Every year I wonder if some lazy Archbishop or church leader gave last year’s “Christmas Message” would anyone actually notice? They are all the same vague, inspirational notes cautioning against materialism and calling for the real ‘meaning’ of Christmas to be remembered. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just that this ‘real meaning’ is only ever described in milk-water platitudes or by reference to a composite ‘Christmas story’ that actually means nothing to most people today.
So what if Christmas is ‘actually about the birth of Christ’? What does this mean? And, how, if it has meaning, can it be personally and mystically experienced? These questions are never even asked, let alone answered, in the bland Christmas chattering delivered by the Right Reverends each year. Now, I think I have experienced a little of the answers to these questions, which I will share in a bit. It’s pretty short, so stay with me 🙂
At this point of course, we just have to digress and quote the incredibly apposite Meister Eckhart, a German heretic theologian most Bishops know not of, but whose presence remains strong within certain heterodox and esoteric Christian movements:
We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself? And what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I also do not give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: when the Son of God is begotten in us.
Even those cool ‘progressive’ Christians who love this sort of stuff seldom follow these questions to their ultimate end: meaning is found if we personally birth the ‘son’, the incarnation of God, of the One, within our own time and culture. This of course has nothing do to with Churchianity, or even Christianity. The majority of times, the majority of cultures have never known the Incarnation of the One as part of the Christian religions. And today, in a distinctly post-Christian culture, we are still called to be the Mother of the One, to incarnate and birth the One within us. Whether we are Christian, Pagan, magician or wot-not.
Personally, I think the Christian mysteries, even as expressed outwardly in exoteric liturgy, express this meaning, this inward call to birth the One, much better than the Pagan solstice circles, or even most magical circles. It’s just that most people, especially the gold-robed Bishops, just don’t get what’s right before their eyes. Still, I suppose their business is religion – which people just kinda do, to get through the day – rather than the Mysteries upon which their religion is based. I find the whole thing as sad as I am uplifted and transformed by working the services and liturgies they offer. The operative word here is working, co-creating on the inner levels as the outer church performance goes on.
On Christmas Eve I started the inner work as we drove through the country dark to Midnight Mass. As we drove we were accompanied by the gorgeous voice of my beloved’s 11 year old daughter in the back, singing the Leonard Cohen song ‘Hallelujah’. She was imitating the Jeff Buckley version. I much prefer the original. Connecting deeply through previously constructed inner temples, and moved by the emotion of the lines “And remember when I moved in you / The holy dove was moving too / And every breath we drew was Hallelujah”, I was in a deep and primed state before entering church.
And so, to the Meaning…
Midnight Mass proper begins with the procession of the infant Jesus up through the congregation by the head Priest before being placed in the nativity scene. And really, this simple action carries the entirety of mystical import of the night – the rest of the service being elaboration and analysis (in the magical sense) of the mystery through our lives, bodies, community and the world. Properly understood, we could all go home once this action had been performed.
The priest, as a representative of our own inner priesthood, our own dedicated vocation to serve and commune with the One Being, carries Christ. This means we, ourselves, our lives, are being called to carry the One, to be the vehicle for the Incarnation of the One, just as Meister Eckhart described above. Just as the Golden Dawn teaches that our ‘lower’ personality self must become the lens, the vehicle for the deeper, authentic self, to allow the One Thing to experience itself through creation.
As this procession took place, we in our little church sang the classic ‘O Come All ye Faithful’. The ‘Bethlehem’ in the carol is not a literal, geographical location on earth. It is literally, “the House of Meat” or “the House of Bread” – our physical, earthy lives, our Guph, our bodies able to incarnate the One. We, our lower consciousness, our ‘lower’ spheres of activity are moved by the song and we are called to fully appreciate and know the divinity of the body, of our own selves as a vehicle for the One. And we adore, worship, recognise the worth (the meaning of worship) of the One within flesh, the possibility of our own and others’ conscious co-participation with the One.
Christ, as a child is at once perfect and imperfect, human and divine – Malkuth and Kether, manifest yet drawing on the unmanifest, one of the Many, yet completely the One. This is us, in our full and wonderful potential, as we are meant to be, to fulfil the purpose of the One Being. And this potential, this incredible gift, drawn aloft by arms representing our own dedication is paraded straight through the middle of the congregation. The congregation represents and is the world which is now blessed by the introduction of Christ into its midst, the seed to awaken the potential birth of the One within all of us. This is why it is important to have ‘special occasion’ attendees on these Holy Days – they represent the non-Church goers, the rest of the world and their presence both serves to share the blessings into the community and as reminder that all are interiorly divine.
This procession, the movement of Christ to the altar is the reverse of the normal state of affairs, where Christ comes into the host via the Priest standing in persona Christi at the altar. Here the Christ comes to the congregation via the Host at the front of the Church, where the altar is – the congregation coming to the altar. At Christmas, Christ explicitly comes through the community from the back of the Church. This action, at the moment of Incarnation within the liturgical year, sets the template and base mystery point for the whole Church – Christ within and through the people. The procession is of course retraced every Sunday with the Priests coming up through the congregation, but in most churches, I doubt there is much remembrance of the Incarnation as and through the people being conducted on the inner levels by the Priests. At Christmas though it is explicit and it is wonderful.
Later, when the congregation moves to the altar they trace the journey of their priest, representing their interior vocation, carrying Christ. As we walk we take on this journey, affirm and realise within our bodies the mystery of dedication to the Incarnation of the One within us. We then are met by the Incarnated One in the form of the transubstantiated host, which we consume, sealing the aspiration to Incarnation (via the Christmas walk), with the realised Incarnation in the Host. Qabalistcially we are of course in Tiphareth, where the movement towards the One is met with the One’s movement towards and through us. We are at once fully and beyond body, reaction, thought and emotion – beyond even our self – we simply are and the One is.
And this is the meaning of Christmas. 🙂