A commentary on the history, contexts, and meanings of the word "genius," in addition to articles on other related subjects and many new era Christian sermons.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Advent IV - Love

Advent IV - Love

Today, according to SOMEBODY'S calendar, we have lit the candle of love. As the moment of the incarnation of the Christ Consciousness approaches, we are impressed with the idea of love born anew in our hearts, because love bears us into a new, and ever new, and ever renewing reality of spirit.

1 John 4:7-16
7 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
9 In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.
10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. 12 No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.
13 Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.
14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.
15 Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.
16 And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.

There can be no more important subject, than love, for human beings to consider at this time of year; and yet the vastness of the subject makes it difficult to approach in anything like a systematic way. Love is an easy word to bandy about, because it has so many meanings and inflections; therefore, it might behoove us to first narrow the field a little, so we have some clear idea of what we are talking about. A general definition of love will help me clarify my understanding of the meaning of Christmas love.

To me, the ultimate, all-purpose definition of love is as a synonym for CONNECTION--either that, or SYMPATHY. In either case, the implication is that people who love each other have something in common--they are connected by spiritual ties that enable them to share feelings, thoughts, and experiences, etc. It is love that enables us to magnify the resonance of our connection to our neighbors into a dynamic energy level that is cosmic in scope. The love at the source of all being brings us together through realization of the Christ Consciousness. Since the beginning of time, (and before then), we have been ONE in love, and, thanks to Jesus we can know it here and now. At Christmas we remember that the Christ Consciousness descended to earth in the body of Jesus Christ because God loves us, because God in us sought to reveal to our limited rational consciousness the CONNECTION between Himself and us. Furthermore, we, all of us, seek our places of harmony and sympathy, somewhere on the continuum of the manifold levels of human consciousness, through love; I say we SEEK it through love, but we FIND that place through the grace bestowed on us by the heavenly entities assigned to care for and guide us through the entanglements of mundane existence.

Here are a few quotes from famous people about love at Christmas. Usually, I present my quotes in a large block, and then comment at the end. Today I am taking a less structured approach, in the hope that this element of improvisation will discover its own implicit meaning. Some of these quotes are serious, some are just for fun, like these first few:

Benny Hill
Roses are reddish
Violets are bluish
If it weren't for Christmas
We'd all be Jewish.

Garrison Keillor
A lovely thing about Christmas is that it's compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together.

Eric Sevareid
Christmas is a necessity.  There has to be at least one day of the year to remind us that we're here for something else besides ourselves. 

Ogden Nash
People can't concentrate properly on blowing other people to pieces if their minds are poisoned by thoughts suitable to the twenty-fifth of December. 

Bing Crosby
"Unless we make Christmas an occasion to share our
blessings, all the snow in Alaska won't make it 'white'."

Now for some more serious ones:

Helen Keller
The only blind person at Christmastime is he who has not Christmas in his heart.

Remember that we have spoken at length about the lights of Christmas. Imagine a person who has no memory of light--how can they see the lights on the trees, in the shop windows, on the angels' wings? How deprived they must feel; and yet Helen Keller denies the lack. Perhaps the light of heaven possesses a quality of intelligence that enlightens the mind through the heart and not the eyes.

Christina Rossetti
Love came down at Christmas
Love all lovely, love divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Stars and angels gave the sign.

Besides being a wonderful poem we can never be reminded too often that love came down.

James 1:17
17Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

What a miracle that love falls on us from above, like the thrill of mental energy that radiates downward through us, when we make contact with higher worlds, or experience tangible spiritual blessings. Or, is this such a magnificent condescension after all? Does this love interpenetrate existence at every level, such that love coming down is the same thing as us reaching up? Again, if there is one dogmatic principle, I have become intellectually committed to since taking over the responsibility of composing these sermons, it is that love through grace is GIVEN, but the Personal Love of God is CHOSEN. Heaven came down and glory filled my soul--hmm--this construction leaves out the CHOICE. I think, maybe it should go:

"Heaven came down
and then we all moved in."

Maybe that doorman is not that reliable? Saint Peter was always a little eccentric don't you think?

Clearly, though, the word "interpenetration" should appear somewhere in our definition of love. If we are going to succeed in "pumping up" our spiritual sensitivities this Christmas, we will need to focus conscious attention on states of mind that lean outside of the box. We must seek love in places where we don't usually seek it; we must look below in pre-conscious wells of collective memory, and we must look above at the glare of heaven, at the light, still too bright for our puny powers of apprehension.

Author Unknown
The message of Christmas is that the visible material world is bound to the invisible spiritual world. 

Of course, no collection of Christmas quotes would be complete without something from the Christmas Carol:

Charles Dickens
I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. 

The image in this quote of humanity flowing down a common road toward a common goal, is very compelling to me. I like, especially, to imagine the light of Christmas love drawing us closer together for a short season, focussing the crowd a little more densely on the road. It is tempting to wish for this common goal all year round, but the comfort of that idea is quickly dispelled when we remember that God's love makes us highly individual, with destinations on many difference street corners.

C. S. Lewis was quite definite about this point. He insists, repeatedly, that Losing your SELF in God (that is, losing the self you have made up in your mind)--losing your made-up self allows you to FIND your true self; a self that exceeds, in magnitude, all the distinctions and possibilities ever dreamt of by the made-up self. Thus, giving yourself to God realizes more of your one-of-a-kind self than any paltry literal definition ever could.

C. S. Lewis
The Enemy wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another. The Enemy wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in His own favor that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbor's talents--or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall. He wants each man, in the long run, to be able to recognize all creatures (even himself) as glorious and excellent things. He wants to kill their, animal self-love as soon as possible: but it is His long-term policy, I fear, to restore to them a new kind of self-love--a charity and gratitude for all selves, including their own; when they have really learned to love their neighbors as themselves, they will be allowed to love themselves as their neighbors. For we must never forget what is the most repellent and inexplicable trait in our Enemy; He really loves the hairless bipeds He has created, and always gives back to them with His right hand what He has taken away with His left.

As an artist, this passage always gives great comfort because the problems of ego are so troublesome. C. S. Lewis speaks of animal self-love, and "a new kind of self-love--a charity and gratitude for all selves, including their own." Christmas reminds us to sublimate self-love, into divine love connecting us to our neighbors, to God, to our-neighbors-in-God, and God-in-our-neighbors.

Pope John XXIII
Mankind is a great, an immense family.  This is proved by what we feel in our hearts at Christmas. 

Washington Irving
Christmas is a season for kindling the fire for hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart.

Leigh Hunt
Fail not to call to mind, in the course of the twenty-fifth of this month, that the Divinest Heart that ever walked the earth was born on that day; and then smile and enjoy yourselves for the rest of it; for mirth is also of Heaven's making. 

This invitation to merry-making, to celebrate the feast with song and trivialities, confirms my feeling that that materialist side of Christmas is really okay. I like presents, I like Santa Claus, I like getting out in that stream of life (I mean big-city commercial life) once in a while and tasting the excitement of the teeming masses before I retreat once again to my mountain hideaway. The laughter of man and the laughter of the Gods will be indistinguishable before my fire, and the silver giggles of giddy angels shall echo in the still of the following night--night that holds the promise of eternity.

Laura Ingalls Wilder
Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time.

Dale Evans Rogers
Christmas, my child, is love in action. Every time we love, every time we give, it's Christmas.

George F. McDougall
Best of all, Christmas means a spirit of love, a time when
 the love of God and the love of our fellow men should prevail
 over all hatred and bitterness, a time when our thoughts and
 deeds and the spirit of our lives manifest the presence of God.

Author unknown, attributed to a 7-year-old named Bobby
Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen. 

Taylor Caldwell
"This is the message of Christmas: We are never alone."

Let us pray: Jesus, thank you for the love. Bless the remaining hours of this holy day celebration. Lend us power to see the potential of the coming year with enthusiastic hope. Wait for us while we reach for your arms, and save for us, as the wrapping paper flies, an angel kiss. Amen.

Advent III - Santa Claus

Advent III

This is the third Sunday of advent, 2011. We have been seeking to "pump up the volume" (so to speak) of our holiday sensitivities by delving (a little deeper than usual) into the resonance of archetypal symbologies. Last week we talked a lot about the cycles of the sun in its yearly passage between darkness and light; we also talked about light in general, as it shines symbolically forth from candles, and Christmas tree lights, and angels, etc. We also have suggested that this time of year awakens in us ancient memories of primordial man, remembering, in us, his magical tales--we have suggested that, in the waning of the light, there is both hope for the future and a nostalgic descent into pre-conscious mind states where live the elves, and gnomes and fauns of a fairyland that long ago disappeared in the mists of time.

On such residual elf, who haunts the edges of our Christmas Mind, is Santa Claus. Santa Claus is constantly paraded before our eyes at this time of year, so many of our thoughts are unavoidably diverted to him. I though it would be fun (in the best possible sense of the word) to present something on Santa Claus, and see if he is a good guy or not.

Of course, the greatest Santa Claus movie of all time is Miracle on 34th St. That movie's invocation of faith, in a materialistic world, is a message that will bear repeating until the end of time. But it is not the classic Natalie Wood movie I wish to quote first, but a remake of Miracle on 34th St. with little original speech inserted by John Hughes:

"Santa Claus: I'm not just a whimsical figure who wears a charming suit and affects a jolly demeanor, you know; I'm a symbol--I'm a symbol of the human ability to suppress the selfish and hateful tendencies that rule the major part of our lives. And if you can't accept anything on faith, then you're doomed to a life dominated by doubt."

Thus, even in the most popular, commercial productions in the mainstream, Santa Claus and faith are intimately linked. The question of whether you should teach your kids about Santa Claus, or not, calls into question, at a basic level, just how deeply committed you are to living a life that affirms the existence of things not seen. The Baptists insist, against all reasonable scientific proof, that the world was created in six days, and yet many of the grown-up Baptists DON'T believe in Santa Claus. Whassup wit dat? I say that these two scenarios, Creationism and Santa Claus, call forth qualities of belief that have much in common with each other. The suspension of rational constraints in favor of an impulse of the heart, an impulse of desire, and an openness to the possibilities of the miraculous, is at the root of all faithful thoughts, and is the impetus behind all faithful acts.

Wikipedia makes this comment concerning the LIE of Santa Claus:

". . . it is perhaps "kinship with the adult world" that causes children not to be angry that they were lied to for so long. The criticism about this deception is not that it is a simple lie, but a complicated series of very large lies. The objections to the lie are that it is unethical for parents to lie to children without good cause, and that it discourages healthy skepticism in children. With no greater good at the heart of the lie, it is charged that it is more about the parents than it is about the children. Writer Austin Cline posed the question: "Is it not possible that kids would find at least as much pleasure in knowing that parents are responsible for Christmas, not a supernatural stranger?"

