Our first real Christmas
Despite the hustle and bustle that so often dominate the holidays, it's still possible to experience the wonder and love of Christmas.
Christmas memories. A trip to see loved relatives, a special recipe, a favorite ornament, or a gift that we just can't forget because of the love that came with it.
Yet as time moves forward and Christmas tends to become less a sharing of love and more something that needs to be scheduled into our busy lives like everything else, we should—and often do—wonder what Christmas really ought to be to us. Perhaps we can do a lot more for Christmas if we'll step back from how the world presents it to us and try to unwrap more of its spiritual significance.
A few years ago I experienced a measure of this deeper meaning of Christmas, and in a rather surprising way. My wife and I had decided we wanted to avoid being swept away by the commercialism and pettiness of the Christmas rush and wanted to spend more time and thought on finding the spiritual substance of Christmas. Oddly enough, the more we focused on this and the closer the time came, the more depressed we became. The sales, the lights, the glitter, even the tree, all turned us off. We didn't buy a single gift or attend a single party that year. And we couldn't seem to find any real joy in our own prayer and study. The season's trappings that surrounded us seemed to be choking our spiritual confidence in God's presence.
By Christmas Day the dissatisfaction we were feeling had turned us against each other, and we were barely on speaking terms. I recall my wife's saying, "I don't remember ever having a sadder Christmas." It was tempting to think that those holiday trappings were necessary after all in order to be able to feel any Christmas joy.
We were planning to attend a Wednesday evening testimony meeting that night at a nearby Church of Christ, Scientist. We always looked forward to hearing the personal accounts of healing from the members, as well as the readings from the Bible and from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science. But we both knew something needed to change or the service would be empty to us. So we agreed to pray.
As I began, I turned to a poem by Mrs. Eddy entitled Christ and Christmas. Part of the first stanza reads, "O'er the grim night of chaos shone / One lone, brave star." Chr., p. 53 . As I prayed, I saw more than ever before that the reality of spiritual light did shine through the chaos of meaninglessness and the darkness of despair. I realized that as I kept my heart's manger meek and ready to receive Christ, Truth, and as I watched for its appearing, the light of spiritual truth would lead me. I could trust it. It was inevitable because Christ is real.
The first Bible selection read at the church service captured my yearning to feel God: "Oh that I knew where I might find him! that I might come even to his seat!" Job 23:3 . Everything about that service—the prayers, the readings, the hymns, the accounts of healing—brought more of a recognition of God's presence and a newborn Christmas sense of my own spiritual identity.
The final hymn summed up the genuineness of that Christmas event for me. The last verse says:
How silently, how silently,
The wondrous gift is given;
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear his coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meekness will receive him, still
The dear Christ enters in. Christian Science Hymnal, No. 222 .
The receiving into thought of God's reality had changed everything. The love and joy I now felt were overwhelming. And my wife had experienced this too, because as that final hymn ended she took my hand in hers and said, "Nothing is ever going to come between us."
In many ways, it was the first real Christmas, we'd ever had. And it has made each one since more meaningful.
Surely the power and significance of Christmas is love—God's love for us, and our ability to have and to share that love. In the context of the entire gospel account of Christ Jesus' life, as well as the prophetic promises of a Messiah, the nativity means far more than the birth of a baby. As we continue studying this account, it becomes clear the message is that God's presence is real and can be felt—we can experience Immanuel, or "God with us."
But to the degree that thought has been educated to view life as mortal and man as material, the recognition of God's presence has been obscured. As a result the only explanation of Christmas that may seem reasonable is the prevalent view that God, Spirit, became matter in the form of Jesus of Nazareth. So rather than a celebration of the true idea of infinite Spirit. Christmas becomes, in effect, the celebration of God's willingness to become material!
Yet what if the meaning of Christmas is really the other way around? What if Christmas is supposed to show us that man is really Godlike, spiritual?
If what we understand of God is to be right, it obviously must be in terms of what God actually is. In other words, it must be the true perception of God as Spirit. Since God has all power, the true expression of Him, dawning in human thought, must also possess the power to make itself known by destroying anything untrue, or unlike God. This true and infinite idea of God is the Christ, defining what spiritual sonship means. And the accurate idea of God—the true idea, or Christ—reveals man to be spiritual.
Christian Science teaches that when the true idea of God comes to the flesh—to human consciousness—it transforms human experience by showing that the nature of God is so real, so infinite, that there really isn't room for anything except Spirit and its true, spiritual expression, man. Christ doesn't change into something it never was or by nature could never be, namely matter.
The popular view says there's no room for spiritual reality in modern-day thinking.
The whole material world rebels at such a thought. It says this can't be. Just as there was no room in the inn for Mary and Joseph, there's no room in mortal thinking for spiritual reality. So this mortal mind would try to exclude spiritual identity from thought. It says there's no room and that any spiritual sense of life will have to be satisfied with very insignificant places in human experience—with modern-day mangers like sentiments, ideals, and hopes.
But within such humble mangers the spiritual idea, Christ, is born in human consciousness. And as the idea grows it reveals more and more of the spiritual individuality of man as God's own child, and of the freedom that is man's heritage—freedom from sickness, sin, and death.
That's the point of Christmas, that the idea of divine Love and Spirit is Christ, defining, healing, and elevating us to recognize the true status of our spiritual selfhood in God's likeness. Nothing can stop it. It enters through meekness and a desire to know the truth. It brings with it the wisdom to protect this growing recognition of man's spirituality from any Herod jealous for its destruction.
As my wife and I discovered during that church service, Christmas isn't about a memory of long ago but about receiving the Christ, the manifestation of God, into our lives today. Christmas is Love's enabling us to care and to help and to rejoice in ways that show we are in fact the man of God's creating, that we do reflect infinite Love. That's God's present to each of us, now and forever!