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City Of David

Rev. Willard D. Pendleton

Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior which is Christ the Lord. Luke 2: 11

A few miles south of Jerusalem, just off the road to Hebron, lay the little city of Bethlehem. Unlike Jerusalem, it had no place in the affairs of men. Here was to be found neither gain nor glory; here were no profitable markets nor palaces of kings. Thus it was that the rich caravans which made their way between Egypt and the east passed it by. In passing, however, men may have referred to it as a place of historical interest, for it was here that David was born. Except for this it had no claim to notice, and in their haste men pressed on to the more pleasant prospect of busy marts and desirable lodging.

Among the many who lived in and about Jerusalem, however, there were still the few who recalled the prophecy concerning this forgotten village. According to the prophet Micah it was here that the Messiah was to be born. In speaking of the Lord who was to come, he said: "But thou, Bethlehem Ephrata, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth to Me that is to be ruler in Israel" (Micah 5: 2).

It is to be noted that Bethlehem is here identified with Ephrata-the name by which it was known in former times. Thus this prophecy is associated with an earlier but more obscure forecast which Christian scholars usually associate with David's desire to build the temple of the Lord. The reference is to the one hundred and thirty-second Psalm, in which David, having come into the spirit said: "I will not give sleep to mine eyes, or slumber to mine eyelids, until I have found a place for the Lord, an habitation for the mighty God of Jacob. Lo, we have heard of Him in Ephrata, we have found Him in the fields of the forest; we will come into His habitations, we will bow ourselves down at His footstool" (Psalm 132:4-7).  The Writings say that "this Psalm treats of the Lord . . . Ephrata meaning Bethlehem where the Lord was born and signifying the Word in respect to its natural sense, while Bethlehem signifies the "Word in respect to its spiritual sense; and there He chose to be born because the Lord is the Word" (AE 700: 9).

Of even more ancient origin, however, is the Genesis account of Jacob's sojourn in Ephrata, where Rachel died in bringing forth her second son, whom she called Benoni, meaning, son of my sorrow; but Jacob called him Benjamin, meaning, son of the right hand. It is here among the historicals of the Word that the place of the Lord's birth is established, and in the Arcana treatment of this series the reason is given why He could not have been born in any other place. The teaching is that Bethlehem signifies, and Benjamin represents, the spiritual-celestial man, that is, the man who is in the acknowledgment of truth from love to the Lord. Regarding this the Writings say that "all men whatever are born natural, with the power of becoming either celestial or spiritual; but the Lord alone was born spiritual-celestial, and for this reason He was born at Bethlehem, where is the boundary of the land of Benjamin" (AC 4592: 3). To this it is added: "The reason why the Lord alone was born spiritual-celestial is that the Divine was in Him" (ibid.). Unlike others, therefore, He was born into the perception of truth from Divine love.

What, then, can we say of this Child who was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King? He was born as man, yet was He God. He was conceived of a virgin whose name was Mary, yet the seed of His conception was Divine. "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1: 14). "And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger" (Luke 2: 12). By swaddling clothes are signified the primary truths of innocence, and by the manger that doctrine of truth from the Word now become flesh.

Here, and nowhere else, will we find Him. There are many other cities in Judah, thousands of false doctrines and intellectual persuasions, but in none of these is He to be found. Only in the spiritual sense of the Word, that is, in Bethlehem of Judea, can He who is the Divine doctrine be born among men. While many may doubt, and some deny, this is our faith. On this high and holy day, therefore, we say one to another: "Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us" (Luke 2: 15).

The meaning of the text, therefore, is unmistakable. "Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord." All of revelation testifies to this one central truth. In the inmost sense of the Word there is no other reference. In the Arcana exposition of the glorification the doctrine of the Divine Human is drawn from the letter, verse by verse, chapter by chapter. Beginning with the call of Abram from Ur of the Chaldees, which is definitive of the Lord's state at birth, we follow the sacred text through the formative states of the Human and through those alternate states of temptation and glorification which marked His progression toward union with the Divine. Thus the Divine doctrine which formerly dwelt in Ephrata among the natural appearances of the prophetic Word is now to be found in Bethlehem, that is, in what is described in the Writings as the spiritual of the celestial in a new state.

Like the shepherds, therefore, we, too, seek Him in the Word made flesh. At first His Divinity is scarcely perceptible. To all appearances He is as any other child, yet there is about Him an indescribable sphere of holiness which stirs the simple affections of childhood and causes wise men to fall upon their knees in adoration. It is to be observed, however, that this first revealing is seen only by the few only by those states of innocence which the Lord Himself has prepared to receive Him at His coming.

The teaching is that these states are provided by the Lord during infancy and childhood, and are said to consist of those goods and truths which the child receives with delight. As the loves of self and the world gradually take possession of the mind these delights are drawn into the interiors of the spirit, and there they remain until the day that the Divine doctrine is born in Bethlehem of Judea. Like Mary and Joseph, some dwell in the obscurity of the remote region of Galilee, others watch over their flocks by night in the hill country of Judea. and others abide in the land of the east-in the land of ancient associations and vague memories.

It is these primary affections of innocence and delight, however, which receive the Lord at His coming. Were it not for them there would be no human affection to which the nascent doctrine of the Divine Human could be revealed. Herod is king in Jerusalem and Caesar Augustus is emperor in Rome. It is the love of self which seeks the young child to destroy Him, and the natural rational which is formed of the sensual appearances of truth is indifferent to the appeal of Divine authority. Like Pilate, the first-formed rational asks, "What is truth?" To such states, therefore, the Divine doctrine cannot be revealed, but only to those states which are formed from those living affections called remains.

