Book information Bible Meanings Back to Parables index

of "The Path: The Inner Live of Jesus Christ" by Geoffrey S. Childs

The Birth and Infancy of Jesus

The Call of Abram
Genesis 12, verses 1-7

To read about Genesis chapter 12 in the Arcana Coelestia of Swedenborg is to discover a new world, for one finds, as if by a Divine miracle, that Abram's life viewed from within is the story of the Lord's infancy, childhood, and youth. The lives of the following patriarchs - Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph - represent later stages in His life on earth. They reveal His adult states or frame of mind, leading up to the final temptations, His crucifixion, and the glory of Easter.

The infant Jesus' first mental awareness is represented by Jehovah's appearing to Abram and calling him out of Haran to a land that "I will cause you to see." Genesis 12 says:

"And Jehovah said to Abram, 'Go away from your land, and from the place of your nativity and from your father's house, to the land that I will cause you to see. And I will make you a great nation. . . .' And Abram went as Jehovah had told him. . . .And they came to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came" (Gen. 12:1-5 passim). Abram directly symbolizes or represents the Lord Jesus Christ, here as a newborn infant. Who is this child? He is a person unique in the history of the earth. He is Jehovah, Who "bowed the heavens and came down" (Psalm 18:9) to be born of a virgin mother. This child's Soul is Divine, for it is Jehovah Himself. But the body He assumes from Mary is finite and human. His heredity is unique in being Divine from the Father and human from the mother.

Between the soul and body stands the mind, and it is affected by each. What kind of mind will this child have? As a tiny babe in the manger at Bethlehem, He is like any other infant in outward appearance. He is innocent and helpless, needing love and care. But inwardly He is a Wonder Child. Gabriel announces His birth to the shepherds, and the heavenly hosts sing with joy. They know this is Jehovah, born on earth, and that He has come to save humankind, a people suffering in misery.

In the stories of the Word of God or Bible, any place or city represents or "corresponds" to a state of mind, or to affections and thoughts. The infant Jesus is born in Bethlehem of Judea. Why is Jesus born in this tiny Judean village? The Writings of Swedenborg respond:

"The reason why the Lord was born in Bethlehem and not elsewhere is that He alone was born a spiritual-celestial man, but all others are born natural, with the capacity to become either celestial or spiritual by regeneration from the Lord" (AC 4594).

"Spiritual" refers to things concerned with the spirit, with a special emphasis on the quality of truth. "Celestial" refers to even deeper, more heavenly aspects of the spirit, which have to do with goodness and love. We humans are born "natural," meaning that our first concerns have to do with worldly and physical things. We have to learn and grow to achieve appreciation of things of the spirit. The Lord, on the other hand, is born a "spiritual-celestial" person and Bethlehem symbolizes a spiritual-celestial state of mind. "Spiritual-celestial" describes an ability to experience heavenly qualities of love, touched by an enlightened understanding.

In His inner mind Jesus is born with a love for the salvation of humankind: this love is celestial (AC 2034, 2077, 1434). With this love comes a spiritual inborn and intuitive ability to perceive truth. Being born spiritual-celestial is a gift given to the infant Jesus Christ alone. He is born with the love of rescuing us and is open to perceptions about how to do this.

Where did this spiritual-celestial quality come from? The Word says, "He bowed the heavens and came down" (Psalm 18: 9). That is, His Soul implanted in this infant's mind the loves and wisdom of the angels of the highest heavens (see AC 6371). He is born angelic in the inner level of His mind.

This blessing of the spiritual-celestial in Jesus is from His Soul, but this is hidden deeply within. He gradually becomes aware of its power and depth as He grows, as He fights the hells and conquers. Most of the time as He is growing up, Jesus' awareness is on this plane that is called His "human essence," which is His spiritual-celestial nature.

From this plane of awareness Jesus reaches up to His Soul. Gradually this human essence, his love for saving humankind, matures, deepens, and draws nearer and nearer to the Divine Love of saving souls that is within Him. Jesus longs to become One with His Soul, His Father. In this He is uplifted also by the angels, for the celestial kingdom is within Him. But in the human part of His heredity that He received through Mary, a finite human mother, He has to combat inclinations toward the same hellish desires that we finite humans have to fight.

Jesus is a child born with pure love. How this love is developed is revealed in the inner meaning of Genesis as it unfolds the complete story of Abraham's life.

