FOR many of us, Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year. Sometimes there is so much to do that the human demands seem to drive out the spirit of Christ that should be filling our hearts and thoughts.
At times like this, I find it helpful to think again about the Christmas story as it is told in Luke's Gospel. It would be fair to say that most of the key players in that account were also busy. Mary and Joseph had to make a journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem just at the end of Mary's pregnancy. The city of Bethlehem was so full of travelers that the couple had to sleep in a stable, where the child Jesus was born.
That night, shepherds were out watching their flocks--until an angel came and told them, ``Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy .... For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord'' (Luke 2:10, 11). I've always been impressed by the decision of the shepherds to leave their flocks--their particular human activities--and immediately act on what they had heard. In fact, Luke's Gospel says, ``And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger'' (2:16).
If this had been an ordinary child, the shepherds might not have been galvanized by what they had heard and seen. Yet long before the great works that Jesus was later to do, they perceived something of the Christ he represented. They felt God's love for man and were able to rejoice in it.
That's really what you and I also want when we find ourselves overwhelmed by the material pressures of the holiday season. Instead of struggling with the human details, we can step aside and take a few quiet moments to understand just what Christmas is.
Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer of Christian Science, has written a number of insightful essays on the spiritual nature of Christmas. One of them is reprinted in The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany. In it she says, ``The basis of Christmas is the rock, Christ Jesus; its fruits are inspiration and spiritual understanding of joy and rejoicing,--not because of tradition, usage, or corporeal pleasures, but because of fundamental and demonstrable truth, because of the heaven within us'' (p. 260).
So however important gifts or visits or traditions may seem to be, our Christmas goal should be to see divine Truth and Love actively expressed in our lives. When we do this, we inevitably find that we can discern--and abandon --unnecessary activities. At the same time we are able to do all the things we actually need to do for our loved ones. By identifying ourselves with Spirit, rather than matter, we are turning to Christ, the spiritual ideal, and are affirming our inseparability from God, good, as God's likeness. Taking these steps genuinely changes our thoughts and activities because we are now looking at our lives--and the Christmas season-- from a spiritual standpoint.
As divine Love's spiritual ideas, we naturally include the desire and ability to express divine Love. This may sometimes take form in our human lives as obtaining or making Christmas gifts or doing similar things for the holiday. But when we are able to see our activities as a deeper, spiritual opportunity, the mental and physical burden begins to lift. Instead of worrying about what gift to get for Aunt Alice, for example, our thoughts can be opened to what Love is inspiring us to express toward Aunt Alice. Focusing on love opens our eyes to new ideas about good, and in this way we operate on the basis of inspiration. Like the shepherds, we are hurrying to do the most important thing--to represent the Christ each day.
And like the shepherds, we don't need to lose our grip on the joy that Christ brings to us. The Bible tells us, ``The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them'' (Luke 2:20).
We too can know rejoicing and glory this Christmas and in the days that follow ``because of the heaven within us.''