In Mary, a virgin daughter of her people, we find that abiding affection of truth which is inspired in the heart of man before the love of self becomes calculating. She alone can serve as the matrix of the Divine descent. In her there is neither duplicity nor deceit, but a childlike devotion in which the spirit of innocence dwells. While there is much that she does not understand, she does not question those things which come to pass. As she said unto the angel: "Be it unto me according to thy word" (Luke 2: 38).

Intimately associated with the life of Mary is Joseph, who in his representative function is that good to which the love of truth is betrothed. This good is the delight of heaven itself, which of the Lord's providing is present in first states. In infancy and childhood these delights are inspired through the instrumentality of the heavens whose function it is to prepare the way for the Lord. Hence, Joseph is said to represent the celestial of the spiritual-that heavenly medium whereby the Lord's love is accommodated to the states of men.

It was Mary and Joseph, therefore, who received the Babe and laid Him in the manger. There were, however, those other remains of innocence which testify to His birth. There were the shepherds who represent those primary truths which are learned by way of instruction. Let us never under evaluate those first learned truths of childhood; they constitute the child's first idea of the Lord, and all that is learned in later states is dependent upon it. Associated in our minds with these heavenly shepherds is the story of the wise men, bringing with them the sacred memories of the past, reviving in our hearts the spirit of prophecy and the hope of Him who is to he born among men. Indeed, it has been truly said, "Life's treasures ever come out of the past, and the deeper the past, the greater the treasure." [A Sermon by the Right Reverend N. D. Pendleton. (See The Glorification, p. 7.) ]

Here, then, is a marvelous thing; it is the miracle of regeneration. At His coming there are few to receive Him, but by means of these few many are brought to the light. Were it not for these few who attend the Divine child at His birth, those truths of the church which are represented by the disciples could not be formed. This is of the Lord's own providing; it is His way in the establishment of the church. By means of the first- formed affections of life man is held in a state of receiving faith in the Lord until the day of His showing unto Israel.

Interiorly regarded, the life of regeneration is marked by successive revealings of the Divine doctrine. As evils and falsities are removed, man becomes increasingly sensitive to the power of His Word. As children our faith is implicit, but it is as yet unformed. Like David, we hear of Him in Ephrata, we find Him in the fields of the forest; but it is not until we find Him in Bethlehem-in the spiritual sense of the Word-that the miracle of regeneration can be effected. It is here, in our first dim perception of His Divine Humanity, that the truth is seen. Like the shepherds, like the wise men, we know that this Child, this nascent doctrine of the Divine Human, is as no other, although as yet we know not what these things portend. It is only as we endure in temptation that the true meaning and purpose of life is revealed.

In the course of the years many have come to Bethlehem. Some have found Him, and others have not. The difference is that whereas the former have sought Him, the latter, like the travelers on the road to Hebron, are intent on other things. In their minds there is nothing here which is deserving of more than a passing interest-nothing which is conducive to the life of the proprium. Like Bethlehem, the ancient city of Ephrata, the Writings do not seem to belong to the modern world. Their content, their form, even the style in which they are written, seem to belong to the past. Men say these things may have been of interest in the day they were written, but of what value are they in this enlightened age? True, they may be of historic interest to the occasional student of comparative religion, but science is king, and in the land of the Pharaohs we will find what our hearts desire. So they press on to the markets of merchants who trade the scientifics of Egypt for the knowledges of the lands of the East. In their haste they give no thought to the city of Bethlehem where is born He who is Christ the King.

Were it not for this doctrine of the Divine Human which is cradled in Bethlehem, the Writings would not be what they are. Were He not inmostly present in every doctrine of the Church they would be neither true nor authoritative. "In Him (is) life: and (this) life is the light of men." Yet men attribute them to Emanuel Swedenborg-a gifted thinker of a former day. As his works they will acknowledge them, and at times even acclaim them, but they judge according to the appearance, and their judgment is not true: for these Writings are, "born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1: 13). They are what they proclaim themselves to be, the Word of God in Human form.

Nevertheless, it is this Divine Human which men deny. They say this thing is beyond all belief. Yet we ask, how else can God be revealed? Were it not for His Divine Humanity He would remain invisible and unknowable. Hence the teaching of the Writings that "before the Divine can be made comprehensible to man it must first be made Human." Even in most ancient times God was seen as Man; not as we see Him today in His own Divine Human, but as the angel of Jehovah-that human of the heavens which served the purpose of Divine revelation until the day that He was born as Man. Indeed, He cannot be revealed except as Man for He is Divine Man.

On this day, therefore, and in all days to come, whenever men reflect upon His birth into the world, the story of the shepherds is retold. These spiritual thoughts and affections which watch over their sheep by night lead us in the way of life, even unto the city of David where we will find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. It is an ever recurrent miracle-the miracle of the Divine birth in the hearts and minds of men.

In each successive state a deeper insight is given, and the light which at first shines in the darkness becomes as the sun in its strength. He who as children we were taught to worship is no longer an unseen God who dwells in glory above the heavens. He is God Immanuel, that is, God with us, whose dwelling place is the Word made flesh Amen.

LESSONS: Micah 5. Luke 2: 1-19. AC 1414.
MUSIC: Liturgy, pages 531, 524, 536, 516, 520, 352.
PRAYERS: Liturgy, nos. 23, 55.

New Church Life, Vol. LXXII, December, 1952

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City Of David

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