A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper
“He bowed the heavens also, and came down with darkness under His feet. And He rode upon a cherub, and flew; He flew upon the wings of the wind.” (Psalm 18:9)
Scripture is full of references to the time and manner of the Lord’s birth, as we should expect since it is the single most important event in the history of man. Some of the references are the direct and familiar passages which describe the events surrounding the birth of the infant Jesus; others are purely theological, as John’s statement that the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1,13).
The passages we are going to examine today are so difficult to understand in their letter that most people pass right over them when they are reading the Word, and yet these passages too tell the story of the Lord’s birth on earth. We are referring to the genealogies in Matthew and Luke.
The genealogy in Matthew is a descending series. It begins with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and continues through Judah to David the King. The line continues through the kings of Judah such as Solomon, Rehoboam, and Ahaz until the time of the Babylonian captivity. From there it continues through a list of mostly unfamiliar names until we come to Joseph.
In these few verses, the word “begot” has been used thirty nine times to describe the relationships between the various people mentioned in every case until we get to Joseph. With Joseph we get the very careful and very different phrase, “Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus.” (Matthew 1:16) It stands out like a searchlight in the night. Jesus was not the son of Joseph, but his adopted son. However, it establishes that Jesus Christ was of the royal lineage, a son of Abraham and David.
Some historians have questioned the accuracy of the Matthew genealogy, because it is too neat in the way it fits exactly fourteen generations between Abraham and David, between David and the Babylonian captivity, and between the captivity and Jesus. However, we need to remember that “begot” does not necessarily imply a single generation step. It could include the relationship of grandfather and great-grandfather as well. This allows individuals whose names have no internal sense in the series to be left out of this genealogy, yet it is still an historically correct listing, and it serves the use of carrying the internal sense.
The genealogy in Luke is a little different, for it begins with Jesus as an adult just beginning His public ministry, and tracks his ancestors through Mary to king David, Abraham, Noah, and Adam to God, thus also establishing His royal lineage through His natural mother as well as through His foster father.
However, the genealogy in Luke presents some problems: for one, it presents itself as being another genealogy of Joseph, for it says, “…being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, the son of Heli….” (Luke 3:23), yet the list of names between Joseph and King David is completely different from that given in Matthew.
Since it was important to establish the link between Jesus and the royal throne of David on both sides of His “family;” because of the tradition of substituting a man for a woman in the laws of inheritance as given in the book of Numbers; because we know that Luke knew Mary personally and his gospel gives us the most detailed description of her character and life and because of certain other linguistic and historical information not contained in the scripture itself, we take the position that in fact, the genealogy given in Luke is a description of the lineage through Mary, the mother.
The reason these genealogies are in the Word is because they contain, in their internal sense, a description of all the different states that the Lord had to acquire in order to come into the world as Jesus Christ in the first place, and then all the different states that He had to go through in order to glorify His Human. These passages reveal how the Lord “Bowed the heavens” and came down to earth, and then how He glorified His human and returned to heaven.
Everything in the Word has some inner meaning, describes some spiritual quality. We do not have the time to go through the whole list in any meaningful way in a sermon, although it would make an interesting subject for personal study or a series of classes. Instead, we can look at the general meaning of a descending series that leads to the Lord’s birth into the world, followed by an ascending series that leads from the beginning of His public ministry to God.
The Heavenly Doctrines explain the general principle in these words:
The progression of the creation of the universe was from its First (which is the Lord encircled by the sun) to outmosts which are lands, and from these through uses to its First, that is, the Lord; also that the ends of the whole creation were uses. (DLW 314)
The Lord created the whole of the natural and spiritual worlds through the principle of creation from firsts to lasts, and then returning to the firsts. We can see this in the scientific description of creation; that at first there was nothing but pure energy (which religion tells us is the creative power of the Divine) which began to turn into very simplest forms of matter. These simple forms of matter became more and more organized until there were atoms, then molecules, then more complex mineral structures. Eventually these became complex enough to support life, and there were living plants, then simple animals, and eventually, after an unimaginably long time, human beings.
We see the principle that the creative force went first into the simplest things of creation, the so-called “lasts” or “ultimates” and then, because of its Divine origin, it reorganized itself to more and more complex forms capable of receiving higher and higher degrees of life, until these ultimates, these simple atoms, are able to form a body which can be the home for an eternal soul. Life flows from God in heaven, into the simplest, most primitive things of nature, and is able to return to heaven as a human soul. A descending series, followed by an ascending series — just like the genealogies.
