A commentary on the history, contexts, and meanings of the word "genius."

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Advent III - Love

Advent III - Love

Today we will review key sections of two previous Christmas sermons: one on love and one on the wise men.

1. Today, according to SOMEBODY SOMEWHERE’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 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.

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." 

Would the doorman let us in bearing this slogan? Maybe the doorman is not that reliable? Saint Peter was always a little eccentric? 

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.”  

From Charles Dickens’ the Christmas Carol:

“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.

2. Below are some thoughts on the wise men, but first here is a review of the wise men story in Matthew 2:1:
The Magi Visit the Messiah
“2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’[b]”
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”

You would think that, chronologically, a sermon on the Three Wise Men would come AFTER Christmas, because that is when the Wise Men are traditionally thought to have come to the manger, January 6th, to be precise. I have chosen this strategy because it is with the same fervor of seek-to-find, that preoccupied the three kings, that I am preparing myself to solemnize the anniversary of the coming of the Messiah into the world; and it is with the same wonder that illuminated the eyes of the Magi on that first day of Epiphany, that I hope to contemplate the savior lying in a manger on Christmas Day in the morning.

The symbology of the Magi divides neatly into two distinct stages of discovery; seeking is the first stage, while the finding is merely the culmination of a much longer process. When you think about it, the thinking about the symbol, the preparation for the spiritual symbol, takes a lot more time, and is a lot more involved than the actual revelation of the spiritual reality. The fact is that, although the Three Kings are usually associated with Epiphany, the FINDING of Jesus, the moment of RECOGNITION in which the Christ Presence is made manifest to Man, this is not the whole story--there is the whole issue of the SEARCH for Jesus that preceded the FINDING. Thus, seeking and finding are very much a part of the Christmas season. Looking back and looking forward may be thought of in the same way. Remember our discussion of sehnsucht as the intense joy of unfulfilled desire, and our discussion of HOPE as the realization of a future good brought into the present. 

Munachi E. Ezeogu, CSSP says:

“We are all seekers. There is something about this time of year that reveals the hunger in our hearts, this yearning for something.”

The Wise Men must have been filled with longing, a yearning for an undefined reality which, when it finally fell on them in that first moment of epiphany, must have been as overwhelming as it was transforming. How the realization of an expectation must have been completely unexpected! How it must have looked so completely different, from what they thought they were going to see, how new! How they must have struggled, in those first few moments, to get their minds around such a radical departure from the past.

“The Magi are described as "falling down", "kneeling" or "bowing" in the worship of Jesus. This gesture, together with the use of kneeling in Luke's birth narrative, had an important effect on Christian religious practices. They were indicative of great respect, and typically used when venerating a king. Inspired by these verses, kneeling and prostration were adopted in the early Church. While prostration is now rarely practiced in the West, it is still relatively common in the Eastern Churches, especially during Lent. Kneeling has remained an important element of Christian worship to this day."

I find it very interesting that so many of our religious ceremonies come from the accepted reports of the Magi-behavior--the "kneeling" is just one element of the whole royalty obeisance bit. The reference to Jesus as the "King of Kings, and Lord of Lords" definitely puts Jesus, as a descendant of the House of David, into the upper social class of a world in which class consciousness was (and is) a major indicator of the prestige enjoyed by royalty. I really think Jesus has to laugh at this--I believe He must be more democratic in His social attitudes, at the same time being aware that all men are NOT created equal.

Of course, the main Magi-behavior we imitate today is the gift-giving. Thus, with the following Martin Luther excerpt, our discussion of the Wise Men shifts from seeking to giving gifts.
Sermon for the Epiphany; Matthew 2:1-12:A Sermon by Martin Luther; taken from his Church Postil of 1522.

"3.This Gospel harmonizes with the Epistle and speaks of the temporal coming of the heathen to Christ, by which their spiritual coming to Christ, mentioned in the Epistle, is signified and commenced. It is both a terrifying and consoling Gospel: terrifying to the great and wise, the self-satisfied and the mighty, because they all reject Christ; consoling to the humble and despised, because to them alone Christ is revealed.

