After a friend of mine used the word observe to describe his religious and family traditions, I gave some deeper thought to what it means to observe, to celebrate and acknowledge, Christmas. When I “observe” Christmas, what do I see?
I began my exploration with the Bible. Starting in the Old Testament, it was the prophets—keen spiritual observers—who predicted a coming salvation. Like the first pale light of dawn, these prophets glimpsed the dawning of salvation that Christ Jesus would usher into the world.
In her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy defines prophet as “a spiritual seer; disappearance of material sense before the conscious facts of spiritual Truth” (p. 593). It is a role we can embrace today. And if we are to be spiritual seers, then observing Christmas requires spiritual vision and a putting aside of mortal concepts. Giving our attention primarily to a spiritual view of Christmas leads us to embrace holiday activities—decorations, shopping, food, parties, etc.—in the most helpful, balanced way. To do this, we need to look deeper to observe the facts of spiritual truth that are fundamental to the dawn of Christianity and were welcomed in by Christ Jesus’ birth.
Various definitions of observe include seeing, watching, practicing or adhering to, and obeying. Observing Christmas doesn’t mean just sitting back and watching something; it involves our active response to the constant appearing of the Christ in our lives. Imagine the astonishment of the shepherds when, as the Gospel of Luke tells us, the glory of the Lord shone all around them and “the angel of the Lord” told them a Savior had been born. There is no record of their debating the issue or checking their calendars to put off the journey until it was convenient. They went to see this child. “And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us” (2:15). They perceived the magnitude of the message and were obedient to it. Witnessing the Savior, Christ the Lord, became their first priority.
This kind of observation involves actively listening and following through on the inspiration of Spirit. In the Gospel of Matthew, the wise men followed the star—the light of inspiration—and honored the newborn king. King Herod expected a report back on the rumor of a king’s birth, but the wise men were moved by this holy event and, being warned by God in a dream, did not return to Herod.
Our willingness to follow divine guidance changes our perspective, too. We realize it’s about refusing to simply get swept up in the traditional views and activities of the season; it’s about honoring the awe-inspiring influence of Christ right here, operating in our lives right now.
Years ago, I faced a Christmas alone. I had moved across the country, away from family, and didn’t know many people in the area. It would have been easy to feel alone and depressed, since traditional Christmas celebrations seemed unavailable to me, but I decided to see it as an opportunity to spend the holidays getting a more spiritual sense of Christmas and seeing how that dawn of Christianity was specifically expressed in my life.
If my observance of Christmas was based on the rock of Christ then it could never be lost.
In The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, Mrs. Eddy writes, “The basis of Christmas is the rock, Christ Jesus; its fruits are inspiration and spiritual understanding of joy and rejoicing,—not because of tradition, usage, or corporeal pleasures, but because of fundamental and demonstrable truth, because of the heaven within us. The basis of Christmas is love loving its enemies, returning good for evil, love that ‘suffereth long, and is kind’ ” (p. 260). Our Christmas traditions and family gatherings—the common ways many of us observe the holiday—aren’t in themselves what truly make it a time of joy and peace. It is provable Truth and Love, the action of the Christ, heaven within us, that we feel as the Christmas spirit. The love represented by gift-giving or the warm hugs when greeting friends and family are simply some of the outward expressions of this Christ.
As I spent that Christmas by myself, I saw that the holiday couldn’t be ruined just because I didn’t have family gathered around a tree. I could not be deprived of ever-present Love. If my observance of Christmas was based on the rock of Christ then it could never be lost. If I observed, or adhered to, the underlying truth of Christmas, then I would experience the richness of its blessing right then.
That Christmas ended up being a peaceful and joyous time filled with gratitude. In the years that followed, as dear friends included me in their special traditions and festivities or I was united with family, I was able to bring my fresh view of Christmas to each celebration.
What can we bring to our observance of Christmas? An open heart, a deep humility, and a willingness to embrace the Christ in our lives and to be impelled by God’s love in all that we do. In an article called “What Christmas Means to Me” published in The Ladies’ Home Journal (and republished in The Christian Science Journal, December 1907, and Miscellany, pp. 261–263), Mrs. Eddy wrote, “I celebrate Christmas with my soul, my spiritual sense, and so commemorate the entrance into human understanding of the Christ conceived of Spirit, of God and not of a woman—as the birth of Truth, the dawn of divine Love breaking upon the gloom of matter and evil with the glory of infinite being.”
With embracing the Christ as our motive, we may find our Christmas traditions are modest ways we can express deep-felt love for the truth that Jesus revealed and his example of unselfed love.
When we observe Christmas by acknowledging that we are actually in the presence of the Christ, we are actively grateful, engaged in our spiritual growth, and ready to serve others.
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