This concept of creation helps us to understand the tremendous power hidden in the atomic structure of even the most simple atoms. The Divine itself has clothed Its creative energy into the forces we call atomic energy; the firsts flow into the lasts: God’s power in the simplest things of nature. We read again from the Divine Love and Wisdom.
In lands there is a conatus to produce uses in forms, that is, forms of uses. …Such a conatus and quality are said to be in lands, but it is meant that they are present in the substances and matters of which lands consist.… That there is such a conatus and such quality in the substances and matters of lands is plain from the fact that seeds of all kinds … are impregnated. Then through conjunction with matters from a natural origin they are able to produce forms of uses, and thereafter to deliver them as from a womb, that they may come forth into light, and thus sprout up and grow. (DLW 310:1)
This concept also shows us why it is that life constantly tends towards more complexity and variety. Even the humble plant has within it the Divine creative force, which, having been brought down to the plane of nature in this world, yet continually strives to return to God, to the first, to the cause.
We hear about people who have gone through terrible personal tragedies, and yet they recover quickly from them, and even seem cheerful, for they say that they learned an important lesson. We often speak of how things are valuable if they cause us to grow as a person. Some people are even trying to grow spiritually. The key thought here is the common tendency among people to want to keep learning, experience more things, gathering new insights, throughout their lives in this world, and, as the doctrines tell us, throughout all eternity!
We see the vine continually sending out new growth, spreading over an ever larger area. We see the tree adding a new ring of girth and new height every year. Everywhere we look in the plant kingdom, we see that life is constant physical growth. There is a similar drive for growth in the animal kingdom, but there the drive is more directed to the perpetuation of the species. If man rises above his merely natural inclinations, he feels a drive for mental and spiritual growth. Life descends from God into the simplest forms of nature, and then strives to return to Him, powering our ascent as spiritual beings.
We are in the image and likeness of God. The same descending and ascending series that applies to our humanity, applies to His.
The Lord does everything from firsts, that is, from Himself, into ultimates, that is, the things of the natural world. In the things of the natural world, and also in the things of the sense of the letter of the Word, He is in His fullness, holiness, and power. Therefore, it pleased the Lord to take upon Himself the Human form, and to become the Word, or Divine Truth, and thus be able to bring all things in heaven and earth into order. (See AE 1087:4)
So the answer to the question, “How could the Divine Itself come into the world as a little infant, how could He become a man in the world?” is that He did it in exactly the same order, and according the same principles by which He created everything else in the world: “He bowed the heavens, and came down” (text).
The genealogy in Matthew describes how He clothed His majesty and power with layer after layer of protective clothing, which correspond to the names of the individuals listed in the genealogy. By this process, His Divinity was eventually so hidden that He could enter this world as a tiny baby, and be indistinguishable from any other infant.
But that was only half the miracle. Once in the world, having made the journey from firsts to lasts, He, like every other thing in the created universe, began to seek to return to the source, He began to learn and to explore and to grow. He, more so than any human, had an insatiable curiosity and desire to acquire knowledges about the world. He read the scriptures and perceived the nature of His own life and mission from His understanding of the internal sense.
He, like every human in the world, faced temptations from His maternal heredity, and as He conquered in those temptations He prepared Himself for His ministry in the world.
Once He was ready to begin His public ministry, He was following the steps laid out for Him in the Luke genealogy, progressing from one state of life to another, each in its proper time and order, until finally He had conquered every level of evil and restored order to the whole of the spiritual realm and had taken His proper place as the King of Heaven. He had completed His journey from firsts to lasts and back to firsts.
Understanding this concept of creation and incarnation, we can see new meaning in His words from the book of Revelation that He is the “first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Rev. 1:8). We can now see that by this He means that as He is the Divine Creator He is the origin of all things, and that since all things are from Him as the creator, He is also present in His power in the simplest things of nature. And because He is present in every level of life, all living things strive to grow, and reproduce, and, in the case of men, to become spiritual.
Jesus Christ was the first, because He was as to His soul, the Creator. He was the Last, because He descended into the world and took on a human form from the ultimates, or lasts, of nature. And He ascended back to heaven, making the human Divine through combats of temptation where He shunned evils as sins. He did this to save us. He did this to show us the way; that we too must find our way to eternal life through obedience to the commandments, and through shunning evils as sins against God.
The Lord came into the world that Christmas Day so many years ago to show us the way out of the purely natural life, to lead us to heaven by His example, and to inspire us to grow spiritually. All these things are contained in the simple phrase from the book of Revelation, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last. “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.” (Rev. 22:13-14)