December 25, 1960
Rev. Theodore Pitcairn
Lessons: Ex. 2:1-10; Luke 2:4-19; A.E. 706
“The angels said to the shepherds, There is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord; and this is a sign unto you, ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger.”
(Luke 2:11,12,16; A.E. 706)
The account of the birth of the Lord is so beautiful and affecting that nearly all are moved by the story, even those who have little or no faith. All children love to hear the account again and again. This is of Providence for the implantation of remains, and as an ultimate basis of faith. But if, when we become adults, the story is not infilled, by an interior understanding of its significance it remains personal. We read: “He who thinks of God from person only, and not from essence, thinks materially.”
“The boys said: ‘We have thought of God from person. Have we, when reading the Word, appeared to any one like dead horses. The teacher said, You are boys, and cannot think otherwise, but I have perceived in you an affection for knowing and understanding.” (T.C.R. 623)
We read concerning our text:
“Since a sign means attestation that they might believe that the Saviour of the world was born, they said that they should find Him lying in a manger wrapped in swaddling clothes. … A manger means the Doctrine of the True from the Word, because horses signify the understanding of the Word; and thus a manger, as a feeding place for horses, signifies the Doctrine of the True from the Word; because there was no place in the inn; an inn signifies a place of instruction. Because the Jews … were in mere falsities, through adulteration of the Word, this is signified by there was no place in the inn.
… He is also said to have been wrapped in swaddling clothes, because swaddling clothes signify first trues, which are trues of innocence; and which also are trues of Divine Love; for nakedness, in reference to a babe, signifies the deprivation of trues.” (A.E. 706)
Unless we are in a perception of the internal sense, we are not moved by the internal sense as we are by the literal account of the birth of the Lord; for we do not perceive within the Doctrine of the true from the Word, represented by the manger, the trues of innocence and celestial love represented by swaddling clothes in which is the Lord as a little Babe.
Yet that such a perception is possible can be felt from the following quotation from de Hemelsche Leer:
“The head of the Son of Man is the good of love into the Lord, which is the inmost of the Doctrine of the Church. It is the good of love, from which the Doctrine of the Church comes into existence, for the Doctrine is spiritual out of a celestial origin. … In case of a change of state, there is no love for the essential of the Doctrine of the Church, There is no love for conjunction; the true conjugial is lacking. The external of the Doctrine of the Church, or its literal sense is touched with coarse hands, without feeling the tenderness of what is hidden within. Who is not painfully affected when he sees a small child, and especially a new born child, rudely handled?
Does not one experience a certain fear to touch a new born child with the hands, or even with the mouth? Is one not especially sensitive on such occasions of ones own coarseness and impurity? Does not all movements express a tenderness so as not to hurt the child? Let us then approach also the Doctrine of the Church as having been born from the Lord with humility and with a feeling of our own coarseness and impurity.” (Fasicle 3, P-35)
Bethlehem is said to signify the spiritual of the celestial, which is the same as is said of the Doctrine of the Church.
We also read:”Lo, we have heard of Him in Ephratha, we will come into His habitation, we will bow ourselves down at His footstool. Arise 0 Jehovah to Thy resting place. Thou and the ark of Thy strength. (Ps.132:6-9) Evidently this treats of the Lord, … Ephratha meaning Bethlehem where the Lord was born, and signifying the Word in respect to its natural sense, while Bethlehem signifies the Word in respect to its spiritual sense; and there He chose to be born because the Lord is the Word.” (A.E. 700)
The birth of the Lord is in the spiritual sense of the Word, although we are said to have heard of Him in Ephratha, that is in the natural sense of the Word. The birth of the Lord with us is in the internal sense of the Word of the Third Testament signified by Bethlehem although “we hear of Him” in the natural sense, signified by Ephratha. The Doctrine of the Church, in its essence, as spiritual from celestial origin, is one with the internal sense of the Word. Bethlehem, as shown above, is the spiritual of the celestial, and also the Internal sense of the Word, for these make one. For the essence of the Doctrine of the Church is the internal sense of the Word which has come to perception in the Church.
When the Lord came on earth, He glorified His Human and made a universal redemption. The operation was then from the side of the Lord. The cooperation or reciprocal, takes place when the Divine Human is consciously received, that is in His Second Coming. The Second Coming is only internally received when the New Church comes to a perception of the internal sense of the Third Testament, and makes this of life.
When the Lord was on earth, the things of His life were representative of His reception at His Second Coming.
The shepherds who came to the manger represented those who teach the trues of life and thus feed the flock. As persons these shepherds had no idea of the Doctrine of the true signified by the manger, nor of the first trues of innocence, signified by the swaddling clothes, and they had scarcely any idea of the Christ who was born; although they were under the great impression of the wonderful thing taking place.
The same is true of much of the Gospels; many of the miracles were miracles of healing the bodies, but which were representative of the cures of souls which the Lord would perform in His Second Coming. Even the Apostles understood little of the Lord’s words, for He often spoke in parables.
In general we too have little idea of the Lord’s birth on earth, or of its fulfillment in the Church, in His Second Coming. For, its fulfillment in us, we may be waiting, and we pray and hope that we are faithfully watching, with a modest and contented trust, knowing neither the hour or year when He cometh, but trusting that all is in His merciful Providence.
In our vanity we can easily imagine that we have a truly internal idea of the Lord’s birth, and that it is being fulfilled, or is about to be fulfilled, with us, when we are in reality in no state for its reception with us. The Lord comes to those who are in despair of ever being prepared to receive Him, rather than to those who feel themselves ready to receive Him.
On this day of the year the whole Christian world celebrates the birth of the Lord; many with vanity and some with simple faith. While we can rejoice that some in the world in general celebrate the Lord’s birth in simple faith, we should not enter into the mixed sphere of celebrating Christmas even with such, as are sincere. The sphere of Christmas which is truly of the Lord’s New Church is entirely different. This sphere as yet may be very weak in our midst; we may lack it more than the simple in the Christian world, but it can only come into existence and grow if we are willing to leave the sphere of the world, including the sphere of the celebration of the birth of the Lord by the simple in the world. The prevailing sphere in the old church, is a sphere of worshipping the Lord as to person and not as to essence. It is this sphere that we must leave.
Yet the ultimate account of the Lord’s birth on earth, with the great delight in this story, still must be in our natural mind and its affection, as the foundation upon which all interior ideas rest, for without the childish wonder of the birth of the Lord, all interior ideas are like a temple in the air. We should indeed have a love for all who truly love the celebration of the birth of the Lord as their Saviour, and yet remain distinct from them, not co- mingling our thinking and feeling with theirs; not from a feeling of superiority, which we may not have, but from a feeling for order, and for the possibility of a real development.
We read: “If it had pleased the Lord He might have been born in a most splendid palace, and have been laid in a bed adorned with precious stones; but He would then have been with such as were in no Doctrine of the true, and there would have been no celestial representation.” (A.E.706)
The Lord cannot be born with us in those knowledges of the Word which we have taken to ourselves, and which have put on, in ourselves , and in the Church, an appearance of great splendor. He can only be born in the affection of the true from a humble heart that feels itself poor in all things of the Word, and is willing to be instructed.
Let us pray that we may hear, understand and love the words of the angels: “There is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour who is Christ the Lord; and this is a sign unto you, ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger.”
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