If a man calls you an ass, the best way is to take no notice of it; but if you are called so by two or more persons take the bit into your own mouth.
–Gen. Rabba 45.
GIVING BIRTH TO THE DIVINE BEING IN YOURSELF
And when upon their way they came to Bethlehem the day was done, and they must tarry for the night. But Bethlehem was thronged with people going to Jerusalem; the inns and homes were filled with guests, and Joseph and his wife could find no place to rest but in a cave where animals were kept; and there they slept. At midnight came a cry, A child is born in yonder cave among the beasts. And lo, the promised son of man was born.
And strangers took the little one and wrapped him in the dainty robes that Mary had prepared and laid him in a trough from which the beasts of burden fed. Three persons clad in snow-white robes came in and stood before the child and said, All strength, all wisdom and all love be yours, Immanuel. Now, on the hills of Bethlehem were many flocks of sheep with shepherds guarding them.
The shepherds were devout, were men of prayer, and they were waiting for a strong deliverer to come. And when the child of promise came, a man in snow-white robe appeared to them, and they fell back in fear. The man stood forth and said, Fear not! behold I bring you joyful news. At midnight in a cave in Bethlehem was born the prophet and the king that you have long been waiting for. And then the shepherds all were glad; they felt that all the hills were filled with messengers of light.
In a cave, among the animals, a child was born in the middle of the night. The other-one-within-us has broken loose from his bonds and breathes.
The first delicate signs of a completely new life, deep in the human heart, are immediately surrounded by the unknown forces of the new life, a life to which Mary-within-us had directed herself with unshakable certainty. And the child is “wrapped in the dainty robes that Mary had prepared”, which means that the child is immediately surrounded by light forces that protect him from harmful influences.
Then this newborn is carefully laid down in the manger of the animals; and immediately three men appear in snow-white garments. They bring three gifts: strength, wisdom and love. Those are the three fundamental forces that make everything possible, the invincible forces that require a completely new life. For no human being of this world would be able to endure perfect power, absolute wisdom and all-embracing love.
Opening up the new life within a human being is therefore like an all-encompassing love, like being irradiated by hitherto unknown forces that well up from an unfathomable source in the heart … The light birth, the birth of the light-in-man, has taken place.
Gnostic Christianity considers the birth of Jesus as the birth of the new soul in a person who became like John. John is the one who had the power to purify himself by following a new path. The new soul is the higher vehicle, ‘the new garment’ which will ultimately allow the human being to enter his original world once again.
The paradise myth in the Book of Genesis, at the beginning of the Old Testament, tells the story of Adam and Eve; a man and a woman who left their birthplace (paradise) and obtained a new residence (outside of Paradise).
With the birth of Jesus at the beginning of the New Testament the return journey begins. There we read of a man and a woman, Joseph and Mary, traveling from their home to their place of birth. Mary is pregnant by the Holy Spirit. She is a virgin in the spiritual sense, pure d untainted, completely oriented towards the higher life.
Joseph is the free builder, he who has purified his thoughts and directs them towards the soul. He symbolizes the aspiring human being who deliberately and perseveringly works and builds while staying focused on the divine. That work brings about a continuous process of purification that is guided by the soul.
A HIGHER OCTAVE
We can describe the Joseph and Mary within ourselves as the new thinking activity and the new way of feeling which are caused by the touch from the domain of the soul. In this sense, Joseph and Mary can be seen as a higher octave of Zacharias and Elizabeth.
After all, Elizabeth symbolizes the longing that is oriented to the good of the world, while Mary represents the orientation toward the higher life. The two are therefore related to each other and both bring forth children with a special task: John, who has the task of adopting the outer life to the new inner life; and Jesus, the child in whom pure Love, the highest possible in this universe, assumes a physical form.
Jesus is born in the greatest darkness of the night in a cave in Bethlehem (meaning ‘bread house’) where ‘beasts of burden’ reside as well. Our inner ‘beasts of burden’ have done their job: the persevering, goal-oriented ox caused us to proceed ever onward and the donkey carried us on the most inaccessible roads of life. They brought us ‘home’. They belong to us and therefore they stay in the cave where the soul-being is born.
And what could this cave be other than our own human heart? The human heart is like a cave system with one special birthing room: the right ventricle. There is the manger where our ‘beasts of burden’, the ox and the donkey, found their food with which we were able to complete our journey so far.
But after all the preparation and purification, the same feeding place became a place where a completely different life-force could descend: Light itself. Food and energy for a whole new journey with which the entire personality will joyfully cooperate.
In many cultures, a cave is an ancient symbol of a shelter, an image of birth and rebirth. Ritual meetings were often held in caves. Caves were also shelters for cattle and refuges for people in times of danger.
THE OX AND THE DONKEY
Where do the legendary ox and donkey come from? In the first chapter of the Book of Isaiah, verses 2 and 3, the following is said on behalf of God: I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people do not understand. So the cattle know who feeds them and where they belong, but people have forgotten where they come from, who feeds them and who guides them.
