2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting.” 3 Therefore He shall give them up, Until the time that she who is in labor has given birth; Then the remnant of His brethren shall return to the children of Israel. 4 And He shall stand and feed His flock In the strength of the LORD, In the majesty of the name of the LORD His God; And they shall abide, For now He shall be great To the ends of the earth; 5 And this One shall be peace.
1 And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. 3 So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. 4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. 6 So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
De Verbo 7.5
The knowledge of correspondences lasted among many eastern peoples down to the Lord’s coming, as may be proved from the wise men from the east who came to the Lord on His birth. So a star went before them, and they brought with them gold, frankincense and myrrh. And the shepherds were told, as a sign that they should know He was the Lord, that they would see Him in a manger wrapped in swaddling clothes, because there was no place at the inn. For the star which went before them meant knowledge coming from heaven, since stars in the Word mean pieces of knowledge. Gold meant celestial good, frankincense spiritual good, and myrrh natural good, all worship being from these three sources. The manger in which the baby Lord was found by the shepherds means spiritual nourishment, because horses which feed from a manger mean matters of the intellect. The inn, where there was no place, meant the Jewish church, where at that time there was no spiritual nourishment, because everything in the Word and thus every detail of their worship was adulterated and perverted. This is why it is said that this should be a sign for them that it was the Lord (Luke 2:12).
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for He hath visited and redeemed his people (Lk 1:68)
It never ceases to amaze me how the simplicity and innocence that surrounds the scene of the Lord’s birth into the world unfolds something new every time we take the time to reflect on it. The scene has the power to touch every heart open to the idea that the God of all that is seeks to connect in a very intimate way with each and every member of the human race and to do that He came to us clothed in innocence as a small vulnerable infant – harmless, non-threatening, and as one among us.
Children, particularly infants, draw forth from within us powerful affections that look to their care and protection. Such feelings remind us of the importance of protecting those things that are good and true in our lives because it is within these that the Lord is able to be present with us. One of the most important things we can do in regard to the spiritual life is to protect the sanctity of the Word in our own thought and conversation. If we do this from a desire to practise it and thereby connect with the Lord it will take its place more and more at the centre of our lives.
Knowledge leads to understanding and understanding leads to Wisdom which is a product of love. This progression is represented by the Magi of the East being lead by a star to the place where the Lord was born. All journeys in the Word speak of the progression of spiritual or mental states that we pass through as the Lord’s desire for the salvation of the human race unfolds for us. The wise men being led by a star speaks of the importance of living our lives according to the knowledge we have of spiritual principles or truths. Stars were vital for navigation across desert regions. They are reliable, fixed points of reference relative to the traveller. Yet this star that the wise men followed appears not to be fixed but went before them until it stood over where the infant lay. Stars in the Word correspond to our knowledge of what is good and true, they are like the principles that guide us in how to live our life. Such knowledge, while we are developing, is in a sense on the move as we grow in our understanding of what the heavenly life is about. As we grow in our understanding and knowledge of spiritual things so our views and perceptions undergo subtle and not so subtle shifts guiding us closer and closer to states of innocence and love.
This is the purpose for which knowledge is given that we might come to learn what it is to love. The light from the stars in our own understanding beckon us onward to embrace the fullness that love has to offer. So it is that the star or our knowledge of what the Word teaches, leads us according to our willingness to follow – it leads us to Bethlehem which means “house of bread”. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied the Scriptures declare. For those on the spiritual path are driven by a deep-seated need to be filled. Bread corresponds to the Lord’s goodness or love. The end towards which spiritual knowledge is drawn is always love. Goodness or love is the only thing that can fill the inner hunger or deepest longing of the human heart. We shall be filled when we are willing to follow the Lord in His Word for it is obedience that opens the door for the Lord to transform our very being and life into one that delights to do His will.
When we finally come into the innocence and love we have been seeking we shall recognise it immediately. Like the wise men, we gladly pay homage to innocence and love as the promised King or ruling principle of our life. The wise men describe our spiritual journey or progression from knowledge about love to the perception of love in our very midst, as the source of our very life. They describe the movement of our understanding of spiritual things. But such shifts in our understanding that arise from practising the Word don’t happen in isolation, for through a genuine practise our affections also undergo a shift in their attachments.
Truths teach us how we are to live. As we begin to live our lives in accordance with our understanding of the Word there is built up within us a sense of care for the spiritual well being of others. These are new heavenly affections that develop as allow the Word into our life and they are described by the “shepherds who watch their flocks by night”. Shepherds describe those aspects within us that look to the care and well being of the inner flock made up of innocent affections that look to be led by the Lord or the Word. Just as truth seeks love so love seeks truths through which it can find its expression. For the shepherds, there is no star like we see with the Magi or wise men but an announcement from the angel of the Lord accompanied by a heavenly host. Angels, when abstracted from the idea of persons, correspond to truths from the Word from which all knowledge concerning the Lord’s birth within us can be drawn.
