Eric Butterworth Unity Podcast #26
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Well, it’s Christmas morning in Manhattan. How good that you could find the time and feel the commitment to join us here in Avery Fisher Hall. You have brought something very special with you, which adds to the consciousness to which we all give, and which we will all receive. You’ve probably had your festivity of Christmas morning. Your opening of gifts, the exchanges of love to those in your home, possibly by telephone to people in other parts of the country or the world. Perhaps you now feel that warm and mellow sense of being loved and blessed. We want to add to that a little bit today.
So in the afterglow of Christmas morning, I would like you to join me in pondering the meaning, and experiencing the spiritual depth of the Christmas magic. For those of you who are non-Christian by background, let the Christmas story be as a metaphor for the divine depth within you. And that’s something very special that happened within you. Let the Merry Christmas’s that you hear, be as happy Hanukkahs, maybe even simply season greetings, depending upon your background. Don’t let theology, or ritual, or symbolism stand in the way of something very special this day.
Home for Christmas. Doesn’t that have a warm ring? Nostalgic longing to return to the place where we have roots? To share and renew in fellowship with family, to sit around the warm and friendly table, together around the hearth of a fireplace crackling with spark and spirit. Of course for many of us, there’s no going back, except in memories of other days and of other times. Home for Christmas. To many persons, this may mean the gathering with those with whom we share common ideas and values, such as this Sunday meeting in Avery Fisher Hall. So many persons tell us they have a feeling of coming home each time they join us each Sunday and hearing our creative worship experience. We’re glad about that. We joyously welcome you home on this glorious Christmas morning.
Home for Christmas. In our study of truth, we come to know and to become comfortable with the idea that there’s a depth within this, a place of transcendence. Jesus called it the inner chamber. And at anytime we can pause and be still on the other end. And then Jesus said, pray to the father who is in secret. It’s coming home to our inner center. And the father who’s living secretly will reward you openly. I realize that there’s a depth within all things, within all persons, all experiences. Knowing this today is to get a sense of the real Christmas of the heart. It’s having a quiet time of meditation on the Christ of our own being. Re-experiencing your birth of the son of God self within. You’ve heard it a thousand times, but it’s never old. Let’s listen to the timeless words of scripture that set the stage for the first Christmas, that was long years ago.
Reading from the second chapter of Luke eight through 14th verses.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo the Angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the Angel said unto them, “fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings and great joy, which I’ll be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, the savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this will be assigned unto you. You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying glory to God in the highest. On Earth, peace, goodwill toward men. So the shepherds in the field came home for Christmas.
In the account in the second chapter of Matthew, verses one, two, and nine to 11.
And when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, wise men came from the saying, “where is he that is born, king of the Jews? For we saw his star in the East, and I come to worship him.” And the star went before them till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And they came into the house and saw the young child of Mary, his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. And opening their treasures, they offered unto him gifts, and gold, Frankincense, and myrrh.
So the wise men came home for Christmas. Jesus’s Parable of the Prodigal Son is an interesting story of personal growth. The prodigal going out into the far country represents all of us, in the stages of life are we live at the circumference of being. And our interests and aspirations, centered in things and achievements out there in the world. But we cannot live by material and sensual things alone, lest we came to know want. Which means that we become aware, and deeply so, that there’s more to life than this. The story implies that the prodigal admitted to himself that of himself, he couldn’t find fulfillment. He resolved to take charge of his life.
As this prodigal puts it, the story puts it, he came to himself. In other words, he came home. This doesn’t mean going anywhere, geographically. He said, “I will rise and go unto the Father”. But the Father is the presence of God within. Actually, what happened to the prodigal was he woke up. The ancient Chinese compass from which all modern systems of navigation evolved, originally had five points instead of four. It was East and West, North and South, and where you are. The prodigal woke up to where he was, and who he was.
Until know who we are we’re forever on the outside of the kingdom. Reduced to looking in the window. And much prayer and worship is little more than window peeping. And significant in the parable that when he turned home, the Father came forth to meet him. When we turn to God, there’s a sense, a feeling, that God turns toward us. When we open ourselves to the floor, it would appear that the allness of God, substance in life and love are mobilized as our unfolding resource. Actually, it is always the Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom.
