*Editors Note: Text within parentheses are comments by Dennis Sutton.|
Christmas is a holiday to celebrate the turning point where the sun no longer moves southward in declination, but has begun to move northward and thus promises more abundant light and the heat necessary for the crops of another year. A quick glance at an ephemeris will reveal that the Sun's declination on December 23rd is 23S26 (its farthest distance from the earth) and on December 25th its declination is 23S24 having reached the turning point and begun its northward movement. And it is also a holiday of spiritual significance; for this light of the sun has always been considered the most fitting emblem of information and spiritual illumination, and it's heat the comforting power of divine protection.
In various regions of the Old World Christmas was celebrated ages before Christianity came along; and in the New World the Maya, the Aztecs and the Indians of the Southwestern United States staged ceremonies in its honour long before the White Man landed on these shores. In fact, the winter solstice (usually December 22nd ) when the Sun reaches its farthest declination south was the commencement of the calendar for these people.
This day was easy to ascertain; for at noon on the day of the solstice a stake driven into the ground, or a tree, would cast its longest shadow. Therefore, by tracing in the snow or dust the movements of the tip of the shadow for several consecutive days about that time, and observing when the crescent of the moving shadow was farthest north of the tree or stake near noon, the day of the winter solstice, and the beginning of the calendar year, could be easily established.
For several days, however, the Sun at the solstitial point has no apparent north or south motion. And while this apparent stationary position in declination is not always exactly three days, the approximate time of THREE days has other mystical significance relating to body, soul and spirit; as in the story of the gifts of the THREE Wise Men of the East. Thus it has been the custom in various lands not to celebrate the 'turning back of the sun', until three days after the solstice when the noon shadow of the marking stake could be discerned to be starting to shorten.
Whatever the true significance of a holiday may be, those who celebrate it tend to warp it into the patterns of their own strongest desires. There are some, for instance, who use Christmas and Thanksgiving as an excuse for getting drunk; yet certainly the Pilgrim fathers who gave thanks for safety and sustenance would not have countenanced drinking to excess, nor is there anything which I can discern in the beginning of the return of light and warmth to a bleak and crop-barren earth which justifies people gorging themselves with food. If they do these things, it is not in celebration of these holidays, but because the holidays give them an excuse to satisfy such desires.
Christmas occurs at the time of the year when the light of the sun, representing both intelligence and spiritual illumination, is weakest. And if you look around the world today you will find civil wars, ethnic hatred and repressive regimes which try to suppress liberty of consciousness; and each moulds spiritual aspiration, which could express through religion, into a barbaric pattern. In some countries where dictators are fattening themselves on the spoils taken from unpopular minorities, the true cultivation of intelligence is forbidden. For instance, the Burmese, Malaysian and Iraqi peoples, are only permitted access to such information as those in power wish them to have. The restrictive, selfish, crystallizing side of Saturn's sign Capricorn, where the sun holds forth on Christmas, has a dominant influence in these and many other countries on the globe.
Even in America (and Australia) we have our Saturn and Lower-Pluto (work, poverty and insecurity) problems. Thank God the light is not dim in these countries. In America (and Australia) we are still permitted to seek spiritual satisfaction and intellectual illumination in our own way. But even though many people are experiencing the warmth of the current economic conditions there are still millions of people, able and willing to work, who cannot find employment in America and more than 39 million people (in 1993) living under the poverty line (defined as an annual income of $14,763 for a family of four).
The recording of these world and national facts is not to focus on gloom and pessimism. The recognizing that the world, and even these United States, is at the bottom rung of the cycle is in strict harmony with the true significance of Christmas. In the Bible story, it represents the time when Herod (Saturn) was in power and sought the life of the newborn infant. It recognizes that a period of dearth is yet ahead before a new crop can be planted. Spring is not yet here. There are many hardships ahead, and their seriousness should not be minimized.
Christmas signifies all this; but in addition, now that things seem at their darkest, it also holds forth the promise of a better time to come. There will be dangers to be escaped, even as in the Bible story the child was taken to Egypt that it might not be slain. Those having its custody did not remain idle, to await the wrath of Herod. Energetically they did that which would insure protection. And we who hold custody of the Religion of the Stars, the light which will illuminate the world of tomorrow, must not permit sloth or negligence to prevent us from preserving it and assisting in its growth.
In the Bible story the Wise Men of the East brought presents of three different kinds - Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh; and we, the members of the Church of Light, are the modern representatives of these Wise Men. It is from these Wise Men that we derive our teachings. And like them we should have presents of three different kinds to distribute. But we, in the true spirit of Christmas, should give them in the measure that we can, to one and all.
Gold, of course, is a symbol of things spiritual. Surely we can pass on to others the spiritual benefits we already possess, and thus give them a glimpse of the still greater spiritual gifts they can receive if they also devote their lives to Contributing their Utmost to Universal Welfare. The other two gifts, frankincense and myrrh, are the symbols of intellectual things (thoughts and ideas) and those things that are purely physical.
Within the Brotherhood of Light lessons are recorded facts and the expanded principles which, when understood, will benefit the life of any person. These thoughts when given to others are valuable presents. And now, with widespread physical suffering often due to illness and poverty, and psychological suffering due to the war on terror and the fear, anxiety and uncertainty caused by terror networks, there is ample opportunity everywhere to minister to the physical and psychological needs of others. It may be a basket of food to a family which is hungry, it may be clothing to one who is cold and ill-clad, it may be a healing thought to one who is ill, or a friendly smile to one who is downcast and unhappy; and these helpful actions are gifts of the nature of myrrh.
Now if you desire to celebrate Christmas in its true spirit, speak of the better things to come, the new harvest of blessings for the Earth that will surely arrive if each of us will plant the seed and tend it industriously. Such is the significance of the conventional lighted tree.
And like the other Wise Men of tradition, see that presents are given. Give to those in need. And while you will naturally tend to give gifts and things of the nature of physical myrrh, don't forget to give your intellectual frankincense, and your spiritual gold. For today, as never before, each and every one of us has the need to express this true spirit of Christmas.