The Infant Lord

Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel. (Luke 2:29–32)

Simeon blesses Jesus

Simeon blesses Jesus

These words, usually in a more traditional translation, have found their way into the closing section of many worship services. Yet though Simeon, who spoke them, was close to his departure from this world, he was speaking in celebration of a new beginning—in fact, of the most wonderful new beginning that has ever happened: the birth of the Lord Jesus into the world.

Luke 2:21–32 tells first of the naming of Jesus at his circumcision when he was a week old, and then of his presentation in the Temple at the completion of another thirty-three days, which was the prescribed period for ritual purification of a woman after the birth of a son. This means that at the time of his presentation in the temple, Jesus was forty days old.

When his parents brought him to the temple, a devout man named Simeon was also inwardly directed, by the spirit of the Lord, to come to the temple. There, he took the infant Jesus in his arms and praised the Lord, saying of the child, “My eyes have seen your salvation.” “Salvation” is the meaning of the name “Jesus,” which the child had been given according to the instruction of an angel, as we read in the Gospel of Matthew: “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

“My eyes have seen your salvation.” How could Simeon say this of a baby less than two months old? How could this baby be the salvation not only of the Jews, but of the Gentiles as well—meaning the Savior of all people?

A mystery child

The spirit of God showed Simeon what was already taking place in this new life. As shown in the opening articles of this series, this was no ordinary birth, and no ordinary baby. In this baby there was no ordinary human soul, but rather the soul of God residing in a child born of a human mother.

For nearly two millennia, the inner life of that child, and the man he grew to be, has been largely swathed in mystery. We get a few brief glimpses in the Gospels of the intense emotions and deep struggles that Jesus went through. But these are hardly enough to build anything like a complete picture of what was happening within the Lord during his life on earth.

In fact, the Gospels give practically no information at all about the vast bulk of the Lord’s life on earth. We are told how he was born and spent some time in Egypt with his parents during his infancy. Then a decade is passed by in silence, and we are given one brief story of the Lord at twelve years of age. After that, nearly two decades goes by in silence before we see the Lord beginning his public ministry at the age of thirty. What happened in the intervening years? Can we ever know anything about Jesus during the bulk of his life?

The outward details of the Lord’s life will forever remain a mystery. Outwardly, he was an ordinary boy from a poor family. No one would have taken notice and recorded such a life. It was only when he started his public ministry and began to stand out from the crowd that anyone took notice. Only then does the story of his life move out of the shadows and into the light.

The inner life of Jesus

However, his inner life, though it goes far beyond our finite, human ability to grasp, is no longer the mystery it once was, thanks to the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). In his great work Secrets of Heaven, Swedenborg gives us an extensive series on the Lord’s inner process of “glorification,” or becoming fully united with the Divine Soul from which he came. This series starts with the call of Abram in Genesis 12, and continues as a thread through Swedenborg’s explanations of all the rest of the book of Genesis, covering the lives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.

As our series on the inner life of the Lord progresses, we will follow key stories from the rest of Genesis, relating them both to the New Testament stories of the Lord’s life and to their deepest, heavenly meaning that tells us about the Lord’s inner experience while he was here on earth.

The mind of the baby Jesus

Even Swedenborg’s explanation of the Lord’s inner state in his tiniest infancy is sketchy. In explaining the first verse of Genesis 12 he tells us:

Because this speaks of the Lord, it contains more hidden wisdom than could ever be thought or expressed. In an inner sense it is talking about the Lord’s first state, when he was born. This state is a deep mystery, so it cannot be explained intelligibly. All that can be said is that although he was conceived by Jehovah, he was otherwise like any other person. He was born to a woman, a virgin, and by birth to her he acquired weaknesses like those of any ordinary person. Such weaknesses arise from the body, and the current verse [Genesis 12:1] says he would withdraw from them so that heavenly and spiritual entities could be presented to his view. . . .