When we refocus ourselves on the inner center, the always have the inner process becomes the immanence of its activity. You may experience a dynamic flow of abundance, characterized in the parable as rings on our fingers, robes on our shoulders, and we kill the fatted calf celebration in our behalf. We’re imbued with power, the power of self discipline. We have the power to say no to the impulses and compulsions of the human self. In a way it’s very much like after years of addiction to television, suddenly waking up to the realization that you can develop skill in the creative art of using the off switch.
They can say that Christmas for most persons is a far country experience. That’s a shocking thing to say. Just look at us. We go through the motions of doing Christmas, year after year. We decorate glorious trees, and play and sing the lovely carols, and exchange cards and gifts. But how often we become preoccupied in doing Christmas, that we forget what it’s all about. The lovely symbols and legends of Christmas point to something very personal, the awakening of the Son of God self in the heart of us. As the saying goes, you teacher points to the truth. The student worships the pointer.
Let me say I believe in Christmas. I never find it difficult to decorate a tree, to put up the creche year after year. Or to engage in the full broad range of Christmas magic. But for me, the recent involvement comes easy. It’s that I can only remind myself that there is something so much deeper, so much richer, much more transcendent than the outer observation reveals. As a medial and mystic poet said, “though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be born. If he’s not born in thee, thy soul is all forlorn”. So even though we get involved in the lavish observance of Christmas, it is important to come home for Christmas. To get the deeper meaning, the inner feeling, to have a transcendent experience.
I read for you the gospel account of the first Christmas in the little town of Bethlehem, long years ago. Because this is all we have to go on. There’s so many unanswered questions, many that will probably forever reign unanswerable. But as students of truth, we must be material enough to deal with the fact that the whole Christmas story has evolved out of legends that were highly idealized over the passing centuries. There’s probably little in the Bible account that is historically accurate. We know very little about Jesus’ birth, or the circumstances surrounding it.
The gospels of Matthew and Luke, the only ones that give the legends of Christmas, we are told by scholars that they both drew very heavily on the gospel of Mark in reconstructing the story of a whole generation later. But strangely Mark doesn’t even mention the Christmas legends at all. Also strange is the fact that Matthew gives the legend of the wise men from the East. The Luke story of the shepherds in the field. And they’re recounting the same story from memory years later. Obviously there was an embellishment, an idealization that took place in those years. And there’s the legend of Mary and Joseph riding in to Bethlehem on a donkey. And there was no room in the inn, so she gave birth to her firstborn son and laid him in a manger. So many sermons have been preached, and stories have been written about the innkeeper who has become the classic symbol of the cruel, hard heart of materialistic merchant, who couldn’t find room for birth, the birth of a king. It may surprise you that today we know that the supposed inn was no Howard Johnson Hotel, or a truck stop with a bar of loud, laughing revelers.
It was little more than a protective enclave, called a Khan. K-H-A-N, Khan. Where travelers could find refuge from the perils of wild animals and thieves. They slept on the ground. It was just more as a protection, perhaps a wall, or a tent, little more than the circling of the wagons of our early pioneers, as protection against the marauding Indians. But Mary and Joseph, far from being hard pressed, and neglected, they found refuge in a cave in the nearby hills, which is warm and secure. Much better than in the inn. Quite possibly they were led there, by the very innkeeper who has for so long been pilloried as cruel and hardhearted. It’s really not all that important to when Jesus was born, even where. As we say so often, he didn’t come to proclaim himself, but it’s the only way that God possibility within every person. He was not trying to tell us if his divinity, making him the great exception.
Rather, he was telling us of our divinity. Showing us that in his overcoming, there was a great example of the I am reaching its full personal expression in man. So the great event in the life of Jesus was not his birth at all, but the awakening that took place within him during the years of his growth. And discovery of the divine dimension within, which is the divine dimension within all of us. Looking at the nativity story from a metaphysical, or a personally symbolic sense, we see that it is the story of the birth into consciousness, the idea of the Christ, of the divine divinity, the perfect pattern of God within the heart of us. The Bible has two great messages, all else is mere commentary upon them. First, the involution of the God man, first chapter Genesis. Where man is created in God’s image likeness. And the second, the evolution, and the progressive unfoldment of this God potential within the human experience. This is what the whole Bible is about, from the first chapter of Genesis through the time of Jesus.
