It’s here… That time of year when to all of the pressures of everyday life are added the pressures of the holiday season. In addition to the demands of Higher Ground, kids, the day gig, (I am an engineer) and everything else that seems to pile up over time, we now have shopping, family pressures, decorations, (inside and out) advertising blitz’s, the “must have” toys of the year and everything else that is attached to a holiday that is shares a season of well wishing with many other holidays. Many of the traditions associated with Christmas are shared by other faiths and religious systems in addition to the fact that their celebrations center on the winter solstice.
If you get down to the true meaning behind the origins of the Christmas Holiday as opposed to that into which it has grown, I think it’s safe to say that Jesus lost that fight to Corporate America a long time ago. If we want to “put Christ back in Christmas” I can get behind that, but I wonder if we have come too far. The modern Christmas celebration, including the Coca Cola Santa Clause that I grew up with, would be unrecognizable to anyone from the 19th Century, let alone the year zero. That leads pretty easily to what I want to talk with you about.
There are aspects of the real holiday that do survive. You will see the classic Nativity in front of a home or church and just for a moment you remember what we are celebrating. But what are we really celebrating? It is supposed to be the birth of Jesus Christ. A nice Jewish boy born 2000 years or so ago, who had a profound effect on humanity. I say “or so” because no one really knows the date. Many don’t even know he was Jewish. We just assume it was December 25th exactly 2015 years ago (or would it be 2016?). Now, if this was in fact the case, it would not have been called the year zero, it would have been 754AUC (referring back to the start of the Roman Empire). People in the year 45 BC didn’t call it that… how could they know? The calendar was later re-calibrated to center it on the birth of Jesus and the so called start of the “Common Era”. Are you confused yet? Wait, it gets worse. Without getting too lost in all of this, doesn’t it seem strange to re-organize a calendar to a date and year we can’t identify? That gives you an idea of how unique the impact of this one individual.
Now why do we have such a hard time setting this date? Don’t we have his whole life story? Well, yes and no. The two gospel stories that do cover the birth of Jesus conflict with each other, and the earliest of the books in the canonized Bible (Mark) which doesn’t mention the birth, wasn’t written until about 60-70AD (we can’t set that date either). Mathew says he was born while Herod the great was King of Judea (he actually died in 4 BC) and Luke tells us it was in the time that Quirinius was the Governor of Syria. Ironically, history indicates that those two things didn’t happen at the same time. In addition, census that put Joseph and Mary on the road to Bethlehem was most likely the one commissioned by Cesar Augustus in 6 AD, 10 years after Herod died. So we are left to wonder…
Well, I guess it doesn’t really matter what year it was as long as we have the day right. Birthdays don’t mean as much to me anymore and I’m not 2000 years old, I just feel that way sometimes. We can still celebrate and just not have the right number of candles on the cake right? Sorry, we don’t really know the day either. As a matter of fact in the first 337 years of the common calendar 136 different days were used to celebrate Jesus’ birth. That means there is a 1 in 3 chance; no matter what day you are reading this story, that it was Christmas Day at least once. In 337 Pope Julius decided that they had to do something. That mess was OK before, but Rome had basically adopted Christianity in 325 at the council of Nicea. I guess he figured they had to be more organized. So how did he decide? In the absence of reliable historical evidence where would you turn?
As beautiful and complete as the story of Jesus may be, it is not unique in some of its aspects. There are many avatars over the ages and in different civilizations that are celebrated as the “only begotten sons of God”. Edward Carpenter identified 21 common characteristics of these Scriptures and traditions in his “Pagan and Christian Creeds” starting with a virgin mother, (many of whom were named Mary) and including the flight from “a slaughter of the innocents.” Interestingly, many of them were (supposedly) born on December 25th. Are they copying Christmas? Not by a long shot. Christianity is one of the most recent tellings of this ancient story.
Dr. Annie Bessant explains this unlikely coincidence in her book Esoteric Christianity discussing the plurality of these traditions.
“He is always born at the winter solstice, after the shortest day in the year, at the midnight of the 24th of December, when the sign Virgo is rising above the horizon; born as this sign is rising, he is born always of a virgin, and she remains a virgin after she has given birth to her Sun-Child, as the celestial Virgo remains unchanged and unsullied when the Sun comes forth from her in the heavens. Weak, feeble as an infant is He, born when the days are shortest and the nights are longest…”
Alice A. Bailey, in her definitive work on the subject, From Bethlehem to Calvary, states, “At the time of the birth of Jesus, Sirius, the star in the East, was on the meridian line, Orion, called ‘The Three Kings’ by oriental astronomers, was in proximity; therefore the constellation Virgo, the Virgin, was rising in the east, and the line of the ecliptic, of the equator and of the horizon all met in that constellation.”
Hence, we celebrate the birth of the “light of the world” at the birthing of the light at the winter solstice, along with countless other celebrations in varied cultures… Does this sound farfetched? Why would a Pope care about hokey astrological signs when dealing with purely Christian issues? If we dig a bit into history we find some interesting facts. Did you ever wonder why Easter Sunday moves around every year? The date is set each year in accordance with rules set in the same council of Nicea anchored to the Vernal Equinox. It is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring. As a matter of fact it was among the reasons for the reform of the Julian calendar into the Gregorian calendar in 1582. The older Julian was skewed and over time the date of the equinox had drifted 10 days, effecting the Easter celebration. The new calendar bearing the name of Pope Gregory XIII would “reset” Easter to the date established in Nicea in 325 AD and correspond with the solar or tropical calendar, the actual time it takes for the earth to complete its path around the sun. So, as you can see there is precedent for this kind of basis for the timing of a Christian celebration.
So where are we now? We celebrate a definitive event in human history, the date of which cannot be fixed, at the same time that many other celebrations occur, for many of the same reasons. Insecurity alone can be the reason for thinking that the other celebrations are less important or somehow diminish the one that is most important to us. In my father’s One Solitary Life series, this information is given in much greater detail including two dozen virgin born Sons of God.
If we look together at what the teachings of the world have in common we may find even greater reason for our faith. If differing civilizations and cultures all over the world center around the same tenets without the possibility of a common language to have effectively bridged or communicated these aspects of faith, does that diminish the tenets of any? On the contrary, I believe it is compelling evidence of the central truths. Let’s celebrate our faith together and truly honor the teachings and life of the Lord of Compassion along with all of the other celebrations of light around the world.
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