4. These wise men are usually called the three Kings. As not much depends on this, we will grant this opinion to the simple minded people. However, it is not known whether there were two, three or more. But they certainly came from the rich country Arabia or Sheba, which is evident from their gifts viz. gold, frankincense and myrrh. All three of these are very precious in that country. It can certainly not be assumed that they had bought these elsewhere, for it is customary in these Eastern countries to do homage and make presents of the choice fruits and wealth of the country. just like Jacob commanded his sons to carry presents of the choice fruits of the land to Joseph in Egypt. Gen. 43, 11. Had these gifts of the wise men not been of their own country, why should they then have brought frankincense, myrrh and gold produced in the land of Judea, instead of silver and precious stones or fruits of some other country?

5. Therefore these gifts were not presented to Christ like artists paint the scenery that one offers gold, another frankincense and the third myrrh, but they presented the gifts in common as one man. And probably there were quite a number present, a few of them being the leaders, just as now a prince or a city sends a few brave men as messengers to the emperor with presents.

6. The Evangelist calls these men wise men which means in German weissager, i. e. (predictors, diviners); not in the same manner as the prophets predicted, but like those whom we call wise men and wise women, who can tell people all kinds of things; who know a great deal about the secret arts and follow adventures. The art of such people is called magic, which is sometimes accomplished by the black arts and the help of the devil, but not in all things as by the witches and sorcerers. For the wise men imitate the true prophets and prophesy like the true prophets, though not by the spirit of God. For this reason they sometimes happen to be correct as their work is not, like that of the witches, altogether the devil's work, but rather human reason aided by the devil. . . .

11. Hence these magi or wise men were not kings, but men learned and experienced in this natural art though without doubt they also practiced conjury. Even to this day men from these eastern countries are possessed of great and various magic powers and, when this real art ceased, being despised they brought forth sorcery and spread it throughout the world but prior to this they relied entirely on the course of the heavenly bodies. Thus presumptuous human reason has always mixed and disgraced that which was good by imitation and indiscretion, attempting to ape everything that it sees and bears. Hence false prophets imitate the true prophets, false work-righteous saints the true saints, and the falsely learned the truly learned. If we look at the world we will find, that the work of human reason is but aping to imitate the good, only perverts it and thus deceives itself and others.

12. These wise men, therefore, were nothing else than what the philosophers were in Greece and the priests in Egypt, and the learned among us in the universities. In short, they were the priests and learned in the rich country of Arabia; just as if learned men are priests from the universities were now sent to a prince with presents. For the universities also claim that they teach natural arts which they call philosophy while in reality they are teaching not only tomfoolery, but also poisonous error and idle dreams. . . .

30. How these wise men could see in this star a sign that unmistakably signified a new- born king, I do not know. Perhaps they read in their histories and chronicles that aforetime the birth of other kings had been signified in the heavens or through a star. For we find also in the histories of the Romans and the Greeks that the coming or birth of some great princes and extraordinary men had been foretold by miracles and signs in the air and in the heavens. These wise men also knew quite well that these Jews were the chosen people of God, who were and had been above all other people, especially favored of God. Therefore, as this was such a beautiful star, they certainly thought that God had given this people a new king. But the claim of some that these wise men knew the saying of Balaam: "There shall come forth a star out of Jacob," etc. (Num. 24, 17), will avail nothing, as this speaks mainly of the spiritual coming of Christ, who is the star himself. But whoever is not satisfied with this may think as he pleases about it. Perhaps they knew all by divine revelation.”