Another secret is that the Lord’s humanity also became divine. In him alone, everything belonging to his body corresponded to something divine, with exquisite or infinite perfection. This led to union between his physical elements and his divinely heavenlike attributes, and between his sensory experiences and his divinely spiritual attributes. So he is the complete and perfect human, and the only human. (Secrets of Heaven #1414)

In the highest, heavenly meaning of the call of Abram in Genesis 12, we have a picture of the Lord, who was born from God through a human mother, being called away from the merely physical and material side of his nature that came from his mother, toward the heavenly and divine things from which his deeper nature came.

Now, I would venture to say that none of us ordinary mortals is aware of any divine promptings while we are still babes in arms. We are aware, without conscious thought, of the warmth of our mother’s body, and of less warmth when we are separated from human contact; we are aware of taking in nourishment and eliminating waste; we are aware of comfort and discomfort; and we are gradually learning to use our eyes and distinguish things.

The infant Jesus was aware of all of these things, too. Physically speaking, he was a human baby like any other baby, and went through all the experiences and phases that we do at that early time of our lives.

The divine soul of Jesus

Yet unlike any other baby, the Lord had God as his inner soul, his inner being. So right from birth he experienced everything at a far deeper level, and with far more clarity, than any of us does. At a time when the center of our lives is the warmth of our mother, Jesus was already beginning to feel the warmth of God’s infinite love welling up from within and calling him toward higher things than we will ever know or comprehend. A little later in Secrets of Heaven we read:

The Lord’s ability to learn went beyond that of any other person. Unlike other people, he was taught heavenly things before spiritual ones. (Secrets of Heaven #1464)

In Swedenborg’s way of speaking, “heavenly” things, when they are compared to “spiritual” ones, refer to the things of the heart—to love—compared to the things of the head—to truth. What he is saying here is that the Lord became aware of and learned things in his heart first, and in his head only afterwards.

This is the reverse of what ordinarily happens with us. Generally speaking, we first learn spiritual things in our head, such as through Sunday School, reading the Bible, hearing preachers, and reading religious articles. Only later do we take them to heart and make them a part of our lives. This is because we are born self-centered—focused primarily on our own comfort and well-being—and our hearts tend toward the things that support our own comfort. We must be trained and instructed from outside to go in a higher direction: toward loving the Lord above all and loving our fellow human beings as much as we love ourselves.

But for Jesus, the Lord’s love was not outside of him; it was within him, in his very soul. And he felt those promptings right from birth—even though a conscious, intellectual awareness of them still took time to develop. This process of moving from first awareness to a clear mental grasp of the deeper call is pictured by the journeys of Abram.

From Ur to Haran

The Fertile Crescent

The Fertile Crescent

It is often stated mistakenly in Bible commentaries and Sunday School materials that Abram was called from Ur of the Chaldeans, in the land of Babylon. But in fact, by the time Abram received his call, his father Terah had already taken him and his family, along with his nephew Lot, from Ur to Haran, which was located halfway to Canaan (the Holy Land) along the Fertile Crescent in ancient Mesopotamia. This story is told in the last two verses of Genesis 11, just before the story of the call of Abram in Genesis 12.

Spiritually speaking, the move from Ur to Haran represents our early travels from being focused entirely on ourselves and our own comforts (Babylon represents self-love) to having some awareness of others and their feelings and needs (Haran represents natural, outward goodness). This happens even before we have any conscious prompting toward spiritual life, which is represented by the Lord’s call to Abram. There is no mention of the Lord calling Terah to pick up his family and move from Ur to Haran. Terah simply does it, apparently on his own initiative. Our earliest inner development begins before we have any conscious awareness of God.

The Lord also had already traveled away from an exclusive self-awareness and focus on his own sensations, comforts, and discomforts by the time he became consciously aware of the Divine that was present within himself. He was already aware of others around him, and that his own comfort and pleasure was not to be the primary focus of his life. As Genesis 12:4 makes clear, Abram was called, not from Ur, but from Haran.

Called to higher things

What takes place in Genesis 12 is the first conscious call of God to leave behind even the material things of outward goodness—enjoying the pleasures of this life and the companionship of friends and family—as the main focus in life. For us, it is the time we first become aware that God is calling us to higher, spiritual things; that the rewards and satisfactions of this life are not enough; that we must begin living, not according to human standards, but according to God’s higher plan for our lives.

