Unity Church of Castro Valley
Sunday Message for December 26, 2010
Born in Bethlehem
Did everyone have a wonderful Christmas? Did you spend it with family? It can be a wonderful holiday for sharing and giving and caring. Because this holiday is about one of the most giving, caring persons that every lived.
Jesus was also a man who taught great truths. So let's tell the truth today. There is so much hype, and myth, and misunderstanding about the birth of Jesus. Was Jesus born on December 25; the day we celebrate His birth? Was his mother, Mary, a virgin? Was Jesus poor or rich? Was he born enlightened or did he have to grow into being the Christ? How much of the story about Jesus in the Bible is actual fact?
A PROSPEROUS NEW YEAR TO YOU ALL
There has been this perception for years that Jesus was poor, and therefore we should also be poor if we are to be holy. This perception is wrong!a
I know that this may upset your idea of the perfect Christmas nativity with heartless innkeepers, but it is much more likely that the story of Jesus' birth was a continuum of prosperity miracles.
You would expect that from a Son of God, wouldn't you? It is nonsense to think that someone as clear, loving, and powerful as Jesus would be broke. And yet, religion is infected with the idea that Jesus was poor, and that if we are good people we should follow that same path.
But I've never found any evidence in the Bible to indicate that Jesus or his family lived a life of poverty. What I have found is a modern misinterpretation of ancient lifestyles.
The story we tell at Christmas is from the book of Luke. It reads, "Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn."b
There is no donkey, no ox, no traipsing around Bethlehem, no unkind innkeepers, and not even the slightest hint that Mary was in labor while they searched for somewhere to stay.
Actually a lodging house in Jesus' day didn't have rooms the way modern motels do. It consisted of two dormitories, with men and women segregated from each other. That way more people could be accommodated at a time of pilgrimage and made it easier with respect to the laws of purity. Orthodox Jewish men and women would spend up to two weeks not touching each other around the time of the women's menses. Neither Joseph nor the shepherds could have found their way into the female dormitory to see the Holy Child.
Also stables were rarely separate from the houses. Animals lived next to the kitchen because of their body warmth and because they used the dung for fuel.
The next problem we have is the word that Luke uses that has been translated as inn. Kataluma is not used in the sense of public accommodations or inn anywhere else in the whole New Testament. Kataluma is translated in almost all versions of the Bible as "upper room" or "guest room."
You notice that it said that Joseph was of the House of David and had to return to his family's hometown for the census, so it's more than likely that he had extended family in the town.
It has been suggested by scholars that Joseph and Mary would have stayed with relatives rather than at an inn. If there was more than one couple staying in a private house, there probably wouldn't have been enough space for a woman to give birth, so Mary would have been moved out of the guest room and into a warm place where she could walk, sit, lie down, be attended by others and where she didn't have to worry about the ritual purity laws and the blood and natural mess of a baby's birth.
Both Jesus and his family knew how to manifest exactly what they needed at the perfect time without being encumbered by unnecessary possessions, duties and cares.
They weren't poor; they were truly prosperous, just as we can be.
Then there is the matter of the Virgin Mary. Bishop Spongc talks about how the Christian church, for the last two thousand years, has participated in and supported the oppression of women.
Each year at the Christmas season Mary is brought out of the church and placed in a position of public honor for about two weeks. She is dressed in pale blue, portrayed with demure, downcast eyes, and defined in terms of virgin purity. Since she is known as "the virgin," she has contributed to that particularly Christian pattern of viewing women primarily in terms of sexual function.
Women may deny their sexuality by becoming virgin nuns, or women may indulge their sexuality by becoming prolific mothers. These are the only two choices according to the church. But in both cases, women are defined not first as persons, and second as sexual beings - but first and foremost as females whose sexuality determines their identity.
Spong writes, "I do not believe that Mary was in any biological sense literally a virgin. I do not believe that someone known as a virgin mother can be presented with credibility to contemporary men or women as an ideal woman. I do not believe that the story of Mary's virginity enhanced the portrait of the mother of Jesus. To the contrary, I believe that story has detracted from Mary's humanity and has become a weapon in the hands of those whose patriarchal prejudices distort everyone's humanity in general but women's humanity in particular."
Pope John Paul II has supported a document and an attitude that proclaims, "Women will never be priests in the Roman Catholic Church because Jesus did not choose any women to be his disciples." This, to me, is a gross misuse of the Holy Scriptures. Perhaps it never occurred to him that Jesus did not choose any Polish males to be disciples either.
