A Sermon by Rev Terry Schnarr Preached in Sydney, Australia December 1990

“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call His name Emanuel, which, being interpreted, is God with us” (Matt. 1:23).

The virgin birth of the Lord is a hard thing to believe. Yet the Word teaches it so clearly and vividly that there can be no doubt that the claim of the Bible is that the Lord, Jesus Christ, was conceived from God and born of a virgin woman. Scholars of the Christian Church have claimed that the Greek word for virgin really means young woman and not necessarily one that has not had intercourse with a man. But the Bible also clearly states that Mary had not known a man, which obviously makes her a virgin. This is a fact that must be accepted if we are going to know and love the Lord as the one and only God of heaven and earth, yet we find it so incredible.

The Lord’s soul, from His conception in the womb to His resurrection from the sepulcher, was God Himself, the Infinite and Omnipotent Creator of the universe. It is of paramount importance to the New Church concept of God that He was born into the world of a virgin. He could not have united the Divine and the Human if He had taken a soul from conception by a natural father. In order to save the human race from the damnation of the hells, it was absolutely necessary for God Himself to come into the world, take on an infirm human covering, then put it off again by combating and conquering the hells, and thereby subjugating them to His own omnipotent eternal control. To attain this end, He had to be conceived in a virgin and born of a virgin. The virgin birth is essential to the New Church concept of Jesus Christ as the one and only God of heaven and earth.

It is prophesied in Isaiah that the Lord would be born of a virgin, and it is recorded as a fact in Matthew. Joseph was betrothed to Mary, and betrothal was considered a legal marriage. But before the marriage had been consummated, before they had been bodily conjoined, Mary “was found with child of the Holy Spirit.” Joseph did not at first know of this, and it is said that “being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, he was minded to put her away privately” (Matthew 1:19). But the angel of the Lord came to him in a dream and told him that the child she bore was conceived of the Holy Spirit, adding, “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, `Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call His name Emanuel, which, being interpreted, is God with us'” (Matthew 1:23).

Even though Joseph was not the father of the Lord, it was important that in the eyes of men it should appear that he was. It was necessary that He be born under the protection of a legal marriage. Joseph was needed as a guardian, provider, and instructor. It was Joseph who led them to safety in Egypt when Herod sought to kill the baby Jesus. It was Joseph who worked to provide Mary and Jesus and their other children with food, clothing, and shelter. And it was Joseph, as the head of the household, who was responsible for the instruction of his children. The Lord as an infant and child was helpless and dependent, as all of us are, on His natural guardians.

The miracle of the virgin birth is perhaps the hardest to believe of all the miracles recorded in the Word. Other miracles, even though they seem improbable, can be grasped by our natural minds as being remotely possible. We can see with most of them how there could be natural explanations for them even though we believe that the miracle was that they happened at the right time or in the right place. We can see, for example, the possibility that God could string a number of natural phenomena together to produce the miracle of the crossing of the Red Sea at the right time. We are familiar with occasions where people have been pronounced dead and have come back to life. We are familiar with circumstances where people have seemingly been miraculously cured of incurable diseases and ailments. Because of our familiarity with these events, and our knowledge of natural science, we can naturally envision the possibility of these miracles taking place, and we can therefore easily believe them. But the miracle of a virgin birth is utterly inconceivable to our natural minds. It is something we are not at all familiar with. It is unprecedented in history, and it has not been repeated. Our natural minds cannot, therefore, conceive of it. The result is that in general we either blindly accept it, ignore it, doubt it, or deny it. The New Church presents us with another idea rational understanding and belief.

We are thinking in the wrong way when we think in such a way as to accept these miracles only when we can understand them as natural possibilities. As we heard in the third lesson, this type of thinking leads to all folly and insanity. We ought to first believe in the Word, or in the doctrine therefrom, and then confirm that doctrine by rational things of natural science and sense experience. “He who assumes as a principle,” we read, “that nothing is to be believed until it is seen and understood can never believe, because spiritual and celestial things cannot be seen with the eyes or conceived by the imagination. But the true order is for man to be wise from the Lord, that is, from His Word, and then all things follow . . . . It is by no means forbidden to learn the sciences, since they are useful . . . but it must be from this principle to believe the Word of the Lord, and, as far as possible, confirm spiritual and celestial truths by natural truths, in terms familiar to the learned world. Thus man’s starting-point must be the Lord and not himself; for the former is life, but the latter is death” (AC 129, emphasis added). In other words, we ought to believe that the miracles recorded in the Word actually took place simply because the Lord in His Word says they did, and then merely confirm our belief by natural reasonings and explanations which seem to make them possible.

The virgin birth is a case in point. We ought to believe it because the Lord says it is so in His Word. We can try to confirm it by natural reasonings and explanations. For example, we are taught that the soul of every man is a graft, or an offshoot, from his father’s soul. It consists of finite, spiritual substances, so formed as to receive life from the Lord. Carried in the sperm from the father at conception, the mind, disposition, nature, inclination, and affection of the father’s love dwell in the souls of his offspring, from generation to generation (see TCR 103). Thus, we read, “the hereditary evil from a father is internal and remains to eternity. For it cannot possibly be eradicated” (AC 1573).

