Masonic Articles and Essays
A Very Esoteric Christmas: Part II
Bro... Jonathan Dinsmore 1o
Is there a greater aesthetic and mythical theme of Christmas than that of light shining in the darkness?
Today, on the Eve of this great holiday of Christmas, we celebrate the beginning of our current age of history, the beginning of a new year, the return of the solar light, and the birth of the most influential figure in modern history, Jesus of Nazareth. In Part 1 of A Very Esoteric Christmas, we examined the roots and archetypal origins of the Christmas story, as well as other various pre-Christmas traditions in paganism and ancient mythology. We have seen that Christmas in its entirety is a patchwork of ancient and mythical ideas and celebrations.
The dissolution of our beliefs and assumptions about Christmas may be disconcerting to some, but like the caterpillar which must liquify within its cocoon in order to become a butterfly, it is a necessary component of initiation into new knowledge to leave inaccurate ideas behind. So, now, while our conception of Christmas is likewise in its liquid state, let’s see what colorful wings our cherished holiday may yet don, and what sweet flowers of spiritual life they may carry us to.
In the first chapter of John, the most mystical chapter of the most mystical gospel, it is said that that Word which became Jesus of Nazareth is also that Word of God which shone in the darkness at the dawn of Creation and made all things, and which is also the Light and Life of humanity. In the original Greek, this Word is actually Logos, a concept borrowed from Greek Stoic and Neoplatonist philosophers which describes the creative force which gives order to the dark chaos of the universe. So, this Light of Logos shone in the darkness, and the darkness knew it not; it was the Light of humanity, and became flesh that humanity might know it better.
If there were a single motif that could be attributed to the aesthetic and mythical theme of Christmas, it would be that of light shining in the darkness. From the illuminated Christ child at the center of our nativities, to the Christmas lights with which we decorate our trees and homes and the light of the quintessential hearth upon which stockings are hung, Christmas is archetypally a light in the darkness, a warmth in the cold, even order in the chaos. It is salvation by Divine Light, at the darkest hour.
The birth of the Sun Gods throughout ancient mythology, many of whom share common elements with the story of Jesus and his birth, were often celebrated at the time of the Winter Solstice because this is the point at which the sun begins it’s slow return after reaching it’s darkest point, ultimately culminating in Spring and Summer. Midwinter, therefore, marks the birth of a new solar cycle, which has always governed the activities of mankind, and to a large extent still does. It is the point at which the Sun of God “dies”, and is born anew, what in Rome was known as the “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun."
While some may scoff at the ancient sun-worship, as the giver of light and life, what better symbol for God or the Divine might there be than that without which all we know would perish? Much like the Logos of John 1, the Light of the sun shines into matter, and turns the darkness of mud and stone into the beautiful complexities of Life. Since most people need the incomprehensibility of God to be represented by some tangible figure, both the sun and it’s idealized representatives in their various anthropomorphized forms, Father and Sun, can serve to embody and inform humanity about the nature of the spiritual Light which gives true Life.
In The Mystical Interpretation of Christmas, Rosicrucian Max Heindel describes the times at which the physical and spiritual energies received from the sun as being reversed, so that the time of greatest physical energy correlates to the weakest spiritual energy, and vice versa. Interestingly enough, this also corresponds to the times at which the sun’s light is striking the Earth at a more right angle, during Summer Solstice, representative of the square of physical existence, as opposed to when it is striking the Earth at a more perpendicular angle at Winter Solstice, roughly corresponding to the triangle, representing spiritual existence.
This also means that this Winter Solstice, day of spiritual maximum, is the day at which the physical minimum turns, and begins to grow towards the physical robustness of Summer, and so represents the beginning of the descent of spirit into matter. This descent, too often depicted as a “fall”, is fundamentally an act of giving, sacrifice, service, and creation, for the Light’s descent into darkness is that by which all new forms are created, maintained, and the grace by which they may someday ascend and evolve to a higher state. Without the selfless pouring of light from the sun into the darkness of the Earth, and the divine birth of crop and creature, where might we be?
So it is that at the time where the physical light is at its weakest, the spiritual Light of Love and generosity reaches its peak. Throughout history, as the darkness of Winter set in, the necessity for giving and sharing also reached its highest, and were it not for the reminder of Love and generosity of these Winter celebrations, how many may have perished in the bitter cold of Winter, and the frigid self-concern of their neighbors? Here, we likewise find the importance of giving, being both symbolic of the fundamental gift of Light and Life from God and the sun, as well as being a practical aspect of our survival and thriving as a people. We are reminded to become sun-like in our generosity when the sun itself is the least present.
