My favourite carol is actually a poem, which is not something that can be said for all of them. ‘It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” was written in 1849 by Edmund Hamilton Sears, but its words, like all truths, speak directly to us NOW. These words reflect the ancient wisdom that there is an age of gold waiting the other side of the confusion and angst of modern life.
I like to think in broad brush strokes at this and every other time of the year. To me the baby in the manger represents the dawn of new possibilities, reflecting the idea that ‘There is one river of Truth which receives tributaries from either side’ (Clement of Alexandria). The myth of Jesus being born in a manger points to the single truth that there is a perpetual possibility of spiritual rebirth.
The Christmas story is a beautiful and ancient one, a lot older than the New Testament in which we read it today. The annual celebration of the nativity of the Mystery godman celebrated the death of the old year and the miraculous rebirth of the new year at the date of the solstice. The sun or the son, either way this is a celebration and a retelling of the myth is an important part of that celebration. Pagan spirituality was a sophisticated product of a now forgotten but well- developed culture. The Jesus story is a close retelling of Pagan myth. It mirrors closely the Osiris myth of Egypt or the Dionysus myth. Born in a cave to a virgin mother, and dying at Easter as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, the common motifs are so many that the only wonder is how few people know this.
Whichever myth you choose the resonance is there. The Mystery speaks to humans on a deep level. We have to believe in some form of atonement, restitution and redemption, or life is not worth living. What people find in the shopping malls of the world at this time is but a weak mirroring of the message but it is there hidden in the tinsel and the fairy lights. It is there in the exchange of gifts. But most of all it is there in the need to be with our own at this time, even if it all ends in tears.
Eight million people in the UK have set off today to be with their families at Christmas. With cars piled high with hope and parcels gift wrapped late at night, they will sit in queues on motorways. They may well hear the words of my favourite carol over the airwaves. But will they heed the meaning?
‘For lo! the days are hastening on, by prophets seen of old, when with the ever- circling years, shall come the time foretold.
When the new heaven and earth shall own, the prince of peace their king. And the whole world send back the song, which now the angels sing.’
It is the time of year to be busy… and jolly. It is also the time to practise the richness of seasonal soulcraft: to heed the words of Hildegard of Bingen.
‘Glance at the sun. See the moon and the stars. Gaze at the beauty of earth’s greenings. Now. Think.’