If Joseph, or any other natural man, had been the father of the Lord, He would have had such a finite soul, with hereditary evil inclinations that could not be eradicated to eternity. It would not have been possible for Him to unite His human to the Divine Soul. He would not have been God Incarnate. This is why it is so important that we believe that He was born of a virgin. His soul was Jehovah God Himself. It was Life Itself, infinite and uncreated. His soul had no evil tendencies, but only infinite love for all mankind. It was not a finite substance, formed to receive life. And in no sense was His soul a graft, or an offshoot, of the Divine, for the Divine is one and indivisible. Therefore, we are not to think of the Divine as being limited, or confined in any way, by the Lord’s body as an infant, as a boy, as a man, or at any time during His life on earth.

We might wonder how God could rule and sustain order in the universe while He was living in the world as a child or a grown man; but this is to think of His Essence from His Person, limited by His physical person, and we are taught to think of His Person from His Essence, nevertheless to think of and approach the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In other words, God’s omnipresence, omnipotence, and omniscience were no way limited by the material body of the Lord. His soul was unchanged. His soul was infinite and unobstructed in its operation at all times, continually recreating and sustaining the universe as it always has and always will. The Lord’s soul was God Himself, the Creator and Ruler of the entire universe, life itself, infinite love, and infinite wisdom. His soul was the indivisible God of heaven and earth in its totality. He called His soul “Father” and spoke to it even as David speaks to his soul in the psalms.

However, the Lord’s body which was formed of natural substances from the womb of Mary was full of the hereditary evil tendencies of the human race. Through this infirm human the hells could approach and tempt the Lord during His life on earth. He combated them from His own power in His Divine Soul, and was victorious, subjugating them to His eternal control. He thus put off the infirm human nature from His mother, and glorified His Human by uniting it to the Divine which was His soul.

In states of glorification, then, He was Jehovah God Himself on earth, fully aware of all that His soul was doing. In states of temptation or exinanition, however, God appeared as someone separate from Him, and He was then not consciously aware of what His soul was doing. When He was fully glorified there was nothing left of the infirm human nature He had taken on in the womb of Mary. He was God-Man, Divine and Human, Emanuel, God with us. Thus He denied His mother from the cross.

The infant Jesus was born of a virgin so that He could become “God with us.” The purpose of His coming into the world was so that He could be in direct contact with people in the world forever after. How is He immediately present with us here today?

He is here in His Word, but His Word is not a book. Before He came into the world in His own Human, He was mediately present by means of a book. But now, the Word, which was in the beginning, which was with God, which was God, and by which all things were made, became flesh and dwelt among us (see John 1:lff). Jehovah God Almighty came into the world to manifest the true form of the Word the Divine Human. He came into the world to show His true nature in physical ultimates. He came into the world to become visible in His own Human form, which is Divine in Essence. He came into the world so that people could know and love Him as He really is, Divine and Human, Divinely Human. God is the one and only Divine Human Being. He is Divine Love in human form.

The form He is visible in today, the form in which He is immediately present with us today, is as Divine love in Human form. The book upon our altar, and the books upon our shelves, are not in Human form. He is not then immediately present and visible there. But when the contents of His Word have been brought into the forms of human minds and have been loved, thought about, and lived, His Divine love is then received and is immediately present in a visible human form.

When the Word becomes flesh and dwells within people like you and me, the speech and actions of our lives will manifest an image and likeness of the Lord’s Divine Human. The miracle of the virgin birth will be repeated in each one of us, and we “shall bring forth a son, and they shall call His name Emanuel, which being interpreted, is God with us” (Matt. 1:23). Amen.

Matt. 1:18-25; 2:1-16
Isaiah 9:1-7
AC 2568 (portions)

Arcana Coelestia 2568

[2] As regards man, it is one thing to regard the doctrine of faith from rational things and altogether another to regard rational things from the doctrine of faith. To regard the doctrine of faith from rational things is not to believe in the Word, or in the doctrine thence derived, until one is persuaded from rational things that it is so; whereas to regard rational things from the doctrine of faith is first to believe in the Word, or in the doctrine therefrom, and then to confirm the same by rational things.

[4] There are therefore two principles, one of which leads to all folly and insanity, and the other to all intelligence and wisdom. The former principle is to deny all things or to say in the heart that we cannot believe them until we are convinced by what we can apprehend or perceive by the senses: this is the principle that leads to all folly and insanity, and is to be called the negative principle. The other principle is to affirm the things which are of doctrine from the Word, or to think and believe within ourselves that they are true because the Lord has said them; this is the principle that leads to all intelligence and wisdom, and is to be called the affirmative principle.

[5] The more they who think from the negative principle consult things rational, the more they consult memory knowledges, and the more they consult things philosophical, the more do they cast and precipitate themselves into darkness, until at last they deny all things. The causes of this are that no one can apprehend higher things from lower ones, that is, spiritual and celestial things, still less Divine things, from lower ones, because they transcend all understanding, and moreover everything is then involved in negatives from that principle. On the other hand, they who think from an affirmative principle can confirm themselves by whatever things rational, by whatever memory knowledges, and whatever things philosophic they have at command; for all these are to them things confirmatory, and give them a fuller idea of the matter.

[6] Moreover, there are some who are in doubt before they deny, and there are some who are in doubt before they affirm. They who are in doubt before they deny are they who incline to a life of evil; and when this life carries them away, then insofar as they think of the matters in question, they deny them. But they who are in doubt before they affirm are they who incline to a life of good; and when they suffer themselves to be bent to this by the Lord, then insofar as they think about those things, so far they affirm.