A Miracle According to Order

Lessons for Christmas followed by a brief Address
Rev. James P. Cooper

Lesson:  Preparation

(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 favored 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 favor 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.

(Luke 1:39-56)  Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, {40} and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. {41} And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. {42} Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! {43} “But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? {44} “For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. {45} “Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.” {46} And Mary said: “My soul magni-fies the Lord, {47} And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. {48} For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. {49} For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name. {50} And His mercy is on those who fear Him From generation to generation. {51} He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. {52} He has put down the mighty from their thrones, And exalted the lowly. {53} He has filled the hungry with good things, And the rich He has sent away empty. {54} He has helped His servant Israel, In re-membrance of His mercy, {55} As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and to his seed forever.” {56} And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house.  Amen.

Lesson:  The Birth

(Mat 1:18-25)  Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. {19} Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public exam-ple, was minded to put her away secretly. {20} But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. {21} “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” {22} So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: {23} “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” {24} Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, {25} and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS.

(Luke 2:1-7)  And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. {2} This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. {3} So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. {4} Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, {5} to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. {6} So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. {7} And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.  Amen.

Lesson:  Adoration

(Luke 2:8-20)  Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. {9} And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. {10} Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. {11} “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. {12} “And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” {13} And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: {14} “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” {15} So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” {16} And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. {17} Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. {18} And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. {19} But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. {20} Then the shepherds re-turned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.

(Mat 2:1-12)  Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, {2} saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” {3} When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. {4} And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. {5} So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: {6} ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.'” {7} Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. {8} And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.” {9} When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. {10} When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. {11} And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. {12} Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.  Amen.

Address:

We have gathered here tonight to consider and reflect upon the wonder of the Lord’s birth upon our earth.  Each year we turn back to this wonderful story and enjoy hearing the familiar words yet again.  Each time we hear them, different parts catch our attention, and different memory of Christmases past are brought to life.  Sometimes we are saddened by thoughts of those who are too far away to visit, or those who are now celebrating Christmas in the other world.  We are all moved in different ways at different times.  There is no one who is not affected by the Christmas story, the hymns, and the sphere of the season in some way.

Tonight, let us focus our attention on one aspect of the Christmas story, the miraculous nature of His birth.  A miracle is defined as “an extraordinary event in the physical world which surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause; of such an effect or an event manifesting or considered as a work of God; a wonder, a marvel.”

The Lord’s birth into the world was indeed a miracle, because it surpasses all known human powers, but it was not magic or disorderly because the Lord always works within the laws of order, because they are His own laws.  The laws of order are not laws in the sense of one person or group restricting the activities of another person or group, like traffic laws.  Rather, they are laws in the scientific sense, that is, descriptions of how we have observed that things work.  Thus, the laws of order to not an any way limit God, because they are only a description of how He works in the world to bring all people who desire it into heaven.  Since the laws of order are the description of how the Lord operates in the world, if something appears to be outside of the laws of order, it is not because the Lord is breaking the laws of order, but because our understanding of those laws, and our ability to describe how He operates under all conditions is not yet completely accurate.

The Lord is flowing into our minds every conscious moment of our lives, stimulating every thought we have.  He does this by means of the spirits in the spiritual world.  His truth flows out from Him like the light pours forth from the sun.  The truth is moderated by the spiritual atmospheres so that it can be received by the highest celestial angels.  They receive it in a form adapted to their own lives, qualify it and modify it according to their own particular loves and wisdom, and then pass it on to the angels of the spiritual heaven.  They perform the same service, adding their particular influence and enlightenment, while at the same time moderating the strength of the truth so that it can be received by the angels of the first heaven.  And so the Lord’s Own good and truth are passed down through the heavens, modified and qualified by the angels of the different degrees until they are in such a form and power that they can be received by people on earth without harm.  We sense this inflowing from the Lord as the ideas that pass through our minds during our conscious life in the world.  In the same way that we could not bear to live on the surface of our own sun, so we cannot bear to be spiritually next to the Lord Himself as He is above the heavens.  Just as there must be a great distance and many layers of atmosphere to protect us from the power of our own life-giving sun, there are spiritual atmospheres and three heavens to prepare the truth and good from the Lord for our reception.

