The Infant Lord by the Rev. Lee Woofenden

The Infant Lord by Rev. Lee Woofenden
Bridgewater, Massachusetts, January 4, 2004

Genesis 12:1-7 The call of Abram

The Lord had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."

So Abram left, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the souls they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.

Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring I will give this land." So he built an altar there to the Lord, who appeared to him.


Luke 2:21-32 Jesus presented in the Temple

On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.

When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord"), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: "a pair of doves or two young pigeons."

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."

Arcana Coelestia #1438 The Lord's early life

"And they came into the land of Canaan" means that the Lord arrived at the heavenly things of love. This is clear from what was I have just explained about the land of Canaan. Here the Lord's early life is described, from birth to childhood; during this time he arrived at the heavenly things of love. The heavenly things of love are the core realities; everything else comes from them. He was filled heavenly things first of all, since from these, as from its seed, everything else was then made fruitful. With him the seed itself was heavenly, for he was born from Jehovah, and therefore he was the only one who has ever had that seed within himself.

Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel. (Luke 2:29-32)

These words, usually in a more traditional translation, have found their way into the closing section of many worship services. Yet though Simeon, who spoke them, was close to his departure from this world, he was speaking in celebration of a new beginning--in fact, of the most wonderful new beginning that has ever happened: the birth of the Lord into the world.

Our Gospel reading tells first of the naming of Jesus at his circumcision when he was a week old, and then of his presentation in the Temple at the completion of another thirty-three days, which was the prescribed period for ritual purification of a woman after the birth of a son. So at the time of his presentation in the temple, Jesus was forty days old.

When his parents brought him to the temple, a devout man named Simeon was also inwardly directed, by the spirit of the Lord, to come to the temple. There, he took the infant Jesus in his arms, and praised the Lord, saying of the child, "My eyes have seen your salvation." This was the meaning of the name "Jesus" that the child had been given according to the instruction of the angel, as we read in the Gospel of Matthew: "You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21).

"My eyes have seen your salvation." How could Simeon say this of a baby less than two months old? How could this baby be the salvation not only to the Jews, but to the Gentiles as well--meaning the Savior of all people?

The spirit of God showed Simeon what was already taking place in this new life. For as we have once again affirmed in the opening sermons of this series, this was no ordinary birth, and no ordinary baby. In this baby there was no human soul, but rather, the soul of God himself residing in a child born of a human mother.

For nearly two millennia, the inner life of that child, and the man he grew to be, has been largely swathed in mystery. We get a few brief glimpses in the Gospels of the intense emotions and deep struggles that the Lord went through. But these are hardly enough to build anything like a complete picture of what was happening within the Lord during his life on earth. In fact, the Gospels give practically no information at all about the vast bulk of the Lord's life on earth. We are told how he was born and spent some time in Egypt with his parents during his infancy. Then a decade is passed by in silence, and we are given one brief story of the Lord at twelve years of age. After that, nearly two decades goes by in silence, before we see the Lord beginning his public ministry at the age of thirty. What happened in the intervening years? Can we ever know anything about the Lord during the bulk of his life?

The outward details of the Lord's life will forever remain a mystery. Outwardly, he was an ordinary boy from a poor family, and no one would have taken notice or recorded such a life. It was only when he began his public ministry, and began to stand out from the crowd, that anyone took notice, and that the story of his life moves out of the shadows and into the light.

However, his inner life, though it goes far beyond our finite, human ability to grasp, is no longer the mystery it once was, thanks to the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. In his great work Arcana Coelestia (Secrets of Heaven), Swedenborg gives us an extensive series on the Lord's inner process of "glorification," or of becoming fully united with the Divine Soul from which he came. This series starts with the call of Abram in Genesis 12, and continues as a thread through Swedenborg's explanations of all the rest of the book of Genesis, covering the lives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.

This is why I have chosen the story of the call of Abram as our Old Testament reading. As our series on the inner life of the Lord progresses, we will follow key stories from the rest of Genesis, relating them both to the New Testament stories of the Lord's life and to their deepest, heavenly or "celestial" meaning that tells us of the Lord's inner experience while he was here on earth.

Even Swedenborg's explanation of the Lord's inner state in his tiniest infancy is sketchy. In explaining the first verse of Genesis 12 he tells us:

Because the Lord is the subject here, these words contain more secrets than anyone can possibly conceive and explain. For the deeper meaning here speaks of the Lord's first state after his birth. Because that state is a very deep secret, any understandable explanation of it is practically impossible. Let it be said simply that he was like any other human being, except that he was conceived from Jehovah, yet born of a woman who was a virgin, and by birth from that virgin he took on all the weaknesses that are common to all. These weaknesses are physical, and are referred to in this verse in that he was to depart from them so that heavenly and spiritual things might be brought into view for him. . . .