Angels are more fully present with those who are actively shepherding a love for spiritual and heavenly things by consciously being engaged in a search for how they might love others more effectively. That they are described as, “watching their flocks by night,” teaches us that the important thing is not so much about getting it right, or being in clear light as to what it is we need to do, but rather that of being in the effort to act on the limited knowledge of spiritual principles we have.
So in the wise men and shepherds, we have described how the spiritual journey or progression affects the two faculties of the mind. With the wise men we have described those things that relate to our understanding of truths, and in the shepherds, we have those things that relate to the affectional or will part of the mind. The story shows us that both our understanding and will need to be brought together, to the Lord or the Word, who is found in a humble stable area lying in a manger because there was no room at the inn.
Both our will and understanding need to be connected to the Lord and this can only be achieved through the Word, for it is the Word with its love and innocence that is able to transform and recreate the human heart and mind. The building commonly described as the inn was probably not an inn at all, and most likely Joseph’s ancestral home. The Greek word used to describe this structure is kataluo and interestingly it is used of one other structure in the New Testament, that of the upper room in which the Lord held his final Passover meal with His disciples before being betrayed.
The Lord came into the world to get access to the kataluo and found Himself shut out. If we are to have our understanding of the Lord’s birth expanded in terms of its meaning for us we need to ask what is this kataluo might be within us. Again the Greek manuscripts provide us with some insight into what’s going on spiritually – the word room as in, “there was no room for them”, literally refers to no space being available due to it not having been being partitioned off. It contains the idea that the space was not available because it was non-existent. In the Word, the structures that people live in correspond to the human mind.
When the Lord or the Word first enters our consciousness it cannot access our kataluo because this level of mind at a personal level does not yet exist. All that is available to the Lord as far as we are concerned is the lowest reaches of our natural mind. The spiritual within the natural mind has yet to be formed, in that it has yet to be partitioned or separated off from what is natural. For example, when a person first hears the story of the birth of the Lord they see it from a purely natural historical perspective. These days many view this story as a myth or a simple story for children. Yet there is much more here, for it is a story of the way in which we experience the formation of what is spiritual from what is natural. It is the story of our reception of the Word as we enter each new beginning on the spiritual path. Until a spiritual mind is created within us we are limited to a natural, sense based, perspective of spiritual things. We begin our journey with the Word from the ground up. So it is that Joseph, our ability to reason, and Mary, our intuitive affectional faculty for knowing, are limited to a room below that level of mind represented by the kataluo. The kataluo is not an equivalent term for stable as we in the West might understand it. For in the East many houses had a lower floor where livestock was traditionally housed for protection from the elements in winter and other dangers. It also meant that those of the house had ready access to their animals and the products they supplied.
The Lord’s life on earth depicts the creation of a spiritual level of mind within us, hence prior to his death we see Him with His disciples in the kataluo preparing them for His departure which will move them from a sense based dependence upon His physical presence with them to an opening of their spiritual perception of the reality of the Living God in their midst. That the Lord was born in that space preserved for the keeping of domesticated livestock is a beautiful image of the Word finding its place in our natural mind amidst the gentle natural affections for good represented by the uses domesticated animals serve.
We now come to the Lord Himself who makes His presence felt within our hearts and minds as one in a manger wrapped in swaddling clothes. If we are searching for the Lord this is where He is found. A manger is a vessel from which livestock is fed. We have already seen that domesticated animals correspond to the gentle living affections that make up the life of those who love what is good. Affections are desires and as such serve to motivate us to search for what might fulfil them.
We can see this in natural bodily desires such as hunger and thirst. Higher spiritual affections work in a similar way and motivate our seeking of truth to fulfil our spiritual thirst and love to fulfil our spiritual hunger. The Lord is love incarnate and the swaddling clothes represent ideas of innocence within which love can be found. Our ideas of innocence when drawn from the Word are able to envelop and support tender affections and draw them forth within our consciousness as feelings of peace and tenderness.
To feed spiritually is to learn truths in order that we might know how to love appropriately. The New Church teaches that we cannot learn to love from a truly spiritual perspective of ourselves but are in need of truths and principles to guide our thinking, feeling and acting. Our view of God, whatever it may be, forms the centre of our mind and exerts its influence to structure our thinking and perceptive faculties so that our experience of life supports this view. How important then is it that the view we develop is able to capture those qualities depicted in the Nativity story. It teaches us that above all else the ruling idea we are to draw from the Word concerning the Lord is one of love and innocence. The manger corresponds to those truths that provide us with a true picture of the Lord as the Divine love and wisdom that is constantly looking to our eternal welfare. May we be inspired this Christmas to seek the Lord that we might have our minds recreated into His image and likeness.