The infant Jesus' first awareness is unlike that of any other child. With other infants this first awareness is a sense impression, perhaps of the mother or of being fed, tied to an innocent willingness to be led. With the infant Jesus, His first awareness is that He is living in the level of sensing things with His body. There now comes a call to leave these lower things and to ascend to heavenly love. His higher mind is urging the infant to ascend to love itself, even to love for serving humankind. This is represented by Jehovah's call to Abram, telling him to leave Haran and travel to Canaan - to leave lower things and to ascend to celestial love.

This call is almost incomprehensible (AC 1414). Can a tiny infant feel such desire to love? Only when His Soul is Divine and His infant mind is like the angels'. This call to Abram symbolizes an inner voice calling to Jesus, urging Him upwards.

In the New Testament nativity story this may be symbolized by the circumcision and naming of the child "Jesus." Circumcision represents the removal of evil desires (AC 2039), and the promise of regeneration or rebirth. For the infant Jesus, circumcision represents a Divine call to leave corporeal or bodily things and ascend to love itself, even to the Divine itself. Most deeply, it is a call to become Divine.

Jesus' circumcision stirs the heavens with hope; it is the promise that He wi ll be the Savior, the Rescuer of humankind from its desperately fallen state.

Jesus responds to Jehovah's call, leaving lower bodily things and traveling toward the celestial itself. We read in Genesis 12, "and into the land of Canaan they came" (Gen. 1: 5). This represents that Jesus "attained to the celestial things of love" (AC 1438). Canaan represents heaven and also represents the Divine as the origin of all things. The infant Jesus was looking upward to Divine Love.

The celestial things of love are the inmost keys to life. Every infant is surrounded by celestial states of innocence and of love toward the Lord. Infants live in a garden of love where the best things of life are implanted without knowledge being involved. These are the innocent qualities called "remains". Feelings of love and peace "remain" hidden within us our whole lives. These "remains" are protected, and are awakened in us by the angels at various times in our lives. Remains enable us to be truly human and to shun evil as adults, and be saved. Gifts from the Lord and our link to heaven, they go back to a time when we are not even aware of evil. This term "remains" (or "remnants") for the innocent states of infancy is found especially in the early Arcana (AC 8, 1906, 1555 et al ).

The Lord as an infant also comes into celestial states of mind, but with Him they are of a unique quality. For together with the celestial angels who are present with all other infants, the baby Jesus has the Divine Soul Itself present, for the celestial Seed is within Him.

This infant is specially endowed and Divinely protected. Imagine how the hells lust to attack and destroy Him in these earliest states. But they cannot. They cannot even approach closely, for the Divine Soul protects Him.

At the same time, this infant has inherited tendencies to evil. In this early innocent state these are quiescent, but they are present in His external heredity received through His mother. In Divine order this must be so, for the Lord was born on earth to meet the hells in combat, and they need to have access to Him. This is represented by the phrase: "and the Canaanite was then in the land" (AC 1444).

"And Jehovah appeared to Abram. . . and there he built an altar to Jehovah Who appeared to him" (Gen. 12:7). It would follow from the whole purpose of the life of Jesus that Jehovah would appear to Him (see AC 1445). The altar Abram built is Jesus' initial worship of Jehovah.

What an awe-inspiring experience this is for the infant Jesus. His Soul, Jehovah, the God of all creation, appears to Him. His reaction is one of intense love and of worship. The appearing may well have been through an angel, but the Soul, the Divine Love, shines through this angel. This vision is not a matter of intellectual realization with Jesus; it is a vision seen and perceived by His infantile heart (AC 1464).

Perhaps in the New Testament this vision happened at the time of the presentation of the infant Jesus in the temple at Jerusalem on the fortieth day. This temple is a symbol of Jehovah. To bring Jesus to the temple is a picture of Jesus coming into the presence of His Soul, Jehovah. The sacrifice made then by Mary and Joseph parallels the worship of Abram at the altar.

Every infant experiences a state corresponding to the appearing of Jehovah to Abram. The sensations of an infant are said to come together in time to form the first clear, conscious concept. In most cases this would be a concept of the mother who feeds and nourishes the newborn. Highest celestial affections center on this awareness of the mother who stands in place of God. This is deeply moving to the infant and forms the basis of future concepts of and love for the Lord Himself. It is one of the most powerful moments in human life, secret and hidden though it is, and its importance is hard to overstate. The call of Abram out of Haran finds in this awareness its completion in each human being.

With Jesus Christ the call and the awareness of Jehovah are of great clarity, for in His case it is Jehovah God Himself who appears. This is unique. It is a preparation for His Divine mission.