By REV. CALVIN ODHNER
Text: Luke 1:26-38, Matthew 1:18-24; Apocalypse Revealed 151
Good morning, and welcome to the Pittsburgh New Church! Next week we will celebrate the Lord’s birth, which is called the Lord’s advent! But what does “advent” mean? It means arrival, and sometimes, “glorious entry.” This is a time for us to allow the Lord to enter into our lives in a glorious way. One way we do that is by worshiping Him!
The Lord also came into Mary and Joseph’s life in a glorious way. Let’s read about that now…
I believe the Lord has a message for you this Christmas! A message you don’t want to miss! A promise that will change your life, if you're ready!
This morning, if you will take the truths we just read about into your mind, if you will base your thinking on them as much as you can in a sensible way, something unexpected will happen. Even if you think “I don’t understand it completely” or “I’m not good at this,” none of that matters! The Lord promises--He promises!--that He will take whatever truth you receive this morning and will fill it with Divine light, even though it seems like simple knowledge. He will fill it with His Divine Essence, and it will become part of your spiritual path. He will create another stepping stone for you to heaven--write that down:True Christian Religion 73! That’s His promise, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned: if He says He’ll do something, it happens!
What happened to Mary?
Luke 1:26-45: Christ’s Birth Announced to Mary
One of the reasons the Christmas story is so special is because we get to see the Lord actively sending His angels, trying to connect with us as He did with this young couple, Mary and Joseph. Here is how He connected with Mary:
26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”
Since the end of the Most Ancient Church, the Lord had been sending prophecies of His Advent! Getting the world ready for his coming. But also, He had been preparing the angels in the heavens. The celestial angel society called “Gabriel” had expected the Lord’s coming since the first prophecy in Genesis:
[T]he "head of the serpent" would be crushed by the "seed of the woman."
And it was their “use” to “proclaim these good tidings” to Mary (Arcana Coelestia 2523).
Nothing had been left to chance! The Lord had carefully prepared for everything. In fact, the Lord’s whole life is described in the Old Testament, such as it was to be in the world, even His perceptions and thoughts were provided for and foreseen (Arcana Coelestia 2523). And now the time had come: in a little city in Galilee called Nazareth, the angel appeared to Mary.
It’s interesting to note that the city of Nazareth, which is in Galilee, is way up north of Bethlehem! The Lord could not have been born there! Why? Because He had to be born on the borders of Judah and Benjamin. Judah, representing the doctrine of love to the Lord and love to the neighbor, and Benjamin representing a person who knows the truth and lives it! (Apocalypse Explained 811.28 & 449). This is what the Lord brings into the world for each of us: a new way to learn the truth and live it. We read:
For every infant is born natural, and the natural, because it is next to the external senses and the world, is first opened, and this with all men is ignorant of truth and desirous of evil; but in the Lord alone the natural had a desire for good and a longing for truth; for the ruling affection in man, which is his soul, is from the father; (AE 449)
And so, the Lord provided that He would be born in Bethlehem as King David was before Him, for the Lord was born a King, whose natural was eager for good and whose will longed for the truth (AE449).
Mary represents the “affection for truth” in us, our willingness to learn the truths of the Word and follow them. Her willingness is exemplified by her words:
“Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”(Luke 1:38)
She was ready to do whatever the Lord asked. It’s interesting that Swedenborg actually spoke with Mary:
It was once granted me to speak with Mary, the mother. She was then passing by, and appeared in heaven over my head, clothed in white raiment like silk. Pausing for a little she said that she had been the mother of the Lord, for He was born of her; but that He, having become God, put off all the Human He had from her; and therefore that she now worships Him as her God, and is unwilling that any one should acknowledge Him as her Son, because the whole Divinity is in Him.
(True Christian Religion 102)
But how did the Lord come to Joseph?
What happened to Joseph?
Christ Born of Mary
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. 19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. 20 But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
The people of the most ancient church were instructed directly through dreams (AC 125, 597.2), for a dream in the supreme sense, denotes the foresight of the Lord--things that are about to happen! Imagine the confidence we can develop in our lives when we acknowledge that everything in general and down to the least detail is foreseen by Him (AC 5091). Here, Joseph is instructed by an angel, but unlike Mary, the angel comes to him in a dream. We perceive Joseph’s willingness to follow the Lord, because he didn’t even wait till morning! He woke up, got out of bed, and did as the Lord commanded. He found Mary and “took to him his wife.”
These two people paint a picture for how we are to live our spiritual lives. First, we are to humbly accept what the Lord is telling us--that voice we hear in our mind, but don’t always obey: “[B]ehold…the maidservant of the Lord.” And when we hear the voice of truth, we are to act on it as soon as possible…
[B]eing aroused from sleep, [Joseph] did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife. (Matthew 1:24)
As Mary represents “an affection for truths of the church," Joseph represents an understanding of those truths. Mary wants nothing more than to be married to Joseph, as the love of truth seeks to be one with the understanding of truth.
When we agree to have this beautiful thing--the Lord’s truth--be born into our lives, we suddenly realize what a harsh environment we are bringing it in to. This new birth of love to the Lord and love to the neighbor is challenged at every turn, for there is no “room in the inn.” The love of self and the world have filled every vacancy. Herod is alive and well, ready to deceive, ready to kill off our new precious life as he seeks all power. Where are we to turn? Our only hope is to bolster our new-found truths with more instruction, with more insight into those fresh ideas and new ways of treating each other so that we can feel the Lord’s order get some purchase in our lives. We need to “feel it,” to create peace in our life. Therefore, we must go to Egypt!
13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you 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 for Egypt, 15 and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.” (Matthew 2:13-15)
Our study of the Word and its application to our life are what lead us to the Lord, for Egypt represents “knowledges and memory-knowledges, which are truths, useful to those who are in the faith of charity” (AC 1164.5).
The star that led the wisemen represented knowledges of good and truth and concepts about the Lord. (AE 422:20, De Verbo 7). The angels that appeared to the shepherds shared knowledge about heaven and where they were to go to worship the Lord. (AE 7016.12).
The Lord’s Advent and its surrounding events happened all to one purpose: through our knowledge of the truth, He creates a heaven from the human race! The Lord leads each one of us to Himself, so that we may kneel down and worship Him, offering our gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, our celestial, spiritual, and natural good. These levels of good are the center of worship within us, and we worship Him truly when we move towards a spiritual way of living.
Yes! the Lord has a message for you this Christmas, and many of you have already heard the Lord’s angel call. This Christmas, let us nurture that beautiful new life within us, a willingness to follow every truth, even though right now we may not completely understand it, as we hear the angel say:
“Do not be afraid! … [T]ake to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit… and she will bring forth a son, and you shall call His name Jesus… for He will save His people from their sins.”
Amen. Let us pray.