The Virgin Birth and the Angel Gabriel
by Rev. Alfred Acton
Today we gather to celebrate the birth of our Lord. Once again the joyous story of shepherds, wise men, Joseph, Mary and the Babe stirs our affections. The call of the angels, "Peace ... good will to men," rings on our lips and echoes from our hearts. The awe of the incarnation arrests our imagination. "Hallelujah, the Lord, God, omnipotent shall reign, and His name shall be called wonderful, counselor, the mighty God, father of eternity, prince of peace."
Indeed the heart swells with emotion as the spirit of giving recalls God's greatest gift to men, the gift of human happiness even to eternity. For it is the fact of the incarnation that we today can find salvation. Without the birth of our Lord all human life would have perished. With this birth the potential for paradise exists as a practical possibility. Spiritual freedom granted by the glorification now is secure. Revealed truth shows the path we in our new freedom must follow.
Today we join in the joy of the angelic choirs whose words in scripture but hint at the full delight they knew at His birth. The awe, wonder, and majesty of the incarnation is just as present now as on that first holy morn when the world awoke to the good news of Messiah's birth. We, too, have come to worship our Savior whose life made possible our own.
Yet as our voices sing praise to our King we, like Mary, may wonder how it was possible for the Lord to descend upon earth. Did not Mary when confronted by our Lord's messenger, Gabriel, question the possibility of such a miracle? Are not we, who have far more knowledge of the medical probability of such an event, perhaps even more perplexed than she? Is it not true that many today professing faith in Jesus Christ are unable to accept His miraculous birth? Are not many Christians even embarrassed by all miracles sanctioned in scripture? Would they not prefer to consider Jesus as simply a moral or ethical teacher whose words were far more important than His professed works, whose life as recounted by four separate witnesses in different manners is more myth or fiction than fact? One wonders, of course, how the words can transcend the works in the minds of such thinkers, yet their scholarship pervades much of current Christendom. For them the virgin birth is simply a poetic account of what might have been. It has no basis in the reality of our Savior's advent.
The New Church also has a new view of scripture, a Divinely revealed view. We see revelation from its spiritual sense. All of the Word has but one single purpose - to show us the Lord, that is, to show us the way to life eternal. We learn that many things in scripture formerly accepted as fact are in reality fiction - made-up historicals fabricated for the express purpose of putting spiritual truth into vessels which would properly express them. Also we learn that other events recorded as miracles in point of fact did not occur (the sun standing still at Joshua's request, for example).
The fact is that the Lord cannot transcend His order. God is order itself. For Him to need to interfere with His order would finite His infinite wisdom. It would mean that He was unable to foresee the affairs of men and needed from time to time to set aright what His order had not envisioned. Such thoughts clearly make God finite, limited. But God is infinite. He must act within His established order. A miracle, though it appears miraculous to us, cannot contravene His order. Yet as we recognize this truth let us not in our own minds make order a finite thing. Divine order must also be infinite if it be worthy of the Lord. The order that we frail mortals can view is but a finite vision of an ever-unfolding infinite pattern.
If, then, the Lord cannot transcend His order is it not of order for us to attempt to explain the miraculous? Must there not be an explanation of miracles if they are orderly? Can we not ... enter with our understandings into the mysteries of the miraculous as well as the mysteries of faith? But as we noted, certain miracles in revelation are simply explained by the statement that they never happened, although they were recorded in scripture for the sake of the spiritual truth they would convey. Is such the case with the virgin birth? Is it, as current Christian scholarship would have us believe, simply a spiritual or poetical truth that the Lord actually came into the world of a virgin? Did He not, in fact, have a human father, Joseph? Revelation attests the lie of this heresy. Matthew, Luke, and Isaiah clearly proclaim the virgin birth. Yet it is in the New Word where the Father of this child is most definitely identified. Jesus Christ, we are taught, was conceived of Jehovah God, the Father. Moreover, by His passion He was not only conceived, but also born of Jehovah as to His Divine Humanity. Our Lord did, in fact, descend into the world, taking on the human nature of man through the assumption of a body provided by the virgin Mary, a body filled with the hereditary evils of mankind against which He Himself was to battle.
Accepting this fact of revelation as a fundamental of faith, ...we take on responsibility to defend the truth of the Lord's incarnation. We must explore both scripture and the evidence of our scientific world to confirm this cardinal truth.
On first appearance such confirmation may seem perplexing. Science has well documented the need for a human father supplying physical substance in the process of propagation. Medically life exists first in the father's seed, and only when this seed with its half complete chromosomal pattern sparks life in the mother can cell division begin. The fact that our Lord was a male further demands a physical addendum from the father, since genetic theory states that the male can only come from a male type chromosome supplied by the father. The order of natural propagation seems to demand a physical basis from the father for life.
