Mary’s Preparation

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto – Dec. 13, 2009

“With God nothing will be impossible.”

The most tender and wonderful of the teachings about the Lord’s incarnation is the description of how, when presented with a most astonishing proposal, Mary humbly presented herself as willing to undertake a supporting role in greatest miracle of all time.

I.       What do we know about Mary from Scripture? And, what can be inferred about her from what we know about the times. (There is much that is “traditional” or legend that we will leave out because there is no evidence to support it.)

A.   We know that Mary was a virgin – that Jesus Christ was not the natural son of Joseph.

1.     Translation issue

a.     The word used in the original text can be translated either “virgin” or “young woman.”

2.     Prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.

a.     It’s neither a sign, nor a miracle, for a young woman to conceive.

3.     Then there are Mary’s own words as recorded in Luke, “I do not know a man” (LUK 1:34)

4.     Genealogy in Matthew

a.     …Eliud begot Eleazar, Eleazar begot Matthan, and Matthan begot Jacob. And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ. [MAT 1:15-16] The pattern is deliberately broken to distinguish the Lord’s birth from all the others. Joseph is the husband of Mary, but Joseph did not beget Jesus.

5.     Joseph’s reaction to her pregnancy

a.     If betrothal DID permit living together as some insist, then why was he surprised at her pregnancy? This was something that should have been welcome news.

i.       Except that he knew the baby was not his own.

II.    We know that Mary was a faithful member of the Jewish Church

A.   She knew the prophecies about the Messiah. And her own song of praise is reminiscent of the song of Hannah (1SA 2:1-10) that was read as the first lesson.

B.   Hannah was the barren wife of Elkanah. You’ll remember that Elkanah had another wife who was not barren, and she was unkind to Hannah. Hannah prayed to the Lord for a child, and if she were to have a son, she promised to give him to the Lord to serve in the temple. Her prayer was answered, and Samuel was born.

C.   After he was weaned, she took him to the temple to be the servant of Eli, the high priest. It was then that she prayed a prayer of thanksgiving and praise that is recorded in the second chapter of 1st Samuel.

D.   What is interesting is the similarity between these two speeches credited to women who, separated by a thousand years, each found herself involved in a miraculous birth.

E.    Hannah’s speech begins, My heart rejoices in the LORD; my horn is exalted in the LORD, while Mary says, My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour.

F.    Both Hannah and Mary speak of the proud, who represent those who refuse to accept the Divinity of Jesus Christ:  Hannah says, Talk no more so very proudly; let no arrogance come from your mouth, for the LORD is the God of knowledge; and by Him actions are weighed. Mary says, He has shown strength with His arm; he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

G.   Both Hannah and Mary speak of the warriors, those who should be using their powers to defend and protect the Word, but who instead seek to do it harm, and show how the Lord will use His power to protect and uplift those who have been humbled:

1.     Hannah says, The bows of the mighty men are broken, and those who stumbled are girded with strength,

2.     while Mary says, He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly.

H.   And finally, both Hannah and Mary speak of how the Saviour put down the self-righteous, and those who profit from the pain of others, and that those who seek to be filled, who while acknowledging their errors yet seek to be corrected, will be given that which they need and be lifted up.

1.     Hannah says, Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, and those who were hungry have ceased to hunger. Even the barren has borne seven, and she who has many children has become feeble. “The LORD kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and brings up. The LORD makes poor and makes rich; He brings low and lifts up.

2.     Mary says, He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.

I.       All this demonstrates that Mary was familiar with the scriptures, and that those who were familiar with the scriptures would see the prophetic element of the Samuel story being fulfilled with Mary.

III. We also know that Mary and Joseph were betrothed and therefore looking forward to a husband and family.

A.   We can reflect on all the changes that happen why a couple agrees to become husband and wife, and being preparing themselves for a life together.

1.     Gradually, from being man and woman, they become husband and wife.

2.     It was that attitude of mind in Mary that was necessary for her to receive the Holy Spirit.

a.     The whole of the Word teaches that the Lord never does anything without first preparing the way through prophecy or other means.

b.     In order for Mary’s mind to be ready to do its part in this miracle, it had to be prepared by the same process that every woman prepares herself to become a wife and mother, to think in new ways about the lives she will soon be responsible for.

