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Volume 4 - Issue 12 DECEMBER 2006
 
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WHEN DIVINITY DESCENDS...

The Untold Story of Christmas



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In the Beginning was the Word

In the beginning was the Word,
And the Word was with God,
And the Word was God

And the Word became flesh
And dwelt among us
Full of Glory and Truth

All things were made and came into existence through Him
And without Him was not even one thing made
That has come into being

He came into the world,
And though the world was made through Him,
The world did not recognize Him.

But to as many that did receive and welcome Him,
He gave the authority,
To realize their inner Divinity.

This beautiful prologue of St. John eloquently describes the Divine phenomenon when the Formless Cosmic Consciousness decides to assume form and dwell among us. This time He chose a Name “Jesus” and pitched His tent in Nazareth, a humble hamlet in Galilee. Christians all over the world celebrate this Divine Drama at Christmas, a word coined from “Christ” and “Mass”.  “Christ” means “Messiah” or “Anointed One”, the title given to Jesus, and “mass” is a religious festival.

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Christmas Beyond the Barriers of Creed, Country, Caste, and Colour in Prasanthi Nilayam

Christmas Is for the Whole of Humanity

Jesus is not only for Christians, Jesus is for humanity. Nay, Jesus is for the whole of Creation. As such the birth of Jesus is a cosmic event. It is therefore necessary to ponder, during this sacred season, the very meaning and significance of Jesus’ birth.  Who is Jesus? What was the purpose of His birth? What was the message He left for Humanity? How should we celebrate Christmas? How can we make the purpose of Jesus’ birth the very purpose of our own birth? In other words, how can we live and die for the same purpose for which Jesus lived and died? These questions have become very urgent in our world today where people have lost the inner significance of the advent of Divinity.

The celebration of Christmas has become hollow with materialistic pomp and fanfare. For many, the season of Christmas has become synonymous with riotous festivities in sensual gratification, animal slaughter and financial turnovers. For others, Christmas is a time to go to church, sing carols and exchange Christmas presents with friends and relations. Today, more children believe in Father Christmas than in Jesus. The real meaning of Christmas has been forgotten.

We must remind ourselves that Christmas is the day Divinity is born in our hearts. The symbol of Christmas is the star; a light in the darkness. That light is not outside oneself but shining in the Heaven within. The celebration of Christmas must take the form of awakening to the Light of Eternal Reality. This is the very purpose of the Descent of Divinity: to make us realize our formless Divine state.  How we realize this purpose depends greatly on our understanding and application of the inner significance of the Divine birth. Understanding gives clarity to our intentions; clarity of intentions lends righteousness to our actions and right actions leads man’s steps back to his source, God.

The Hope of Israel Fulfilled

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The City of Bethlehem

Long time ago, the Jewish Prophets foretold the coming of the Messiah. Seven hundred and thirty years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Micah had said,

“But you Bethlehem, though you are small,
Out of you will come for me one who will be shepherd over Israel,
One whose origins are from of Old, from ancient times” (Micah 5 .2)

The Prophet Isaiah had written extensively about the coming of the Messiah and His Nature.  One of these says,

“A child is born to us! A son is given to us!
And the government will rest on his shoulders.
These will be His royal titles: “Wonderful Counselor”,
“Mighty God”,  “Eternal Father”, “Prince of Peace”.
His ever expanding peaceful government will never end.
He will rule forever with fairness and justice
From the throne of his ancestor David.” (Isaiah 9:6)

Over the years, Israel had lived under many political subjugation. As time passed by, the idea of the Messiah was narrowed to a political figure who was to come to free the Jews from political bondage. This belief became very strong at the time of Jesus when the Jews were under Roman rule. (63 B.C) The Messianic prophecies made the Jews live in hope, waiting and watching for the time when the promised messiah will come. But when finally the messiah came, he came not as a political king with royal birth and prestige, but as a humble poor person born to a peasant family. Jesus came not as a warring and conquering king but as a humble Lamb. His Kingdom was not of this world. The Kingdom over which he rules is of the spiritual order. He came not to overthrow a political regime but to enthrone a spiritual revolution.  It was a revolution which has turned around the history of humanity ever since He died on the cross. 

The Immaculate Conception

Mary, the chosen mother of Jesus was a humble peasant teenage girl. She was pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. According to the Jewish tradition, after betrothal, the young girl stays apart from the fiancé for a period of one year. The actual wedding takes place at the end of this period after which they come to live together. It was during this period of betrothal that God sent the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary in the City of Galilee named Nazareth.

The little room in which Mary was staying suddenly lit up with heavenly brilliance. The radiance of the light overflowed Mary’s soul and filled her heart. The angel said to her: “Hail, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you”. Mary was greatly troubled at these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be! “Is this a vision or am I day dreaming?” Mary wondered with awe. But the angel comforted Mary and said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary. You have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son and you are to give Him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David and He will give Him the house of Jacob forever. His Kingdom will never end”.