In a certain tradition, the ox and the donkey represent the ‘Jews’ and the ‘Gentiles’. The donkey symbolizes the Gentiles, the heathen who are suffering under the burden of sin and idolatry. The ox is then a symbol for the Jews who live under the yoke of the law, like an ox wearing a yoke during ploughing. In this instance, the yoke refers to being fully connected with and guided by the divine. The word yoke is derived from the Latin word ‘iungere’ meaning ‘to connect’ and is still recognizable in the word yoga, for example. Thus, the ox and the donkey stand together at the manger of Jesus, which symbolizes the idea that the inner light birth is not restricted to one single race or country but that it is a calling for all humanity. Every human being is able to celebrate the inner light birth at the appropriate moment in his or her life, in his or her own year zero.
GOD IN MAN
The Light Messengers, the visible and invisible spiritual leaders of humanity, descend into the world of time and space to support and guide humanity at every step on the spiritual path.
The divine birth cannot be forced. You can only create the conditions for this birth to take place. How do you know if the new soul is born in you? The famous mystic Meister Eckhart wrote about this: Now you turn your face entirely to this birth. Yes, you will encounter this birth in everything you see and hear, whatever it is. You are like someone who looks for quite a while at the sun, and afterwards sees the image of the sun in whatever he looks at. As long as you do not seek and perceive God in everything, this birth has not yet occurred in you.
We live inside a box formed by time & space. Standing at the edge of that reality, peering beyond, we see, as the Apostle wrote, through a glass darkly and our mind fills with haze and vapor. We just can’t go there as nothing inside compares with the outside (so far as we know). Carl Jung posits the need for a point of reference outside the conditions of present reality.
Carl Jung, “It is possible to have an attitude to the external conditions of life when there is a point of reference outside them.”
Andreas Wagner, “All we know and experience is mediated through matter. If we step on a sharp object, the material known to us as a foot, begins to phone home: pain, pain, puncture, puncture, what is it? Pull it out right now. The change in message from my foot requires a change in the matter of my foot. Wagner concludes by saying, “Matter impacts meaning.”
Andreas Wagner, “we overlook that there is no conversation without matter, and similarly, that any change in the meaning of a signal requires a change in matter. Matter impacts meaning.”
We need two things to make sense of anything and everything.
1. What we must have then, is a point of reference beyond the time & space container in which we live.
2. And that reference point will be experienced through matter which is the only way we know how to know anything.
Before the foundation of the world, The Holy Trinity promulgated the incarnation. The Second Person of the Trinity, coming from eternity into time and space fully material to promulgate salvation. Matter impacts meaning and Divine matter imparts ultimate meaning.
Nativity story begins with an enrollment. The early enrollment that precedes the birth of Christ alludes to the “enrollment in heaven” that is his birth’s consequence. As he said to his disciples, “Rejoice not, that the spirits are subject to you but rather rejoice, because you names are written in heaven.”
The Christ-child is born and laid in a manager because there was no room for them in the inn. Like the birth of this child the origin of this son of God is outside the inn of the world and laid in a MANGER.
Interesting word, MANGER The Greek Old Testament uses the same word Kibotos (kib-o-tos)
The manger in the Bethlehem stable.
The manger signifies emptiness that is to be filled. The container available and waiting to be filled with the precious gift of God, the gift of the Son.
In this box, we live in time and space. To this ark, this Manger of time and space, is born a material reference point: Jesus the Christ.
Now, let me string together reflections by the Church Father on this great night.
In this manger Mary puts Jesus wrapped in swaddling bands (KJV). As Gregory of Nazianzus puts it, He was wrapped in swaddling bands, but at the resurrection he released the swaddling bands of grace. He was laid in a manger but was praised by angels, disclosed by a star and adored by magi.”
Inmost crèches and art of the nativity you find animals around the manger, always an ox and always an ass, why because of the words of the Prophet Isaiah, “The ox knoweth his owner and the ass his master’s crib.”
On a humorous aside. Last night (Christmas Eve) at the family service performed the traditional Christmas Pageant. Children were dressed as all the usual suspects. I did have to intervene when one little girl announced she wanted to be a pig at the manager scene. “No pigs,” I pronounced! Even though Memphians revere all things porcine, especially in its myriad of eatable forms, there was still no pig at the manager.
After the Church Fathers, the Venerable Bede, whose tomb lies at one end of Durham Cathedral, wrote in the 7th century, “He who sits at the right hand of the Father goes without shelter from the inn, that he may for us prepare many mansions in the house of his heavenly Father. Hence we have ‘because there was no room for him in the inn.’ He was born not in the house of his parents but at the inn, by the wayside, because through the mystery of the incarnation be is become the Way by which he guides us to our home, where we shall also enjoy the Truth and the Life.”
Luke ends the nativity gospel in fields near Bethlehem where the angel of the Lord proclaims, this day is born to you a savior who is Christ, The Lord, Savior = God’s activity come to earth, Christ/Messiah/the anointed one, the Lord, the prince of peace.
So there you have it. The story that begins this night with this Mass in the mid-night, ends on Easter Eve after the fall of darkness, but in that darkness has come a great light.
A latter day Church Father, C.S. Lewis, once wrote, “What a terrible place the world would be if it were always winter and never Christmas.” Unfortunately there is not much winter (70 degrees but thank God for 30 ton air-conditioners) but it is Christmass!
We are not alone, the Christ Child, the only Son of God, has come to be born in us. To Him be honor and glory now and forever. Amen.
©John W. Sewell
The Feast of the Incarnation
December 25, 2015