December 2017 Newsletter
The following articles are reproduced from the December 2017 Newsletter to members. Non-members may or may not be able to relate to the contents.
A Theosophical View of Christmas
By Geoffrey Hodson
An Extract from Sharing the Light
AT Christmas time Christians throughout the world celebrate the birth of the Christ child in Bethlehem nearly 2000 years ago. In the Theosophical Society, where we seek the mystical meaning behind the teachings of world faiths, we celebrate also another birth, not limited to time, but which perpetually occurs. We celebrate the birth of the Christ in all Nature and especially in the human race.
I refer to the mystical birth of the Christ-child in the heart of the individual man. As the time approaches at which his long pilgrimage towards perfection will be completed, and he will become the Christ in His triumphant achievement of ‘perfection’, there occurs in the aspirant a great change, an inward birth which is the awakening of the hitherto latent Christ-consciousness in him. This is referred to in mystical Christianity as the birth of the Christ-child in man, that which St Paul yearned to bring about in the hearts of his converts. In this Christmas article I wish to present a mystical interpretation of this birth in the individual, and of the stages of growth which follow it as portrayed in the gospel-drama of the life of Christ.
The first stage is the birth of the Christ-child. This means that the neophyte becomes ‘as a little child’, feeble (from the worldly point of view), innocent and pure. This state of feebleness and innocence represents renunciation of the riches and rewards of this world, the attainment of complete dispassion. In this sense the neophyte becomes a little child, caring no more for the earthly treasures which his fellow men are seeking. When this great renunciation is made — actually it is effortless, the transient losing its hold on him as he awakens to the eternal — by a strange paradox, as the story tells, the kings of the earth unite to lay their treasures at His feet. In other words his material needs are always provided for; possessing nothing, he is never in need.
Thus having in himself experienced spiritually a new birth, he is received in the inner worlds into the august presence of the ‘just men made perfect’, those who have gone before and have reached the goal. Before Them, and at the hands of One of their number, he receives his spiritual knighthood, that true accolade, of which all outer knighthoods are but the shadow and symbol. At the touch of the thyrsus, he awakens to the knowledge, the living experience, that life is one.
Then he is a free man, free of home, of family, of race, as Mary the Mother of Jesus learnt. For when chiding Him for His absence from home, she received in the temple the gentle rebuke: ‘Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?’
As gradually He realizes the fruits of the new birth, and experiences increasingly the living fact of the unity of all life, the portals of the second gateway open before Him. A further inner experience occurs, symbolised in the gospel drama by baptism in the waters of Jordan at the hands of John the Baptist. These are the waters of this world’s sorrows in which he, who would be a Saviour of man, must be baptised, that he may know and learn to relieve them.
Here we may pause for a moment, and note that the experiences of these great stages, five in number, are passed through in miniature in the lives of every one of us, as if to prepare us for the great experience which will one day be ours. Thus we also have our minor baptisms in the waters of the world’s sorrows, our temptations, our victories, our transfigurations, our Gethsemanes, as also our crucifixions. Courage is easier to maintain amidst difficulties, and self-control in happiness, if one remembers that these experiences are rehearsals, as it were, for the great events through which later we shall live. After sorrow comes power, and we are told that after Jordan new floods of power descended on Him; that the heavens opened, and He went forth into the world clothed with divine authority.
Then follow the great temptations in the wilderness, symbol of this world’s materialism and selfishness. The Initiate is tempted to misuse and debase His new-found powers by their exercise in order to gratify personal ambition and desire. Eventually He triumphs saying: ‘Get thee behind me, Satan’, and moves on to the right use of His power, to heal the sick, to raise the dead, and to perform many miracles. At this time also He begins to draw around Him as disciples, those whom He perceives to be approaching the Path of swift Unfoldment, which He Himself is treading and whom thereafter He guides upon the way. Then the third Portal opens before Him portrayed by the Transfiguration on the Mount.
The Mount is a much used symbol in the Bible, and refers to the higher consciousness, where alone Elijah could commune with God, Moses receive the Commandments and Jesus preach His great sermon, pray and be transfigured.
There He experiences a brief time of illumination and of peace. Side by side with others who have gone before and who recognise the divinity unfolding within Him, He sees the future, and, knowing that which awaits Him, voluntarily He moves down into the Garden of Gethsemane, symbol of the dark night of the soul, which all who seek the inner heights must know. It is often foreshadowed for many of us in the bereavements, betrayals, and lonelinesses, which we are called upon to endure. We should endure them bravely, and without bitterness, even welcoming them for they fore shadow in deed help to make possible — a great attainment.
In the darkness of Gethsemane Christ experienced the quintessence of loneliness. He saw His disciples sleeping around Him, no hand being out stretched to help Him in the hour of His need. Rarely, we are told, does a soul pass through this stage without a cry of anguish: ‘Couldst thou not have watched with Me one hour?’ Yet, despite the shrinking of human nature from the Cup, it is accepted. The God within triumphs over the mortal man. His will is surrendered to the Divine.
Follows the fourth great stage, the Crucifixion, which means the death of the personal self, the end of all separateness, so often achieved only with pain. Here the Initiate knows the deeper darkness of an hour when a gulf seems to open up between Father and Son, between life Infinite and life embodied. It is the greatest of all ordeals. The hour of hoped-for triumph becomes one of deepest ignominy. He sees His enemies exultant around Him, He is deserted, even betrayed by His friends and He drinks the bitter draught — another great symbol — of isolation, defamation and betrayal. He is utterly alone, naught bridging the gulf in which hangs his helpless soul. The Father, who yet was realized in Gethsemane, is veiled in the passion of the cross. Then from the heart which feels itself deserted rings out the cry: ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’
Why this last dread ordeal? Apparently it is necessary and must be experienced by all ere the triumphant goal is won; necessary because that goal is not only union, but identity with God; He must know God to be His very self, that He is the Eternal — the Eternal is Himself. Then He is able with full realisation to utter — free from all possibility of separateness any more — the mighty, liberating words: ‘I and the Father are One’.
The Resurrection symbolises the complete mastery of the lower self, freedom from the necessity of further rebirth, victory over death itself, having been attained. This is followed quite naturally by Ascension into full experience and conscious employment of His divinity and its powers.
The goal of human life at last is won. That which was born in Him at first ‘as a little child’ has grown to ‘The measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’.
May this great truth which we celebrate at this, the Feast of Christmas, become manifest in our lives; may we know the joy of a new birth, and our feet be set upon the Path which leads to life eternal.