When we come to the Christmas season the first thing most of us think about is gifts and remembering family and old friends. What about writing that Christmas card or email to someone we haven’t thought of all year? We rush around buying gifts and putting up decorations and hopefully put that little thought of someone else into our hearts as well. This is what Christmas is all about for most people as we bustle along with all the many activities and distractions at this time of year. For those who have times of difficulty and where there’s loneliness and where they sometimes feel that maybe they are not partaking in this general sweep of goodwill that goes right around the world – perhaps that awareness makes one strive for better things.

So, what is Christmas all about and why do we celebrate it? It is really the juxtaposition of the material and the spiritual. I found it a real blessing that even throughout the year, a little bit of Christmas lingers on to make us aware of that beneficent, brotherly influence kept in a corner of our heart to sustain us through the bustle and the turmoil of the year.

Let’s look at the Winter Solstice (Christmas time in the northern hemisphere, Summer Solstice in the southern hemisphere) and recall that this sacred time has been reverenced for millennia. We can think of the way we celebrate this time, in whatever fashion is dictated by our own religion or tradition. I think every corner of the earth has in some way has reverenced the Solstice. Why, and what does it represent? It represents that battle between light and darkness and the eventual conquest of darkness by the inner light of spiritual knowledge and growth. Ancient cultures in Egypt, England, the Americas, India, Scandinavia, and Europe, to name but a few. Some long-forgotten, some remembered. The Pyramids, Stonehenge, early-man’s spiral drawings on rocks that show when the sun shines at the Solstice all indicate that people long ago made monuments to remember this perennial battle between light and darkness.

The Scandinavians have the Lucia festival of light, bonfire rituals in Scotland, Hanukah in the Jewish tradition when candles are lit, and in many European countries people burn Yule logs. From India, the sacred book of the Hindus, The Bhagavad Gita, chapter 8, says: “These two, light and darkness, are the world’s eternal ways, “. As we celebrate the Solstice, we celebrate not so much the battle as the victory of light over darkness.

A Christmas Carol, written by the great English author, Charles Dickens, and first published in December 1843, is really a profound philosophical book written with a delicate touch of humour. One of the main characters is Jacob Marley, Ebenezer Scrooge’s deceased business partner, now a chained and tormented ghost, doomed to wander the earth forever as punishment for his greed and selfishness when he was alive. In the book he leads his best friend and partner, Ebenezer Scrooge, on the path of redemption by witnessing the effects of his selfish actions upon others in the past, present, and future. Dickens starts the book where he says: “If we didn’t know that Marley was dead, and really understood it, the wonder of the story would not be there”. I think in a similar way we have to understand that we are all rooted in the Divine. Without that knowledge, the Solstice loses its meaning. Being rooted in the Divine we are on a wonderful journey of unfolding, ever-growing, with all the myriad atoms, forms, and lives that shape the Universe, to become ever-more sublime. Without that knowledge I think everything loses its meaning.

It’s a very beautiful thought that there’s is eternity ahead of us – an ever-unfolding inner light that can grow ever brighter and brighter. Each human is unique yet comfortably linked through the divine parentage to all Life. We have a Cosmos within, we have an Inner God, that Higher Self, the parent and source of all our inspirations and illumination. We also have this Human Soul, which is really an undeveloped god. Then we have our Animal Soul which is an undeveloped human. This shows the continuity that our human soul can become that god, and, at the Solstice, there are those sublime individuals who do make that graduation. That’s not to underestimate our own way on the Path with each action we are walking towards that point.

So this human soul, the child of the Divine, is growing to full bloom, growing towards that Divinity within. Perhaps when we set up our Christmas tree and put all those wonderful luminescent, translucent bulbs of glass on it, it should remind us a little that it really is rooted in the long-distant past of the Tree of Life, the symbol of the material universe rooted in this Divine and that the manifested world as we know it is taking its nourishment from the eternal and parentless Unknowable. That when we see those lighted candles, we can see the lights within ourselves as well and the crystal as parts of the universe that we don’t even see.

Now, to return to this wonderful time of year, the Sacred Season; I’m just going to touch on the Virgin Birth. We celebrate firstly the birth of Jesus, but we also celebrate all those luminous souls, who through the eons have overcome the limitations of themselves and have given birth to the Divine in themselves. They thus become more perfectly able to allow the altruistic elements of their divinity to shine forth and to show in their daily acts.