Then do you think study is to be made of the evolving process, as revealed through Bible stories, and the metaphysical significance of names and places. The whole Bible story is revealed in a nutshell, in Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son. That’s why I refer to it so often, because it’s symbolic of that’s involved in the Bible. The evolution of the coming home of every man. And as Moses and the Israelites found, it’s a long way to the promise land. Where told it is not to have manifest but meant to be. The race of man has gone through many stages, but the next stage is the stuck upward into cosmic consciousness. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin called it the Omega Point. But don’t be in a rush, because this stage may take eons of time. However it is helpful in understanding the Jesus mission.
Jesus discovered and demonstrated the Christ potential, which actually accelerated the evolutionary process for all persons. It was a great historic breakthrough, because it gave meaning and direction for our eternal ongoing. And it made the Christ potential believable and achievable. In a metaphoric sense, Jesus revealed to all of us, that we’re actually butterflies in the making. However, by and large, his messages have been ignored. Most traditional religions have insisted that we’re lowly worms, but only Jesus is a butterfly.
When the angel first appeared to the shepherds in the field their first reaction was, they were sore afraid. In other words, the human consciousness, was simply too good to be true. This is the tragedy of human consciousness. They think a good thing is too good to be true, but trouble never surprises us. You may regret it, but we don’t think it’s too bad to be true. Simply because we have a caterpillar consciousness. The angel are still a small voice within tells us that butterflies, who were so afraid. The Angel, our still small voice, said, “fear not for I bring you a great tidings of great joy”. Suddenly they said yes to the inner guidance, to the angel. And they broke out heavenly music. The music of the spheres is always present. Though in most cases it’s turned down. So the shepherds went and found the place where the young child lay, they returned glorifying and praising God, for all they had heard and seen. Thus we accept the idea of our divine identity and faith and feeling.
In the story of the wise men, we have the symbol of our intellect. The way of logic and reason. Tradition has it that they were Magi, or astrological masters who had prophesied that a great new profit would be born. Or a certain star would lead them, and the star was probably more of an astrological computation than literal heavenly body. It’s that of us that comes to truth through intellectual study. There’s a certain logic to the idea of human potential, which leads to the Bethlehem place in consciousness, where we come home for Christmas. But the significant thing about the story, is that there’s a convergence of the two legends, symbolizing science and religion. Faith and knowledge, feeling and thought. To come home for Christmas, is to go beyond the outer celebration, and to really get involved within.
Walt Whitman was accused of egotism or a sacrilege when he’s saying his Leaves of Grass, “I celebrate myself.” And actually he may have been closer to the real meaning of Christmas, and most perfunctory celebrations, which consists primarily of erecting a facade, and going through an annual charade. Christmas celebrates you. The birth of the Christ awareness in the manger of your inner Bethlehem. The awareness that come through the logical assumptions of the like symbolized by the three wise men of the East. It’s the feelings of the heart symbolized by the shepherds in the field. When Christmas really celebrates you, it is a vital for us for growth and overcoming.
One of the great classics of Christmas is Dickens Christmas Carol. Perhaps you saw George C. Scott’s portrayal last year, and then again last Thursday night it was repeated. [This indicates that this talk must have been given in 1985] It was a masterful performance. Put on a demonstration of theater, against which I think all future portrayals will have to be judged. But the sad thing is that the story in The Christmas Carol has really been perverted. The real meaning is lost. If you listen to it, or watch it or read the story, carefully. You find that there’s something that we normally leave out. Because it’s not just the story of Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim, and the harassment of mean old Ebeneezer Scrooge. It’s a dramatic story of a marvelous metamorphosis through the activity of the Christmas spirit. Then you hear the memory that for years I have raised a one man crusade to restore dignity to Scrooge, because I feel he’s been given a bum rap. You can find the name Scrooge in the dictionary, and it refers to all its bad, all its hardhearted, all that’s cruel. He’s become the classic caricature of the mean and selfish businessperson. You’re ridiculing through the words, bah humbug.
But actually The Christmas Carol is the story of personal growth, miracle of change, the reality of divine potential, it is always present in even the most depraved of persons. Scrooge finally came home for Christmas. He became a sensitive employer, a second father to Tiny Tim. He voiced a strong commitment, and he said, “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year, I will live in the past, present and the future. The spirits of all three shall strive with me. I will not shut out the lessons they teach”. In a way his experience was not unlike the story of Job. His striving with the three comforters. In both cases, there was a dramatic metamorphosis. The caterpillar breaking loose into the butterfly of a new life.