Others, however, see no harm in the belief in Santa Claus. Psychologist Tamar Murachver said that because it is a cultural, not parental, lie, it does not undermine parental trust. The New Zealand Skeptics also see no harm in parents telling their children that Santa is real. Spokesperson Vicki Hyde said, "It would be a hard-hearted parent indeed who frowned upon the innocent joys of our children's cultural heritage. We save our bah humbugs for the things that exploit the vulnerable." It can also be advocated that, although Santa Claus isn't real, the Christmas spirit is real."

[Sidebar: I think that Santa Claus is part of the "spirit of Christmas" in this way: by teaching the children to be open to the magical, irrational dimensions of life we are preparing them to buy into the bigger, more significant acts of faith that are to come. Believing in Santa Claus is kind of like doing little faith warm-ups, little faithy push-ups, before you have to carry that weight up the hill. And even after the mystique of Santa Claus has been penetrated and dispensed with, the MAGIC is still there--we can never UNLEARN Santa Claus.]

Back to Wikipedia:

"Dr. John Condry of Cornell University interviewed more than 500 children for a study of the issue and found that not a single child was angry at his or her parents for telling them Santa Claus was real. According to Dr. Condry, "The most common response to finding out the truth was that they felt older and more mature. They now knew something that the younger kids did not".

The other side of the debate concludes with another referenced quote of:

There are three stages of a man’s life:
He believes in Santa Claus,
he doesn’t believe in Santa Claus,
he is Santa Claus. -
Author Unknown "

Perhaps, before we get into Santa Claus, we should get into this whole deal of gift-giving. The Wise Men usually take the rap for originating this tradition. It seems natural, that in this time of weakest sunlight, darkest day, that something to enhance our feeling of safety and abundance should emerge to counter the lengthening shadows. Furthermore, the gifts of the Wise Men were given to Jesus' family in their extremity. As I mentioned last week, the gifts of the Magi included not only monetary insurance again the rigors of exile, but also some kingly pleasures thrown in, so that even a poor Jewish couple on the lam might enjoy a few kingly comforts in their idle hours. So too, may we ensconce ourselves in the comforts of the season as the luxuries combat the fear attached to the diminishing sun.

But last week Wikipedia gave us a little something extra to attach to the first Christmas presents; they reminded us that even Christmas presents have both a practical and a symbolic value:

"The legend of the three priest-sages, the three kings, was linked with the Christ Birth Festival. They brought to the Child gold, the symbol of the wisdom-filled outer man; myrrh, the symbol of life's victory over death, and finally, frankincense, the symbol of the cosmic ether in which the spirit lives."

Also from Wikipedia, we read:

"The exchanging of gifts is one of the core aspects of the modern Christmas celebration, making the Christmas season the most profitable time of year for retailers and businesses throughout the world. Gift giving was common in the Roman celebration of Saturnalia, an ancient festival which took place in late December and may have influenced Christmas customs. Christmas gift giving was banned by the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages due to its suspected pagan origins. It was later rationalized by the Church on the basis that it associated St. Nicholas with Christmas, and that gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh were given to the infant Jesus by the Biblical Magi."

From C.S.Lewis' “What Christmas Means to Me” in God in the Dock:

"Three things go by the name of Christmas. One is a religious festival. This is important and obligatory for Christians; but as it can be of no interest to anyone else, I shall naturally say no more about it here. The second (it has complex historical connections with the first, but we needn't go into them) is a popular holiday, an occasion for merry-making and hospitality. If it were my business to have a 'view' on this, I should say that I much approve of merry-making. But what I approve of much more is everybody minding his own business. I see no reason why I should volunteer views as to how other people should spend their own money in their own leisure among their own friends. It is highly probable that they want my advice on such matters as little as I want theirs. But the third thing called Christmas is unfortunately everyone's business.

I mean of course the commercial racket. The interchange of presents was a very small ingredient in the older English festivity. Mr. Pickwick took a cod with him to Dingley Dell; the reformed Scrooge ordered a turkey for his clerk; lovers sent love gifts; toys and fruit were given to children. But the idea that not only all friends but even all acquaintances should give one another presents, or at least send one another cards, is quite modern and has been forced upon us by the shopkeepers."

So, you can see there is controversy over the proper mix of spirituality and materialism involved in the giving of Christmas presents. I admit it, I like lots of presents around the tree (these days, it's in your Amazon.com bill, but oh, well). I like the feeling that once a year we are allowed to revel in the abundance God has blessed us with. I love to say, with the African Chief in Isak Dineson's book, Out of Africa:

"God give me enough and more than enough."

Living on "just enough" carries with it its own joy, because living on faith relieves us of SO many burdens--still, over-abundance once in a while is a welcome, if only temporary, change. I have lived on "just enough" for most of my life, and this has trained me be a real enthusiastic appreciator of abundance when it pays a brief visit.

Now let's take a closer look at the non plus ultra of all gift givers, Santa Claus:

We begin with the article in Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

"Santa Claus has a Dutch origin. He was developed from St. Nicholas who was a real person. St. Nicholas, was the patron saint of school boys. He brought gifts to the children. The idea that Santa Claus comes down the chimney originated in Norway, where children hang Christmas stockings on the fireplace mantel. Christmas trees have pagan origins. When pagans became Christian, they used evergreens (a sacred tree) for the holiday by decorating them with nuts and candles. They sang Christmas carols as they danced around the Christmas tree.

The modern portrayal of Santa Claus frequently depicts him listening to the Christmas wishes of young children.

Santa Claus, usually abbreviated Santa, is a figure in North American culture who reflects an amalgamation of the Dutch Sinterklaas, the English Father Christmas, and Christmas gift-bringers in other traditions. Santa Claus is said to bring gifts to the homes of good children during the late evening and overnight hours of Christmas Eve, December 24. Santa Claus in this contemporary understanding echoes aspects of hagiographical tales
[From the Greek (h)ağios (ἅγιος, "holy" or "saint") and graphēin (γράφειν, "to write"), it refers literally to writings on the subject of such holy people, and specifically to the biographies of saints and ecclesiastical leaders.]

concerning the historical figure of gift-giver Saint Nicholas, the man from whom the name of Santa Claus derives and in whose honor Santa Claus may be referred to as Saint Nicholas or Saint Nick.

Santa Claus is generally depicted as a plump, jolly, white-bearded man wearing a red coat with white collar and cuffs, white-cuffed red trousers, and black leather belt and boots (images of him rarely have a beard with no moustache). This image became popular in the United States and Canada in the 19th century due to the significant influence of caricaturist and political cartoonist Thomas Nast.This image has been maintained and reinforced through song, radio, television, children's books and films. The North American depiction of Santa Claus as it developed in the 19th and 20th century in turn influenced the modern perceptions of Father Christmas, Sinterklaas and Saint Nicholas in European culture.

According to a tradition which can be traced to the 1820s, Santa Claus lives at the North Pole, with a large number of magical elves, and nine (originally eight) flying reindeer. Since the 20th century, in an idea popularized by the 1934 song "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town", Santa Claus has been believed to make a list of children throughout the world, categorizing them according to their behavior ("naughty" or "nice") and to deliver presents, including toys, and candy to all of the good boys and girls in the world, and sometimes coal to the naughty children, on the single night of Christmas Eve. He accomplishes this feat with the aid of the elves who make the toys in the workshop and the reindeer who pull his sleigh.
Saint Nicholas

Saint Nicholas of Myra is the primary inspiration for the Christian figure of Sinterklaas. He was a 4th century Greek Christian bishop of Myra (now Demre) in Lycia, a province of the Byzantine Anatolia, now in Turkey. Nicholas was famous for his generous gifts to the poor, in particular presenting the three impoverished daughters of a pious Christian with dowries so that they would not have to become prostitutes. He was very religious from an early age and devoted his life entirely to Christianity. In Europe (more precisely the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Germany) he is still portrayed as a bearded bishop in canonical robes.

In 1087, the Italian city of Bari, wanting to enter the profitable pilgrimage industry of the times, mounted an expedition to locate the tomb of the Christian Saint and procure his remains. The reliquary of St. Nicholas was desecrated by Italian sailors and the spoils, including his relics, taken to Bari where they are kept to this day. A basilica was constructed the same year to store the loot and the area became a pilgrimage site for the devout, thus justifying the economic cost of the expedition. Saint Nicholas was later claimed as a patron saint of many diverse groups, from archers, sailors, and children to pawnbrokers. He is also the patron saint of both Amsterdam and Moscow.

Despite Santa Claus's mixed Christian roots, he has become a secular representation of Christmas. As such, some Protestants dislike the secular focus on Santa Claus and the materialist focus that gift giving brings to the holiday. Such a condemnation of Christmas is not a 20th century phenomenon, but originated among some Protestant groups of the 16th century and was prevalent among the Puritans of 17th century England and colonial America who banned the holiday as either pagan or Roman Catholic. Christmas was made legal with the Restoration but the Puritan opposition to the holiday persisted in New England for almost two centuries.

Following the Restoration of the monarchy and with Puritans out of power in England, the ban on Christmas was satirized in works such as Josiah King's The Examination and Tryal of Old Father Christmas; Together with his Clearing by the Jury (1686)."

The following is from the Diary of Dolly Lunt Burge, a Maine native, widow of Thomas Burge, and resident living ca. 40 miles southeast of Atlanta near Covington, Georgia. This entry from Mrs. Burge's diary was five weeks after most of General T. Sherman's U.S. Army forces had passed on their blackened-earth "march across Georgia" toward Savanna, after the army's destruction of Atlanta in mid-November, 1864. U.S. Army mop-up companies and stragglers during those intervening weeks continued to "forage", loot, burn, and abduct ex-slaves reluctant to leave their families and friends, hence, the concern of Mrs. Burge and her household.

"December 24, 1864. This has usually been a very busy day with me, preparing for Christmas not only for my own tables, but for gifts for my servants. Now how changed! No confectionary, cakes, or pies can I have. We are all sad; no loud, jovial laugh from our boys is heard. Christmas Eve, which has ever been gaily celebrated here, which has witnessed the popping of firecrackers … and the hanging up of stockings, is an occasion now of sadness and gloom. I have nothing even to put in [8-yr-old daughter] Sadai's stocking, which hangs so invitingly for Santa Claus. How disappointed she will be in the morning, though I have explained to her why he cannot come. Poor children! Why must the innocent suffer with the guilty?"