In this way, good and truth are born in our minds.  It is symbolic of how the Lord Himself was born into the world of nature.  He “bowed the heavens” and came down, that is, the Divine Itself flowed out from itself above the heavens, and passed through each of the heaven, moderating itself, cooling itself, making itself suitable for life in the world, taking on from the angels the imprint of their human experience, until that Divine life was able, with Mary’s consent and cooperation, to enter into the interiors of a human mind and begin the process of building for itself a body suitable for life in the world of nature.

The Lord’s birth was indeed a miracle, because is surpasses human powers, but that does not mean that it broke the laws of order.  His birth into this world is exactly parallel to the process whereby ideas are born in our minds each moment, and it is for this reason that we say that those who truly understand the real meaning of Christmas, those who love and obey the Lord, have Him born in their hearts every day.  Amen.

Birth and Regeneration

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper


Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (JOH 33)

There are those who say that the Divine purpose behind the technological revolution that we are now experiencing is so that the Word may be more widely spread throughout the world, and that it may be presented in new and attractive ways. As we learn how to use these new ways of teaching about the Lord and presenting the truths of His Word to many different human states, perhaps we will draw closer to being able to represent the difference in the way that the angels hear the Word from the way we do.

We know that the angels and spirits who are with us are affected by the things that we do and say. We know that they draw particularly near when children are reading the Word in its original languages. We also know that the angels and spirits see the meaning within the words, not just the natural ideas that we perceive. For example, when we read about a character in the Word dying, the angels don’t think of death, but of resurrection. They rejoice that another spirit has come to its eternal, heavenly home.

Perhaps someday we will be able to use this technology to produce stories about the Word that begin with a picture of an open Word, close enough to be able to read the story along with the voice of the reader narrating the story. But as he reads, the pages of the book gradually become transparent, as pictures of what the story means in the internal sense become more and more clear behind it, eventually taking over. This is one way of picturing what it means when it is said that the angels perceive the internal sense as we read the sense of the letter of the Word.

Knowing these general truths about how the angels view the spiritual side of natural things, and the opportunity to witness a baptism this morning, can lead us to consider how the angels would respond to such a wonderful thing as the conception, development, and birth of a child. When we begin to think about the birth of a child, our mind is naturally drawn to reflect on the family relationship that the child is born into. We think about the young couple who are fully involved in the succession of states in which they learn about the miracle of new life. We think about the mixed feelings of grandparents who rejoice in the birth of the child, and yet mourn the passing of that state from their own lives.

The Heavenly Doctrines tell us that every kind of family relationship represents something about the way good and truth are connected in the human mind.

It was customary with the most ancient people to give names, and by names to signify things, and thus frame a genealogy. For the things of the church are related to each other in this way, one being conceived and born of another, as in generation. Hence it is common in the Word to call things of the church “conceptions,” “births,” “offspring,” “infants,” “little ones,” “sons,” “daughters,” “young men,” and so on. The prophetical parts of the Word abound in such expressions. (AC 339)

We sometimes say, only partly in jest, that the answer to any doctrinal question in the New Church is, “Good and Truth.” In a sense, that’s true, because the marriage of good and truth is central to the way God created the universe to work. His Divine Love needed a heaven from the human race to receive and return His love. His Divine Wisdom knew how to accomplish this creation. And, when both the knowledge and the desire are present, then something can happen!

The Lord pictures His conjunction with us as a marriage between Himself and the Church – the heavenly city New Jerusalem adorned as a bride for her Husband. The Lord created us “male and female” so that we could draw near and become symbolically and spiritually one, and in so doing represent the very creative process that created the universe.

Each of us, individually, has a mind that is divided into a will and understanding making us an image and likeness of God. When we are able to overcome the division inherent in this structure through learning and self-discipline, new ideas and new uses are the result – our spiritual children.

