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Christmas of the soul
by Rev. Howard Ray Carey

That which we celebrate at Christmas, if we have insight, is not so much an event which took place in Palestine in an ancient time, but rather an event, which in both ancient and pre-sent times transpires within the human heart ---- when the individual is spiritually prepared for it. It is an inner drama ---- you could call it a soul drama. Paradoxically, it is an event rooted in the infinite, but finding expression in the finite. It has its source in the timeless, yet it transpires at a given moment in time. It is a universal reality, yet it happens within the human heart.

It is called the first initiation. There are five major initiations leading from the human kingdom, or human level of life, to the spiritual level, the Kingdom of God. And Christmas celebrates the first of these five. (The second is called the Baptism ---- into greater responsibility; the third, the Transfiguration; the fourth, the complete Renunciation or Crucifixion; and the fifth, the Resurrection into full citizenship in the spiritual kingdom, or Mastership. [1] ) Christmas, as celebrated in most churches, is clothed in the garments of Christian theology and the trappings of Christian creed. As celebrated commercially, it is wrapped in tinsel and toys ---- toys like scotch whiskey and fur pieces and stuffed stomachs.

There is a truer way of understanding it, and a better way of celebrating it. On this level we know that this truth which Christmas means is not the exclusive property of any one religion. Parenthetically, it is interesting to note that the events of that first Christmas did not take place among Christians at all, because Christianity had not yet been established. All the members of the 'holy family' were, of course, Jews. But they do not have a corner on Christmas either, for, if we just knew it, all families are holy. So, that which we celebrate at this season really belongs to all.

It is a drama of the inner life. So we are not concerned about those modern Bible scholars who maintain that the birth stories concerning Jesus, which appear in different versions and only in Matthew and Luke, are later additions to the gospel. As a drama of the inner life, what matters is not whether there was, on the physical plane, a virgin birth, a new star in the outer sky, and shepherds and wise men. They do, however, represent symbols of inner truths, and this is the reality with which we are concerned.

To begin with, what is the meaning of this new birth pictured as taking place in a stable among cattle and other animals? Some would reply, ''Because that is where Jesus was actually born.'' Possibly He was, but we have no need to enter into that dispute. What the birth in the stable among the animals really symbolizes is the fact that this initiation, or New Birth, takes place while we are incarnate in a physical or animal body, not while we are on the higher planes between incarnations. It may take place at night while we are on another level of consciousness, and so perhaps be out of the body temporarily, but this divine life has to take root and grow right here in the heart center of this physical or animal life.

Next, we are told that Joseph was not the real father of Jesus, but instead that Mary was impregnated by the overshadowing Spirit. The biblical literalist insists that it definitely was an immaculate conception and a virgin birth, but on the level we are viewing these matters it does not matter one way or the other. On the higher level, Joseph represents the concrete or rational mind, and Mary represents the heart center of our life. Joseph, as the rational mind, is incapable of planting the seed of divine love in the heart center which eventually brings the Christ, the divinity within, to birth. That divine seed can come only from the higher nature, from the love-wisdom center represented in the Bible as the overshadowing Spirit ---- which it is.

What do the shepherds represent ---- those who keep watch over their flocks by night? Now, your interpretation of the symbolism of these matters need not agree with mine. But, to me, the shepherds represent advanced individuals who are sufficiently awake to be aware of the reality of divine birth ---- of initiation ---- and sensitive enough to catch the angel song, not with the physical ear, but with the subjective or inner hearing.

According to Luke, the spoken word of the first angel to appear included this: ''Be not afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people.'' And the heavenly chorus sang: ''Glory to God in the highest. Peace on earth, goodwill toward men.'' Are we awake? Do we listen to that heaven-sent song? We are shepherds, are we not? Or at least called to be such, keeping watch in prayer and meditation over the sleeping flocks (the unawakened ones) during the night of men's suffering. Ponder on that call, that task, that joyous privilege. Let us watch...and listen...and hear and respond.

Let us take our journey to Bethlehem, the place of New Birth, of beginning again. Let us kneel in spirit before the glory of the divine life born among men, in the stable, within man's animal nature ---- a miracle indeed. We are told that higher Beings, symbolized by the angels, are present at every real initiation, and there is truly divine melody. Unless we are on the 'path', we do not listen and are dull of hearing, as Isaiah and Jesus both commented, and we fail to make our journey into the presence of the Christ. What about the star? I am not interested whether or not a new star appeared in the sky at that time. In reality, those who have witnessed initiation and have conscious memory of it affirm that at a certain point in the ceremony the star of initiation shines out over the heads of those being initiated. Here is the significance of the star of Bethlehem.

The three wise men, or Magi, reported by Matthew (but not by Luke) are, I believe, workers in white magic and probably adepts or very advanced disciples who are present at every initiation. We are told that at such a time three of them form a triangle of light around the new initiate, stepping down the tremendous energy to a more tolerable level. Perhaps these energies are symbolized by the gifts of the Magi: gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Gold is a most precious metal, symbolic of highest values. Alchemists work to transmute baser metals into gold. Truly, when we have undergone initiation, lesser values of life have been transmuted into the gold of higher character.

Frankincense represents true beauty ---- the aesthetic values and dimensions of life. It is when we have risen to the level of initiation that we are in possession of life's real incense. Myrrh was used in ancient times to prepare bodies for burial. It represents pain, suffering and sorrow. Though this may come as a surprise to some, pain also is an important element in the life of the initiate. Far from being spared pain, as we advance in life, we come to experience it on a higher level ---- a sharing in the suffering of bruised humanity. This is a redemptive level of pain in which we all can share, and will do so increasingly. Myrrh cannot be left out of the gifts.

Finally, what about Herod who, according to Matthew, tried to destroy the newborn babe? As we ponder this question, we become aware that Herod represents the lower life, the lower desires. These, like Herod, are possessive of their power over us and are loath to give it up. Herod is told (and these lower forces become aware) that Christ is born to grow and to reign. But Herod will do all in his power to prevent this.

Who gives the needed protection to this new initiate, the babe in Christ, the 'little one' as the Bible calls the fledgling initiate? Here is where Joseph, the rational mind, comes in. This concrete mind cannot fertilize the heart center with the divine seed and cannot, like Mary, give birth. But the concrete mind does have its real value. Instructed from above, as Joseph was instructed by angels, it forms an important part of the holy family of our nature, providing protection from above for the new life. This might be called the protection of common sense, or practical good judgment. Thus the new life, born and growing in the heart center, is kept from 'going off the deep end', as we sometimes say, and being destroyed. Also, do not forget Mary, the love of the heart. For the heart and head need to be always in harmony and co-operation in order for the new life within us to grow to maturity and truly reign in our life.

1. See The Gospel Story and the Path of Initiation by Benjamin Creme

This article is a chapter from The Joy of Christ's Coming This book by the late Rev. Howard Ray Carey was published by Share International Foundation in 1988. It is not currently available in hard copy form. Copyright © Share International Foundation.  Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard version unless otherwise indicated. 

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First published April 1999, Last modified: 15-Oct-2005