"In 1821, the book A New-year's present, to the little ones from five to twelve is published in New York. It contains Old Santeclaus, an anonymous poem describing an old man on a reindeer sleigh, bringing presents to children. Some modern ideas of Santa Claus seemingly became canon after the publication of the poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas" (better known today as "The Night Before Christmas") in the Troy, New York, Sentinel on December 23, 1823 anonymously; the poem was later attributed to Clement Clarke Moore. Many of his modern attributes are established in this poem, such as riding in a sleigh that lands on the roof, entering through the chimney, and having a bag full of toys."

Last week What'sYourSign.com provided us with a nice folk version of this tradition's origin:
"Christmas Stocking
There is a legend associated with the origin of Christmas stockings. St. Nick, who wanted to remain anonymous and help a poor family, threw gold coins down their chimney. They fell into a stocking that was hanging there to dry."

Back to Wikipedia:
"St. Nick is described as being "chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf" with "a little round belly", that "shook when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly", in spite of which the "miniature sleigh" and "tiny reindeer" still indicate that he is physically diminutive.
As years pass, Santa Claus evolves in popular culture into a large, heavyset person. An 1881 illustration by Thomas Nast, together with Clement Clarke Moore, helped to create the modern image of Santa Claus.
L. Frank Baum's The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, a 1902 children's book, further popularized Santa Claus. Much of Santa Claus’s mythos was not set in stone at the time, leaving Baum to give his "Neclaus" (Necile’s Little One) a wide variety of immortal support, a home in the Laughing Valley of Hohaho, and ten reindeer—who could not fly, but leapt in enormous, flight-like bounds. Claus's immortality was earned, much like his title ("Santa"), decided by a vote of those naturally immortal. This work also established Claus’s motives: a happy childhood among immortals. When Ak, Master Woodsman of the World, exposes him to the misery and poverty of children in the outside world, Santa strives to find a way to bring joy into the lives of all children, and eventually invents toys as a principal means.

Images of Santa Claus were further popularized through Haddon Sundblom’s depiction of him for The Coca-Cola Company’s Christmas advertising in the 1930s. The popularity of the image spawned urban legends that Santa Claus was invented by The Coca-Cola Company or that Santa wears red and white because they are the colors used to promote the Coca-Cola brand. Historically, Coca-Cola was not the first soft drink company to utilize the modern image of Santa Claus in its advertising – White Rock Beverages had already used a red and white Santa to sell mineral water in 1915 and then in advertisements for its ginger ale in 1923. In fact, Santa Claus had already appeared in red and white on the cover of Puck magazine at the start of the century.

Santa's main distribution center is a sight to behold. At 4,000,000 square feet (370,000 m2), it's one of the world's largest facilities. A real-time warehouse management system (WMS) is of course required to run such a complex. The facility makes extensive use of task interleaving, literally combining dozens of DC activities (putaway, replenishing, order picking, sleigh loading, cycle counting) in a dynamic queue...the DC elves have been on engineered standards and incentives for three years, leading to a 12% gain in productivity...The WMS and transportation system are fully integrated, allowing (the elves) to make optimal decisions that balance transportation and order picking and other DC costs. Unbeknownst to many, Santa actually has to use many sleighs and fake Santa drivers to get the job done Christmas Eve, and the transportation management system (TMS) optimally builds thousands of consolidated sacks that maximize cube utilization and minimize total air miles.

Symbol of Commercialism
In his book Nicholas: The Epic Journey from Saint to Santa Claus, writer Jeremy Seal describes how the commercialization of the Santa Claus figure began in the 19th century. "In the 1820s he began to acquire the recognizable trappings: reindeer, sleigh, bells," said Seal in an interview. "They are simply the actual bearings in the world from which he emerged. At that time, sleighs were how you got about Manhattan."
Writing in Mothering, writer Carol Jean-Swanson makes similar points, noting that the original figure of St. Nicholas gave only to those who were needy and that today Santa Claus seems to be more about conspicuous consumption:

"Our jolly old Saint Nicholas reflects our culture to a T, for he is fanciful, exuberant, bountiful, over-weight, and highly commercial. He also mirrors some of our highest ideals: childhood purity and innocence, selfless giving, unfaltering love, justice, and mercy. (What child has ever received a coal for Christmas?) The problem is that, in the process, he has become burdened with some of society's greatest challenges: materialism, corporate greed, and domination by the media. Here, Santa carries more in his baggage than toys alone!"

So, Santa Claus is a spirit, a feeling, a symbol, an icon? Do we see God in Santa's jolly eyes, do we hear angels singing in his merry laugh? I tell you, I LIKE Santa Claus, and I enjoy the dreamworld that he brings down the chimney. I think he may be the nicest fusion of spirituality and materialism there is: as we have mentioned repeatedly of the parable, an historic event may resonate on many levels of meaning at the same time. I think the un-self-conscious joy of Santa Claus may be said to sum up the bottom line of a life of faith--Happiness.

Let us pray: Jesus, as the time of your arrival approaches, let us glory in the gift, and pass it on as we may, in guise of austere nobility of the east, or a red-coated circus clown. Let them dance together high atop camel and chimney, and drop down their showers of blessings upon us. As the African chief says to the sunrise:

"Oh God give me enough and more than enough!"

Let us realize we have everything we need already, and here it comes again, hooyah! Amen.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Advent II

Advent II

Today is the 2nd Sunday of Advent, and I wish to present a review and appreciation of some of the many symbols which abound at this time of year--symbols whose purpose it is: to remind us of those eternal verities implicit in their archetypal forms. We have already basked in the glow of one symbol of the season, the Advent Candle.

"The second candle of Advent is the Candle of Peace. It is sometimes called the Bethlehem Candle to remind us of the place in which preparations were made to receive and cradle the Christ child. Peace is a gift that we must be prepared for. God gives us the gift of peace when we turn to him in faith.

The prophet Isaiah calls Christ "the Prince of Peace." Through John the Baptist and all the other prophets, God asks us to prepare our hearts so that he may come in.

Our hope is in God, and in his son Jesus Christ. Our peace is found in him."

We have been seeking to "pump up the volume" of the spiritual resonance of the season, so that we can be as receptive as possible to the subtle mysteries that permeate the Christmas atmosphere; enhancing our receptivity to the magic radiance of the Christmas Symbols--enhancing our receptivity through acts of will--seems like a good way to pump it up. We can use the symbolic forms and rituals to direct our attention heavenward, away from the mundane occupations of life; furthermore, each symbol, affects us and directs us in a slightly different way, each one like a different Christmas melody.

Before we parade our list, however, I thought that Martin Luther had some interesting things to say in his:
Sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent; Luke 21:25-36 (A sermon by Martin Luther, taken from his Church Postil, first published 1522.) As usual, Luther's sermons preponderate on issues of hellfire and judgement, but he is always looking toward the joy in Christ. I have taken a few of the select paragraphs which warn of the coming of Christ's judgment, and of the fulfillment of waiting.


3. The words of Christ in Luke 17: 24 say:
"For as the lightning, when it lighteneth out of the one part under the heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall the Son of man be in his day."
See here again that the day will break upon the world with the utmost suddenness. The same further appears in what follows in verses 26-29:
"As it was in the days of Noah, even so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. They ate, they drank, they married, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all. Likewise even as it came to pass in the days of Lot; they ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; but in the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. After the same manner it shall be in the day that the Son of man is revealed." These words abundantly show that people will rest so secure and will be so deeply buried beneath the cares of this life, that they will not believe the day is at hand.

4. There is now no doubt that Christ did not foretell these signs in the expectation that no one would note nor recognize them when they should appear; although few indeed will do so, just as in the days of Noah and Lot but few knew the punishment in store for them. Were this not true, the admonition of Christ would have been in vain: "When ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh." Then, "Lift up your heads, because your redemption draweth nigh." There must then be some, at least, who do recognize the signs, and lift up their heads and wait for their redemption, although they do not really know on what day that will come. We should be careful, therefore, to note whether the signs are being fulfilled now, or have been or will be in the future. . ."

Interpreting signs is a part of the preparation. As the moment of the coming of the Christ approaches I, myself, am beginning to get giddy with anticipation like a lover looking forward to the first marriage night, or a sick man about to face his death--I am afraid and I am hopeful, I am nervous, and I am calm, I am hot and I am cold. Jesus, come and resolve my conflicts as you dissolve my duplicities! Let me not flatter myself that I have everything figured out; and do not let my attention sink into inebriated lethargy, with the excesses of the season, but remain strictly observant of the progress of the star across the virgin sky.

Back to Luther:

"10. But the apostles have also prophesied concerning this self-security of men as the judgment day approaches. Paul says in 1 Thes. 5: 2-3:

"The day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. When they are saying, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them."

Now we know that a thief never comes but when one feels most secure and least expects him. And 2 Pet. 3, 3-10 we read:

"In the last days mockers shall come with mockery, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? From the day the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.... But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise etc."

In The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis talks about the various levels of humor, the lowest being flippancy. I myself have seen flippancy in action in the art world many times. Many artists pride themselves on being part of an in-crowd of intellectual snobs and elitists; they love to express their superiority by making fun and scoffing at everything outside the dogmatics of their own little group. (Not unlike many fundamentalist Christian groups.)

The following was written after a particularly upsetting composition seminar:

"At 12:00 til 2:00 I sat in the very same room with a different group of, I want to say people, but that is not what I mean--prejudices, maybe. This time I remained anonymous. I revealed nothing, made no visible sacrifice, though this feeling began then. The room shivered with laughter, no, not laughter for there was no joy here-start again- The room shivered with chittering cuteness, lips upturned in derision not for me but for "them" (secretly me), as posture after posture was defended to preserve the isolated autonomy of, (I don't know), identity, traveling in cognito, protected by the proper contemporaneous, individually derived (sic) stock-in-trade. It doesn't matter how often we say "Thou fool" as long as no one in the room is offended, because we are all cool, it is everybody else who is wrong, or stupid, or dangerous--everybody outside this room I mean.

Dear ones! your coldness shatters me. Your cute grins sear me, I burn, I freeze! What would I tell you? How might I instruct you without first crying, "Mercy! Mercy!" Is escape my only course, or shall I run for office, teach a seminar at the universe-ity and force you to understand as a token of respect? My heart, yes my heart, my stupid, seen-from-within, no-matter-how-many-others-say-it HEART is broken. I bleed. And my blood rises above me and redeems me, even when I speak the lie that is nothing. I suffer at your hands, your unknowing hands, your ignorant (how could you know?) hands, and my suffering gives me peace."

How often we confuse fun for joy, inertia for peace! How easy it is to magnify trivialities, and pass the mysteries by, immensities unimaginable contained in a mustard seed, or in a candle flame, or a branch of spruce!