That by “sons and daughters” are signified the truths and goods which they had a perception of, and indeed by “sons” truths, and by “daughters” goods, is evident from many passages in the Prophets. (AC 489)

And when the Lord commanded us to be fruitful and multiply, He did not mean only in regard to having children “bringing forth,” (signifies) fruitfulness in respect to the things of doctrine. (AC 2584)

A genuinely fruitful life, a life where our affections are joined together with the things that we know from the Word in such a way as to do things that are useful to ourselves and to others, is a life where we are spiritually reborn, or regenerated by the Lord.

According to their nativities. That this signifies in proportion as they could be reformed, is evident from the signification of a “nativity,” as being reformation. While a man is being born again, or regenerated, by the Lord, each and all things that he receives anew are nativities or births. (AC 1255)

Regeneration begins with the conjunction of good and truth in the mind of each individual. The birth of a child results when that which represents truth is introduced into that which represents a sphere of good (the mother) and finds a home there.

We often talk about how important it is for us to live the life of charity so that faith can really live with us. It can be hard to feel the impact of that idea when phrased that way. But, can we imagine a child being conceived and brought to full term and conscious life in the world without a mother? Charity is the mother, and Faith is the father of that spiritual being that we all hope to one day become.

Like an unborn child, our future spiritual being grows during our life in this world, organized by the Lord from within, and obeying the laws of nature from without, taking what is needed for that individual’s development from the richness of one’s natural and spiritual environment.

It is known that the soul of man commences in the ovum of the mother, and is afterwards perfected in her womb, and is there encompassed with a tender body, and this of such a nature that through it the soul may be able to act in a manner suited to the world into which it is born. The case is the same when man is born again, that is, when he is being regenerated. The new soul which he then receives is the end of good, which commences in the rational, at first as in an ovum there, and afterwards is there perfected as in a womb; the tender body with which this soul is encompassed is the natural and the good therein, which becomes such as to act obediently in accordance with the ends of the soul the truths therein are like the fibers in the body, for truths are formed from good. (AC 3570)

When we read the Word, the angels hear the words, but the images formed in their minds are the spiritual things that correspond to the natural images that are formed in our minds. When we read in the Word, for example, that a child is born the angels do not think of the baby itself, but instead they think about regeneration, the rebirth of a human soul, they think of the years of struggle, of the battles won, and they rejoice in the thought of the eternity of usefulness, the contributions that soul will make to the life of heaven, and how those contributions will positively affect those yet on earth. In each birth of a baby on earth, the angels see a universe of possibilities, an eternity of heavenly uses, and in their joy, they draw near.

And when they draw near, we perceive their sphere. That’s why we love babies, even babies that are not our own, and even though they are a lot of trouble! They literally, actually, bring the sphere of heaven to earth, and give us hope for the future because their very existence is a miracle that helps us believe that we can be re-born into eternal spiritual life. As John records that Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. {6} “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 35-6) AMEN.

1st Lesson JOH 31-17

There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? “Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

2nd Lesson TCR 583

REGENERATION IS EFFECTED IN A MANNER ANALOGOUS TO THAT IN WHICH MAN IS CONCEIVED, CARRIED IN THE WOMB, BORN AND EDUCATED.

In man there is a perpetual correspondence between what takes place naturally and what takes place spiritually, or between what takes place in his body and what takes place in his spirit. This is because man as to his soul is horn spiritual, and is clothed with what is natural, which forms his material body.

Therefore when this body is laid aside, his soul, clothed with a spiritual body, enters a world where all things are spiritual, and is there affiliated with its like. Since then, the spiritual body must be formed in a material body, and is formed by means of truths and goods which flow in from the Lord through the spiritual world, and are inwardly received by man in such things in him as are from the natural world, which are called civil and moral, the way in which its formation is effected is evident; and since, as before said, there is in man a constant correspondence between what takes place naturally and what takes place spiritually, it follows that this formation is like conception, gestation, birth and education.

It is for this reason that natural births in the Word mean spiritual births, which are births of good and truth; for whatever is mentioned in the sense of the letter of the Word, which is natural, involves and signifies what is spiritual.


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Page last modified September 27, 2009