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The Angel Appearing to Mary
 
Mother Mary and the Infant Jesus

At this, Mary was more confounded than ever. This Divine encounter was too much for her simple soul. She faltered and asked the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”  The angel answered, “The Holy Ghost will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the One to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your cousin is going to have a child in her old age and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God”. When Mary heard this, she knew for sure that she has been caught in the Divine net. She pondered a while and as the impact of the words sank into her soul she said to the angel, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said it”. At that very moment when Mary said ‘yes’ to God’s Will, the Divine Word formed for Itself a niche in her womb, full of Glory and Truth.  Then the angel disappeared.

Mary’s ‘yes’ to God was an act of complete faith and surrender to the Divine Will. It was a faith that was totally blind to the sight and logic of reason, but open to the insight and power of the unseen Spirit. Mary understood very well the consequences of her “yes” to God. Who will believe her story? Pregnant through the Holy Spirit! She knew the possible outcome - a public disgrace and stoning to death. And how is she going to convince Joseph? Mary pondered all these in her heart and put her trust in God to whom the angel had said: “Nothing is impossible”.

Joseph’s Dilemma

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St. Joseph and the Infant Jesus
 

Joseph did not believe Mary at first. Who would? Yet Joseph was different from the common lot. The Bible calls him a ‘righteous man’ (Matthew 1:20). He thought over the story of Mary in his mind over and over again. Through long wearisome days and hours of sleepless nights Joseph contemplated this strange event. He knew Mary’s innocence and crystal purity.  The image of her humility and unalloyed devotion to the Lord was always before his eyes. Joseph knew that Mary could not have faked the story. Yet the social stigma haunted his soul. What will the people say? Who will believe our story?

Finally Joseph made up his mind to break the engagement quietly so as not to disgrace Mary publicly. But as he considered this, he fell into the slumber of sleep. The angel of the Lord appeared to him in the dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to go ahead with your marriage to Mary. For the Child within her has been conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a Son and you are to name Him Jesus for he will save his people from their sins”. When Joseph received this confirmation from the Lord, he took Mary home to be his wife.

One could only imagine the state of loneliness and mental turmoil that young Mary went through before this Divine resolution. Yet, in her loneliness she found solace in the Eternal One coiled in her womb. Her whole life from the time she said “yes” to God became one long chain of tests and temptations, trials and tribulations. This chain climaxed at the foot of mount Calvary where Mother Mary stood beside the cross and watched the crucifixion of her son on the gibbet of the cross.

Indeed, the story of Mary and Joseph tells us that when God has made us special instruments in his Divine Drama, he does not render us immune from worldly troubles. On the contrary, He gives us the fullness of it.


Like Mary, we must be ready to suffer all kinds of tribulations with a heart that is open and submissive to the Divine will. Mary’s “yes” was a total “yes”. It was a “yes” at all times, good and bad. It was a “yes” that was open to the uncertainties of the Omni Will. It was a “yes” whose only reason was the Love of the Beloved.

Born in a Manger

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Jesus Lying in the Manger in Prasanthi

Jesus’ birth was attended by untold hardship. Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth, four days journey north of Bethlehem. It happened that the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, ordered a tax census and Joseph was required to return to his ancestral home, Bethlehem, the city of David, for enrollment.

(The two gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus traced the genealogy of Jesus down to the Jewish King David – (Deva) and to the Jewish patriarch, Abraham, a name with Sanskrit roots: ‘Aham Brahma’. God changed the name of Abraham’s wife from Sarai to Sarah – a name related to the Sanskrit Saraswathi who is the very consort of Brahma in the Hindu tradition. Is this a divine coincidence?)

At this time Mary was heavy with child. Mary had to travel with Joseph by foot and on donkey throughout this long journey. It was winter, and the fatigue of the long journey had weighed down on Mary. As Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem, the labor pains started. Joseph searched frantically for a place where Mary could deliver her baby.  Every house he knocked he was turned down with a stern retort: “There is no space here, please try the next inn”.  Joseph, finally, was able to find space only in a stable – the animals’ house for cattle, sheep and cows. Sathya Sai Baba tells us that it was a cowshed and it was midnight! Joseph made ready the space between the cows and went out into the road to seek some woman who could help. Not only was there no place for the maker of space, there was also no nurse, no midwife and no doctor to help Mary deliver her first-born baby.  As Joseph searched the streets in despair, he heard the baby’s cry.
 
Jesus was born that night. As the parents had no bed for Him, they used an animal feeding box filled with the dry grass the animals ate. Jesus was wrapped in a swaddling cloth and placed in a manger. (Luke; 7:7) Christmas cards and pictures today make it look so lovely. But in reality, the manger must have been very ordinary with animal litter and dirt all around.  Here Mary was in labor! Here the Babe of Bethlehem began His Divine mission.