Back to Luther; in this section the theme of the sun and the rhythm of the seasons is revisited:

"12. This sign to be given in the sun is that it will lose its brightness, after the manner in which it has often occurred, as Math. 24,29, says:

"The sun shall be darkened."
I will not trespass here again but express my opinion. Some think that the sun is to be darkened as never to shine again; but this cannot be the meaning, for day and night must continue to the end, as God foretells, Gen. 8, 22:

"While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease."

This sign must therefore, not interfere with day and night and still be fulfilled before the judgment day, for it is a token of its coming. It cannot, therefore, be more than a darkening of the sun in its accustomed course. . ."

The next section touches, once again on the significance of the symbols of the season, and on the importance of recognizing and responding to the symbols:

"29. By the powers of heaven some understand the angels of heaven. But since Christ speaks of signs, and says we shall see them and in them recognize the coming of the last day, they must surely be visible tokens and be perceived with the bodily senses. For those people whose consciences are in distress and whose hearts are failing from fear, though this be an affection of the soul, yet manifest it by word and countenance. Therefore these powers of heaven must be such as can be really shaken and so perceived.
30. But the Scriptures speak in a two-fold way concerning the powers of heaven. At one time they are spoken of as the powerful heavens or the heavens which are among all creatures the most powerful, as is written, Gen. 1, 8, "And God called the firmament"--that is, expanse or fortress- "heaven"; for every creature under heaven is ruled and strengthened by the light, heat and movements of the heavens. What would the earth be without the heavens but a dark and desert waste? Like princes and nobles in the world, the Scriptures call the heavens powerful because they rule over the bodies beneath them.

31. At another time the powers of heaven signify the hosts of heaven, as Psalm 33, 6 says:

"By the word of Jehovah were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth."

And Gen. 2:1 :

"And the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them."

It is the common custom of the Scriptures to speak in this way of the powers of heaven. And it is clear from these passages that the hosts or powers of heaven include all that is in them; in the heavens, the sun, moon, stars, and other heavenly bodies; on earth, man and beast, birds and fish, trees, herbs and whatever else lives upon it.


"And when these things begin to come to pass, look up, and lift up your heads; because your redemption draweth nigh."

37. Here you may say, who can lift up his head in the face of such terrible wrath and judgment? If the whole world is filled with fear at that day, and lets fall its head and countenance out of terror and anxiety; how shall we look up and lift up our heads, which evidently means, how shall we manifest any joy in and longing for these signs? In answer I would say that all this is spoken only to those who are really Christians and not to heathen and Jews. True Christians are so afflicted with all manner of temptations and persecutions that in this life they are miserable. Therefore they wait and long and pray for redemption from sin and all evil; as we also pray in the Lord's Prayer, "Thy kingdom come", and "Deliver us from evil." If we are true Christians we will earnestly and heartily join in this prayer. If we do not so pray, we are not yet true Christians.

38. If we pray aright, our condition must truly be such that, however terrible these signs may be, we will look up to them with joy and earnest desire, as Christ admonishes: When these things begin to come to pass, look up." He does not say, Be filled with fear or drop your heads; for there is coming that for which we have been so earnestly praying. If we really wish to be freed from sin and death and hell, we must look forward to this coming of the Lord with joy and pleasure. St. Paul also says, in 2 Tim. 4:8 :

"Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give to me at that day: and not only to me, but also to all them that have loved his appearing."

If he gives the crown to those who love his appearing, what will he give to those who hate and dread it? Without doubt, to enemies, eternal condemnation. Titus 2:13 says:

"Looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of the Great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ."

And Luke 12:36 :

"And be ye yourselves like unto men looking for their lord, when he shall return from the marriage feast."

40. But to believers that day will be comforting and sweet. That day will be the highest joy and safety to the believer, and the deepest terror and anguish to the unbeliever; just as also in this life the truths of the Gospel are exceedingly sweet to the godly and exceedingly hateful to the wicked. Why should the believer fear and not rather exceedingly rejoice since he trusts in Christ who comes as judge to redeem him and to be his everlasting portion. . .

43. Therefore we must above all things lay aside all hatred and abhorrence of this day, and exercise diligence that we may really desire to have our sins taken away. When this is done, we may not only calmly await the day, but with heartfelt desire and joy pray for it and say, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done." In this you must cast aside all feelings and conceit, hold fast to the comforting words of Christ, and rest in them alone.

44. Could he admonish, comfort, and strengthen you in a more delicate and loving manner? In the first place he says, "You will hear of wars, but you should have no fears." And when he tells you to have no fears, what else does he mean than that he commands you to be of good cheer and to discern the signs with joy? Secondly, he tells you to look up; thirdly, to lift up your heads; and fourthly, he speaks of your redemption. What can comfort and strengthen you if such a word does not? Do you think he would deceive you and try to lead you into a false confidence? . . .

53. Therefore, my dear hearer, examine your life, probe your heart to ascertain how it is disposed toward this day. Do not put your trust in your own good life, for that would soon be put to shame; but think of and strengthen your faith in order that the day may not be a terror to you as to the damned, but be your joy as the day of your salvation and of the kingdom of God in you. Then when you think or hear of the same, your heart will leap for joy and earnestly long for its coming. If you do not wish to pronounce judgment upon yourself, then do not think that you would be able to stand in that day even with the meritorious deeds of all the saints.

[Notice that Luther can't resist one last poke at the grace/good works controversy, but at least he ends on a positive note:]

"Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all things be accomplished. Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away."

The following is from Rudolf Steiner's Signs and Symbols of the Christmas Festival, I, The Birth of the Light, Berlin, December 19, 1904. It highlights (haha) the significance of light and sun, and points to the resonance of destiny that accompanies the symbols of the season:

"Christianity stands as the external mystical fact for the birth of the light. Christ brought to the earth what had existed from the beginning, although it was hidden from mankind throughout the ages we have been speaking of. Now, however, a new climax was reached. Even as the light is born anew at the winter solstice, so . . . the Savior of Mankind, the Christ, was born. He is the new Sun Hero who was not only initiated in the depths of the Mystery temples, but who also appeared before all the world so that it could be said, “Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). When it was recognized that the Divine could descend into a personality, the festival celebrating the birth of the Sun Hero, the Christ, came to replace the festival celebrating the birth of the light."

[Sidebar: Thanks to these sermons, I have learned that there is a lot more to this "Sun" aspect of Christmas than I ever thought. As I watch the days getting shorter and shorter, and the afternoons dimmer and dimmer, slanting into night like lazy rivers of black, I am filled with fear at the coming dark; but I am also filled with hope. C.S. Lewis spoke against the idea of hope, because it invested man's energy in an intangible and unpredictable future, distracting his attention from the eternal 'Now". However, if Hope can be linked to the idea of faith--faith in a communion of saints who watch over us, and keep us, and bless us--then maybe hope is okay; maybe hope is just dealing with the delay of what we know in our hearts must eventually come? maybe hope links our eternal now with an equally eternal now in the future? Back to Steiner:]

"What formerly was impossible could now be attained. Man could now give birth to light in his own soul. He could do this because the principle of light had incarnated in a human being for the first time. In this way the festival of the winter solstice was of necessity brought together with the Christ festival. The whole significance of the preceding evolutionary periods is determined by the establishment of the festival of the birth of Christ at the time of the festival of the winter solstice. Wisdom and light first appeared to men externally, but now, after the Christ event, the light must be kindled in man's own heart. Christ Himself must be born in man. It was for that reason that the Event of Palestine — a mystical as well as an historical fact — had to occur."

To summarize the above quoted Steiner, he is saying two simple things:
1. it is no accident that this time of year, the sun-hero time, is the time when Jesus incarnation is celebrated, and
2. that the rhythm of life had dictated that what came to pass must ALWAYS have come to pass, as a pre-ordination of destiny.

Thus, contemplation of the symbols of this season must result in an enhanced connection, for us, with the flow of destiny and the mythological resonance on our own lives.

Here begins the promised review of some familiar Christmas symbols. We will be focussing, at first, the symbolism of light:

First, this from the (happywink.org) website:

"Some interpretations of Christmas tree lights:

"The decorations on the Christmas trees draw their root in traditional values. The crystal balls symbolizes the fruit of redemption, the electric light or the candles are ancient symbols that stand for the triumph of spring over the darkness of winter. The light also symbolizes the light that Jesus Christ cast upon the lives of the people."


"When I work out symbolism in my own heart and mind, I work with the basics. Meaning, I fall back to tried-and-true stepping stones like the sun, the moon, the elements (fire, earth, air, water), directions, etc. - real grass roots stuff.
And so, Christmas symbolism, in my view, is rooted in the presence of Light. Whether it's the Christ light, or the Sun light returning back to our focus with the lengthening of days - to be true - this time of year (around the winter solstice) is a time to "See the Light."

This time of year marks the least amount of light shining upon the northern hemisphere of the earth. Each consecutive day after the winter solstice is a day imbued with promise because the sun lingers just a wee bit longer. And although the grips of winter are still firm and often cruel, the promise of lengthening Light insures hope will be restored (crops will flourish once again, warmth is a promise just around the bend).

So, in the spirit of renewal, and welcoming the Light of Understanding and Inner Illumination, here are a few thoughts on various Christmas symbols we see this time of year. . .

Angels are commonly showcased in the collective consciousness this time of year because, I believe, they are beings of light. And, as we are welcoming the renewal of Light (in its many forms) this time of year, it makes sense Angels will accompany our illuminated celebrations. Angels are symbolic of messages from the Divine, and what better time of year than Christmas to open up our channels of understanding to allow for Pristine communication. As Light Beings, what if Angels lived in every light particle? That's a lot of Divine energy available for our contemplation and access. Divine light meets our awareness at every turn - take advantage of this special time of year to communicate with Angels and vice versa.

Candle Symbolism:
Candles are a miniaturized version of the behemoth element from which they come: Fire - The Sun. As we are talking about Christmas symbolism, and honoring the return of the light (in terms of the Christ Light, or the Sun's rays lingering longer upon the body of Earth), it makes sense to use candles as a way to galvanize the passion touching our hearts this time of year. Candles are light bringers, and so they are vessels for pure positive energy in the form of spiritual illumination. Remember my earlier question about Angels? There's no evidence to refute Angels living within every flame we ignite - so honor the light beings with every candle you light this season. Candles can speak to our souls because fire is a foundational element of our spiritual combustion. Consider this, and imagine the warmth of your spiritual presence spreading out to all of humankind - light a candle in the name of your brother, in honor of your sister, for the human family - this kind of soul-warming is present within you as the heat is inherent to the candle flame.