This preceding Martin Luther excerpt is quite involved and has many intertwining ideas. Perhaps the most important overarching point, that Luther is making, is that: as we seek the Christ, and we give him his presents, we must be careful to remember that Jesus does not suffer fools; finding the precise distinction between magic philosophy and true spirituality is a slippery slope, a razor's edge. I find that the whole idea of the word "Magi" leading to "Magic" is an untrivial philological coincidence, and is emblematic of the feeling of magic and wonder associated with our Christmas traditions and ceremonies. But cultivating wonder does not mean accepting false prophets for mere dramatic effect; neither does the fact that there are false prophets out there mean that every strange and new thing is also false. Every natural event must be evaluated on its own merits, with an open heart and mind. Thus as we seek, and find, and then give, we must make sure that we are seeking the right thing, finding the right thing, and giving of ourselves, our truest selves and not counterfeits. With Jesus as our arbiter and interpreter we cannot go wrong.

The following Rudolf Steiner excerpt throws some significant light on the quality of the symbology of the gifts of the Magi:

Rudolph Steiner: The Festivals and Their Meaning: I Christmas--On The Three Magi: Schmidt Number: S-0994 VI (Extract from a lecture) Berlin, 30th December, 1904 GA B60

"You will remember that I have spoken of the meaning of the Christmas Festival in its connection with the evolution of races, or, better said, the epochs of civilisation, and indeed the significance of the Festival lies in this very connection both in respect of the past and of the future.
I want to speak to-day about a Festival to which in modern times less importance is attached than to the Christmas Festival itself, namely, the Festival of the Three Kings, of the Magi who came from the East to greet the newly born Jesus. This Festival of the Epiphany (celebrated on the 6th of January) will assume greater and greater significance when its symbolism is understood.
It will be obvious to you that very profound symbolism is contained in the Festival of the Three Magi from the East. Until the 15th century, this symbolism was kept very secret and no definite indications were available. But since that century some light has been thrown on the Festival of the Magi by exoteric presentations. One of the Three Kings — Caspar — is portrayed as a Moor, an inhabitant of Africa; one as a white man, a European — Melchior; and one — Balthasar — as an Asiatic; the colour of his skin is that of an inhabitant of India. They bring Myrrh, Gold and Frankincense as offerings to the Child Jesus in Bethlehem.
These three offerings are full of meaning and in keeping with the whole symbolism of the Festival celebrated on the 6th of January. Exoterically, the date itself throws some light; esoterically, the Festival is pregnant with meaning. The 6th of January is the same date as that on which, in ancient Egypt, the Festival of Osiris was celebrated, the Festival of the re-finding of Osiris. As you know, Osiris was overcome by his enemy Typhon: Isis seeks and eventually finds him. This re-finding of Osiris, the Son of God, is represented in the Festival of the 6th of January. The Festival of the Three Kings is the same Festival, but in its Christian form. This Festival was also celebrated among the Assyrians, the Armenians and the Phoenicians. Everywhere it is a Festival connected with a kind of universal baptism — a rebirth from out of the water. 

Of this epoch the Bible says: ‘The Spirit of God brooded over the waters.’ The principle of Love was not within the beings, but outside, manifesting as earthly Kama (that is to say, earthly passion or desire). Kama is egotistic love. The first bringer of Love free of all egoism is Christ Who appeared in the body of Jesus of Nazareth.
Who are the Magi? They represent the Initiates of the three preceding races or epochs of culture, the Initiates of mankind up to the time of the coming of Christ, the Bringer of the Love that is free of egoism — the resurrected Osiris. 

By what are the Three Holy Kings guided, and whither are they led? They are guided by a Star to a grotto, a cave in Bethlehem. This is something that can be understood only by one who has knowledge of the so-called lower, or astral mysteries. To be led by a Star means nothing else than to see the soul itself as a Star. But when is the soul seen as a Star? When a man can behold the soul as a radiant aura. But what kind of aura is so radiant that it can be a guide? There is the aura that glimmers with only a feeble light; such an aura cannot guide. There is a higher aura, that of the intelligence, which has, it is true, a flowing, up-surging light, but is not yet able to guide. But the bright aura, aglow with Budhi, is in very truth a Star, is a radiant guide. In Christ, the Star of Budhi lights up — the Star which accompanies the evolution of mankind. The Light that shines before the Magi is the soul of Christ Himself. The Second Logos Himself shines before the Magi and over the cave in Bethlehem.
The Festival of the Three Kings is celebrated every year on the 6th of January, and its significance will steadily increase. Men will understand more and more what a Magi is, and what the great Magi, the Masters, are. And then understanding of Christianity will lead to understanding of spiritual science."

