During the autumn equinox light and darkness are precisely in balance with each other. Subsequently the influence of the darkness begins to increase more and more as the power of the light is fading. The darkness is the deepest around Christmas and we can only wait in confidence until the light is born again. That is how people of yore experienced the alternation and struggle between the light and the darkness in their own lives.
Before villages and towns were bathed in electric light, the increasing darkness was almost tangible to the inhabitants and they could not help but eagerly await the new light. They heard stories about the miraculous birth that took place in this darkness in the distant past: God’s son was born in a hidden place in order to liberate humanity from the darkness. The light that would soon become stronger again was a sign of this birth. It was not only an external light but could also be experienced as an inner light that pierced the darkness of everyday life.
Christmas has always been interpreted in a spiritual way in the Christian mystical movements. It is not so much important whether the son of God ever came to be born on earth or not; what matters is that his birth is going to take place within us. Not until the rise of the Rosicrucian movement in the 17th century and the increasing influence of the writings of Jacob Boehme was the inner meaning of Christmas discussed more and more outside the monastery walls: Christmas is not so much the commemoration of an historical event but rather a miracle that can happen to all of us; it is the birth of this son within us.
The Christian Theosophical tradition of Jacob Boehme relates that we are living in darkness as long as there has not been an inner transformation or rebirth. What to our ordinary eyes is light, is deep darkness to the inner being. This tradition emphasizes that we should make a radical distinction between the outer and the inner man. We are the outer being, as it is functioning in our daily lives.
Our attention is constantly drawn to our sensory experiences. But above all we are governed by the incessant flow of our thoughts, feelings, fantasies and desires. Although we believe that we ourselves are the source of this continuous flow, we are unable to stop it. Consequently we are determined by this stream, rather than the opposite. Since this condition is comparable to the dream state, most traditions emphasize that we are not awake in our daily lives, but rather still asleep. The only difference between daytime sleep and the ‘normal’ night time sleep is that during the former we do respond to all kinds of sensory stimuli. And just as during sleep we believe to be awake, even in our so-called waking state we are still in a kind of sleep.
But what or who, then, is the inner man? It is the soul which can be born within us. Just as Jesus was born of Mary, so may the soul be born of us, external people. For that reason, Angelus Silesius, a pupil of the Christian Theosophical and Rosicrucian tradition, wrote:
What good does Gabriel’s “Ave, Mary” do
Unless he give me that same greeting too?
We can – like Mary – learn to no longer identify ourselves with the incessant flow of thoughts, feelings and desires. But that implies that we, outer beings, need to wake up and be willing to listen to the words that Gabriel and other messengers speak to us. Living in our darkness, but awakened by these messengers, we learn to say in complete self-surrender: let it be to me according to your word. Therefore, Angelus Silesius said:
Be silent, silent, dearest one,
Only be silent utterly.
Then far beyond thy farthest wish
God will show goodness unto thee.
In order to receive this message, it should become silent within us so that we can become focused. It means that we no longer automatically respond to whatever we are being told, but that we are really going to listen, and – like Mary – keep the words in our hearts like a seed that will later be able to unfold. This attentive attitude of life is a necessary condition for the inner man – the Son of God – to be born within us.
Such an attitude to life means that we learn to listen and observe in a responsive manner. Usually, however, we have already made up our minds before the other person has finished speaking and we do not really listen to what he or she is telling us. Only rarely do we let ourselves be surprised by what presents itself to us in the world. For we have seen it all so many times; by now we know what the world looks like. A receptive mode of perception, however, suddenly allows the everyday things to present themselves to us in new and refreshing ways.That is the beginning of the return of the light!
When we are waiting, being quiet and receptive, then the light can penetrate into the darkness of our waking consciousness; then the moment of the inner Christmas has arrived. The outer human being lives mainly from the head; hence the incessant stream of thoughts that constantly drags us along. On the other hand, in the tradition of the Rosycross, the heart takes the central place, often symbolized by the rose. The heart will open, to the extent that we learn to live our lives with attention. As Angelus Silesius said:
Thy heart receives God’s dew and all that with Him goes
When it expands toward Him as does an opening rose.
Dew is an alchemical symbol. When the dew descends from heaven on the outer man who has died, then the resurrection will take place: the soul – the son of God – will arise from the earthly shell of the outer man. Indeed, this process means that the outer man must die. If we no longer speak and act from our own will and desire, but instead become attentive and receptive to the soul, then the outer man actually begins to die. Without this process of dying – without the darkness that precedes the birth of the light – the birth of the soul cannot take place:
If He should live in you, God first Himself must die.
How would you, without death, inherit His own life?
Without this birth, our life as an outer human being is infertile. The outer man is composed of dust and will return to dust. This ‘dust’ refers not only to the physical body but to our entire personality, to everything with which we usually identify ourselves. We should learn to let go of all this, because:
Though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem were born,
but not within thy self, thy soul will be forlorn.
That sounds serious, and it is. But the annual return of the light which we celebrate at Christmas reminds us ever again of the light that can be born within us. The annual – and daily – return of the outer light nourishes our hope and our confidence that the miracle of the birth can also take place in us.
Spiritual Christmas, introduction