This collection of brief summaries of some Christmas symbols is fun:

Advent Wreath
Four candles placed on a wreath. One candle is lit each Sunday before Christmas in anticipation of Christ's birthday.
An angel told the shepherds of the birth of Jesus. Angels come in many forms for Christmas decorations including the tree topper.
Church bells rang to announce the birth of Jesus. They still ring today.
Camels are the animals the wisemen rode following the star to where Jesus was born.
Candles represent the light that Jesus brought to earth. Pagans who converted to Christianity used candles on the sacred evergreen tree.
Christmas Cards
For many years, private notes of good tidings were sent at Christmas time. In 1843, Sir Henry Cole had 1000 special designed cards printed. The custom of sending Christmas cards began.
Christmas Caroling
Caroling is a medieval custom of singing and dancing around a Christmas tree. Early carols weren't holy enough for singing inside a church, so caroling was done outside.
Christmas Cookies
Originated with pre-Christian Romans who gave sweet cakes to their senators.
Christmas Seals
A Danish postal clerk sold Christmas stamps (Christmas seals) to show that users had given to a worthy cause.
Christmas Stocking
There is a legend associated with the origin of Christmas stockings. St. Nick, who wanted to remain anonymous and help a poor family, threw gold coins down their chimney. They fell into a stocking that was hanging there to dry.
Christmas Tree Lights
The lights represent Christ as being the "Light of the World." Lights also represent stars. Candles were first used as lights on the Christmas tree.
A manger scene representing the Jesus' place of birth.
Donkeys, Lambs, and Cows
Donkeys, lambs, and cows were animals close to Jesus at the time of his birth. They are usually part of the Creche.
Evergreen Tree
The evergreen tree was decorated by the pagans at the feast of the winter solstice. The evergreen tree was a sign that winter would end.
The first Christmas gifts were given by the Wisemen to Baby Jesus.
Holly is a shrub with spiny leaves and red berries. The leaves remain green throughout the year. Pagans thought its greenness was a promise that the sun would return. Early French and English families hung holly over their doors to symbolize a home in which Christ's birth is celebrated.
Icicles are sometimes used as a tree decoration. As per an old story, the Christ child took shelter for a night under a pine tree. When the tree realized that it was caring for Jesus, tears of happiness fell from its branches. The tears froze into icicles.
Mince Meat Pie
Mince meat pie is full of spices and fruits. It represents the exotic treasures of the East that the Wisemen brought to Jesus.
Plum Pudding
Plum pudding originated by an English king that was stranded in a blizzard one Christmas Eve. He used what he could find to make a special holiday dish.
This flower was brought to the U.S. by Dr, J.R. Poinsett in 1825. He was the first first United States ambassador to Mexico. Because of its flame leaf, the poinsettia is sometimes called the Christmas Star. A Mexican legend explains how this flower got associated with Christmas.

The plant's association with Christmas began in 16th century Mexico, where legend tells of a young girl who was too poor to provide a gift for the celebration of Jesus' birthday. The tale goes that the child was inspired by an angel to gather weeds from the roadside and place them in front of the church altar. Crimson "blossoms" sprouted from the weeds and became beautiful poinsettias.From the 17th century, Franciscan friars in Mexico included the plants in their Christmas celebrations. The star-shaped leaf pattern is said to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem, and the red color represents the blood sacrifice through the crucifixion of Jesus.

Reindeer were the animals chosen by St. Nicholas to pull his sleigh. His reindeers' names are Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer is the most famous.
Saint Nicholas
Saint Nicholas was a real person. He was a kind bishop who brought presents to children and needy people.
Shepherds tend sheep. They came to the manger to honor Baby Jesus.
The Star of Bethlehem guided the Three Wisemen to Baby Jesus.
There is a legend associated with this thin metalic foil strip decoration. It tells about parents who trimmed a tree while their children were sleeping. Spiders came to see the tree, leaving cobwebs all over it. The Christ Child came to bless the tree and turned the cobwebs to silver.
Three Wisemen
Three Kings travelled far to see Jesus. They brought their best treasures for gifts.
Gold - a precious metal associated with the power of kings
Frankincense - A resin from a rare and sacred tree used as incense
Myrrh - A resin from a shrub used in making perfume.
A wassail is a salutation of good health or well wishes by means of a toast. The drink is a mixture of mulled eggs, curdled cream, apples, nuts, and spices. Usually poured from a punch bowl while exchanging Christmas greetings.
Yule Log
The word "yule" means "wheel," a symbol representing the sun. Before Jesus was born, pagans thought the sun stood still for 12 days at the end of the year. A log was cut large enough to burn for this time period to burn away last year's evil.

Well, I don't know about you, but I'm stoked, I'm down wid it, I'm NEARLY ready. I'm looking at the world with completely new eyes, because I don't want to miss any of it; the birth of the Christ into the world. Wow! Good deal! Let's go!

Let us pray: Jesus, as the deep of winter approaches, let us be protected from our fears by a certainty of belief that You will emerge from the blackness and shine, and shine, and shine. Amen.

Advent I

Advent I

Last Sunday we took a tour through some background material on Advent, and suggested the proposition that the coming of the Christ consciousness is given through grace and taken through choice. We also talked, in a general way, about the signs and symbols of the time and how a childlike perspective on the season's archetypal energies may reveal phenomena of a pre-conscious quality--may, in fact, lead to a perception of these symbols at a higher-than-normal level of magical resonance.

This magical resonance may be said to derive from the deep past of Man's sojourn on Earth--from a time when Man's literal consciousness was not so dominant, and his "unliteral, or non-verbal consciousness" allowed shifts from one consciousness state to another with more freedom, less inhibition, than is typical in people today. I'm glad I can talk and I'm glad I can think, but I know the talking and the thinking have cost me something: they have cut me off from a more primitive version of myself. Indeed when I think of Santa's elves, or Narnia's centaurs, I think of something quite ancient, something buried quite deep in my collective memory. Perhaps Christmas is such a nostalgic time because the radiance of primordial light beacons out of these ancient symbologies like searchlights of memory, enlightening our vision, but directing our eyes BACKWARD.

When one asks oneself, "Am I better off now, with all my fancy pants ideas, expressions, and concepts? or was it better back then, when we traveled, unhindered, over the rolling planes of experience, in a relatively mindless medium of intuitive understanding, connected to the infinite, but lacking definition? In this regard, I am reminded of the remarks I made in the sermon on New Wine:

. . . let us not forget that, seen from the spiritual perspective, the new is always contained in the old, and we MUST keep the eternal in our sights, as we struggle to find new ways of articulating transient, temporal, earthly experience. . .

Jesus, lend us your divine intelligence so that we may see ourselves growing and changing in your transforming light. Prepare us to accept the new wine of your eternal changeless truth as it leads us ever upward to a heaven where all contradictions are moot, and all peace and love calm our clamoring voices into silence.

Yes, we must always have the infinite before us, regardless of the level of consciousness on which we may find ourselves at any given moment; and yet, eternity notwithstanding, the ancient images seem so much more powerful at this time of year than they do at other times. Is it the time of year that evokes the images, or do the images evoke the time of year? Perhaps it is, as C.S. Lewis says, the RHYTHM of the seasons that makes each phase seem unique and significant? that makes Christmas the special, stand-out time that it is.

We hear a lot about keeping the spirit of Christmas all year round. Yuck. True, Christmasy attitudes of generosity, cheerfulness, intimacy, and grace, are qualities we would like to see regularly inspiring all our daily doings with heavenly radiance; but to have Christmas ALL YEAR ROUND? Who could handle it? To me, Christmas is like a great oasis in the sea of life's journey. To enjoy the oasis is our pleasure and our right, but to stay forever at an oasis, when the rest of the journey is yet to be traveled? No way! I think our attraction to, and comfort in, the deep past works like this: when a child is first learning to walk, or do some other independent act, he may push off from his mother's lap, take a few steps, return, take a few more steps, return, take a few more steps, return, and so on, each time returning to the mother before taking bigger and bigger steps, off on his own; perhaps connecting with the ancient symbols for a season, and getting in touch with pre-conscious states, is the kind of motherly confidence builder we need to help push on out to sea in search of our own personal adventure, and, eventually, next year's oasis.

No matter how you cut it, we are in a season all of whose social conventions direct our attention to the mind states of ancient days; and although the symbols have been massively trivialized, so that nochildisleftbehindeverybodyisequalandgetsavoteGodblessuseveryone,
the latent power of these symbols still works its way into our pre-consciousness (where it belongs), and registers its presence as a background hum that sometimes sings louder, sometimes softer.

Today's featured work is Steiner's Signs and Symbols of the Christmas Festival, a lecture given in Berlin, December 17, 1906

The Christmas festival, which we are about to celebrate, gains new life through a deepened spiritual world view. In a spiritual sense the Christmas festival is a sun festival, and as such we shall become acquainted with it today. To begin, we shall hear that most beautiful apostrophe to the sun that Goethe puts in the mouth of Faust.

Refreshed anew life's pulses beat and waken

To greet the mild ethereal dawn of morning;

Earth, through this night thou too hast stood unshaken

And breath'st before me in thy new adorning,

Beginst to wrap me round with gladness thrilling,

A vigorous resolve in me forewarning,

Unceasing strife for life supreme instilling.
Now lies the world revealed in twilight glimmer,

The wood resounds, a thousand voices trilling;

The vales where mist flows in and out lie dimmer,

But in the gorges sinks a light from heaven,

And boughs and twigs, refreshed, lift up their shimmer

From fragrant chasms where they slept at even;

Tint upon tint again emerges, clearing

Where trembling pearls from flower and leaf drip riven:

All round me is a Paradise appearing.

             Look up! —
The peaks, gigantic and supernal,

Proclaim the hour most solemn now is nearing.

They early may enjoy the light eternal

That later to us here below is wended.

Now on the alpine meadows, sloping, vernal,

A clear and lavish glory has descended

And step by step fulfils its journey's ending.

The sun steps forth!
— Alas, already blinded,
I turn away, the pain my vision rending.
             Thus is it ever when a hope long yearning

Has made a wish its own, supreme, transcending,

And finds Fulfilment's portals outward turning;

From those eternal deeps bursts ever higher

Too great a flame, we stand, with wonder burning.

To kindle life's fair torch we did aspire

And seas of flame — and what a flame! — embrace us!

Is it Love? Is it Hate? that twine us with their fire,

In alternating joy and pain enlace us,

So that again toward earth we turn our gazing,

Baffled, to hide in youth's fond veils our faces.
             Behind me therefore let the sun be blazing!

The cataract in gorges deeply riven

I view with rapture growing and amazing.

To plunge on plunge in a thousand streams it's given,

And yet a thousand, downward to the valleys,

While foam and mist high in the air are driven.