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What the Manger Looked Like in Jesus' Time
 
Swami at the Manger

Sometimes when we face difficulties in life we feel God has fled from us. We ask  many crazy questions, one of which is always, “God! Where are you?” Sure, God  replies, “I am where you are!” How can it be otherwise? Who could imagine that God was with Joseph and Mary during those hard conditions surrounding Jesus’ birth? Yet, they were carrying God in the very palms of their hands. Emmanuel, the embodiment of “God with us” was with them in concrete material Presence. Just because we face hardships and obstacles is no indication that God is absent. This is only our imagination. The truth is that God is always with us! And this Presence is sometimes felt most during times of great difficulties. This is God’s way of refining us and drawing us to that constant awareness of His abiding Presence; and so we find Mother Kunti (the mother of Arjuna to whom Lord Krishna taught the Sacred Bhagavad-Gita from the Indian epic,  Mahabharata)  praying to Krishna always to give her sufferings and hardship.

The Manger is a Symbol of Service

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The Door of Humility (2.3 x 4.3 feet) at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

What is the inner significance of Jesus’ birth in a manger? Why did the Maker and Lord of the Universe make do with the cattle’s barn? Is this another Divine accident, or is there a hidden lesson for humanity? Jesus knew His Divinity but He never bragged about it.  Instead He emptied Himself and took the position of a servant. He did not just take a low place; He took the lowest place. This is an example for all.

Once, Jesus’ disciples were arguing who would be the greatest in the kingdom. Jesus stopped them short and reminded them of the very purpose of His humble birth. “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark; 10:43)

The manger is a symbol of service. To serve is to stoop down. It is to take the lowest place. It is to empty oneself of every trace of ego. There can be no genuine service without this touch of humility. Our beloved Swami tells us, “The essence of service is selflessness and abnegation of the fruit thereof.” (Jnana Vahini p. 24) But we always cling to our high estates and statuses. We hope and hold to exalted positions and powers. Even when we “condescend” to serve, we serve not as servants but as masters and lords! Again, Swami has emphasized: “If service is done for name and honor and fame and if there is a craving in the mind for the fruits of one’s actions, then the statement ‘Service to man is service to God’ has no meaning, nor will one get the results expected.” (Sandeha Vahini, p.61). The manger story teaches us that genuine service comes from a heart that has been emptied of all name and fame, power and position, pomp and show. The manger service is a service without ego.

Jesus Came to Save the Animals

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'The Lion will be at Peace with the Lamb' Isaiah 11:6

There is another important message why Jesus was born amidst the animals. Jesus also came to save the animals! He came to put an end to animal sacrifice (including slaughtering the animals for the gods of our stomachs). Jesus showed this in unmistakable terms.

First, He was born among the animals!  The animals welcomed Him in their shed.  They were fortunate to hear His very first infant cry – a cry that wiped away all the tears they have shed in the hands of humanity. They saw His Divine smile which told them that God was also with them! They were given the privilege to be the first to behold His Divine face filled with the radiance of Truth.

At the end of His earthly life Jesus also identified with the animals. He offered his body and his blood, as the final animal offering for all people for all eternity. (Hebrew 9:12, 10:10, 10: 14) In ancient times, animals were the “scapegoats” for the sins of people and bore the brunt of the evil and ignorance of humankind. This was a common practice at the time of Jesus. (Ref. John 2: 13-22) Jesus did not approve of this custom.

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Jesus' Last Supper with His Disciples
 

On the night of every Passover, the Jewish people celebrate the sacrificing of the paschal lamb in commemoration of their deliverance from the dominion of Pharaoh as slaves in Egypt. On this night millions of lambs are slaughtered (as each household is required to slay one lamb). At the last Passover night (the last supper) which Jesus ate with his disciples, Jesus began to talk about his own body and blood being shed and given up for the sins of the world.

In a dramatic symbolic manner Jesus replaced the paschal lamb with the “bread” which He said was His body and the “wine” which He said was His Blood. “While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:26-28). Within hours Jesus was arrested, tried, and crucified.

Jesus’ disciples understood this symbolic Divine act.  There was a shift in consciousness. The old covenant whereby animals are killed for the atonement of sins gave way to the “new and Eternal Covenant in the blood of Jesus”. (Luke 22:20) Jesus had died at Passover in place of the sacrificial lamb. He became, literally, the Paschal Lamb, the "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." (John 1: 29)

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So Dear to God

Christmas is incomplete without grasping the inner significance of this Divine act. We must be kind to the animals. We must stop killing the animals.  Instead, as Bhagavan Baba says, we must sacrifice the animal qualities in us: greed, anger, hatred, jealousy, lust and ego. When these animal qualities are eliminated, we will naturally be kind to the animals: Kind to brother lamb since Jesus is referred to as “The Lamb of God”; Loving to sister sheep because Jesus called Himself “The Good Shepherd”; Grateful to mother cow who watched the agony of Mother Mary bring forth her first born child; Merciful to little chicken because Jesus likened the love of God to that of the hen who gathers her chicks under her wings (Luke 13:34). 