Perverted and commercialized though it may now be, our ability at our darkest hour to allow the inner sun of our Love to shine and provide for one another is the origin of our gift-giving traditions of Christmas, and the dominant theme of many Christmas stories, from the willingness of a wealthy miser to give to those in need in A Christmas Carol, to the willingness of a poor community to support a family in need, in It’s a Wonderful Life. Even the original Christmas story of a desperate refugee family, mother heavy with child, finding shelter in the generosity of others resonates with this theme. All of these are outer reflections of our Light shining in the darkness of ignorance, fear, hatred, and greed.
Like the Christ child in the story of Jesus, the Christ which is the inner Light of all people, of every atom, and which shines in our sun and every star beyond is a divine gift born of grace, whose destiny is written into the fabric of Creation itself. Into the deepest depths of darkness, born into a galactic stable and a planetary manger made of water, dust, and gases, the physical light of the sun shines down, and the divine Light of consciousness miraculously emerges and ascends towards its source in every form of Life. As the Sufi mystic Ibn Arabi wrote, “God sleeps in the rock, dreams in the plant, stirs in the animal, and awakens in man.”
The secret of this Sun of God in humanity is hidden in the characters of the Christmas nativity. The virgin mother Mary is the purity of the open heart, unmolested by the base desires of lower human nature, receiving that which was never born and never dies. The father Joseph is the servant of strength and will, who watches over the divine incarnation, in obedience to the heavenly decree. The wise men and shepherds drawn by the star are the higher and lower aspects of the mind, called by the mysterious celestial intuition from their typical worldly activities. The stable, manger, and the animals all around are the dim and lowly terrestrial vessel into which the Christ Light is born, or descends, in each of us, the physical body.
All these aspects of the self are gathered like a mandala around the central figure, who is placed into a manger which by normal logic should simply be food for the animals, but has been replaced by this divine Light and salvation from the fearful darkness of entanglement in the world of matter. So it is that this Light takes the place of the mere material "bread alone" which feeds only our bodies and their desires. So it is that body, heart, willpower, and mind bow down and revolve like satellites around the radiant Light which transcends and illuminates all these lesser aspects of the Self. This Light does not emerge from them, just as the baby Jesus is not a naturally conceived child; it is not a sum of their parts, but rather a grace descending to them, giving them meaning and purpose beyond their transitory forms and lower existence, which are otherwise merely eddies of darkness.
Near-death experiencers almost universally describe encountering a Light which they know to be God, whose shining effulgence is the essence of Unconditional Love, Knowledge, Life, and Consciousness. Mystics the world over likewise experience God as an infinite Light which is both transcendent and immanent in all of Creation. This loving Light is also understood to be what we experience in our hearts as love, and in our minds as consciousness, albeit in limited forms. It shines in us most brightly in unconditional Love, when freed from the constraints of desire and conditioning that conceal it in the muck and mire of our lower natures.
It is this Love Light that shines from the manger, and it comes to us appropriately in the story-form of a babe, a new and pure form of Life. It is various shades of this Light which we know throughout life, first in our purity as babes ourselves, then in the loving union which brings new life into the world, and once again when we gaze upon our newborn children, reflecting our own pure essential nature back to us. This inner sun child which we glimpse in many ways is our core, beneath and beyond all aspects of mind and body, it is our Soul, our consciousness itself, both the Light of awareness and the fountain of Love which shines when we surrender to the Divine.
When we achieve the purity and surrender of Mary, the strength and devotion of Joseph, and the orientation of all aspects of mind, from shepherds to wisemen, towards this star of intuition, then the radiance of the unconquered inner sun shines in us as an inexhaustible joy, love, wisdom, creativity, and peace, illuminating every aspect of our relationships, thoughts, and actions in the world. This is the culmination of the spiritual journey, and the world itself becomes illuminated when we bear this Light by releasing all impurities which obstruct it within ourselves.
While our individual completion is a day yet to come, at Christmas, our stories and songs, decorations and celebrations, the hour of the season and position of heavenly bodies themselves all convene to remind us of that infinite Light of Love which dwells within us, which we glimpse in our brightest moments, and which awaits our devoted purification to shine from the manger of our hearts, making us a fully divine incarnation of the Logos of Loving Light.
This illumination is a gradual process, and the bellows of our Christmas stories, songs, and symbols blow into us every Midwinter and renew the warm hearth of Love within us. This helps us to march forward into the darkness, hand-in-hand and Lit from Within, to face a new cyclical round of our spiral journey upward towards ultimate completion, and to bring Light into this world in whatever imperfect ways we are able to, along the way.
Know this Christmas that the Light of Christ Consciousness is not a faraway or ancient thing, nor is it limited to any sect, temple, or holy book, but it lives in every gaze you meet, in every word of love, in every act of giving, and in your very own heart, if you release the fearful confusion which conceals it, and recognize it to be the core of your being, merely hidden in darkness, waiting to be revealed. A very merry, warm, and bright Christmas to you, from the Universal Co-Masonry community.
As always, this writing does not represent the official views of Universal Co-Masonry, but is simply the reflections of one Co-Mason.
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