Yet how superb above this tumult sallies

The many-colored rainbow's changeful being;

Now lost in air, now clearly drawn, it dailies,

Shedding sweet coolness round us even when fleeing!

The rainbow mirrors human aims and action.

Think, and more clearly wilt thou grasp it, seeing

Life is but light in many-hued reflection.

Goethe lets his representative of mankind speak these mighty words in the presence of the radiant, rising morning sun. But it is not this sun, awakening anew every morning, with which we have to deal in the festival we will speak about today. This sun is a being of much profounder depths, and the nature of it shall be the leitmotif of our present considerations.

We shall now hear the words that reflect the deepest meaning of the Christmas Mystery. These words have been heard by the pupils of the Mysteries of all ages before they entered the Mysteries themselves:

Behold the Sun

At midnight hour,

And build with stones

In lifeless clay.

So find in world decline

And in the night of death

Creation's new beginning

And morning's youthful strength.

Let heights above reveal

The Gods' eternal word,

May depths preserve and seal

The peaceful treasure-hoard.

In darkness living

O now create a Sun!

In substance weaving

O know the Bliss of Spirit.

Many people who today merely know the Christmas tree with its candles believe that to have a tree symbolizing Christmas is a traditional custom dating from ancient times. This, however, is not the case. On the contrary, the custom of decorating a tree at Christmas is most recent and does not date back more than a few centuries. The custom of decorating a Christmas tree is a recent phenomenon, but the celebration of Christmas is old. The festival at Christmas time was known in the most ancient Mysteries of all religions everywhere, and has always been celebrated.

It is not merely an outer sun festival, but one that leads man to a divination of the sources of existence. It was celebrated annually by the highest initiates in the Mysteries at the time of year when the sun's force was weakest and bestowed least warmth upon the earth. It was also celebrated by those who were unable to participate in the entire celebration, but were permitted to experience only the outer pictorial expression of the highest Mysteries."

It is worth it to interrupt the flow here, to comment on the subject of "parable". Remember, we have commented profusely on Jesus' use of the parable in transmitting his good news. We have mentioned how Jesus' message is appreciable on many different levels of meaning--that there is in it, indeed, something for everybody. My point here is that, yes, you guessed it, Christmas has something in it for everybody. The glitter, and the tinsel, and the fluorescent lights can never completely shout down those mystic voices singing to us from distant peaks, crooning the old songs. I think it must be impossible for any individual to be completely unaffected by the celebrations of the season, but I'm sure there are various degrees of inspiration.

This brings us to us: we can enhance the degree of inspired connection with the spiritual potentials of the season through acts of choice and will--we can use this heightened psychic atmosphere to pump up the volume, and get more out of the time than if we just passively let it happen to us. I'm saying that one of the prime spirits of Christmas should be enthusiasm. I'm saying we should "seize the day" and hasten its blossoming with blessings of power. I'm saying we should get going while the going is good. I'm saying we should look into some candles around here and see Baby Jesus smiling back His fragile, pathetic smile.

Back to Steiner:

"This imagery has been preserved throughout the ages and has assumed forms in accordance with the various religious confessions. The celebration of Christmas is the festival of the Sacred Night, which, in the great Mysteries, was celebrated by those personalities who were ready to bring about the resurrection of the higher self within their inmost being. Today we would say, "Within their inmost being they gave birth to the Christ."

. . . Those who were prepared for the awakening, as were pupils of the Mysteries, were first taught what the awakening signifies in the great universe; only then was the rite of awakening performed. It took place at the time when darkness on earth is greatest, when the outer sun has reached its lowest point at Christmas time, because those who are acquainted with spiritual facts know that at that time of year, forces stream through cosmic space that are favorable to such an awakening.

[There's the answer to my question about whether the season brings the symbols or the symbols bring the season.]

In his preparation, the pupil was told that the one who really wished to know should not merely know what has taken place during thousands and thousands of years on earth, but he must learn to survey the entire course of human evolution, realizing that the great festivals have their place within this, and that they must be dedicated to the contemplation of the great eternal truths.

. . .The pupils were prepared by these teachings, which were constantly impressed upon them. Then they were led to their awakening. The moment arrived when, as chosen ones, they experienced by means of their awakened spirit organs, the spiritual light within them. This holy moment came when the outer light was weakest, on the day when the outer sun shines least. On that day the pupils were gathered together, and the inner light revealed itself to them.

Those who were still unable to participate in this celebration were able to experience at least an outer likeness of it from which they learned that for them, too, the great moment would come.

[Here we return to "parable". Note the reference below to "lesser Mysteries.]

"Today," they were told, "you behold only an image; later you will experience what you now see as a likeness." These were the lesser Mysteries. They showed in pictures what the neophyte was to experience later.

We shall hear today of what took place in the lesser Mysteries on Christmas eve. . . Everywhere the pupils of these Mystery Schools had the same experience at the midnight hour on the Night of Consecration.

The pupils gathered in the early evening. In quiet contemplation they had to make clear to themselves what this most important event signified. In deep silence they sat together in the darkness. By the time midnight drew near, they had been sitting in the dark room for hours. Thoughts of eternity pervaded their souls. Then, toward midnight, mysterious tones arose, resounding through the room, up welling and diminishing. The pupils who heard these tones knew that this was the music of the spheres. Then the room became dimly lit, the only light emanating from a dimly lighted disc. Those who saw this knew that this disc represented the earth. The illumined disc became darker and darker, until finally it was quite black. Simultaneously the surrounding space grew brighter. Those who saw this knew that the black sphere represented the earth. The sun, however, which ordinarily irradiates the earth was concealed; the earth could no longer see the sun. Then around the earth-disc, at the outer edge, rainbow colors formed, ring upon ring. Those who saw it knew that this was the radiant Iris. At midnight a violet-reddish circle gradually arose in place of the black earth sphere. On it a Word was written. . . Christos.

Those who saw it knew that this was the sun, which appeared to them at the midnight hour, when the world around rests in deepest darkness. The pupils were now told that what they had experienced was called, "Seeing the sun at the midnight hour." . . .

[That it was] a symbolical indication of the fact that from apparent death life springs forth . . . They were told that just as the sun force, after it had seemingly died, waxes anew from this day on, so does new life forever arise out of dying life.
The same event is indicated in the Gospel of St. John in the words, "He must increase, but I must decrease." John, the herald of the coming Christ, of the Spiritual Light, whose festival day falls in the course of the year in mid-summer — John must decrease, and simultaneously with his decrease the force of the coming light waxes, increasing in strength as John decreases. In like manner the new, the coming life prepares itself in the seed that must wither and decay in order that the new plant may spring forth from it.

The pupils of the Mysteries were to experience that in death life resides, that out of decaying matter the new, glorious blossoms and fruits of spring arise, that the earth teems with the forces of birth. They were to learn that at this time something happens in the inner being of the earth — the overcoming of death by life that is present in death. This was shown them in the conquering light. This they felt and experienced when they saw the light arise and shine in the darkness. They beheld in the stone cave the sprouting life arising in splendor and abundance out of the seemingly dead. . . the spiritual essence will remain with all men who have become radiant in their innermost nature through the spiritual Light. Earth and humanity will then awaken to a higher existence, to a new phase of existence.

When Christianity arose in the course of evolution, it bore this ideal within it in the highest sense. Man felt that within Christianity the Christos was to appear as the great Ideal of all men, that He had been born on the Night of Consecration about the time of deepest darkness as a sign that out of the darkness of matter a higher man can be born in the human soul. . .

Everything in the cosmos takes its rhythmic course. The stars as well as the sun follow a great rhythm. Were the sun to change this rhythm but for a moment, were it to leave its orbit only for a moment, a revolution would result in the entire universe of quite unheard-of significance. Rhythm rules all nature, right up to man. Only with man does the situation change. The rhythm that rules until death throughout the course of the seasons in the forces of growth, propagation, etc., ceases with man. He is to stand in freedom, and the more highly civilized he is, the more does this rhythm decrease. Just as the light disappears at Christmas, so apparently has rhythm disappeared from the life of man and chaos prevails. Man, however, gives birth to this rhythm out of his own initiative out of his own inner nature. He must so fashion his life out of his will that it takes its course within rhythmical boundaries, steadfast and sure, like the course of the sun. Just as a change in the course of the sun is unthinkable, even so is it unthinkable that the rhythm of such a life be interrupted.

Christ Jesus was also a Sun Hero and was conceived as such in the first centuries of Christianity. His birth festival was, therefore, placed at the time of year when, since primeval days, the birthday of the Sun Hero has been celebrated. This is also the reason for all that was linked with the life story of Christ Jesus. The Midnight Mass, which the first Christians celebrated in caves, was in memory of the Sun Festival. In this Mass an ocean of light streamed forth at midnight out of the darkness as a memory of the rising sun in the Mysteries. Christ was thus born in a cave in remembrance of the cave of rock out of which, symbolized in the growing stalks of grain, life was born. Earthly life was born out of the dead stone. So, too, out of the lowly, the Highest, Christ Jesus, was born!

Thus, in the meaning of the Christmas Festival, we feel something echoing to us from the most ancient ages of mankind, and it has come down to us in the special coloring of Christianity. In its symbols we find images for the most ancient symbols of mankind. The Christmas tree with its candles is one of them. For us, it is a symbol of the Tree of Paradise, which represents all of material nature. Spiritual nature is represented by the tree in Paradise that encompassed all Knowledge, and by the Tree of Life.

There is a narrative that imparts clearly the significance of the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life:

Seth stood at the Gates of Paradise and begged to be allowed to enter. The Archangel guarding the portal let him pass. This is a sign for initiation. Seth, now in Paradise, found the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge closely intertwined. The Archangel Michael, who stands in the presence of God, let him take three seeds from these intertwining trees, which, standing there as a single tree, pointed prophetically to the future of mankind. Then the whole of humanity shall have been initiated and shall have found knowledge. Only the Tree of Life will still exist and death will be no more. For the time being, however, only the initiate may take the three seeds from this Tree, the three seeds that signify the three higher members of man.

When Adam died, Seth placed these three seeds in Adam's mouth, and from them grew a flaming bush. From the wood cut from this bush, new shoots and green leaves continually burst forth. Within the flaming circle of the bush, however, was written, "I am He Who was, Who is, Who is to be." This points to the entity that passes through all incarnations, the force of evolving man repeatedly renewing himself, who descends from light into darkness and ascends from darkness into light.

The rod with which Moses performed his miracles was carved from the wood of the flaming bush. The portal of Solomon's Temple was fashioned from it. This wood was carried to the waters of the pool of Bethesda, and from it the pool derived its power.
From the same wood the Cross of Christ Jesus was fashioned, the wood of the Cross that shows us life passing into death, but which at the same time bears the power in itself to bring forth new life. The great world symbol stands before us here — life, which overcomes death. The wood of this Cross grew out of the three seeds from the Tree of Paradise.