The animal kingdom must be allowed to celebrate Christmas with joy and gladness because they played a vital role in the Divine birth. It is a human tragedy that these creatures suffer so terribly in the hands of man especially during the season of Christmas when billions of animals are slaughtered in order to “celebrate” the birthday of Jesus.

God’s Action Has Deeper Meaning

It will be of no spiritual significance for us here to get into the rhetoric of whether Jesus accepted non-vegetarian meal or not. Suffice it to note that Divinity works through culture to transform culture. God does not work outside of the human condition. He stoops down to the level of humanity so as to raise humanity to the sublime height of Divinity. Jesus Himself said: “I have come not to abolish the laws, but to perfect them.” (Matthew 5:17) Beloved Swami puts it more pointedly:” When the baby in the cradle wails and clamours for help, the mother stoops and takes it up in her arms. Her stoop is not to be described as a ‘coming down’.” (SSS 14, P53) Ramana Maharashi, the sage of Arunachala, in response to the same issue has said that what the Avatar eats does not affect His constitution. In fact, the Avatar eats not to satisfy the disease of hunger but in order to afford us the divine privilege to dine and commune with Him.

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Shirdi Baba
 

Many Divine Incarnations have acted in ways we might regards as “strange and unethical”.   But how can we interpret God’s actions using human binoculars? Within every Divine action lies a deep seed of spiritual meaning; and it is only through spiritual inquiry that we can discern this inner truth. Shirdi Sai Baba, the first incarnation of the Sai Avatars, was known to smoke pipes. Once, a seeker (Balaram) came to visit Him with other devotees. This was his first visit to Baba. Baba was in the Masjid and smoking the chillim pipe. Balaram was taken aback when he saw this. He began to have some doubts. Then Baba advanced the pipe towards him. Balaram was not accustomed to smoking but accepted the pipe out of respect. He smoked with great difficulty. That moment however became the most auspicious moment for Balaram. He was suffering from severe Asthma for six years. This one puff completely cured him of the disease which never troubled him again.

When God acts like man, His actions are like vaccine to the disease of man. The same medical principle operates even on the Divine level: “like cures like”. Jesus did so many things that shocked and surprised the Jews and made them think that He was either mad, possessed or an outright sinner! Yes, Jesus identified with "sinners". He did not condemn them nor did He try to force them to stop there bad habits just overnight. No! He was patient with them. His disciples were simple fishermen. The culture in which He began to propagate His message ate meat. He obviously knew the deep religious sentiments surrounding the Passover feast. He was well aware that the traditional Passover meal is incomplete without the meat of the paschal lamb. Jesus did not stop this tradition of killing innocent animals without providing a substitute, a perfect alternative.  This He did at the last super when He replaced the lamb with the “Eucharistic bread”, a symbol of His body, and instructed His disciples to do this always in His memory. (Luke22:19)

From then onwards whenever Christians gather to celebrate His Memory, the priest raises the Bread in his hands and  declares to the congregation: “This is the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world, Happy are we who are called to receive Him”. But the celebration of Christ's memory should be a lived example in our everyday practical life. It must not be limited to the church. It is of no use replacing the sacrificial lamb with the Eucharistic bread -symbolic of Christ's body, and after the celebration in the church, to go home and roast the lambs to satisfy our appetite. Is this not religious hypocrisy? When we act like this, are we not defeating the very purpose for which Christ gave his life on the cross for all, namely, the spiritual evolution of the whole of creation? "For the whole of creation is waiting to be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God"! (Romans 9: 21)

The Shepherd’s Story

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Glory to God in the Highest; Peace on Earth

Was it another Divine coincidence that the message of Jesus’ birth came first to shepherds taking care of their sheep in the fields? (Luke; 2:8) At the time of Jesus, sheep farmers were regarded by other people as low in the social order. Yet it was to these shepherds that the birth of Jesus was first announced in an amazing and dramatic way. These shepherds were out there in the open field in the middle of the night keeping watch over their flock; and suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared among them and the radiance of the Lord’s Glory surrounded them.

They were awe stricken but the angel reassured them, “Don’t be afraid!” He said, “I bring you good news of great joy for everyone!”   Behold, Christ the Lord, has been born tonight in Bethlehem, the city of David! And this is how you will recognize Him: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloth lying in a manger.” As the angel was speaking, a vast host of others – the armies of heaven – joined in chorus and started praising God:

“Glory to God in the Highest Heaven
And Peace on earth
To all whom God favors”

(We recall a similar event that occurred when Mother Easwaramma was carrying the Divine Child, Sathya Sai Baba. The house was awakened at midnight and sometimes later by the sweet heavenly music emanating spontaneously from the strings and percussion instruments kept in the home. The heavenly hosts were playing music to charm the baby!)