IV.So, how does Mary’s experience help us to prepare for the Holy Supper? How do we prepare ourselves for the close presence of the Lord?

A.   All these things tell us that, in the Divine Providence of the Lord, Mary was prepared to receive the Divine physically, mentally, and spiritually.

1.     Do we receive the Lord in much the same way by the things that we choose to do with our lives?

a.     Physically

i.       Do we exercise the self-discipline necessary to promote health and well-being

ii.     Do we keep ourselves in external order and keep the civil laws?

b.     Mentally

i.       Do we read the Word regularly and reflect on its impact on our lives?

ii.     Do we discuss with others how the Word applies to our life and work?

iii.  Are we careful not to encourage harmful fantasies?

c.      Spiritually

i.       Do we examine ourselves for things that are contrary to the Lord’s intention and Will?

ii.     Do we work to remove those things from our lives?

B.   These things are not easy for us. Certainly the things that Mary faced were far more difficult. But let us not feel bad by comparison, but rather let us be encouraged that a mere mortal, and a very young person at that, could show that degree of poise, of commitment to something of value, and of trust in the Lord.

1.     When faced with difficulties and challenges, as we all are from time to time, let us remember, and draw strength from Mary’s example and welcome the inflowing Divine into our hearts and lives. Let us each strive to come into a state where we can say to the Lord, honestly and humbly, Let it be unto me according to your word. (LUK 1:38)

First Lesson:  1 Sam 2:1-10

And Hannah prayed and said: “My heart rejoices in the LORD; My horn is exalted in the LORD. I smile at my enemies, Because I rejoice in Your salvation. {2} “No one is holy like the LORD, For there is none besides You, Nor is there any rock like our God. {3} “Talk no more so very proudly; Let no arrogance come from your mouth, For the LORD is the God of knowledge; And by Him actions are weighed. {4} “The bows of the mighty men are broken, And those who stumbled are girded with strength. {5} Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, And the hungry have ceased to hunger. Even the barren has borne seven, And she who has many children has become feeble. {6} “The LORD kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and brings up. {7} The LORD makes poor and makes rich; He brings low and lifts up. {8} He raises the poor from the dust And lifts the beggar from the ash heap, To set them among princes And make them inherit the throne of glory. “For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, And He has set the world upon them. {9} He will guard the feet of His saints, But the wicked shall be silent in darkness. “For by strength no man shall prevail. {10} The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken in pieces; From heaven He will thunder against them. The LORD will judge the ends of the earth. “He will give strength to His king, And exalt the horn of His anointed.” Amen.

Second Lesson:  Luke 1:26-38

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, {27} to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. {28} And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favoured one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” {29} But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. {30} Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. {31} “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. {32} “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. {33} “And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” {34} Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” {35} And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. {36} “Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. {37} “For with God nothing will be impossible.” {38} Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Amen.

Third Lesson:  TCR 827

To this I will add this most notable fact: Mary the Mother of the Lord once passed by and appeared overhead in white raiment. Then pausing a little she said that she had been the mother of the Lord, and that He was indeed born of her; but that when He became God, He put off everything of the human He had derived from her, and that therefore she now worships Him as her God, and is unwilling that anyone should acknowledge Him to be her son, since in Him everything is Divine. Amen.

The Repentance of Nineveh

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper

Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evel way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it. (JON 3:10)

Jonah ordered to Nineveh because as a prophet of the Jews he had the Word at least what existed of it at the time.

Instead, he flees to Tarshish because he hates the people of Nineveh.

Why does he hate the people of Nineveh?

AE 40136 Jonah was of [the Jewish] nation, and therefore also was sent to Nineveh; for the Jewish nation had the Word, and was therefore able to teach those who were outside of the church and who are called Gentiles; these are signified by “Nineveh.” Because the Jewish nation was, above others, in the love of self and in the falsities from that love, they did not wish well to any but themselves, thus not to the Gentiles, but these they hated.

