BY JAMES SALE TIMEDECEMBER 24, 2022
Don’t you love Christmas? I do, and I am especially looking forward to it this year.
My anticipation is partly due to the two years or more of COVID restrictions and lockdowns. We’ve also been inundated with reports of climate change. This past summer we were terrified by a bout of hot weather, and the word “drought” kept appearing, along with “climate change.” Since then, we have had downpours. Now, we hear the words “floods” and, of course, “climate change.” Along with the peril of being swept away, what we are hearing about now is the terror of Avian flu!
So, Christmas, then, might just prove to be that wonderful respite, relief, and restoration that most of us crave. Christmas offers us time to be at home, time to be with family, time to relax. Well, let’s hope so; let’s hope that is the case for most people.
The Nicene Creed
Perhaps I should stop idealizing Christmas; hasn’t it always been fundamentally flawed: spoiled, commercialized, its true values destroyed? What is Christmas really about? What is its point? Why do people long for it. In short, what is the real meaning of Christmas?
Doubtless, we will all have our own ideas, but for me Christmas can be expressed in five simple words extracted from the Nicene Creed.
Christmas can be expressed in five simple words extracted from the Nicene Creed: “He came down from heaven.” This is an icon depicting the Nicene Creed of 325. (Public Domain)
Creeds often tend to be divisive, but I think in this instance we have plenty of scope to interpret these how we want, whether literally, mythologically, 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 … .” Christmas is about “coming down.” That is the direction that God enters our lives.
Human beings, by way of contrast, want to go “up: to ascend, to have more, to grow further. But God comes down. Humans have enthroned themselves in the heaven of their own egos, exalted their own self-importance, and drawn immense satisfaction from promoting the works of their own hands.
By contrast, God comes down, and that is what we must recall. For this is what Christmas allows us to do: to be our true selves, to forget our false self-image and projections, particularly those we wear at work. Instead, we can lay all that aside and be true (or truer) to ourselves by doing little, by being with loved ones, and by being grateful. Indeed, by relaxing.
Our True State
I remember when I nearly died of cancer over a decade ago now. Before it, I had been a strong, self-confident individual who could seemingly do anything I wanted to, or had set my heart on achieving; I scarcely felt a sense of limitation.
But as I’d lain there in the hospital bed, getting weaker and weaker, my ego drained away and I began to see—to use a Biblical phrase—that my “own right arm could not save me.” I was helpless.
If I was going to survive and to live, some other power would have to rescue me. And being in that state is just like being a baby—helpless, dependent—and that is what Christmas on an annual basis reminds us of. In terms of the cosmos, of fate and destiny, we are all babes, subject to a greater and superior power.
As I left the hospital, it was so easy to forget how real my vulnerability was when I was nearly dead, and to allow those old habits of self-importance to return.
So, whatever our faith (for all faiths have a God or Tao who finds us where we are), Christmas reminds us that God comes down, partly because that is how God meets us, and partly because with God there is no false self-image that God has or needs to vaunt or exult Himself. God is reality, and we crave reality: to be who we really are without all the pretence.
Why do people love their pets? Because their pets are always authentic, and so are their affections. When your cat wants to be stroked, there’s no pretense. Why do we love babies? We call it their innocence, but it’s a similar thing to having pets: When a baby smiles at you, it’s authentic. There is no pretense.
Christmas is that moment toward the end of the year that we get to see the real baby: the no-ego baby, the baby open to all experience, the baby available to everyone (mom, dad, stable animals, shepherds, wise men, and all), and the baby who is utterly vulnerable: the baby who is a gift. Wow!
God came down from heaven in the form of a baby. “Adoration of the Shepherds,” 1485, by Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1485. (Public Domain)
We don’t need to be a Christian to realize that this is something special; an atheist, too, can appreciate that this is an extraordinary story that warms the heart.
Let’s all come down from our highfalutin’ ego-mountains and return to our child-like selves: that is, like the baby. If we could do this all the time, how much better would this world be?
Perhaps just trying it at Christmas is enough. Let’s do it then at this time year, at least.
May 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.” Down is the Way.