The Esoteric Christmas
Undoubtedly the many millions of Christians throughout the world know that the 25th of December is the traditional date for celebrating the birth of Jesus. Very few, perhaps, know that this has not always been so. In fact, it did not become the accepted date for the Christmas festival until nearly the middle of the fourth century A.D. In her book entitled “Esoteric Christianity”, Dr Annie Besant, who was President of the International Theosophical Society for more than a quarter of a century, ending about 1934, quotes Williamson Gibbons, author of “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” and a number of others on this interesting subject. From these I gained the following facts, which should be of interest to all who join in the Christmas festival. Indeed, other spiritual people who regard Christmas as belonging only to the Christians may feel inclined to celebrate the 25th of December themselves when they know its true meaning and implications.
Not knowing and finding it impossible to determine the actual date of the birth of Jesus, Christians of the earliest centuries chose any date for the celebration. It is said that over a hundred different dates were chosen by sects of the Christian church. Dates in September or August, February, March, June and July were chosen by groups of Christians in different countries. Perhaps this did not matter so much but it was certainly better that all should celebrate on the same date. So in the year 337 A.D. the head of the Christian church, Pope Julius (, residing in Rome, decided on the 25th of December as the date for all Christians to celebrate the birth of their Saviour and leader Jesus Christ. At this time, about half of the people of Asia Minor, Europe and North Africa had become Christians, while others retained their old religions, mainly that of ancient Greece. At about this time, or a little earlier, Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire. So it paid those in power, or seeking power, to adopt this new religion.
Now what was the reason for the choice of this date, the 25th of December, above all other possible dates? There must surely have been a good reason and, in fact, there was. The reason goes back through many centuries to time immemorial. It goes back, in truth, to the worship of the sun god or the sun hero who reincarnated every year on that date. This was, of course, connected with the rebirth of the sun in the northern hemisphere. The wise men of ancient times, as do those of esoteric understanding, believed in the maxim, “As above so below and as below so above”. They understood that what happens below on earth is, in a sense, a shadow of more important happenings above. As you and I, having three-dimensional bodies, cast a two-dimensional shadow, so events in the higher spiritual world of many dimensions cast three-dimensional shadows here on earth. We are concerned here with the rebirth of the physical sun on the 25th of December and the parallel rebirth of the sun hero, the one bringing earthly light and the other bringing spiritual Light.
At midnight on the 24th of December, known as the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere, where our culture had its roots , the sun, which had been declining for six months and seemed likely to leave the earth forever, was suddenly reborn. The reincarnating sun rose above the eastern horizon, proceeding through the constellation of Virgo just above the horizon. So it was that on the early morning of the 25th of December the sun was reborn through a virgin. This was the great and wonderful event to the earth below. But, in the world above, there was a parallel, a yet even greater event. To the wise men of the ancients and likewise to the modern esotericists, a life-giving saviour sun is the body of the spirit known as the Logos. The dictionary gives two meanings to this word Logos, one is the Son of God and the other the Word of God. It is the Son of God, whether he be considered a messenger or an Avatar, who brings to man the wisdom of God in words. The new-born physical sun is at first a weak infant. He seems to struggle against the dark, which is predominant while the nights are longer than the days, and this valiant struggle of the youthful sun continues until he reaches the line of the spring equinox. And when he crosses that, he is said to be crucified and rises triumphantly to ripen the corn and fruits, thus bringing warmth and sustenance to the creatures on earth. His life-giving ascension into the heavens continues until the summer solstice in June, then he begins his six-monthly decline until the next winter solstice in December.
The Logos or Godman, who descends to earth to bring the divine Light and thus save mankind from spiritual death, has many parallels in his birth and life with his symbol, the physical sun. For one thing, he is always and inevitably born of a virgin as the sun is born through the cosmic virgin. The mother of the Godman may not be a virgin in the physiological sense but she is always so in the spiritual sense. Let us think of the few whom we know, Isis of ancient Egypt was the virgin mother of Horus, one of the Godmen light-bringers. Devaki, the mother of Krishna was of a spiritually pure virginal nature and in some accounts of Krishna’s birth his mother, Devaki, was a physiological virgin. The Chinese account of the birth of Buddha claims that his mother, Mayadevi, was a pure virgin. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a virgin according to the biblical account, while all accounts show her to be a spiritually pure woman. Those of us who are fortunate to have known Eswaramma, the physical mother of our Avatar, Sathya Sai Baba, know that she was pure and virginal of heart. It would seem that none of the saintly mothers of the Godmen had any bad karma to adversely affect the bodies of those Godmen who came to earth through their wombs.