When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds hurried to the village and found Mary, Joseph and the baby lying in the manger. They told everyone their story.

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A Shepherd
 
A Shepherd's Field

Jesus is the Good Shepherd

The metaphor of “shepherd” has been a powerful religious symbolism in the salvation history of Israel. God’s Love for His people is compared to that of a good shepherd who guards his flock over the rocky hills and leads them through the forests to pleasant green pastures (Psalm 23:2).  Through the night, the shepherd watches over them, guards them from wild beasts, saves them from lurking robbers, cares tenderly for the feeble and sickly ones, and lifts the little lambs close to his heart and comforts them in his bosom. (Isaiah 40:11).  However large the flock may be, he knows each by name and calls them that way. (John 10:3). Psalm 23 brings out this analogy very beautifully.  
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Statue of Jesus as the Good Shepherd

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters,

He restores my soul.

He guides me in paths of righteousness
for His name's sake.

Even though I walk

Through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever.

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David were shepherds. Jesus compares His Love to that of a Good Shepherd.  He says, “I am the Good Shepherd who lays His life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) It is also interesting to know that Lord Krishna is adored as the “Cowherd boy”.

God Comes to Rescue the Lost

The task of the Avatar is like that of the good shepherd. He comes to rescue lost and erring humanity and leads them back to their Divine origin. Jesus told the story of the lost sheep to show that nothing can hinder God’s will to save us.

Suppose you have a hundred sheep and when night falls one wanders away and is lost. What will you do? Surely you will leave the ninety-nine safe sheep together and go in search of the lost one. You will climb and comb the hills looking and searching until you find the lost sheep. Then you pick her up, put her on your shoulder and bring her down the hill to the camp. Then you ask your friends to rejoice with you. “Your Heavenly Father is like that”, Jesus said. When you have lost your way he will rescue you and save you and never give up on you until He finds you and you find Him (Matthew; 18:11).

That day you discover That
After all the wanderings and yearnings
After all the searching and longings

At the end of the journey
The spiritual quest
When the eureka is heard

Without a step
The Self has moved
From Itself to Itself
There is no other!

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With Tender Loving Care

This is good news for Humanity. It is the will of the Father that no one is lost. Everyone will be saved. This is the Truth. In fact how can any one ever be lost? From what and to where? Since everywhere is in God, where can we hide from Him? (Psalm 139:7) What can separate us from God? (Romans 8:35) The Bible affirms that “in God we live and move and have our being” – (Acts 17:28) True salvation is the realization that we and God are one and always inseparable just like the seed and the tree, the waves and the ocean, the rays and the sun. The day we realize this Truth is the day we find God and are found by God.

The First Christmas Presents

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The Three Wise Men
 

After Jesus was born, three Arabian Kings came to look for Him. They followed the direction of the star that had appeared at the birth of Jesus and eventually found the place where Mary, Joseph and Jesus were staying. To bring honor to the child they brought rich gifts: gold, a gift for a King; frankincense, burnt in worship of God; and myrrh, oil used to burry the dead.

While returning the first king said to Mary, “Mother, you have given birth to a child who loves God”. The second King said, “Mother, you have given birth to a child who will be loved by God. The third king said, “Mother Mary, your Child is not different from God; both are one and the same”. Beloved Swami tells us that these three statements from the three kings summarize the three stages of our spiritual growth which Jesus came to teach us. The first statement indicates the role of Christ as the Messenger or Servant of God. The one who loves God is the messenger of God. Jesus first regarded Himself as the servant of God. (Matthew 12:18).This stage comprises all aspects of karma yoga (Union with God through Selfless service) as enunciated by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita.

The second statement shows Christ’s role as the Son of God. The one whom God loves is the Son of God. During the Baptism of Jesus at the River Jordan by John the Baptist (Matthew 3: 18) and at his transfiguration on the Mountain (Mark 9:4) the Voice of the Father was heard from heaven saying to Jesus, “This is My Beloved Son and I am fully pleased with him” . Jesus taught us to call God by the intimate title “ABBA Father” (that is “BABA Father”) an Aramaic name which expresses a very intimate and inseparable relationship between us and God. (Mark; 14:36) This second stage represents every aspect of Bhakthi Yoga. (Union with God through pure Devotion)

The last statement indicates the realization of our inherent oneness with God. The one who understands the principle of Unity becomes One with God. This is the Path of Jnana Yoga (Union with God through Wisdom). Jesus told the Jews, “The Father and I are One” (John; 10:30) and reminded us of our Oneness with the Father. The Jews condemned Jesus for "making Himself eqaul to to God" and Jesus reminded them of this ancient Truth contained in their own Scriptures:  “You are Gods and Children of the Most High”. (Psalm 82:6 John; 10:34) To realize this Oneness with God is the precious Gift that God gives us at Christmas.