A storm threatens the ship while He sleeps

Chosen by lot, he is thrown over the side, and swallowed by a whale

While in the fish, he prays, repents

Put back on land he is given another chance

So he goes to Nineveh, a great city, so large that it take three days to walk across it.

As soon as he enters the city, he calls them to repentance.

And, to his surprise and annoyance, they listen and repent.

When we read this familiar story, we usually think about it from Jonah’s point of view because it is a wonderful parable of the spiritual struggles in our own lives, and the Lord Himself used it as the sign and proof of His own resurrection from the grave on the third day. Today, however, let s look at it from the point of view of the people in Nineveh.

So often, our emphasis is on evils that are embedded and nasty, we often think about the huge battles of spiritual temptations over deadly sins.

We can forget there are other kinds of evils, inadvertent, superficial, and external, that can be quickly and completely removed.

The Lesson from the Arcana describes these degrees of minor evils.

Nineveh represents falsities from ignorance. The people in this spiritual state carry on their lives according to the standards set by those around them without much thought about the consequences of their actions. However, once they are made aware of something, they can see it, and willingly make the choice to shun the evils and live a new life.

Rehoboth represents falsities from ignorance, but with a predominate cupidity some aspect of the love of self, or a particular, characteristic evil (lewd behavior, gambling, drunkenness, the lust of varieties&). Because these evils are from ignorance, they can be removed when there is the enlightenment that comes from the revelation of truth from the Word from whatever source.

Calah represents a state were the person is ruled by an evil will that will not allow thought about anything that would contradict their desires. No truth can enter.

Like all things in the Word, Nineveh represents both good and bad things.

Bad AC 1184 “and built Nineveh, and the city of Rehoboth, and Calah,” signifies that thereby they formed doctrinals of faith for themselves; by “Nineveh” are signified the falsities of these doctrinals.

Good SS 21 I have been instructed that the men of the Most Ancient Church (the church before the flood) were of a genius so heavenly that they spoke with angels of heaven, and that they were able to speak with them by means of correspondences. From this the state of their wisdom was rendered such that whatever they saw in this world they thought about not only in a natural way. But spiritually also at the same time, so that they thought unitedly with angels.

I have been instructed besides that Enoch (of whom mention is made in Genesis v. 21-24) together with his associates, collected correspondences from the lips of those men of the Most Ancient Church, and transmitted the knowledge of them to posterity, and that in consequence of this the science of correspondences was not only known but was also much cultivated in many kingdoms of Asia, especially in the land of Canaan, in Egypt, Assyria, Chaldea, Syria, Arabia, and also in Tyre, Sidon, and Nineveh; and that it was carried over from places on the seacoast there into Greece; but there it was turned into fabulous stories, as is evident from the earliest writers of that country.

This gives us a fuller picture of Nineveh. From ancient times, it was one of those nations where the Ancient church flourished. Even in the later days, it had within it the elements of true worship, but through ignorance and neglect the people had fallen away from that worship into a state where evils were done from ignorance, rather than from malice.

One is reminded of the similar story that was read as the first lesson about the Jewish nation where they, too, lost track of the scriptures until good king Josiah happened to order the restoration of the temple and the scrolls were found and read to the people for the first time in generations. (See 2KI 221-11)

It can be safely said that we all go through states when we are like Nineveh.

We may have had a firm foundation in the truths of the church. We may have grown up with family worship, a church school, a family that took the things of the church seriously. Such a background lays a foundation that we call “historical faith.”

While the foundation is a rock which will support a house that will never be moved by any storm, it is not the house. The walls and the roof must be planned and built by the conscious life-choices of the owner.

The fact is, you have to know something about houses before you try to build one yourself. You need to live in a few to learn what works, what is comfortable, and what things you want to be sure to avoid.

Once we leave the home of our parents, we have to “try on” many different homes, perhaps even leave the neighborhood for a while, until we know what kind of house we want to build for ourselves.

In the scripture, this is described by the states of Nineveh as it goes from being a city of the Ancient Church to being a city of Gentiles not bad, but not really good yet, either.