Knowing something of the lives of the great Avatars of history, we can see more easily through them, the continuing parallel of their lives with that of the new-born sun. They too suffered in the early part of their lives from the threats of the spiritual darkness around them. The Avatars are not, of course, born every year like the physical sun, but they reincarnate at the end of a cosmic year when the spiritual light is fading and the power of darkness comes near to eliminating the last shreds of spirituality in the hearts of men. Then in the boyhood of the young Avatar the parallel with the sun continues. His life is still threatened by the power of darkness. We know the threat to the baby Krishna by his wicked uncle Kamsa was there from the very beginning of his life and continued through his childhood. We know how, when he heard of the birth of the baby Jesus, the prince of darkness King Herod, who had heard in a prophecy that this child would be a threat to his throne, had all the male children born about the same time in Israel slaughtered to make sure that he had eliminated the threat to his power. But an angelic messenger had warned the baby’s parents and they took the young Jesus into Egypt where he lived until the threat to his life was over. We know, too, how the dark forces worked through certain ignorant and misguided villagers to kill the young Sathya Sai through poison and fire.
But is this interesting, strange parallel with the life of the sun seen also in the many sun heroes who have come to help mankind through past ages? Annie Besant states that this is so and that the similarity in the pattern of their lives is too great to be accounted for by a mere coincidence. Today we do not, of course, think of a sun hero, a saviour, as he was called, being born every year at the winter solstice, as perhaps some of the ancient peoples did. Oddly, however, in a metaphorical way we do think of him being born each Christmas. As Rudolph Steiner points out, in some of the Christmas carols we sing ‘Christ is born on earth today’, ‘Today the angels are rejoicing and singing on earth as well as in the heavens’.
Perhaps in past ages many of the ancient peoples celebrated the 25th of December not because a new sun hero was born but to rejoice in the birth of one born in past years. The Celtic peoples, for example, used to light fires on the hills of Scotland and other countries on the 25th of December, and the bells would ring in rejoicing and thanksgiving to Bael, one of the ancient Light-bringers. When they became Christians, the Celts continued lighting the bonfires in honour of the new saviour and redeemer, Jesus Christ. How appropriate it was that the Christian leaders in Rome in the year 337 A.D. chose this date to celebrate the birth of Jesus! Whenever he was actually born, was he not the great and recent bringer of the spiritual Light and therefore the Saviour and redeemer of mankind?
Another of the ancient light-bringers, or sun heroes, was Dionysius of ancient Greece, renamed Bacchus by the Romans. In Rome itself, it seemed very useful and appropriate that on this day any ritual celebration by the Christians would hardly be noticed and attacked by the non-Christian Romans who were busy noisily celebrating the birth of Bacchus who, as well as being a sun god, was also the god of the grapevine. A good deal of noisy celebration and drinking seemed called for. Also sports and games were part of the Roman celebrations of the birthday of Bacchus. Altogether it was safe for the Christians to hold their quiet spiritual rejoicings on this day. Christians were not altogether safe from violence even at that period in the first half of the fourth century A.D.
So the Christmas rejoicings and celebrations go back into the dawn of time. We can hear the bells ringing out through the many centuries, giving it a greater dimension. As well as this greater dimension in length, the concept of Christmas gains also a greater width. It embraces not only the birth of Jesus but of all other bringers of spiritual Light. We can include all of them, Rama, Krishna, Buddha, Sai Baba in both of his births and others we know and appreciate, in our prayers of thanksgiving and our songs of joy on that special day of the year, the 25th of December, honoured and sanctified through so many generations of our forefathers and perhaps by ourselves in former incarnations. We do not need to belong to a Christian church. We do not even need to think of ourselves as Christians in order to open our hearts and minds in unity with all our brothers and sisters on the earth and of all time and feel our oneness with the one and only God, who has periodically paid his special compassionate appearances on earth in the many forms and under the many names we know and of so many more that we do not know.
Sai Baba teaches us this by holding Christmas celebrations at Prashanti Nilayam each year. And though I have spent Christmas in many lands among many peoples, those held at Prashanti Nilayam are the most spiritual and meaningful that I have ever experienced. Thinking of Christmas in this esoteric way helps us to feel in our spiritual hearts the unity, the love in all religions, as Sathya Sai Baba teaches us to understand and accept.
Reference:: “The Lights of Home” by Howard Murphet