Instead of being the villain of Christmas, Scrooge can be a bright light. Much in the sense that Paul transcended his past, as a weak persecutor of Christians, and became the great light in the Christian movement. Then at last what to happened Scrooge, happens in some way each of us. We can’t actually say we’re celebrating Christmas, we’re certainly not letting Christmas celebrate us. Dickens, in the close of the story says, “Scrooge knew how to keep Christmas”. You might ask, do I? You may recall it. The Dickens Christmas Carol pointed out three features, the spirit of Christmas past, Christmas present, Christmas future.
Christmas past you may want to look back in your memory to Christmases of other years, especially as they impinge on the present experience. You may recall sad times and unhappy times when you look at which you look around with regret or bitterness. Perhaps even happy times, heart warming experiences that you recall today with nostalgia, even longing. You can’t change these memories, nor can you have them back to live over again. But you can change your thoughts about them, and bring them into the context of today’s experience. They were important stages in your growing up. But they have come to pass. And they would bring a blessing to your Christmas today, if you know, really know, that all things work together for your good.
And Christmas present, look at yourself today. The demands and pressures, the inner confusions and doubts, admit to the design of Christmas, that you’ve erected, the mask of Christmas joy that you’ve put on. Realize that these are but the makings for a happening, but be willing to let it happen. Commit yourself to letting it happen. Letting the Christ child be born in the manger of your heart.
And Christmas future, Christmas you see is an unfinished story. It’s not too late to reflect on your Christmas dream. The kind of Christmas you would like to experience before this day is over. Before this day gets away from you, I invite you to write a diary of the day as if it had happened yesterday. Write a diary of all the things that you would like to see manifests in your life, as if they’d already happened.
And then put it in an envelope, and hold it till next Sunday, on New Years Day. And on that day, take some time to read over your commitment, your prayer, your carefully worded commitment. Can be a vital means of giving continuity of the face of your Christmas. Giving structure behind the façade. Making your dream a reality. You may recall the story of a man who attended a Quaker church for the first time. He sat restlessly as there was a prolonged period of silence. He turned to the man next to him and whispered, “when does the service begin?” The man leaned over and whispered, “when the meeting is over”. When we come home for Christmas and you get centered in the birth of the Christ and the manger of our heart, the true Christ mass begins when the day of celebration is over.
There’s a sleeves rolled up work to be done. A new Consciousness to reveal, in the light of our personal star does shine. Takes a great effort to break out of the vice like hold that outer Christmas has upon us. The whole story has been so sentimentalized, so embellished, lest made unreal, telling that we do once in a while. Like a movie that we watch for an hour, have a good cry over, and go out into the lives of drabness and routineness, not the least bit changed by the experience.
Christmas you see, should not be a seasonal backward glance at an event of so long ago that we can only deal with it in symbolic form, through assembling our Christmas creche. Which really is a kind of paste on piety of the season. And that is soon packed, packed away with ornaments and tinsel, and the perfunctory practice has been fulfilled. Christmas should rather be a forward look, it is a prophetic day, or should be. The birth of the Christ, your own Christmas star, belongs to an order of life not yet attained. A glimpse of a race of people yet to be. And we can dream. So it’s not too late. Come home for Christmas. And as Tiny Tim says, “God blesses all, everyone”.
Let’s be still for a moment. All aspects of the outer Christmas, the beautiful Christmas trees, the gaily bedecked stores, the selling of chestnuts on the street corner. The Christmas carols we hear of our own children, the speculative of seeing young boys and girls on the very tip toe of expectancy, and the Santa Claus Syndrome, which just so much a part of the hearts of all of us. But all of this is but a strange and yet beautiful commentary, if we get into the right context of something that happens within us. Something that it’s beyond theology, beyond symbology, beyond ritual. Something which is the very divine living with harmony within us, singing its song, which is our song.
So let’s get very still for a moment. Let that song, the eternal Christmas carol of our own nature sing to us. Bless us with music, with great creative words, with beautiful feelings, the stars in our heavens, and all the good surrounding us. Let’s be still and see the whole universe rushing, streaming, pouring into us from all sides. As we sit quiet. And we were home for Christmas. Praise God. Praise God for the truth. It makes us free. So be it.