Growing up in England, Christmas was always a difficult time. My mum was a single parent. I had no siblings and we had only one relative. Sometimes friends would invite us to their large family gatherings. I always appreciated their generosity of spirit, but somehow, I always felt like the kid on the outside looking in on someone else’s family. In some instances, the family would be squabbling in such a way that I longed to be far away.
As I grew into adulthood, I yearned for a more spiritual view of Christmas, so every December I read the account of the nativity in the Bible. It was then that I began to glimpse that the birth of Christ Jesus was about a spiritual love transcending the limited human sense of love, however well-meaning it may be.
I cannot say that this understanding was a lightbulb moment that came suddenly overnight. Rather it was a slow dawning of the meaning of God as divine Love. In the Biblical account of the nativity, a tiny babe is born in a stable in a distant land. That first Christmas, Mary and Joseph and their infant child were on their own, while a disinterested, busy world rushed by, unable to even so much as give them a room in the inn; unaware of the momentous event that would be world-changing. However, there were some who were listening. Shepherds in the fields heard the angels singing to them about the birth and, realizing this was of great importance, they left their flocks to witness it. Whether the three kings arrived at that same time as the shepherds did not matter to me. What mattered was that they paid attention to the message. In their case, it came as the light of a star and they followed it.
These visitors to the holy family came from different countries, backgrounds, and stations in life. Yet, not one of them was focused on their own self or on what they would gain from this visit. They were lifted out of their everyday lives and united in their purpose – to focus on an idea that was more important and more powerful than anything else. That idea was a divine love so practical that it could be felt and expressed in countless ways and yet in a manner that humanity could understand and feel it. To me, this spiritual sense of love is what makes sense of Christmas. It is a pure, humble love, appearing as a babe in a manger.
In studying more about the meaning of God as Love, I discovered a helpful statement by Christian healer and writer Mary Baker Eddy. In her inspiring book on Christian healing, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, she wrote:
Divine Love always has met and always will meet every human need.
This reassuring sentence helped me when, as a new immigrant I was experiencing my first Christmas in Newfoundland. I felt very alone and homesick. I missed my mum. I missed all that was familiar to me as I stared out on an unfamiliar world covered by snow and ice. It was then that I turned again to Mrs Eddy’s words. As I pondered them, I felt loved, mothered and comforted for the first time in a while. Shortly after this, the phone rang. It was the mother of a new friend I had made. She said she worried I might be feeling lonely and invited me to lunch. Thus began a wonderful friendship. Ruby taught me how to bake cinnamon buns, to quilt, and to sew a Newfoundland coat for winter. I learned to enjoy tea made with condensed milk while listening to her wonderful stories of growing up in a tiny Newfoundland outport. Ruby and Jim’s house was always warm, inclusive and welcoming. I was never the stranger looking in. Ruby exemplified love itself and I recognized it as having its source in God, who is Love. This friendship lasted for over 30 years and is valued by me to this day.
One thing I learned from this experience is that friendship is one way God is telling me that I am divinely loved, in a way that I can humanly understand. This understanding of the practical effect of divine Love enables me to see my community, friends and family in an entirely different light and to appreciate them so deeply that petty differences are not important. Paying attention to the presence of divine Love is what is important.
To me this is the essence of Christmas – that the love of God is continually expressed in an infinite variety of ways and has the capacity to lift humanity from loneliness, irrelevant family squabbles, self-interests, ideological or political differences, to a higher sense of inclusiveness as one family, divinely loved and loving.
This inclusive view of divine Love has inspired me and my family to be that friend to others who also need to feel embraced in this spiritual love, but also to recognize their expression of that love.
The true meaning of Christmas cannot be confined to a single day. It is the very essence of love itself and can be felt, seen, and experienced by each of us every day, regardless of the month, who we are or where we come from. I’ve discovered the importance of pausing, being still so I can hear the angels sing. Their spiritual voices provide the inspiration I need to perceive and humbly follow the guiding light of divine Love, and to grow in my understanding of the priceless gifts of joy, harmony and limitless love that has its source in God.
My greatest hope this Christmas is that everyone may experience the precious gift of the inclusive and universal love of God each day, as well as on Christmas Day.