The Rose Cross also expresses this symbol of the death of the lower nature and, springing from it, the resurrection of the higher. Goethe expressed the same thought in the words:

As long as you have not

Died and been reborn,

You are but a gloomy guest

Upon the darkened earth.

What a wondrous connection there is between the Tree of Paradise and the wood of the Cross! Even though the Cross is a symbol of Easter, it also deepens our Christmas mood. We feel in it how the Christ Idea streams toward us in new welling life on this night of Christ's Nativity. This idea is indicated in the living roses that adorn this tree. They tell us that the tree of the Sacred Night has not yet become the wood of the Cross, but the power to become this wood begins to arise in it. The roses that grow from the green symbolize the Eternal that grows from the Temporal.

At this point, Steiner gets into describing a group of geometric shapes and detailing their symbolic significance. He does this with everything--I have a book in which he gives the precise spiritual significance of every single musical interval. I'm cutting most of this, but the last one, the star, is of great interest:

Finally, all that permeates the cosmos is present in man and is symbolized in the pentagram at the top of the tree. The deepest meaning of the pentagram may not now be mentioned, but it is the star of mankind, of mankind developing itself. It is the star that all wise men follow as did the priest-sages in ancient ages.

It symbolizes the earth that is born on the Night of Consecration, because the most sublime light radiates from the deepest darkness. Man lives on toward a state when the light shall be born in him, when one significant saying shall be replaced by another, when it will no longer be said, “The Darkness does not comprehend the Light” but when the truth will resound into cosmic space with the words, “Darkness gives way to the Light that radiates toward us in the Star of Mankind, Darkness yields and comprehends the Light.”

This shall resound from the Christmas celebration, and the spiritual light shall radiate from it. Let us celebrate Christmas as the festival of the most lofty ideal of the Idea of Mankind, so that in our souls may rise the joyful confidence: Indeed, I, too, shall experience the birth of the higher man within myself. The birth of the Savior, the Christos, will take place in me also.

Let us pray: Jesus, we call you to come to us in as many guises as you care to put on. We will look for you in candle flame, in wreaths of red, in decorated trees, and tinsel. Most of all we will seek you in the eyes of our friends. Amen.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Advent in Fairyland

Advent in Fairyland

Today is Thanksgiving Sunday, and I want to thank God I don't have to give a Thanksgiving sermon. I know, I know, gratitude is one of the highest states of mind we can enjoy, and drawing attention to it on a special day is not a trivial pursuit; however, with the coming of Christmas I think I am going to have other fish to fry, or turkeys to bake, sermonwise. 

Advent and Thanksgiving always come about the same time, and, this year, I am more interested in observing the religious holiday than the national holiday. Nevertheless, in looking back at the year gone by, nothing could solemnize the day more than to fill our hearts with prayers of thanksgiving for the incalculable gifts of grace that have been showered on us over the past year. Holiday--that means, "Holy Day", and I would like to solemnize the day with meditation and communion.

As you know, since the beginnings of Christianity in the Catholic church, a different spiritual significance has been assigned to each Sunday of the year. If my calculations are correct, today is the LAST day of the church calendar, a good day to say good-bye to things--a good day to prepare for the newness of life that comes whenever spirit revisits the flesh. As we finish out this year, we can look back (maybe even on Thanksgiving) with gratitude; we can see the things that were good and we can see the things that were not so good. In preparing for preparing, we ought to take a good long look at the things that were not so good, and try to sweep them out before the visitation of the Lord graces our humble dwelling place.

From Wikipedia:
"In Anglican churches the Sunday before Advent is sometimes nicknamed Stir-up Sunday after the opening lines of the Book of Common Prayer collect for that day. In the Roman Catholic Church since 1969, and in most Anglican churches since at least 2000, the final Sunday of the liturgical year before Advent has been celebrated as the Feast of Christ the King. This feast is now also widely observed in many Protestant churches, sometimes as the Reign of Christ."

So, according to the church calendar, we should feast today in preparation for the fast that begins next week. Next Sunday is the first of the four Sundays of Advent, the period of sacrifice and preparation for the coming of the Christ. We need to impose some kind of rigorous discipline on ourselves to help us  concentrate on this idea: out with the old, in with the new. For, whatever else may be said of it, it cannot be denied that Christmastide is a time of renewal, and a certain amount of garbage must be taken out before the new can take its place in our lives.

It's just not possible to be a human being and not, (over time), fill up a hefty-sized garbage can of leftover junk--waste matter--that was not part of the program but got stuck to us anyway. Think about the accumulated trash that clutters your life; ask yourself if you really need any of it, or if you are just hypnotized by it dancing glitter; try to free yourself from its thrall, and come before the lord naked and open. Advent is the time of preparation, (purification, say), for the coming incarnation of spirit into the material plane; it is a time of a mental bracing of our egos against the devastating breath of God that wipes away the old and ushers in the new; the rod and staff of the Shepherd. So, even though the official first Sunday of Advent isn't until next week, I want to get the preliminary background on Advent out of the way today, so that next week we can focus on the spiritual resonance of the so-called first day of the church year.

Today's sermon's inspiration was an offhand remark made in Wikipedia concerning Theosophy and angels:

"It is believed by Theosophists that nature spirits, elementals (gnomes, undines, sylphs, and salamanders), and fairies can be also be observed when the third eye is activated. It is maintained by Theosophists that these less evolutionarily developed beings have never been previously incarnated as humans; they are regarded as being on a separate line of spiritual evolution called the “deva evolution”; eventually, as their souls advance as they reincarnate, it is believed they will incarnate as devas."

So, according to Steiner, if you develop your third eye, you can see fairies, a kind of low-class angel. I was thinking how this fairyland is so much more visible to youngsters than it is to grown-ups; after all, what kid doesn't understand and believe in the tooth fairy, or Santa Claus? Perhaps the use of the third eye is more native to innocence than to the jaded worldly perspective. Maybe it is just this, as I heard a Waldorf teacher once declare:

"All human nerve cells, in order to properly transmit chemico-electrical signals to the muscles, and so forth, are protected by a kind of insulation material called myelin sheathing. The growth of myelin sheathing around the nerves in the brains of young people being is not competed at birth; in fact it is not completely finished until, say, the age of eight or nine."

This leaves the tender brains of children, in their formative years, exposed--unprotected from the subtle electromagnetic influences that radiate all around us, all the time, but which are invisible to our grown-up perceptual apparati. As we get older all our physical equipment becomes more and more stiff and inflexible, and we have to find other ways to move from one consciousness state to another, in particular, to pre-conscious states. Indeed, the spontaneous sensitivity of children to magical realities comes from their ability to freely cross over boundaries of different mind states. As my son Emlyn once said, when he was two: "I fly with the angels at night in my bed."

I was thinking that the magic of Christmas involves a self-willed descent into a primitive mind state in which beings who live on the borders of our reality are more apparent, more glowing with astral resonance, and more connected to the subtle terrains of super-mundane existence. Perhaps this is a good thing, as it connects us to higher worlds; but perhaps all the sugar-plum fairies and Santa's elves are just some phenomenological trash we need to get rid of. This brings us to Advent:

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
"Advent (from the Latin word adventus meaning "coming") is a season observed in many Western Christian churches, a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. It is the beginning of the Western liturgical year and commences on Advent Sunday, called Levavi. The Eastern churches' equivalent of Advent is called the Nativity Fast, but it differs both in length and observances and does not begin the church year, which starts instead on September 1.

The progression of the season may be marked with an Advent calendar, a practice introduced by German Lutherans. At least in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and Methodist calendars, Advent starts on the fourth Sunday before December 25, the Sunday from November 27 to December 3 inclusive.
Latin adventus is the translation of the Greek word parousia, commonly used in reference to the Second Coming of Christ. For Christians, the season of Advent serves as a reminder both of the original waiting that was done by the Hebrews for the birth of their Messiah as well as the waiting of Christians for Christ's return.

The theme of readings and teachings during Advent is often to prepare for the Second Coming while commemorating the First Coming of Christ at Christmas. With the view of directing the thoughts of Christians to the first coming of Jesus Christ as savior and to his second coming as judge, special readings are prescribed for each of the four Sundays in Advent.

From the 4th century the season was kept as a period of fasting as strict as that of Lent (commencing in some localities on 11 November; this being the feast day of St. Martin of Tours, the fast became known as "St. Martin's Lent", "St. Martin's Fast" or the "forty days of St. Martin"). The feast day was in many countries a time of frolic and heavy eating, since the 40-day fast began the next day. In the Anglican and Lutheran churches this fasting rule was later relaxed, with the Roman Catholic Church doing likewise later, but still keeping Advent as a season of penitence. In addition to fasting, dancing and similar festivities were forbidden in these traditions. The third Sunday in Advent was a Rose Sunday, when the color of the vestments was changed and a relaxation of the fast was permitted. The Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches still hold the tradition of fasting for 40 days before the Nativity Feast.

In many countries Advent was long marked by diverse popular observances, some of which still survive. In England, especially in the northern counties, there was a custom (now extinct) for poor women to carry around the "Advent images", two dolls dressed to represent Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary. A halfpenny coin was expected from every one to whom these were exhibited and bad luck was thought to menace the household not visited by the doll-bearers before Christmas Eve at the latest.

In Normandy, farmers employed children under twelve to run through the fields and orchards armed with torches, setting fire to bundles of straw, and thus it is believed driving out such vermin as are likely to damage the crops. In Italy, among other Advent celebrations, is the entry into Rome in the last days of Advent of the Calabrian pifferari, or bagpipe players, who play before the shrines of Mary, the mother of Jesus, the Italian tradition being that the shepherds played these pipes when they came to the manger at Bethlehem to pay homage to the infant Jesus.

In recent times the commonest observance of Advent outside church circles has been the keeping of an advent calendar or advent candle, with one door being opened in the calendar, or one section of the candle being burned, on each day in December leading up to Christmas Eve."

In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis spoke of the rhythmic succession of Holy days of feast and fast, under the general subject of Man's need for variety in unity; he said that the return to an immemorial theme was an archetypal aspect of Human spiritual anatomy, and helped put him in touch with the divine. Indeed, the symbologies, associated with feast days, evoke a particularized mind state that is able to find the universal in the individual.

As to the quality of Advent as time for spiritual "cleaning house, and preparation" the following quote from A Grief Observed, concerning the rhythm of death and rebirth is of interest:

"My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence? The Incarnation is the supreme example; it leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins. And most are "offended" by the iconoclasm; and blessed are those who are not. But the same thing happens in our private prayers."