To reiterate the subject line of this sermon: the bottom line to which we will be wending is the symbology of the Wise Men who use the art of nature to search for Jesus. By that we mean that, the search for Jesus may involve the seeker in signs and symbols that appear in the natural world, but which resonate in Eternity. As the search evolves, the seeker is transformed in unexpected ways, and the final Epiphany is a Rite of Passage into a new world. This arrival results in an out-pouring of spiritual gifts which, again, symbolize spiritual realities potent with energy and meaning.

One always wonders, when one takes a serendipitous needle-drop approach to selecting materials, how they will end up relating to each other. For today, I had two sermons I liked and wanted to reprise, but I was not aware of any unifying thread connecting the two pieces. I had to wait until the end to get it: as usual, spiritual advancement is a progression like this: our dwelling in the haven of love, found with Jesus, opens our hearts to the world, creating a flow of outpouring love, the richest gifts of all. 

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. As the enactment of your birth approaches, let us open our eyes to the magic of the Magi, and discover with them the incalculable gifts you have given to us in the infinity of Your love.Amen.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Advent 2017-2

Advent 2017-2

As you know, I really enjoy reading great poetry aloud. The great poets, like the great saints, grapple with spiritual problems and give us comfort of a different sort than the scriptures, although it is like the scriptures, in that it tells the truth. I have decided to make an Advent sermon completely out of quotes. 

To begin, here are four truth-bearing poems:

Emily Dickinson’s Poem #1309 (on the Paradox of Advent):
"The Infinite a sudden Guest
Has been assumed to be –
But how can that stupendous come
Which never went away?
Heaven is so far of the Mind
That were the Mind dissolved -
The Site - of it - by Architect
Could not again be proved -
‘Tis vast - as our Capacity -
As fair - as our idea -
To Him of adequate desire
No further ’tis, than Here -

Who has not found the Heaven - below -
Will fail of it above -
For Angels rent the House next ours,
Wherever we remove –"

 George MacDonald:

"Come, saviour of nations wild,
Of the maiden owned the child
That may wonder all the earth
God should grant it such a birth.
Not of man's flesh or man's blood
Only of the Spirit of God
Is God's Word a man become,
And blooms the fruit of woman's womb.
Maiden, she was found with child,
Nor was chastity defiled;
Many a virtue from her shone:
God was there upon his throne.
From that chamber of content,
Royal palace pure, he went;
God by kind, in human grace
Forth he comes to run his race.
From the Father came his road,
And returns again to God;
Unto hell it did go down,
Up then to the Father's throne.
Thou, the Father's form express,
Get thee victory in the flesh,
That thy godlike power in us
Make sick flesh victorious.
Shines thy manger bright and fair;
Sets the night a new star there:
Darkness thence must keep away;
Faith dwells ever in the day.
Honour unto God be done;
Honour to his only son;
Honour to the Holy Ghost,
Now, and ever, ending not. Amen."

The “Journey of the Magi” was written by T.S Eliot in 1927. Many interpret this poem as a reflection of Eliot’s own journey from agnosticism to Christian faith.

"A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For the journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins,
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death?
There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt.
I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like
Death, our death,
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death."

John Donne (1572-1631):


"Salvation to all that will is nigh;
That All, which always is all everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Lo, faithful virgin, yields Himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb; and though He there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet He will wear,
Taken from thence, flesh, which death's force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created, thou
Wast in His mind, who is thy Son and Brother;
Whom thou conceivst, conceived; yea thou art now
Thy Maker's maker, and thy Father's mother;
Thou hast light in dark, and shutst in little room,
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb.”