But note well that such thought is in essence materialistic. ...[We] know more of life than the merely physical. We knos that life in its essence comes from the soul. The seed of the father is merely a containant of the soul - it is not the essential of life. We are taught that the soul fills the seed by impletion, not by extension. Yea, the whole of the spiritual is apart from time and space, even as it is in time and space by correspondential finition. The spiritual sun which is the first of finition is not spatial. It is not made of parts which can be separated one from another. Yet to exist as a finite entity this sun needs a vessel of physical matter on which it rests. So we have the teaching that the spiritual and natural suns were created at the same time (see TCR 76). The natural sun is a correspondent of the spiritual sun which, in fact, finites that sun, separating it from the Divine.
The seed serves a similar function to the natural sun. It serves as a correspondent to the soul, on which the soul rests and by which it is finited. The finest natural substances which compose this seed seem t o comprise the limbus of the formative infant, a limbus supplied by the father and apparently imprinted with his paternal heredity. For this reason - that is, because the seed makes the soul finite - its structure cannot be put off. To do so would destroy that which has been finited, and so destroy individuality.
Yet with the Lord who, in fact, wanted to put off all that which was finite (all He had received for the purpose of combating the hells) no such finite seed from a father could exist. The seed that sparked Divine life in Mary could not be manufactured by a finite human or else glorification would have been impossible. The finite could not have been put off. What then did manufacture this seed? Correspondentially we are taught that the seed - or rather, that which fashioned the Divine body as opposed to that which made the Divine soul - was Divine truth, the Word which was made flesh. The soul, in turn, came from Divine good. But how could the Word, or Divine truth, supply physical substance to form the Divine vessel upon which life Divine, the good from the Father, could rest?
Note here the relationship between the heavens and the Word. We are taught that the Word when read, because it is in the form of the Greatest Human, sparks respondent chords throughout the heavens. All of the heavens which are in the same human form correspond to the Divine truth which makes them one with the Word. In other words, heaven and the Word are one as to the human form which unites them, that form which transcends the finite but has the finite as its base.
Heaven and the Word are integrally related, but heaven also depends upon the angels who comprise it, and these angels in turn depend upon a physical basis for their eternal existence, namely, their individual limbi. Now it would appear that if the heavens were organized into a particular form, or if even one society of the heavens were so organized, then the physical basis on which that society rests could be similarly organized. Such organization seems to be implied by the teaching concerning the incarnation, that God bowed the heavens and came down. Indeed, it appears that the Divine truth, or the Word, was in fact made flesh by a transflux through the heavens which temporarily organized an angelic society to effect the incarnation. Glorification, of course, would have reversed this process causing the Lord to rise above the heavens.
The angel Gabriel may well have served this function in the process of incarnation. We know from the New Word that this angel was not a single individual; rather it was a whole large society of angels, who appeared en masse to the shepherds after Gabriel had announced the holy birth.
Gabriel was said to stand before God. In describing what is spiritually implied by standing before God we read the following: "'to stand before God' signifies the esse from Him.... [A]ll the esse of heaven and the world proceeds from the Lord; for it is the Divine proceeding that has created and formed all things of heaven and the world; this Divine proceeding is called `the Word' in John; and ‘the Word' there is the Divine proceeding which is called Divine truth, from which all things were made and created. Because this extends itself in every direction about the Lord as a sun, it is properly said ‘to stand before Him,' for it looks to the Lord as its common center, from every quarter and every boundary. This is, in its essence, the Lord in heaven, for it is the Divine proceeding and that which proceeds is of Him from whom it proceeds, and indeed is Himself; just as the heat and light that proceed from the sun are of the sun" (AE 639:2).
But whether the angels who comprised the society Gabriel were organized for the purpose of effecting the virgin birth or not is not nearly as important to our thought as is the fact of the incarnation. We know God has become man. We know that God operating according to His infinite order came into the world bringing salvation, the potential of paradise, to all those who would freely follow the Savior's outlined path. Yea, even as the angel explained it to Mary, the power of the Most High, which is Divine good itself, and the Holy Spirit, which is the Divine truth, did in fact come to rest in this Babe born in Bethlehem.
So the stated use of the society Gabriel becomes important to people today even as it was then, namely the use of announcing the good news of the incarnation. As we learn, "by Gabriel is meant the ministry of those who teach from the Word, that Jehovah came into the world and that the Human He there assumed is the Son of God, and Divine" (AR 548).
The virgin birth is a necessary fact of revelation. Jesus is not simply a great human teacher whose life should be admired and followed. He is our Savior and our Lord. He is God incarnate, whose name shall be called wonderful, counselor, the mighty God, Father of eternity and Prince of Peace.
...[Let us then]take up the ministry of the angel Gabriel; let us learn the way to share the good news of revealed Divine truth with all men. Let us indeed, as did the angels on that night in Bethlehem, proclaim the glad tidings of Messiah's birth. Let the awe and wonder of the Divine mercy fill our hearts with joy as we thank our Lord for His kindness to all men. "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward men."
-New Church Life 1982;102:551-555