Christmastime traditions can help to ward off the long hours of winter darkness in my part of the world. Neighbors string houses and gardens with sparkling lights. Parties are planned with favorite foods. People reach out to loved ones with messages of hope and love.
The hustle and bustle of the season, however, can also bring unwanted stress, reinforce feelings of disconnect and loneliness, and sometimes strain relationships. The pressure of high expectations around the holidays is so widespread that emotional survival tips published by mental health professionals are almost as ubiquitous as decorations in shopping malls.
But beyond the psychology of self-care, seeing the spiritual significance of Christmas can cut through the clamor of too-busy schedules and the sorrow of disappointments. “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,’ ” wrote Mary Baker Eddy in her article “The Significance of Christmas” (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 260).
The spiritual significance of Christmas cuts through the clamor of too-busy schedules and the sorrow of disappointments.
One year when I was yearning for a fuller understanding of Christmas that felt comforting instead of emphasizing what I felt was missing in my life, I had a surprising thought: Have you ever tried seeing yourself in reference to each member of the Christmas family? In other words, had I ever tried seeing myself as expressing the same qualities as the different individuals in the nativity story. I wondered, If I could start to express these qualities in my own life, would Christmastime feel more inclusive to me?
First, there is Mary. She expressed innocence, receptivity, and meekness, which allowed her to accept the angel message telling her she would be the mother of Jesus. Then, there is Joseph. He, too, expressed receptivity—to the angel message that the child Mary was carrying was of the Holy Ghost. His obedience in pushing human logic aside and moving forward with his engagement to Mary showed great humility. And finally, there is the infant Jesus—tender, trusting, and filled with childlike wonder.
Since this shift from thinking about myself to expressing the qualities of the Christmas family, I’ve felt a lessening of the intensity of emotions around the holidays. And it even proved to be helpful when I married a man with two children from a previous marriage. But it was an understanding of what Mrs. Eddy describes as “the incorporeal Saviour—the Christ or spiritual idea which leadeth into all Truth” (“A Christmas Sermon,” Miscellaneous Writings, 1883–1896, p. 163) that brought healing to what had emerged as a new pattern of difficult Christmas mornings in our blended family.
One December, feeling discouraged about the complexity of new family relationships and competitive households, I was yearning to express spiritual intuition, obedience, and receptivity to new ideas. I was driving with my stepchildren in the car, and I felt led to ask them, “What would be your ideal Christmas?” My stepdaughter almost immediately chimed in that she recalled in the early years after her parents’ divorce that her dad (my husband) would still come Christmas morning to open presents at their mom’s house. “I liked it when we were all together,” she said.
We are each the loved child of God, and we can not just know it, but feel it, too.
I was hardly surprised to hear her say this, because this idea—gathering all in one place—had also occurred to me. Yes, it meant giving up how I thought Christmas should be structured. But hearing my stepdaughter repeat almost exactly the same idea, I knew there was a blessing in it for all of us. To me, this spiritual intuition about how to spend Christmas morning was not only a practical solution that had come to light but also a Christly invitation to view all of the relationships through the lens of divine Science. We were being invited to acknowledge each person as a child of Father-Mother God instead of viewing ourselves through a tangled web of human history or even present expectations. I felt we were all being led by the same “Christ or spiritual idea,” and we just needed the meekness to follow it.
My husband and the children’s mother agreed that gathering together could be a way to simplify our gift exchange. No one was suggesting it would become an expected tradition, but it seemed to be the right answer for that particular year. And holding to the simplicity of the Christ-idea that was leading all of us helped to navigate some misunderstandings that flared up a few days before Christmas. The couple of hours we all spent together that morning were filled with kindness and respect and free from stress.
Best of all, I felt the presence of the Christ that morning, guiding each one of us through the seeming complexity of human relationships to a fuller understanding that we are each the loved child of God, the loved of divine Love—not just knowing it, but feeling it, too. We are all capable of following Christ’s leading in our lives and experiencing the heavenly harmony of the divine presence—at Christmastime and every other time of year.
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