The Lord understands these states and the necessity of them.

He knows that we can not love, or make our own, anything that we do not freely choose to be our own. Therefore he guides us gently, and secretly through the heathen states of our lives, until one day He judges that we are ready, and He sends a prophet to wake us up and call us home.

The Prophet is a symbol of the Word, but it can take may forms

It could be an article in the newspaper that we violently disagree with and suddenly it occurs to us that our children are being influenced in that way by the television and movies they watch and the music they listen to.

It could be a book we read where the author clearly puts his finger on something we have been worried about and expresses an opinion that, in our mind, could have come straight out of the Writings which causes us to reflect on how little attention we have paid to the Writings ourselves of late.&

It could be a chance meeting with a friend from school that stirs all kinds of fond memories including the idealistic ideas we had about what our adult life would be like.

It could be a holiday visit home.

It could be almost any little thing that stirs our affections.

And then “Aha!” We get a clear vision of the situation we have allowed ourselves to drift into. The prophet (the Lord, through the Word, in some form represented by Jonah), has called us to repentance!

When that light of truth shines we can use that light to peer into the darker recesses of our soul.

We can either look at the evils and admire them

Or we can use that light to show us the way out, the path of spiritual growth.

We can flee from the evils we see in ourselves (as King David teaches in so many places).

If they were inadvertent, not from the heart, they can be removed

The same principle applies when we arrive in the spiritual world.

Just as there are degrees of good, there are degrees of evil.

Certainly we have to worry about the serious, rooted evils, but there are a lot of others as well and these we do not need to fear so much.

As soon as we discover them, see them for what they are, and turn away from them, they can be removed.

“But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?”

Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it. AMEN.

1st Lesson 2 Ki 221-11

Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. His mother s name was Jedidah the daughter of Adaiah of Bozkath. {2} And he did what was right in the sight of the LORD, and walked in all the ways of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. {3} Now it came to pass, in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, that the king sent Shaphan the scribe, the son of Azaliah, the son of Meshullam, to the house of the LORD, saying {4} “Go up to Hilkiah the high priest, that he may count the money which has been brought into the house of the LORD, which the doorkeepers have gathered from the people. {5} “And let them deliver it into the hand of those doing the work, who are the overseers in the house of the LORD; let them give it to those who are in the house of the LORD doing the work, to repair the damages of the house; {6} “to carpenters and builders and masons; and to buy timber and hewn stone to repair the house. {7} “However there need be no accounting made with them of the money delivered into their hand, because they deal faithfully.” {8} Then Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the scribe, “I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the LORD.” And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it. {9} So Shaphan the scribe went to the king, bringing the king word, saying, “Your servants have gathered the money that was found in the house, and have delivered it into the hand of those who do the work, who oversee the house of the LORD.” {10} Then Shaphan the scribe showed the king, saying, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read it before the king. {11} Now it happened, when the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, that he tore his clothes.

2nd Lesson Jonah 3

Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, {2} “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.” {3} So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey in extent. {4} And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day s walk. Then he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” {5} So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. {6} Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. {7} And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. {8} But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. {9} Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish? {10} Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.

3rd Lesson AC 1188

That falsities of doctrine are signified by “Nineveh,” and such things also from another origin by “Rehoboth and Calah,” is evident from the signification of Nineveh in the Word, concerning which presently.

Falsities of this kind are from three origins. The first is from the fallacies of the senses in the obscurity of an unenlightened understanding, and from ignorance; hence comes the falsity which is “Nineveh.”

The second origin is from the same cause, but with a predominant cupidity, such as that for innovation, or for pre-eminence the falsities from this origin are “Rehoboth.”

The third origin is from the will and thus from cupidities, in that men are unwilling to acknowledge anything as truth that does not favor their cupidities; hence come the falsities which are called “Calah.” All these falsities arise through Asshur, or reasonings concerning the truths and goods of faith.

[2] That “Nineveh” signifies falsities from the fallacies of the senses in the obscurity of an unenlightened understanding, and from ignorance, is evident in Jonah, who was sent to Nineveh, which city was pardoned because they were such.

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