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Unwrapping the Gift of God

At Christmas God Gives us a Gift,
A precious Presence,
Wrapped in Swaddling cloth,
Lying in a Manger.
It is the Gift of Himself
God Himself!

At Christmas God Gives us a Gift,
A precious Presence,
But we look for worldly gifts
And forget the Gift of Gifts;
The Giver of all gifts
God Himself!

At Christmas God Gives us a Gift,
A precious Presence,
But we throw Him away
Because He is wrapped in swaddling cloth:
S – for Service; W- for the Word made Flesh
A – for Adoration;  DD – for Divine Descent
L – for Love; I – for Illumination
N – for Non-Violence; and G- for Gift of God!

At Christmas God Gives us a Gift,
A precious Presence.
But we cannot find Him
Because we look outside,
While He lies in the cave,
The manger of our Hearts!

Unwrapping the Gift of God

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Jesus Wrapped in Swaddling Clothes

We must understand this Divine secret. It is His play; a type of hide and seek game. Why was the Divine infant Jesus wrapped in swaddling cloth? God has wrapped Himself in the swaddling sheaths of the body - mind complex. (The Webster’s Dictionary defines the word ‘swaddling’ as: 1.”to bind (an infant, esp. a newborn infant) with long, narrow strips of cloth to prevent free movement; wrap tightly with clothes”. 2. “To wrap (anything) round with bandages”). Our bodies are God’s cloths wrapped in five fold layers. The body is a bondage! The aim of life is to be free from this bondage. Discovering our true Divine identity, our true Self, involves a process of unwrapping these sheaths (of Maya or illusion) through a regulated spiritual practice (sadhana).

The first layer is the gross physical body composed of the food we partake through the five senses. (Anna Maya kosha)  Unwrapping this layer requires strict control of the five senses. It entails not only eating good and pure food, but also seeing no evil and seeing what is good; hearing no evil and hearing what is good; speaking no evil and speaking what is good; doing no evil and doing what is good.

The second sheath is the energy layer which is the vital force that produces the subtle vibrations related to breath (Pranamaya Kosha). The third is the level of processing thoughts and emotions that characterize the mind (Manamaya Kosha). The fourth is the sheath of wisdom (intellect) and the seat of ego consciousness. The Energy, the mental and the intellectual sheaths constitute the subtle body through which we experience dreams.  The Spiritual disciplines appropriate to these three are thought control and spiritual inquiry: “Who am I?” By cultivating holy thoughts and emotions untouched by attachments to the senses and unaffected by joy and grief, we penetrate into that Sheath of silence where the first flickering Light of the Pure Self is felt. 

The undisturbed stillness of bliss is the fifth wrapping of the soul (Anandamaya kosha). It is the causal body that veils the Supreme Self and is associated with dreamless sleep and Samadhi. When we reach this layer, we begin to experience that super conscious state of total absorption in pure bliss without an object. Yet even this last scale has to be shaded off in order to realize the highest stage.

When we think that we are the body – gross, subtle or causal – we confuse the wrapper with the Gift.  This confusion is the delusion created by body consciousness. The feeling, “I am the Body” is the root of all ignorance.  It is the greatest handicap on the spiritual path. Jesus, the Christmas gift of God came to teach us how to overcome this root ignorance. He was given to us wrapped in s-w-a-d-d-l-i-n-g cloths in order to teach us this one solitary purpose of life: how to unwrap the gift of God in our hearts.  When we do this we tap into that ancient and eternal secret of Divine Opulence where Life lives only by giving and forgiving.

The Flight to Egypt

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Escape to Egypt

Not so long after Jesus was born, King Herod was after his life. The three Arabian kings had paid a visit to King Herod to inquire from him the place where the promised messiah will be born. Their visit provoked jealousy in the heart of Herod because he thought of Jesus as a political Messiah.  He had the evil intention of destroying the child. He therefore requested the kings to report back to him the whereabouts of the child as soon as they found him. But God warned both the kings and Joseph in a dream about the evil intention of Herod. The kings were asked to go home through another route while Joseph was instructed to flee with the child and the Mother to the land of Egypt. Joseph took his family and left for Egypt.

This was another hardship in the life of the young family. They had to travel all the way to Egypt seeking refuge in a land where their forefathers were refugees close to 2000 years ago. When God came as Rama He was exiled to the Forest for fourteen years.  When He incarnated as Krishna He was carried away in a basket to Gokul to save His life from the bloodthirsty hands of King Kamsa. Now the Divine infant Jesus was exiled into Egypt. This was no Divine accident. Just as Rama was destined to go to the Forest to confer blessings and protection to the sages and saints harassed by the rakshakas (demons), the infant Jesus went to Egypt to confer blessings and auspiciousness to the land that so generously harbored the people of Israel for more than 400 years.

