Spiritual Seekers, by Don Murray
It’s all brighter days ahead. Today the ever-shortening sunshine hours end their downward slide.
After a brief pause the Earth’s wobble will bring us lengthening days and again nature’s cycle will take its course.
The ancients, and now more and more moderns, celebrate the occasion. In fact we all celebrate the occasion. For many it is Christmas or some other religious festival. Most of us like to festoon our homes inside and out, gather together, sing carols, exchange gifts, and crown it all with a New Years’ Eve celebration. The time of the Solstice has been marked since the dim beginnings of human awareness.
Christianity was wise in tying Christmas and Easter to the celestial clock. It joined the already deeply embedded times of ritual and celebration. It took about 300 years, but finally much of the church chose Dec. 25, but some settled for Jan. 6. So we have the 12 days of Christmas.
Not only do we not know the date of Jesus’ birth, we know little or nothing about his birth and childhood. The stories of a virgin birth along with Shepherds and Wise Men are wonderful tales but their literal veracity is in serious doubt.
But that’s no reason to abandon them. They represent profound psychic or spiritual truths that are worthy of honouring and celebrating.
The distinction between what is literally true and what is myth or metaphor is mostly a product of our modern age. Our scientific minds tend to think that literal truth is the only kind of truth. However, thinking of virgin births and Jesus being both God and human would be no problem for the people of Jesus’ time, nor for 1,500 years after him.
We need to lay aside our literal thinking and ponder upon what the creators of all those stories around Jesus’ birth were trying to tell us. The danger is that if we fail to look beyond the literal we will sell Jesus short. We will either tend to write him off as merely another good person, of whom there are many, or look upon him as some kind of a miracle-working god-person who is not really human.
I believe that Jesus was a very special person. I also know that there are many men and women who stand head and shoulders above the rest of us. Some have taken Jesus off his pedestal of specialness, but to lose him among the many towering figures of the ages would be a grave loss. Among the greats of history he is in the top rank. For 2,000 years he has been the dominant spiritual figure of the western world. He has shaped who we are whatever our background or beliefs.
All the wonderful stories surrounding his birth did not evolve without reason. The people around Jesus experienced him as someone extraordinary. “Never has anyone spoken like this” (John 7:46). “For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Matthew 7:28-29) (Luke 4:32). Jesus’ authority sprang from the quality of his life; his integrity, his compassion, and his acceptance of everyone – Shepherds, the ordinary folk; Wise Men, the elite. He was a storyteller. He was a healer. He was authentic. He was whole. And he was prepared to live and die for the truth he knew. “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly (Luke 1:52).
To hear yet again the stories of his birth is to marvel at the wonder and mystery that brought forth such a person – explained in those days by a virgin birth. Jesus still stands as a guru for the ages. We would do well to immerse ourselves in his life and teaching, and the long tradition from which he came and which he engendered.
Light comes in many forms. The light of nature awakens to a new cycle of the seasons. The light of all the great spiritual and political leaders shines upon us – we think of Nelson Mandela. The light of all people who seek justice, love compassion and walk humbly light our path. The light of the wholeness of Jesus’ humanity draws from us the fullness of our humanity.
Celebrate well. Happy Holidays. Merry Christmas.
Don Murray is a retired united minister. He lives in Shortts Lake.