There is a second aspect to this Virgin Birth which is a great mystery. The Hindus refer to it as the ‘Twice-Born’, or the ‘Dwijâ’. When we think of “born” we naturally think of the wonderful birth of a human being. Equally wonderful is the second birth of the higher potential in ourselves taking root and showing itself. We all have it there and we all show glimmerings of it on occasions but this birth of the full luminescence in an individual is a profound mystery.

There’s still a deeper meaning too and that the world periodically experiences as an ‘Avatar’ who comes as an unique teacher to be a saviour to mankind and to help us in times of difficulty. One such Avatar, Krishna, in the Bhagavad Gita in chapter 4 says: “I produce myself among creatures, oh Bhaharata, whenever there is a decline of virtue and an insurrection of vice and injustice in the world, and thus I incarnate from age to age, for the preservation of the just, the destruction of the wicked, and the establishment of righteousness”. For those individual teachers of mankind, Avatars, Tulkus, Mahatmans, all spiritual teachers of many grades who appear like a luminous light that shines for centuries upon Mankind, we can all give profound thanks because the world would not be as good a place even as it is today without these gifts of themselves and of the radiance they shed upon mankind. At such times it is as if there is a god who walks amongst us for a short time, then disappears, leaving a blessing upon mankind and a rekindling of the knowledge of Truth, of Man’s Inner Divinity.

Every year at the time of the Solstice we are assured somewhere that there is someone who through many incarnations and the practice of inner discipline and virtuous living has gained for himself/herself the right to undergo those initiations which take place at this time. For two weeks such exalted individuals will undergo their trials and at the end of them, if successful, they will be one of these Dwijâ, or, twice-born. They will return from their initiatory experience bathed in the influence of their Inner Divinity shining forth. They will be for a time with us as virtual gods such as is illustrated in the halos surrounding pictures of holy people depicted in the religious art of many traditions.

The time two weeks after the Solstice, is celebrated by the Epiphany in the Christian church, or 12th night, when we take down our Christmas ornaments. That actually is the beginning of the esoteric year. We say it’s the 6th of January because we’ve placed the birth of Jesus at the 25th of December. But the Solstice actually takes place earlier than that, so the Epiphany or the ‘reawakening’, would in reality be around the 4th of January. At this time of the year these exalted individuals, unseen and unsung, are adding a little of the blessings of their actions and their great endeavours into the thought atmosphere of the world. We are blessed by their endeavours and unconsciously draw on the energy of their aspirations.

There’s a profound thought that what we think and do profoundly affects everyone and helps these exalted souls also. As they reach down to help us, we help them by our reaching upwards towards the best of ourselves.  We give them that impetus – but we can also impede them with our negative thoughts and actions. I understand that when we plan a new building we naturally draw blueprints before we commence the actual building. So to build the edifice of ourselves we need to input into those blueprints our high ideals, our high expectations and then to start brick by brick to build this edifice of ourselves

We feel those thoughts when we kneel humbly in old cathedrals and temples where many people have given praise, the places where people have aspired to the best of themselves and resolved to do noble deeds when they leave these hallowed halls. When you walk there you feel this nourishing ‘thought atmosphere’ and we feel the blessing of it. So, in our lives we can also put this blessing into the atmosphere so that others can draw from it. Again, to return to the Gita: “The man whose desires enter his heart, as waters run into the swelling ocean, which, though ever-full, yet does not quit its bed. He obtains happiness”. So if we put our ‘drops’ into this boundless sea we will eventually join it. Again the Gita says: “The man, who having abandoned all desires, acts without covetousness, selfishness or pride, deeming himself neither actor nor possessor, attains rest “.

To finish these few thoughts on the Christmas season I have two little quotes about life and where we stand. There’s one from Australian, poet, writer, and politician, Adam Lindsay Gordon (1833-1870), who said: “Life is mostly froth and bubble, two things stand like stone, kindness in another’s trouble, courage in your own”. From famed English poet, William Wordsworth (1770-1850), who said: “The best portion of a good man’s life is little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love”.

So let’s raise our glasses of Christmas cheer and repeat along with Ebenezer Scrooge in, A Christmas Carol:

“Let it be said of each of us that we know how to keep Christmas well, and that we will honour Christmas in our hearts and try to keep it all the year, that we will live in the past, the present, and the future, then the spirit of all three will strive within us, we will not shut out the lessons that they teach”.

Or, as ‘Tiny Tim’, another character from the same great book, observed simply: “God bless us, every One”.