Shortly after Jesus was spirited away to Egypt, Herod ordered a decree of infanticide in a rage to eliminate Jesus. All male children who were two years old and under were put to death. Then was the ancient prophecy of Jeremiah fulfilled:

“In Ramah, a voice was heard
Lamentation and weeping, and great mourning,
Rachael weeping for her children,
And would not be comforted,
because they were not” (Jeremiah 31:15)

This same episode reminds us of King Kamsa who had killed all the seven children born of Devaki and Vasudeva in an attempt to kill Krishna who was prophesied to come as the eighth child. In the war between righteousness and unrighteousness, the Avatar comes with a host of heavenly armies that play different roles. The infants killed by Herod and Kamsa in the Divine Dramas of Christ (= Krist )and Krishna were part of the Divine entourage that gave their lives for the enthronement of Dharma (eternal righteousness).

THE UNIVERSALITY OF DIVINE INCARNATIONS

Sometimes Christians tend to think: “Jesus is the Highest”; the Muslims assume: “Allah is the Greatest”; and the Hindus assert: “Krishna is the Supreme”. But when we peep into the conceptions of Divine Incarnations down the ages, their striking similarity and universality reveals to us that “Jesus”, “Allah”, “Krishna”, etc., are simply names which we ascribe to the same one and undivided ‘Reality” that assumes different forms from age to age in different cultural settings.

Sri Sathya Sai Baba

Let’s start with our Beloved Sri Sathya Sai Baba whose conception was shrouded in mystery until a pundit well versed in the Holy Puranas felt a sudden urge to ask a question. “Swami! Was your Incarnation a Pravesa (Entrance) or a Prasava (Encience)?” To answer his question, Swami turned to Mother Easwaramma, the chosen Mother, and said to her, “Tell Rama Sarma what happened that day near the well after your mother-in-law had warned you.”

The Mother said, “I had dreamt of Sathya Narayana Deva and she cautioned me that I should not be frightened if something happened to me through the Will of God. That morning when I was at the well drawing water, a big ball of blue light came rolling towards me and I fainted and fell. I felt it glided into me”. Swami then turned to Rama Sarma with a smile and said, “There you have the answer, I was not begotten. It was Pravesa, not Prasava”.

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Young Sai
 

Lord Rama

Lord Rama

The conception of Lord Rama was also a Pravesa. During a sacrifice designed to secure the blessings of fatherhood, a mighty being of immeasurable splendour arose out from the fire and announced itself as the messenger of Prajapati (God). Giving King Dasaratha, the chosen “father’, a vessel of burnished gold filled with milk prepared by the Gods, he said, “Give this to your consorts, and you will have children of them”. It was through this pure white milk of Holiness that Lord Rama and His three brothers came forth.

Lord Buddha

The Buddha’s birth was no different. When the Cosmic Essence had again decided to help the world, this time it chose the Sakyas under the southward snows of Himalaya where a just king lived. In the “Light of Asia” by Edwin Arnold, we read the strange dream of Maya, the Queen of King Suddhodona. She dreamt a star from Heaven of splendid hue, six-rayed, of rosy-pearl colour shot through the void entering her womb upon the right.” Thus the Buddha formed for Himself a body within the womb of Maya and thereby conferred the status of ‘father’ to King Suddhodana.

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Lord Buddha
 

Sri RamaKrishna Paramahamsa

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa

Sri RamaKrishna Paramahamsa’s conception affirms the same Divine phenomenon. His father Khudiram Battucharya was only a ‘fiction’ and His mother Chandramani Devi a chosen vessel. Khudiram had walked to Guya, hundred miles away to perform rituals propitiating his forefathers. There, Khudiram visited the Shrine of Gadadhar (Narayana with the Mace). Within the Shrine he heard the mysterious message that he was to be the father of an Avatar. He pleaded humbly that he was not worthy to contain the Lord in his poor home and heart. But the Lord did not retract. Dazed with delight and afraid to reveal this message to anyone Khudiram reached home.

Back home, before he could overcome his reluctance to reveal his vision, his wife Chandramani Devi confided her secret to him. “When I went to the temple while you were away,” she said, “a sudden flash of unbearable Light entered me, flowed over me, overwhelmed me, and pervaded me all through. It then reduced Itself to a charming flame that stays installed within me now. I am aware of its soft sublime illumination ever since and more patently while I speak to you”. Khudiram was wonderstruck and then revealed his own experience at the shrine to his wife.

