Note: Originally published December 25, 2010.
Having a conscious Christmas begins with noticing what it is you are keeping and what it is you are leaving behind. Developing a deep and holy relationship to Christmas means appreciating everything about the holiday that is Good, True, and Beautiful… and leaving behind that which isn’t.
I was raised in a Catholic Latino family and am fortunate to have many positive Christmas memories. Today brings to mind thoughts of family, warm fireplaces, delicious meals, and stories of togetherness. I also think of Seattle’s streets come alive with lights and song, ringing bells, and childrens’ laughter amid the gray skies of winter.
In our largely secular and ethnocentric culture, this is one of the few times when it seems that everyone embraces spirituality and espouses world-centric ideals. Once a year, suddenly it’s cool for even the most scrooge-like souls to give handouts to strangers and speak of the universal brotherhood and sisterhood of all people. If you go around wishing every stranger you meet “peace on earth and good will to all,” nobody will look at you funny.
The Principle of Incarnation
As we all know, today is a Christian religious celebration. Theologically, it’s all about the Incarnation, the truth that the Divine becomes human. Today, we recognize that there is no separation between humanity and God. The holiness of Spirit is not merely born within Jesus, but within all manifest reality, in every snowflake and every wisp of chimney smoke.
This isn’t the usual way that people talk about God or human beings. Many folks celebrating Christmas believe only one human being who walked the Earth about 2,000 years ago is Divine, and all other sentient beings are less perfect. Many conventional Christians have repressed their own Divine nature and projected it upon someone with a halo and beard (despite the many contrary non-dual teachings within their own faith tradition).
Few people in our culture really believe the religious story about baby Jesus in the manger and the trumpet-blaring angels, not even the folks in the church pews. Indeed, all religious holidays have a strange place in our contemporary society with its peculiar mix of pre-modern, modern, and post-modern sensibilities.
For one thing, there are the millions of religionists who would have us believe that unless we acknowledge the baby Jesus as the One True God, we are doomed to eternal punishment in an afterlife. There are millions more who would have us believe that nobody will be safe from the tyranny of religion until this day is fully secularized. And there are those who would have us believe that this is a day merely for being nice and spreading warm fuzzy feelings.
But these are not the only ways of looking at Christmas. We can also honor the spiritual principle of self-immanence today, that notion that God is the Within of All Things. (There’s also the principle of self-transcendence, but that is for another day.) Christianity’s theology of immanence as the Incarnation of Christ is ours for the taking if we allow ourselves to discover or rediscover its truth and relevance in an integral way.
Many Perspectives on Christmas
With those Christians who take the stories of their tradition seriously, we can honor the fact that spiritual truths have a history as well as a present reality, and we cannot embrace the latter without honoring the former. In other words, Christmas isn’t a generic day for giving good tidings to others or spending time with family, but a particular embodied and institutionalized form for transmitting a theological reality. Not exactly a comforting thing to talk about in a culture much more comfortable with Santa Claus and red-nosed reindeers.
I believe that in trying to make Christmas acceptable to the modern mind we are foolish to shed the stories and symbols of the pregnant unwed Mary and the astrologers coming from the East. Likewise, if we eschew the Gospel of John’s mystical Christology in favor of an infantilized faith of fairytales and platitudes, we have lost our way. The figurative baby is flushed out with the bathwater at the Bethlehem Inn (so to speak).
The alternative to a conventional approach to the holiday isn’t to pay lip service to myths we no longer believe. Instead we can reflect on the principle of self-immanence and how it shows up and express itself in our lives. If we forget this truth about Christmas in favor of a more superficial message about merriness and fruitcake, we are substituting saccharine for the deeper sweetness.
A More Integral Holiday
Incarnation is about that which we believe to be perfect and not of our world — that is, the Divine Reality — and how it is paradoxically born out of Absolute Perfection into a world of imperfection, thus saving it. It is about recognizing the perfection that already exists in the gorgeous trauma of birth and the beautiful tears of existence.
Religious holidays need not remain the exclusive property of particular religionists, but can be appreciated in both their essential core and particular forms. The Christians who are most concerned with preserving their grip on the exclusivity of their faith do not own the holiday. Christmas is for everyone, just as truly as Christ is in everyone and surely belongs to all of humanity.
Christmas should not be limited to an individual’s heart, a family’s hearth, or a country’s heartland. It’s a global holiday now, one that we are all harkened to enjoy. So have yourself an integral l’il Christmas this year.