The Christian Church has got to change if it is to survive. It's going to have to surrender its defining prejudices of a personalistic, masculine, and patriarchal worldview. We need to escape the stereotypes of the past that define gender, sexual orientation, and sexual morality in a way that has always violated women and now is seen increasingly to violate everyone. We need to get out of the behavior-control business and into the business of calling people into being the holy and complete selves God has created them to be.
But we do not want to throw out the baby with the bath water. To assign the birth narratives to mythology is not to dismiss them as untrue. But it may force us to see truth in dimensions larger than literal truth, to understand how the language of myth and poetry came to be the language employed by those who sought to describe the divine-human encounter they believed themselves to have experienced.
So what do we do with these myths? We take them to a higher spiritual understanding.d Because even though these stories may not be fact as we understand it - they are still great spiritual truth.
Biblical stories were written to be true in the past, present, and in the future. These truths were not literal. They were written to be studied and debated - for the reader to fill in the blanks and probe for a deeper and deeper meaning.
We look at the birth of Jesus as the birth in our awareness of our latent spiritual potential. We look at the Christmas story as our story. Paul said, "Christ in you, the hope of glory."e
Spirit permeates your consciousness and becomes a vital part of your humanity. It all happens in consciousness in which each component of the story has a role in the transformative experience of your inner Christmas.
The inn represents your intellect. Because there was no room for birthing in the house, the baby was born in the manager, which symbolizes your heart, your emotions. It doesn't make any difference what the condition of your heart is. Christ can be born there.
Joseph, the human father of Jesus, represents the intellectual nature. Our intellect can serve an important father role to protect, guide and support a new spiritual awareness in us by maintaining the right state of mind.
Mary symbolizes the inspired activity of our emotional nature as the highest emotional experience we can have, pure intuition. This is how the Christ Spirit comes to us, through intuitive insight. It was through this pure awareness that Jesus was born. Mary "treasured all these things in her heart"f and "magnified the Lord."g
Herod, as the ego or false self, is also a part of our intellect. Always threatened by something new, he tries to kill the idea.
The shepherds and sheep also introduce us to the inner scene of our intellectual and emotional process. The shepherd is the humble, often simple type of thought process that (like Joseph) watches and tends the flock of inner feelings with loving care. Angels represent messages from God as divine inspiration and guidance, which bring "good news of great joy."h
The three wise men, who followed the Star in the East, were really Magi who represent the kind of higher wisdom and spiritual insight that can come right into our ordinary thoughts and feelings when we are open to the guidance of the "Great Star."
Charles Fillmore said that in the Bible, a "star" represents the possibilities of our own Christhood. When we have the open and receptive consciousness symbolized by the Magi, our higher Christ like aspirations always lead to an awareness of our divine potential.
The three gifts are gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold represents our material possessions, which, when dedicated to God, become a force for good and a powerful magnet for everything we truly need in life. Frankincense is incense, a beautiful symbol of an atmosphere of prayer which extends upward into the higher consciousness of our spiritual aspirations. Myrrh, an embalming ointment is connected with Jesus' directive, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead"i and Paul's statement, "I die every day"j as a means to relinquish the wrong concerns and begin our lives anew each day.
These are the three gifts we give Christ for Christmas, a dedication of everything in our lives to God, a deeper commitment to prayer, and a trusting surrender of the lesser in our lives for the greater - a higher consciousness.
So set aside some time of prayer and contemplation devoted to the inner metaphysical drama of the Christmas story and let it quicken within you the awareness of your True Nature waiting to be born. It will add a new and profound spiritual dimension to your Christmas experience.
It said in the Advent book on Christmas Day:
Christmas is a time for joy, but not for only the joyous.
It is a time of hope, but not only for the hopeful.
It is a time of serenity, but not only for souls at peace.
So let the Christ be born anew within you this Christmas season.
a A Very Prosperous Christmas to You All Rev Maggy Whitehouse
b Luke 2:4-7
c Born of A Woman John Shelby Spong
d Have Yourself A Metaphysical Christmas William Earle Cameron
e Colossians 1:27
f Luke 2:51
g Luke 1:46
h Luke 2:10
i Matthew 8:22
j 1 Corinthians 15:31