does them, he it is who loves Me. John 14:19-21.

This similarly shows that in the union of His Human Essence with the Divine Essence the Lord had in view the conjunction of Himself with the human race, and that this was His end in view, and this His love, which was such that His inmost joy was the salvation of the human race, which He had had in view in the union of Himself with His Father. These verses from John describe what it is that effects union, namely having His commandments and doing them, which is loving the Lord.

[4] In the same gospel,

Father, glorify Your name. A voice therefore came from heaven, I have both glorified it and will glorify it again. Jesus said, Not for My sake has this voice come but for yours. But I, when I have been lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself. 1 John 12:28, 30, 32.

'Glorification' is used to mean union, as stated already. And the fact that in the union of Himself with the Father He had the conjunction of Himself with the human race in view is stated openly in the words, 'When I have been lifted up I will draw all men to Myself'.

[5] As for the conjunction of the Infinite, or Supreme Divine, with the human race being accomplished through the Lord's Human made Divine, and as for this conjunction being the reason for the Lord's Coming into the world, this is an arcanum to which many apply their minds, but because it is beyond their grasp they do not believe it. And since they do not believe it, for the reason that they cannot grasp it, that arcanum becomes a stumbling-block to them. That this is so I have been given to know from much experience of people entering the next life. Very many of these - the majority of clever people in the world - when they merely think that the Lord became man and was in outward appearance like any other human being, and that He suffered, and yet is at the same time governing the universe, immediately fill the sphere around them with stumbling-blocks. The reason they do so is that to them this whole idea had been a stumbling-block during their lifetime, though they had not then made this public but had worshipped Him in outward expressions of holiness. For in the next life the things that are interior are laid bare and revealed by the sphere that emanates from them, dealt with in Volume One, in 1048. 1053, 1316, 1504. From this sphere one perceives quite plainly what their faith had really been and what they had really thought about the Lord.

[6] This being so let the matter be explained a little further. After everything celestial with man perished, that is, all love to God, so that as a result the will for what is good existed no longer, the human race was separated from the Divine. For nothing other than love effects conjunction, and when love has been reduced to nothing, disjunction has taken place. And when the latter has taken place destruction and annihilation follow. At that point therefore a promise was given concerning the Lord's Coming into the world, who was to unite the Human to the Divine, and by means of this union was to join [to the Divine] the human race that was abiding in Himself through faith grounded in love and charity.

[7] From the time of that first promise given in Genesis 3:15, this kind of faith in the Lord who was to come was conjunctive. But once faith springing from love did not remain any more in the world the Lord came and united the Human Essence to the Divine Essence so that these were completely one, as He Himself states explicitly. At the same time He taught the way of truth to the effect that everyone who believed in Him, that is, who loved Him and what was His, and who abided in His love, which is a love directed towards the entire human race and so towards the neighbour, would be conjoined and thus saved.

[8] Once the Human had been made Divine, and the Divine made Human in the Lord, an influx of the Infinite, or the Supreme Divine, took place with man which could not possibly have manifested itself in any other way. Also by means of that influx the dreadful false persuasions and the dreadful desires for evil were dispersed with which the world of spirits had been filled and was constantly being filled by souls streaming into it from the world; and those who were actuated by such persuasions and evil desires were cast into hell and so separated. Unless this had been done the human race would have perished, for it is by means of spirits that the Lord rules the human race. They could not have been dispersed in any other way because there was no activity of the Divine by way of man's rational concepts into his inner sensory awareness, for these are far below the Supreme Divine when not so united. Still deeper arcana exist which cannot possibly be explained intelligibly to anyone. See what has appeared already in 1676, 1990, 2016. That the Lord appears as the Sun in the heaven of celestial angels and as the Moon in the heaven of spiritual angels, and that the Sun is the celestial existence of His love and the Moon the spiritual existence of it, see 1053, 1521, 1529-1531; and that every single thing comes beneath His gaze, 1274 (end), 1277 (end)

Footnotes:

1. The Latin means after Me but the Greek means to Me which Swedenborg has in other places where he quotes this verse.

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