The next two poems are about the Virgin Mary; the first is by Rainer Maria Rilke: 
Annunciation to Mary
"The angel’s entrance (you must realize)
was not what made her frightened. The surprise
he gave her by his coming was no more
than sun or moon-beam stirring on the floor
would give another, — she had long since grown
used to the form that angels wear, descending;
never imaging this coming-down
was hard for them. (O it’s past comprehending,
how pure she was. Did not one day, a hind
that rested in a wood, watchfully staring,
feel her deep influence, and did it not
conceive the unicorn, then, without pairing,
the pure beast, beast which light begot, — )
No, not to see him enter, but to find
the youthful angel’s countenance inclined
so near to her; that when he looked, and she
looked up at him, their looks so merged in one
the world outside grew vacant, suddenly,
and all things being seen, endured and done
were crowded into them: just she and he
eye and its pasture, visions and its view,
here at the point and at this point alone:-
see, this arouses fear. Such fear both knew."

The following is a medieval take on the Virgin Mary:
Anonymous, ‘I syng of a mayden’.This medieval poem or carol dates from around 1400, so is roughly contemporaneous with Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and the birth of modern English poetry. Written in Middle English, the poem tells of the Annunciation and Virgin Birth. Dew is a long standing literary figure for virginity: here the conception of the Son is seen as enhancing, rather than ending Our Lady's virginity.

The piece is to be found in a minstrel manuscript from the early fifteenth century.  

“I sing of a maiden
That is matchless,
King of all kings
To her son she chose.

He came as still
Where his mother was
As dew in April
That falls on the grass.

He came as still
To his mother's bower
As dew in April
That falls on the flower.

He came as still
Where his mother lay
As dew in April
That falls on the spray.

Mother and maiden
There was never none but she;
Well may such a lady
God's mother be.”

Though no Christmas verses by St. Francis have come down to us, there is a beautiful “psalm” for Christmas Day at Vespers, composed by him partly from passages of Scripture. A portion of Father Paschal Robinson's translation may be quoted:—
“Rejoice to God our helper.
Shout unto God, living and true,
With the voice of triumph.
For the Lord is high, terrible:
A great King over all the earth.
For the most holy Father of heaven,p. 39 
Our King, before ages sent His Beloved
Son from on high, and He
was born of the Blessed Virgin,
holy Mary.
*       *       *       *       *
This is the day which the Lord
hath made: let us rejoice and be glad in it.
For the beloved and most holy
Child has been given to us and
born for us by the wayside.
And laid in a manger because He
had no room in the inn.
Glory to God in the highest: and
on earth peace to men of good will.” 

Here is one about Christmas presents:

The Christmas-Box - by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“THIS box, mine own sweet darling, thou wilt find
With many a varied sweetmeat's form supplied;
The fruits are they of holy Christmas tide,
But baked indeed, for children's use design'd.
I'd fain, in speeches sweet with skill combin'd,
Poetic sweetmeats for the feast provide;
But why in such frivolities confide?
Perish the thought, with flattery to blind!
One sweet thing there is still, that from within,
Within us speaks,--that may be felt afar;
This may be wafted o'er to thee alone.
If thou a recollection fond canst win,
As if with pleasure gleam'd each well-known star,
The smallest gift thou never wilt disown.” 

This is another quote about Christmas presents: it is a Christmas Eve sermon delivered by the Bishop at the end of the movie The Bishop’s Wife, and is a profound reflection on the best Christmas presents we can give to each other and to Jesus on his birthday:

"Tonight I want to tell you the story of an empty stocking. Once upon a midnight clear, there was a child's cry. A blazing star hung over a stable and wise men came with birthday gifts. We haven't forgotten that night down the centuries; we celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees, the sound of bells and with gifts. But especially with gifts. You give me a book; I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer, and Uncle Henry could do with a new pipe. We forget nobody, adult or child. All the stockings are filled -- all that is, except one. And we have even forgotten to hang it up. The stocking for the child born in a manger. It's his birthday we are celebrating. Don't ever let us forget that. Let us ask ourselves what he would wish for most, and then let each put in his share. Loving kindness, warm hearts and the stretched out hand of tolerance. All the shining gifts that make peace on earth."

Here are some fun quotes from famous people about love at Christmas:

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'."

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

The following are two short but meaningful quotes, and a longer piece from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. From his God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas:

“God can make a new beginning with people whenever God pleases, but not people with God. Therefore, people cannot make a new beginning at all; they can only pray for one. Where people are on their own and live by their own devices, there is only the old, the past.” 

“A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes - and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent”

The Coming of Jesus into Our Midst
Dietrich Bonhoeffer
"Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. Revelation 3:20
When early Christianity spoke of the return of the Lord Jesus, they thought of a great day of judgment. Even though this thought may appear to us to be so unlike Christmas, it is original Christianity and to be taken extremely seriously. When we hear Jesus knocking, our conscience first of all pricks us: Are we rightly prepared? Is our heart capable of becoming God's dwelling place? Thus Advent becomes a time of self-examination. "Put the desires of your heart in order, O human beings!" (Valentin Thilo), as the old song sings.
"Our whole life is an Advent, a time of waiting for the ultimate, for the time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth, when all people will be brothers and sisters."
It is very remarkable that we face the thought that God is coming so calmly, whereas previously peoples trembled at the day of God, whereas the world fell into trembling when Jesus Christ walked over the earth. That is why we find it so strange when we see the marks of God in the world so often together with the marks of human suffering, with the marks of the cross on Golgotha.

We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God's coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God's coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience."

[Sidebar: There is an interesting ramification of the idea of FEARING Christmas; it is that Christmas, like all second comings, comes like a thief in the night, and inevitably catches us unawares, and unprepared. Christmas is a reminder to remind ourselves that human life is a serious business that requires serious people to PAY ATTENTION. KEEP YOUR LAMPS LIT.

Back to Bonhoeffer:]

"Only when we have felt the terror of the matter, can we recognize the incomparable kindness. God comes into the very midst of evil and of death, and judges the evil in us and in the world. And by judging us, God cleanses and sanctifies us, comes to us with grace and love. God makes us happy as only children can be happy.

God wants to always be with us, wherever we may be - in our sin, in our suffering and death. We are no longer alone; God is with us. We are no longer homeless; a bit of the eternal home itself has moved unto us. Therefore we adults can rejoice deeply within our hearts under the Christmas tree, perhaps much more than the children are able. We know that God's goodness will once again draw near. We think of all of God's goodness that came our way last year and sense something of this marvelous home. Jesus comes in judgment and grace: "Behold I stand at the door!  Open wide the gates!" (Ps. 24:7)

One day, at the last judgment, he will separate the sheep and the goats and will say to those on his right: "Come, you blessed. I was hungry and you fed me." (Matt. 25:34). To the astonished question of when and where, he answered: "What you did to the least of these, you have done to me?" (Matt. 25:40).

With that we are faced with the shocking reality: Jesus stands at the door and knocks, in complete reality. He asks you for help in the form of a beggar, in the form of a ruined human being in torn clothing. He confronts you in every person that you meet. Christ walks on the earth as your neighbor as long as there are people. He walks on the earth as the one through whom God calls you, speaks to you and makes his demands. That is the greatest seriousness and the greatest blessedness of the Advent message. Christ stands at the door. He lives in the form of the person in our midst. Will you keep the door locked or open it to him?

Christ is still knocking. It is not yet Christmas. But it is also not the great final Advent, the final coming of Christ. Through all the Advents of our life that we celebrate goes the longing for the final Advent, where it says: "Behold, I make all things new" (Rev. 21:5).

Advent is a time of waiting. Our whole life, however, is Advent - that is, a time of waiting for the ultimate, for the time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth, when all people are brothers and sisters and one rejoices in the words of the angels: "On earth peace to those on whom God's favor rests." Learn to wait, because he has promised to come. "I stand at the door?" We however call to him: "Yes, come soon, Lord Jesus!" Amen."

[Sidebar: Even if a person makes it the disciplined purpose of his life, to remain fluid and open to the subtle influences spirit has on mundane existence, there will still naturally be moments of  greater intensity, like a planet orbiting closer to the sun may feel the greater heat. Christmas is the season of lights because the seasonal darkness, by contrast, brings out the light of spirit more brilliantly.

What follows is a statement by James Joyce followed by commentary by Joseph Campbell; together they make a nice reminder that the Christ is everywhere and in all of us:

From James Joyce's Ulysses:

" ... Are you a god or a doggone clod? If the second advent came to Coney Island are we ready? Florry Christ, Stephen Christ, Zoe Christ, Bloom Christ, Kitty Christ, Lynch Christ, it's up to you to sense that cosmic force. Have we cold feet about the cosmos? No. Be on the side of the angels. Be a prism. You have that something within, the higher self. You can rub shoulders with a Jesus, a Gautama, an Ingersoll. Are you all in this vibration? I say you are ... " (U414)

And Campbell's commentary:

"Joyce (I believe) says we are all in this vibration. The miracle of the Incarnation is the Magnificat of each one of us: Florry Christ, Stephen Christ, Zoe Christ, and so on—we are all particles of the Christ. Very frequently, you know, Joyce brings out key thoughts in a totally contrary kind of language and situation. So his essential message here—and this is the Gnostic message—is that the face of God is the face before you: your friend, a stranger, or whomever."

The great find of this week's meditations on Advent comes from, you guessed it, Rudolf Steiner:

Now we revisit Rudolf Steiner's insight into the 
The True Second Coming - by Robert S. Mason

"Another tremendous revelation from Steiner's spiritual science concerns the true nature of the Second Coming of Christ. Steiner was adamant that the physical incarnation of Christ can happen once and only once.
"Just as a pair of scales can have only one balancing-point, so in Earth evolution the event of Golgatha can take place only once".

The amazing fact is that the Second Coming is happening now, but that most of mankind is unaware of it. Actually, the term "second coming" is not in the New Testament; the Greek word is parousia, meaning roughly "active presence". It was this "presence" that Saul/Paul experienced on the road to Damascus; Paul being mankind's "premature birth" of the coming new experience of Christ.

Parousia was translated into Latin as adventus, which means arrival, thus helping to give rise to the expectation of a physical arrival of Christ. The original Greek term seems in consonance with Steiner's explanation. In fact, it is the driving force behind the "apocalyptic" convulsions and struggles of our time.

For, as the picture is given in the Apocalypse of John, the bottomless pit is opened, Michael casts the dragon and his hosts onto the earth, the vials of wrath are poured out, and Babylon is overthrown -- all in preparation for Christ's triumph that brings the New Heaven and New Earth. Most of us are unaware of this present Second Coming because it is not happening in the visible, material world, but in the "ethereal" region of the earth. "Ethereal" means the system of "formative forces", bordering on the physical, that raise inert matter to the realm of the living. . . 

[ . . . the Second Coming shall be a tremendous event, not limited to a particular location:

"For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so also shall the coming of the Son of man be."
(Matt. 24:27)
The ethereal is super-physical, not bound by the laws of material space; Christ's appearance in the ethereal earth is everywhere-at-once. And since the ethereal is super-physical, some degree of super-physical vision, or "clairvoyance", is needed to see into it."

Notice that Steiner places great emphasis on developing clairvoyance, not as some rarely discovered miracle, but as the stock-in-trade for the devotee on the spiritual path. He encourages us to develop "super-physical vision"--it's just one more way of paying attention.

Moreover, contrary to some of the comments I have quoted above, Steiner is telling us that Christmas is not about the FIRST coming of the Christ, it is about the eternally unfolding SECOND coming of the Christ. Now, as we have admitted above, there must be moments of heightened intensity in the rhythm of life, but it must also be admitted that the theme song of Christmas has always been, "Live in the spirit of Christmas all the year long." Perhaps the realization, waiting for us at Christmastime, is that, with each passing year, our own personal capacity for love and virtuous acts is expanding like the eternally unfolding SECOND coming of the Christ. 

Next is an interesting poem by the 17th century poet Robert Herrick; the poem in the form of a sung anthem with responsive verses:

A Christmas Carol, by Robert Herrick

“What sweeter music can we bring, 
Than a Carol, for to sing 
The Birth of this our heavenly King? 
Awake the Voice! Awake the String! 
Heart, Ear, and Eye, and every thing 
Awake! the while the active Finger 
Runs division with the Singer.

From the Flourish they came to the Song.

Voice 1:
Dark and dull night, fly hence away, 
And give the honor to this Day, 
That sees December turn'd to May.

Voice 2:
If we may ask the reason, say: 
The why, and wherefore all things here 
Seem like the Spring-time of the year?

Voice 3:
Why does the chilling Winter's morn 
Smile, like a field beset with corn? 
Or smell, like to a mead new-shorn, 
Thus, on the sudden?

Voice 4:
Come and see 
The cause, why things thus fragrant be: 
'Tis He is born, whose quick'ning Birth 
Gives life and luster, public mirth, 
To Heaven and the under-Earth.

We see Him come, and know Him ours, 
Who, with His Sun-shine, and His Showers, 
Turns all the patient ground to flowers.

Voice 1:
The Darling of the World is come, 
And fit it is, we find a room 
To welcome Him.

Voice 2:
The nobler part 
Of all the house here, is the Heart,

Which we will give Him; and bequeath 
This Holly and this Ivy Wreath, 
To do Him honor; who's our King, 
And Lord of all this Revelling.” 

Here is another music poem, this by Anne Bronte:

Music On Christmas Morning 

“Music I love -­ but never strain
Could kindle raptures so divine,
So grief assuage, so conquer pain,
And rouse this pensive heart of mine -­
As that we hear on Christmas morn,
Upon the wintry breezes borne. 
Though Darkness still her empire keep,
And hours must pass, ere morning break;
From troubled dreams, or slumbers deep,
That music kindly bids us wake:
It calls us, with an angel's voice,
To wake, and worship, and rejoice; 

To greet with joy the glorious morn,
Which angels welcomed long ago,
When our redeeming Lord was born,
To bring the light of Heaven below;
The Powers of Darkness to dispel,
And rescue Earth from Death and Hell. 

While listening to that sacred strain,
My raptured spirit soars on high;
I seem to hear those songs again
Resounding through the open sky,
That kindled such divine delight,
In those who watched their flocks by night. 

With them, I celebrate His birth -­
Glory to God, in highest Heaven,
Good-will to men, and peace on Earth,
To us a Saviour-king is given;
Our God is come to claim His own,
And Satan's power is overthrown! 

A sinless God, for sinful men,
Descends to suffer and to bleed;
Hell must renounce its empire then;
The price is paid, the world is freed,
And Satan's self must now confess,
That Christ has earned a Right to bless: 

Now holy Peace may smile from heaven,
And heavenly Truth from earth shall spring:
The captive's galling bonds are riven,
For our Redeemer is our king;
And He that gave his blood for men
Will lead us home to God again.”

By far, my favorite Christmas poem is In the bleak midwinter by Christina Rosetti:

“In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.”

Let us pray:

Jesus we fear your coming, as we fear all great and terrible things. But let us embrace our fear, as a virgin wife embraces her husband for the first time, and push onward to the light. Amen