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Look at celebrities and their entourages, world leaders and their protection details. The more powerful you are, the bigger of an entrance you make . . . right?
So why then did Jesus—the all-powerful Lord of the universe—come to earth as a helpless baby in a manger? In this episode, hosts Curtis Childs and Jonathan Rose use the writings of eighteenth-century theologian Emanuel Swedenborg to look for the answer.
Why a Baby?
God is love and wisdom, but he is also the divine design itself. He created and continues to maintain the order and structure of the universe. This means that it would be counter to his very nature to live life in any way different than the full human experience as he designed it.
In the process of taking on a human manifestation, God followed his own divine design. . . . Now, because God came down, and because he is the design . . . there was no other way for him to become an actual human being than to be conceived, to be carried in the womb, to be born, to be brought up, and to acquire more and more knowledge so as to become intelligent and wise. Therefore in his human manifestation he was an infant like any infant, a child like any child, and so on with just one difference: he completed the process more quickly, more fully, and more perfectly than the rest of us do. (True Christianity §89)
Every part of human life is about bringing us into a closer relationship with God, and Jesus modeled how to do this by living his own life. The process begins all the way in infancy.
The Lord’s life followed this path because the divine design is for people to prepare themselves to accept God; and as they prepare themselves, God enters them as if he were coming into his own dwelling and his own home. The preparation entails developing a concept of God and of the spiritual things related to the church—that is, developing intelligence and wisdom. It is a law of the divine design that the closer and closer we come to God, which is something we have to do as if we were completely on our own, the closer and closer God comes to us. When we meet, God forms a partnership with us. The Lord followed this design even to the point of union with his Father. (True Christianity §89)
For Jesus to model movement toward the Lord, he had to start at the beginning. And his beginning was about as humble as can be.
And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for him at the inn. (Luke 2:7)
This famous verse evokes familiar Christmas imagery, but Swedenborg says that behind the literal meaning of the verse is a description of how we can build a relationship with God. For example, the inn represents the state of affairs in the world at that time—not just religion and politics, but the people themselves. None of them had room in their hearts for this new teaching.
What about the other elements of the story? Keep reading for part 2.
Mary, Manger, Shepherds
When you look at Mary, you see a loving, caring mother who was open to serving the Lord’s purpose. There’s humility in that—and there’s nothing more humble than a feeding trough for a cradle.
The manger where the shepherds found the infant Lord symbolized spiritual nourishment, because horses, which get their nourishment from mangers, symbolize things having to do with the understanding. (De Verbo §7:5)
Jonathan suggests that this means there’s an element in us that is teachable—in other words, while other parts of our mind might be closed to spiritual influence, we all have a “manger” inside us where we can begin to understand the lessons around us.
If it had pleased the Lord, he might have been born in the most splendid palace, and been laid in a bed adorned with precious stones, but this would have been among such as were in no doctrine of truth, and there would have been no heavenly representation. He is also said to have been wrapped in swaddling clothes, because swaddling clothes signify primary truths, which are truths of innocence, and also truths of divine love. (Apocalypse Explained §706:12)
In other words, when we’re in a state of humility, then we’re open to what the Lord wants to bring into our lives. On the other hand, when we’re on top of the world and think we know all the answers, we aren’t listening in the same way.
And the news of Jesus’s birth went straight to shepherds rather than worldly leaders. These shepherds signified people who do good works and protect those who need it. These are the people who are most receptive to the Lord’s message.
Every tiny detail of this birth scene had some incredible spiritual significance.
The Lord’s Birth in Us
Any parent knows raising a baby is a whole lot of work, and the same is true of God’s birth into our hearts and minds.
The Lord is present with each and every human being. He exerts insistent pressure on us to receive him. When we do receive him, which occurs when we acknowledge him as our own God, Creator, Redeemer, and Savior, his First Coming occurs [in us], which is the twilight before dawn. From then on, we begin to be enlightened intellectually in spiritual matters and to grow into deeper and deeper wisdom. As we receive this wisdom from the Lord, we move through the morning into midday. The day continues into our old age until we die. Then we come to the Lord himself in heaven. There, although we died old, we are brought back into the morning of our lives, and the rudiments of wisdom that were planted in us while we were in the physical world grow and thrive to eternity. (True Christianity §766)
In other words, when we first notice a divine presence inside us, if we’re humble enough to accept it, then it’s up to us to figure out how to care for it and nourish it so that it will grow. It’s really about the growth of a relationship—becoming part of God’s family.
In the wrap-up, we hear the story again—but this time with all the symbolic meaning layered in.
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About Swedenborg and Life
In a lighthearted and interactive live webcast format, host Curtis Childs from the Swedenborg Foundation and featured guests explore topics from Swedenborg’s eighteenth-century writings about his spiritual experiences and afterlife explorations and discuss how they relate to modern-day life and death.
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