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The Real Christmas Message   1 comment

by Allison Phinney

FOR SOME YEARS, just before Christmas holidays, I’d find myself working late at the office downtown. By the time I finally left, stores would be closing, crowds gone, and I’d emerge into a wide, bare urban plaza after dusk. Only a stray business executive or two, carrying home packages from some last-minute shopping, would be hurrying by in the cold.

Without people around, the standard decorations on lampposts and the lighted trees seemed less than cheery—bleak, even. And you couldn’t help feeling there wasn’t a lot in all those tall, grand buildings, now emptied, that could ultimately satisfy the spirit of their daily occupants. Busyness, fleeting prestige, a high income level, wouldn’t do it. Walking along in the darkness, I felt keenly the need all of us have to look elsewhere for the heart and soul of our lives.

Today’s array of holiday festivities offers a temporary sort of warm respite from bleakness. But, interestingly, it is the simple, original Christmas story that still holds the greatest practical promise for lifting the hearts of everyone.

Read the Christmas story as though you’ve come upon it for the first time—not just being swept along by the rhythm and beauty of the language through each of the familiar scenes—and you’ll find it can seem strikingly new. At the heart of the story, of course, are a birth and a baby, usually one of the most hopeful and unselfish of human moments. Who hasn’t felt a rush of pure love and hope for the newest addition to someone’s family! But in this case the child immediately becomes a sign of hope for the world.

From the beginning of the careful account in Luke’s Gospel, the story is clearly about real people, in a real time, in a real place. The journey to pay taxes in crowded Bethlehem has a factual basis. Herod the Great appears in history books. Mary, the mother-to-be, has recognizable concerns and doubts about the message she is hearing, even as she shows a transforming spiritual obedience and love for God. Joseph, her husband, isn’t a naive man, but he consciously loves and trusts Mary’s purity and goodness.

The baby Jesus is born in a stable (some say a cave, where the animals were kept). When the shepherds arrive and relate their amazing experience of God’s light and glory, they apparently already know of this birth. We realize they have been expecting the fulfillment of prophecy regarding a coming Messiah. Obviously, this tiny child is identified with a message of huge dimensions from the very beginning. The shepherds and the wise men and Mary were not mistaken. The child grew up to have meaning for an entire world.

Christ Jesus would teach—and make evident—that God is unlimited good, beyond all previous human conceiving. He would show again and again that this good is in fact never absent, or at some remove from human life, but is in the midst of it as a vital presence and power—literally, “God-with-us.” Through Jesus’ parables and beatitudes, and above all his own example and healings, he would fill people with a new, illumined understanding of life. He would describe himself as “the light of the world” (John 9:5). He would tell others they, too, were light in a dark world—if they received and understood his message that their actual nature is the very expression of God, whom, the Bible describes as Love and Spirit (see Matt. 5:14).

If we yearn for the answer to the bleakness arising out of a material sense of existence, here’s where it’s found—in this light of Christ that outshines all the gloom. And this answer infuses Christmas with a meaning and joy that nothing else can. Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered the nature of Jesus’ original Christianity to be scientific in the most profound sense, wrote of Christmas: “I celebrate Christmas with my soul, my spiritual sense, and so commemorate the entrance into human understanding of the Christ conceived of Spirit, of God and not of a woman—as the birth of Truth, the dawn of divine Love breaking upon the gloom of matter and evil with the glory of infinite being” (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 262).

After a major healing experience, which came spiritually, Mrs. Eddy felt her eyes being opened to the true dimensions of Jesus’ life. She began to see how perpetually thinking that matter and its constraints were more definitive, more real in her life, than God, had severely circumscribed her own understanding of Him. After that healing, she gave three years of her life almost exclusively to intensive study of the Bible and to prayer, looking for answers as to how she had been healed. She wasn’t satisfied to believe this was a rare instance of blind faith having an effect on the body. And it hadn’t been. She realized that she was being shown practically that no one’s life has ever been locked into the material existence that seems so real, but that life is actually in and of God, Spirit, regardless of appearances.

Mrs. Eddy linked Christian healing closely to Christmas. She wrote, for example, in her article “The Cry of Christmas-tide”: “In different ages the divine idea assumes different forms, according to humanity’s needs. In this age it assumes, more intelligently than ever before, the form of Christian healing. This is the babe we are to cherish. This is the babe that twines its loving arms about the neck of omnipotence, and calls forth infinite care from His loving heart” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896, p. 370).

Each of Jesus’ so-called healing “miracles”—such as the healing of Lazarus, of an epileptic boy, of lepers, and of blind, deaf, and paralyzed people—broke all the so-called rules and laws of a material universe. If these events were merely mysterious exceptions, they couldn’t be repeated. Jesus wouldn’t have taught his disciples the healing power of understanding the God who is infinitely good. He wouldn’t have told them, “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give” (Matt. 10:8).

These departures from material laws actually uncovered the consistent laws underlying existence, which were spiritual, not material. These Christianly scientific laws of being had never changed, Mrs. Eddy realized. They still existed, and on their basis Christian healing could be restored. As she herself came to understand the true nature of prayer, she saw healing after healing take place for those she prayed for.

Mrs. Eddy saw that the most effective prayer excludes fear. Instead, it opens thought to the immense goodness of God, to the perfect divine Principle, Love, rather than asking God to change something. Thousands of students to whom she taught Christian Science learned to heal through prayer and spiritual understanding. Today the same kind of healing flows from this larger view of God.

Healing that comes exclusively through prayer is still widely disbelieved in an intensively materially minded and skeptical society. This atmosphere of human thought acts to distance anyone from the spiritual experience of knowing God. It tends to limit even devoted Christianity. The good news is that even a little unselfish love reopens the door of thought to more of the love and goodness that are at the center of life. But the greater good news is that the entire spiritual universe of God’s goodness, what Jesus referred to as the kingdom of heaven within (see Luke 17:21), is already here—and we are each included in it.

We do need awareness of God in our everyday living—we need to keep growing into the understanding that God is All-in-all, is our Life, now—if we are to feel the naturalness of Christian healing. As Jesus practiced healing, it was more than compassion for humanity, even more than an impressive sign that he’d been given divine authority. It was the actual presence of God and God’s love for His creation—a very new sense of Life—becoming apparent. As the bleak clouds of a material sense of existence, with its sickness, evil, and sadness, break apart, the light of Christ, the true idea of God, pours through. We, too, become more conscious of the good already present. This irresistible effect is what characterizes true healing.

Even though I’m involved daily in the practice of Christian Science healing, I was recently surprised simply to see how many healings I’d been hearing about over a period of only a few months. These were coming along in e-mails, letters, phone calls, and by word of mouth. They came from friends, acquaintances, students whom I had taught in Christian Science classes, and fellow Christian Science practitioners. I realized I’d heard of healings of medically diagnosed cancer presumed to be terminal, of a broken toe, and of a shortened leg. Healings of a long-standing hernia, severe heart problems, concussion, symptoms of cystic fibrosis and of multiple sclerosis, hemorrhaging, psychological problems, and a child’s diagnosed deafness.

Christmas in its true light can’t possibly be overwhelmed by the bleakness of a material existence. The real Christmas message—the healing “Cry of Christmastide”—is telling us of unlimited good, of endless spiritual meaning and love to be learned, giving a new and infinite dimension to the good we have far too tentatively assigned to God. Christmas is, after all, God’s own message to humanity.

Click here to listen to this article or to read it directly from the December 25, 2006 edition of the Christian Science Sentinel.

Allison “Skip” Phinney is a Christian Science practitioner and teacher. He lives in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.

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