A further secret is that the Lord's human side also became divine. In him alone there was a correspondence of all things of the body with the Divine. This was a most perfect, or infinitely perfect, correspondence, and from it there resulted a union of physical things with divine heavenly things, and of sensory things with divine spiritual things. Thus he became the perfect human being, and the only human being. (Arcana Coelestia #1414)

In the highest, heavenly meaning of the call of Abram in Genesis 12, we have a picture of the Lord, who was born from God through a human mother, being called away from the merely physical and material side of his nature that came from his mother, toward the heavenly and divine things from which his deeper nature came.

Now, I would venture to say that none of us ordinary mortals is aware of any divine promptings while we are still babes in arms. We are aware, without conscious thought, of the warmth of our mother's body, and of less warmth when we are separated from human contact; we are aware of taking in nourishment and eliminating waste; we are aware of comfort and discomfort; and we are gradually learning to use our eyes and distinguish things.

The infant Jesus was aware of all of these things, too. Physically speaking, he was a human baby like any other human baby, and went through all the experiences and phases that we do at that early time of our lives.

Yet unlike any other baby, the Lord had God as his inner soul, his inner being. So right from birth he experienced everything at a far deeper level, and with far more clarity, than any of us does. At a time when the center of our lives is the warmth of our mother, Jesus was already beginning to feel the warmth of God's infinite love welling up from within, and calling him toward higher things than we will ever know or comprehend. A little later in Arcana Coelestia we read:

The Lord's ability to learn went beyond that of any other person. Unlike others he learned heavenly things before spiritual ones. (Arcana Coelestia #1464)

In Swedenborg's way of speaking, "heavenly" things, when they are compared to "spiritual" ones, refer to the things of the heart--to love--compared to the things of the head--to truth. So what he is saying here is that the Lord became aware of and learned things in his heart first, and in his head only afterwards.

This is the reverse of what ordinarily happens with us. Generally speaking, we first learn spiritual things in our head, through Sunday School, Bible reading, and hearing religious teaching; only later do we take them to heart and make them a part of our lives. This is because we are born basically self-centered--focused primarily on our own comfort and well-being--and our hearts tend toward the things that support our own comfort. We have to be trained and instructed from outside to go in a higher direction: toward loving the Lord and loving our fellow human beings more than we love ourselves.

But for Jesus, the Lord's love was not outside of him; it was within him, in his very soul. And he felt those promptings right from birth--even though a conscious, intellectual awareness of them still took time to develop. This process of moving from first awareness to a clear mental grasp of the deeper call is pictured by the journeys of Abram.

It is often stated mistakenly in Bible commentaries and Sunday School materials that Abram was called from Ur of the Chaldees, in the land of Babylonia. But in fact, by the time Abram received his call, his father Terah had already taken him and his family, along with his nephew Lot, from Ur to Haran, which was located halfway to Canaan (the Holy Land) along the Fertile Crescent in ancient Mesopotamia. This story is told in the last few verses of Genesis 11, just before our Old Testament reading.

Spiritually speaking, the move from Ur to Haran represents our early travels from being focused entirely on ourselves and our own comforts (Babylon represents self-love) to having some awareness of others and their feelings and needs (Haran represents natural, outward goodness). This happens even before we have any conscious promptings toward spiritual life--represented by the Lord's call to Abram. There is no mention of the Lord calling Terah to pick up his family and move from Ur to Haran. He simply does it. And our earliest inner development begins before we have any conscious awareness of God.

The Lord, also, had already traveled away from an exclusive self-awareness and focus on his own sensations, comforts, and discomforts by the time he became consciously aware of the Divine that was present within himself. He was already aware of others around him, and that his own comfort and pleasure was not to be the primary focus of his life. As Genesis 12:4 makes clear, Abram was called, not from Ur, but from Haran.

What takes place in Genesis 12 is the first conscious call of God to leave behind even the material things of outward goodness--enjoying the pleasures of this life and the companionship of friends and family--as the main focus in life. For us, it is the time we first become aware that God is calling us to higher, spiritual things; that the rewards and satisfactions of this life are not enough; that we must begin living, not according to human standards, but according to God's higher plan for our lives.

For Jesus, this call was an even higher and deeper one. It was a call to awareness that he was not only to live a good outward life, represented by Haran, but that he had a far greater calling and mission in life. As such, it was a call from human obscurity to divine clarity. Swedenborg tells us that this call was already taking place in Jesus in his very earliest years, at the time he was moving from infancy to childhood.

Like everything that happened within the Lord, this call did not originate in intellectual considerations. Once again, from the Arcana, "The Lord's ability to learn went beyond that of any other person. Unlike others he learned heavenly things before spiritual ones." In other words, everything that entered the Lord's higher conscious awareness came from love.

And the love that the Lord was being called by was the same love that brought him into the world: it was the divine love that prompted him to have mercy on a dark and suffering world, to come to us, and to save us from the evil that had us it its clutches.

Yes, even from his earliest childhood, practically from the time he was a mere babe in arms, the Lord was feeling the first promptings of his divine mission. He was feeling the first callings of infinite love from within, calling him forward to his life's work: saving us all from the power of evil and hell, which we would never be able to resist or overcome on our own.

This is why Simeon could say, when Jesus was only forty days old, "For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." Amen.

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Music: I Will Always Love You
Bruce DeBoer

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