For Jesus, this call was an even higher and deeper one. It was a call to awareness that he was not only to live a good outward life, represented by Haran, but that he had a far greater calling and mission in life. As such, it was a call from human obscurity to divine clarity. Swedenborg tells us that this call was already taking place in Jesus in his very earliest years, at the time he was moving from infancy to childhood.

Like everything that happened within the Lord, this call did not originate in intellectual considerations. Once again, from Secrets of Heaven, “The Lord’s ability to learn went beyond that of any other person. Unlike other people, he was taught heavenly things before spiritual ones.” In other words, everything that entered the Lord’s higher conscious awareness came from love.

This love that the Lord was being called by was the same love that brought him into the world: it was the divine love that prompted him to have mercy on a dark and suffering world, to come to us and save us from the evil that had us it its clutches.

Jesus was called to a divine mission

Yes, even from his earliest childhood, practically from the time he was a mere babe in arms, Jesus was feeling the first promptings of his divine mission. He was feeling the first promptings of infinite love from within, calling him forward to his life’s work: to save us all from the power of evil and hell, which we would never be able to resist and overcome on our own.

This is why Simeon could say, when Jesus was only forty days old:

For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.

(Note: This post is an edited version of a talk originally delivered on January 4, 2004. For the next article in this series, please see: “A Child of Revelation.” To start at the beginning of the series, please go to the article, “What Child Is This?”)

For further reading:

About

Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,
Posted in All About God
9 comments on “The Infant Lord
  1. Hoyle Kiger says:

    We should get to Heaven as quickly as possible. For the beliefs of every religion that has ever been will become moot.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Hoyle,

      Personally, I’m looking forward to it. But I’ve still got a lot of work to do here first.

      • Hoyle Kiger says:

        “God help us when we convince ourselves everything we about God is the truth”. hk

        • Lee says:

          Hi Hoyle,

          That depends on whether it actually is the truth, and on how it leads us to live.

        • Hoyle Kiger says:

          God is love and love is forgiving. I would think that God gives greater weight to how we live our lives rather than holding us to account for how we conceptualize his being, whether or not those beliefs ring “true”, or otherwise.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Hoyle,

          Yes. That’s why I say it depends on how our beliefs lead us to live. People who have faulty beliefs about God but live a good life of love and service to their fellow humans will fare better than people who have true beliefs but live selfish and greedy lives.

        • Hoyle Kiger says:

          Correction: “God help us when we convince ourselves every belief we have about God is the truth”. hk.

  2. Hoyle Kiger says:

    I agree that a person’s conduct would carry more weight with God than would the person’s beliefs. I wonder though if it’s possible for a sincere “Godly” related belief to be “faulty” since it’s merely a belief? No man can know what God is “thinking” nor speak for him. Indeed, that would be the height of general-arrogance, self-righteousness, and ignorance.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Hoyle,

      People can have false beliefs but good hearts and good lives, and they will find their way to heaven. However, false beliefs do have negative consequences. But that’s a big subject. Rather than taking that up here, I’ll refer you to this article:

      Does Doctrine Matter? Why is it Important to Believe the Right Thing?

      As for no human knowing what God is thinking, that’s what revelation is for. Specifically, for Christians, that’s what the Bible is for. And the Bible is full of men (and some women) who received messages from God or spoke for God. The latter are called “prophets,” and they are an essential part of the Bible.

      It is not arrogance if God specifically commissions and sends a person to speak for God.

      Of course, there is such a thing as a false prophet. But the Bible deals with that issue as well.

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Lee & Annette Woofenden

Lee & Annette Woofenden

Featured Book

God and Creation

By Lee Woofenden

(Click the cover image or title link to review or purchase. This website receives commissions from purchases made via its links to Amazon.)

Join 1,234 other subscribers
Earlier Posts
Blog Stats
  • 3,686,723 hits
%d bloggers like this: