I love Christmas, and I am especially looking forward to it this year because, as some readers of my articles may have deduced, I have been seriously ill and in hospital for three months. At one point it looked as if I wouldn’t make Christmas at all; and then as if I’d still be in hospital over Christmas. So to be out of hospital and at home with the prospect of Christmas before me seems truly wonderful.
Of course, for some, Christmas is fundamentally flawed – it has been spoilt, commercialised, and all its true values have been destroyed. These people have a point; but what is the real meaning of Christmas?
We will all doubtless have our own ideas, but for me Christmas can be expressed in five simple words extracted from the Nicene Creed. Personally, I am not a big believer in creeds as they tend to be divisive; so I use these five simple words and invite you to interpret them literally, mythologically or symbolically, or as you will.
The five simple words are: ‘He came down from heaven’. The key word in the sentence is the middle one: ‘down’ – ‘He came down …’. You see this tells us about the direction of the godhead, of the divine. Human beings want ‘up’ – to ascend, to have more, to grow further, but the godhead comes down. Humans have enthroned themselves in the heaven of their own egos, exalted their own self-importance, and drawn immense satisfactions from promoting the works of their own hands. By contrast, the godhead comes down, and that is what we must recall.
Before I fell ill in July of this year I was an extremely strong, self-confident individual who could anything I wanted to, or set my heart on achieving; I scarcely felt a sense of limitation. But as I lay there in the hospital bed, getting weaker and weaker, so my ego drained away and I began to see – to use a Biblical phrase – that my ‘own right arm could not save me’.
And that was then, and this is now: some seven or so weeks after I left hospital, its memories get dimmer and more remote. The lessons learnt seem less important and we forget what we need to remember. Old habits return.
So Christmas reminds me that God needs to come down – down – into my heart and mind and re-establish divine presence there. I pray then that that will be true for us all. And what does that mean?
It means, perhaps, to become like the baby in the manger, like all babies in fact. Babies have no ego, they are open to all experience, and open to everyone. They are accepting – of all reality. If we could be more like that all the time how much better would this world be?
May, then, the real meaning of Christmas come alive in your hearts and minds, as you reflect on that brilliant line from the Nicene Creed: ‘He came down from heaven.’