Lord Krishna

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Bala Krishna
 

The story of Lord Krishna is another proof of the Immaculate Conception of the Divine Child. The Bhagavatha narrates the descent of the Omniwill in response to the agony of mother earth. When Devaki, the consort of Vasudeva, had given birth to seven children and had offered each one of them to her brother as promised, the Will decides that the time for the Advent had arrived. The Bhagavatha says: “The Lord who is the Sovereign of the Universe designed to enter the mind of Vasudeva as a facet of Himself in order to confer fearlessness to the good and godly”.

These narratives of the conception of Avatars reveal an important quality of Divine Incarnations. Avatars are not born like ordinary mortals whose births are determined by karma. For ordinary mortals, karma decides the time and the place, the parents and the potentials, the caste and the creed. On the other hand, when Cosmic Consciousness decides to cloth Itself in human vesture, He alone decides the time and the place, the persons who are to be addressed as its parents and the womb in which it could initiate its career as a foetus filled with infinite power.

All the above Divine conceptions also reveal that Avatars are not begotten by flesh and blood. When Divinity decides to take a human role, it enters directly into the womb of Its Chosen mother without any human mediation. As such, the body of the Avatar is a pure substance with no blemish and no trace of human characteristics (or gunas).

One God, Different Religions

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One God, Different Religions

The splendour of the truth of our religious oneness shines out brightly when we understand our common Divine heritage. God is One. This same and Only Cosmic Divine Consciousness assumes different names and forms at different ages and cultural settings throughout the history of man’s spiritual evolution.

The Rama is the RamaKrishna!
The RamaKrishna is the Krishna!
The Krishna is the Christ!
The Christ is the Buddha!
The Buddha is the Baba!

The Christians must understand that Christ is the same God whom the Buddhists call Buddha and Muslims must realize that Allah is the same Reality whom Hindus call Krishna or Rama. When this understanding dawns, how can the Hindu say, “Our God is more powerful than the God of the Christians”; or the Buddhist say, “Our path is the only way”; or the Christian say, “Only those who profess our faith will go to Heaven”. True brotherhood of man and Fatherhood of God is possible only when we eradicate these differences at all levels of thought, word and action.

The more we study the Phenomenon of Divine Incarnations, the more we understand the truth that among all the Divine Incarnations, there is no higher and there is no lower since it is the same One Divine Principle that incarnates from age to age whenever there is a decline in rightousness. The purpose and setting for which and in which they come determine the degree of Divine Power they assume. For example, when God comes in the Kali age, it is appropriate that He comes with much Divine Power because in this age, the disease of evil has infected and eaten deep into the whole tree of humanity. Our Beloved Swami gives a beautiful analogy. He says, if you want to cut your finger nail you use only a razor blade or nail cutter. But when you want to cut down the tree, you don’t use the razor blade. You employ an axe. The instruments are different but the person is one. In the same way, God is One but He incarnates from age to age assuming different Divine powers depending on the circumstances.

Faith is the True Test

Jesus always used this expression: “Your faith has healed you” or “Your faith has saved you”. Never did He say, “I healed you”. What does this mean? It means that the high and the low, the partial and the full does not depend on the name and form of God we adopt, but on the strength of faith of the believer. The fullness of Divinity opens unto us according to the measure of our faith. It is therefore wrong for the Christian, or the Muslim, or the Hindu, to think that he is blessed because of his religious affiliations. This is religious pride. Our Blessedness lies elsewhere! And Sathya Sai Baba tells us where. “If you are a Christian, be a good Christian; if you are a Muslim, be a good Muslim; if you are a Hindu, be a good Hindu”. To be GOOD is to be GOD! To be a good Christian is to live the life of God incarnate as Christ; to be a good Muslim is to live according to the teachings contained in the Koran, as exemplified in the life of Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him); to be a good Hindu is to live the life of God as dramatized in the panorama of Lord Rama.

We must understand that God is beyond religion and that although it is good to be born into a religion, it is a sin to die in it. All religious denominations are like different schools of spirituality. It is a good thing to be born in one. But we must graduate at one time or the other. To graduate from the school of religion is to realize the oneness behind the many. Only then can we receive our graduation certificate: “All are one, be alike to everyone”. This is the primary message of Jesus’ birth.

May this Christmas be for us
A moment when we receive the Divine Gift
in our Hearts.

May this Christmas be for us
A time to unfold our inherent Divinity
And realize the One behind the Many.

May this Christmas be for us
A time to love as God loved us,
By emptying ourselves in the service of others.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Darwin Front

The author of this story, Father Charles Ogada, is a Catholic Priest of the Order of the Holy Ghost Fathers. He is presently teaching at the Sathya Sai School Ndola, Zambia, run by Mr. Victor Kanu.

Dear Reader, how did you like this cover story? Was it inspiring? Did it help you in anyway? Would you like more such stories? What suggestions you have for future cover stories? Please let us know at [email protected] Thank you very much for your time.

- Heart2Heart Team




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Vol 4 Issue 12 - DECEMBER 2006
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