I confess, as much as I enjoy the healing, restorative energy of Christmas, I usually do feel pretty shattered for awhile somewhere in there. Revisiting the past and kissing it good-bye will do that to you. And making yourself receptive (in preparation) can make you fragile; your ego's guard is down, and you feel fragile, and weak, and incapable. But it is this very fragility that allows spirit to gain a foothold, inviting it to imbue the non-resisting flesh with heavenly light.

By the way, this passage (from C.S. Lewis' Letters to an American Lady, Dec. 29, 1958) is fun:

"Just a hurried line...to tell a story which puts the contrast between our feast of the Nativity and all this ghastly "Xmas" racket at its lowest. My brother heard a woman on a bus say, as the bus passed a church with a Crib outside it, "Oh Lor'! They bring religion into everything. Look - they're dragging it even into Christmas now!""

It must be admitted that there is an enormous amount of junk that Christmas brings in with it--so much it is hard to see, like the lady on the bus, the forest for the trees. The good news is that: however much of the stuff that symbolizes Christmas, hanging from every streetlight on  every corner, attempts to trivialize the eternal into invisibility, there is still discernible, at heart, the spiritual truth, the WORD, that brought it all into being. Martin Luther will have something to say about this further down, but we begin our section of Luther quotes with this from the CLASSIC FAITH FOR MODERN TIMES website; this is from the Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent; Matthew 21:1-9 preached by Martin Luther in 1521.

"If you believe in Christ and in his advent, it is the highest praise and thanks to God to be holy. If you recognize, love, and magnify his grace and work in you, and cast aside and condemn self and the works of self, then are you a Christian. We say: "I believe in the holy Christian church, the communion of saints." Do you desire to be a part of the holy Christian church and communion of saints, you must also be holy as she is, yet not of yourself but through Christ alone in whom all are holy."

The words "magnify his grace and work in you" sounds a lot like developing the third eye; the act of will that "magnifies" grace must involve a consciousness state that rubs against the borders of fairyland. When the angel came to tell Mary she was to bear a Holy Son, "her soul did magnify the lord".  Perhaps the good news magnified itself in her soul? Maybe it was a team effort? In any case, there is in Advent time a feeling that we can somehow "pump up the volume" of spiritual transmissions, and more easily make contact with higher magical planes.

This is from a Luther Sermon on the Nativity that he preached in 1530:

"The inn was full. No one would release a room to this pregnant woman. She had to go to a cow stall and there bring forth the Maker of all creatures because nobody would give way. Shame on you, wretched Bethlehem! The inn ought to have been burned with brimstone, for even though Mary had been a beggar maid or unwed, anybody at such a time would have been glad to give her a hand. There are many of you in this congregation who think to yourselves: "If only I had been there! How quick I would have been to help the baby! I would have washed his linen! How happy I would have been to go with the shepherds to see the Lord lying in the manger!" Yes you would! You say that because you know how great Christ is, but if you had been there at that time you would have done no better than the people of Bethlehem. Childish and silly thoughts are these! Why don't you do it now? You have Christ in your neighbor. You ought to serve him, for what you do to your neighbor in need you do to the Lord Christ himself."

Again from the Luther Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent:

"14. Thirdly be says:"Behold." With this word he rouses us at once from sleep and unbelief as though he had something great, strange, or remarkable to offer, something we have long wished for and now would receive with joy. Such waking up is necessary for the reason that everything that concerns faith is against reason and nature; for example, how can nature and reason comprehend that such an one should be king of Jerusalem who enters in such poverty and humility as to ride upon a borrowed ass? How does such an advent become a great king? But faith is of the nature that it does not judge nor reason by what it sees or feels but by what it hears. It depends upon the Word alone and not on vision or sight. For this reason Christ was received as a king only by the followers of the word of the prophet, by the believers in Christ, by those who judged and received his kingdom not by sight but by the spirit-these are the true daughters of Zion. For it is not possible for those not to be offended in Christ who walk by sight and feeling and do not adhere firmly to the Word."

"With this word he rouses us at once from sleep and unbelief." Advent rouses from sleep energies that lie latent within us all year, waiting for the right combination of archetypal and higher spiritual symbologies to motivate them into action--action on our hearts. As mentioned above, the truth of the Word is at the bottom of all the glitter and gleam of Christmas images. The kids may be able to see Santa's elves, and the ruby slippers may transport us to Oz, but the WORD is the razorlike ray of light that exposes all the dross in its true nature and leaves visible the TRUTH behind the phenomena.

The following article, Advent, the Human Season, by Eugene Cullen Kennedy develops the theme of Advent symbology; in particular, it mentions the role of candles in symbolically representing the themes of the season:

"Advent is a season made for imperfect people, all of us, in other words, trying to maintain our balance as we scramble up the final slope of the shadow seamed mountain of the year. Advent's climb leads us to a view of the far reaches of the heavenly but in a profoundly human way. We pass through its weeks as we stroll by a succession of Christmas windows, surprised by images of ourselves superimposed on the displays, behold, as the angel of Christmas might say, this is what you really look like in everyday life.

Perhaps that is why the knowing liturgy allows us to view ourselves by candlelight so that we can gradually revise our self-images softened by its glow and be born again to a more homely, more human, and more livable understanding of ourselves.

These candles placed regularly along our climb toward the top of the year also embody the truth about the calling that transcends our occupations and professions. By their very nature, as we by ours, the candles let their substance be consumed by giving light, no matter how brief or flickering. These illuminations weave the weeks of Advent together by their symbolization of the Mystery of the Light of the World toward whose celebration they lead.

These tapers, like the Christmas windows from which our avatars stare back at us, also illuminate how, as psychiatrist Harry Stack Sullivan expressed it, "we are much more simply human than anything else." We are called to give off the great human signal of the season to all the searching and the lonely in the growing winter darkness, come over here, there's plenty of room, we all belong to the same family.

Advent is from the Latin that means "to come to," catching the period's significance as an ongoing journey, the being "in via," or "on the way," as our spiritual lives were described by ancient Christian writers.

The word "Advent" is a plum pudding of meanings, for it signifies a "coming or arrival, especially of something awaited or momentous." We are aware of the biblical mystery of this long awaited coming but there are no feelings more familiar to men and women than those generated by our hellos and our goodbyes, by our longing for union and suffering separation, for our looking forward to comings or arrivals of all kinds, from graduations to weddings, to birthday parties and family reunions.

Perhaps this wonder, that Advent underscores as it recognizes its utter humanity, is most powerfully experienced everyday before our eyes. As Joseph Campbell expressed it, "The latest version of Beauty and the Beast is taking place right now on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street." That is the Christmas-like wonder repeated when lovers find each other in the airport crowd as they first did, against all odds, in the great shouldering crowd of the world itself.

If we travel far enough back in the origin of words we find a distant root of Advent in gwa that means "to come" but that is also linked to "welcome" and "guest." This archeological dig of words helps us grasp the many layers of the Advent Mystery and of how, in its illumination of our natures, it overflows with sacramental manifestations of what it means to be human.

Advent allows us to rediscover not the sour version of a puritanical religion that is hard on humans but is one of living mystery and wonder. We feel this mystery in greater and lesser ways in all the comings and goings of this time of the year. We are all on the way to someplace else or are restlessly waiting for someone to come to us; we are suffused in the small mysteries of these defining human transactions that reveal the heart of our humanity.

It also underscores all that is wondrous even in the more homely aspects of being human. We are always on journeys of one kind or another and the whole mystery of our destiny is repeated every time we leave home for work, take up an unfinished task, or dream about the future. There is nothing more human than our setting up camp only to break it at dawn and set off for another that seems filled with more promise or more challenge for us.

These all fit with Advent's pilgrimage that, as we reflect on it, puts us on a track that intersects with the Divine journey to the very same destination, to the "end," as Chesterton wrote, "of the wandering star," to becoming human that is the fathomless Mystery of Christmas."

Again from Luther's Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent; Matthew 21:1-9, 1521.

"24. Again, it is not by virtue of your power or your merit that the Gospel is preached and your king comes. God must send him out of pure grace. Hence, not greater wrath of God exists than where he does not send the Gospel; there is only sin, error and darkness, there man may do what he will. Again, there is no greater grace, than where he sends his Gospel, for there must be grace and mercy in its train, even if not all, perhaps only a few, receive it. Thus the pope's government is the most terrible wrath of God, so that Peter calls them. the children of execration, for they teach no Gospel, but mere human doctrine of their own works as we, alas, see in all the chapters, monasteries and schools.

25. This is what is meant by "Thy king cometh." You do not seek him, but he seeks you. You do not find him, he finds you. For the preachers come from him, not from you; their sermons come from him, not from you; your faith comes from him, not from you; everything that faith works in you comes from him, not from you; and where he does not come, you remain outside; . . ."

In these two paragraphs Luther affirms the idea of salvation through grace. In the context of Advent, the coming of the Son is the grace for which we pine and wait, chosen, as we are, by the great plan of pre-destination, devised by God before the foundation of the world. This idea has brought me, once again, to a point of disagreement with Matin Luther: as we have discussed in our previous presentations on the subject of free will versus good works, there is a very thin line separating the chosen from the choosers--one may PREPARE to be chosen, and thus may CHOOSE TO BE CHOSEN. This has led me to the only salient point I have to make today. First to review some of the points made in the sermon on "Many Are Called but Few Are Chosen":

In After Many a Summer, Aldous Huxley writes:

"There must also be the recollection which seeks to transform and transcend intelligence. Many are called, but few are chosen--because few even know in what salvation consists. . . . Only a few are chosen because it is only the few who choose to hear and heed the call – they choose to be chosen."


To bear the cross assigned to us is never easy--if it were easy they would call it something else. Suffering is how we choose, or, rather, it is the suffering that validates our choice, because only by suffering is our will tempered, is our test passed. Some sacrifice is necessary; we exchange our suffering for spiritual rewards, we give up what is given us in exchange for what was ours before the world began.

Thus the WILL to choose, and choose over and over again the virtuous path, is the key to being chosen."

We are chosen through grace, but the preparations we make to receive the gifts of grace are good works which work on us from the inside out. As the Grace of God approaches in the raiments of Christmas, we know it will be ours, but we also know that the more worthy we make ourselves, the greater will be the gift--we take what we can get, and we get what we can take. We look forward to the coming of the Christ with longing and anticipation, but also fear and trembling because we think that we may not have done enough to deserve this great coming. Undoubtedly we haven't. Let us pray.

Jesus help us prepare to prepare. Assault our stubborn hearts with rays of love that break us down. Let us try to look at life from the bottom up, and rise with the phoenix and the dove to heavenly heights. Amen.