Workbook Lesson 303 paints a beautiful picture of the birth of Christ in us. For this reason, I have long enjoyed using this lesson as my practice for Christmas Day. The first paragraph in particular has always been a favorite of mine. Using poetic imagery that evokes the traditional story of the first Christmas, it invites us to experience a kind of day that is a far cry from the usual frenetic activity of our conventional Christmas celebrations: a day of hushed expectancy, in which we peacefully await the birth of Christ at the center of our being.
I would like to go through that first paragraph line by line, drawing out each line's meaning and filling in the picture of the kind of day this lesson is calling us to experience. This is one of the places in the Course where Jesus gives us an idea of how he envisions us celebrating Christmas; you might want to consider incorporating this lesson into your practice during the Christmas season. I hope that you will find it a useful means to experience the season in the way Jesus intends.
Watch with me, angels, watch with me today.
Today, this very day, is no ordinary day: It is a holy day. Why? Because this is the day in which, if we are willing, we can experience Christ's birth in us. In a sense, then, every day can be Christmas Day, a hallowed day in which we receive "good tidings of great joy" (Luke 2:10, KJV), a day in which the pure Christ child, our true Identity, comes to bless our minds and the entire world.
Think of the day you're experiencing right now. It may be a quite ordinary day, with the usual laundry list of things to do, people to see, and duties to fulfill. Since the holidays are upon us, your list may well be longer than usual. What would your day be like if you really saw it in the way this lesson describes, as a day that is every bit as holy as the day Jesus was born, a day that can bring the light of Heaven into the darkness of the hell that our illusory "evil self" (W-pII.303.2:2)—the ego—has wrought?
Today, right this very moment, we are all expecting. The birth that is taking place in us is momentous, and so we are asked to spend this day in watchfulness, in joyful anticipation. And we are not to spend this time of watchfulness alone. Just as we invite our loved ones to share the experience of the birth of our earthly children, so we are to invite the angels to witness the birth of Christ along with us.
The invitation to angels is particularly striking when we realize that the Course material regards angels not as mere metaphors for God's Love, but as real beings created by God to love, help, and protect us in this world (see Robert Perry's article entitled "Watch with Me, Angels," on this website). This invitation is not just pretty poetry. We are truly inviting the messengers of God to join us in a Christmas Eve vigil, awaiting the blessed event to come.
It is only appropriate that we invite the angels to attend the birth of Christ in us, since tradition tells us they were there at the birth of Jesus 2,000 years ago. The presence of angels at the birth that is taking place in us testifies to the holiness of that birth. Just as the angels sang long ago in celebration of Jesus, so they are singing now in celebration of us: "Glory to God in the highest, and to you because He has so willed it" (T-8.III.1:1).
Let all God's holy Thoughts surround me, and be still with me while Heaven's Son is born.
All of the remaining sentences in this paragraph contain the word "let." They are inviting us to let something happen, something that will help facilitate the holy birth that is meant to take place on this day. Here, we are asked to let the angels ("God's holy Thoughts") surround and protect Christ's birthplace in our minds. Protection of our minds is the main reason that God created the angels in the first place (see T-26.IX.7:1; W-pI.183.2:2; and Absence from Felicity, p. 19). Just as we need a safe place in which to give birth to our children—even if, as in the case of Jesus, that place is nothing more than a manger in a stable—so we need a safe place in our minds to welcome Heaven's Son. The Thoughts of God stand guard over our minds and keep away the thoughts of the ego, which threaten to abort the Christ child before He has a chance to be born.
One way in which the angels surround us and protect our minds is simply by helping our minds to be still. The ego is a noisy and boisterous voice, always demanding our attention and attempting to distract us from seeing the Christ within. Stillness is like rat poison to the ego, because stillness opens us up to "the peace of God, which passeth all understanding" (Phil 4:7, KJV). This is the last thing the ego wants us to experience. But the birthing chamber of Christ is holy ground, and holy ground is marked by stillness. It is in the stillness of our quiet minds—the stillness of the holy instant, in which we enter the eternal present where Christ dwells—that the recognition of Christ dawns upon us.
Stillness is often very difficult to find during the Christmas season. It is a truism that, for all the joy Christmas is supposed to offer, it is actually a time of great stress for many of us. Our minds are a maelstrom of activity as we send our cards, buy our gifts, decorate our homes, bake our goodies, take our kids to see Santa, and plan our Christmas parties. We ride an emotional roller coaster as we get together with our families, and long-standing issues and grievances come to the surface. Imagine what a blessed relief it would be if the frenzy of your mind during the Christmas season were replaced by a peaceful state of mind in which you quietly joined with the angels in awaiting the dawn of Christ within you: a holiday that is truly a holy day. This is the experience Jesus is calling us to have.
Let earthly sounds be quiet, and the sights to which I am accustomed disappear.
When a mother gives birth to a child, she withdraws from the world and finds a place apart from the hustle and bustle that normally surrounds her. Here in this lesson, one way in which we are asked to cultivate the peace of mind that facilitates the birth of Christ is to withdraw our attention from what normally surrounds us. The world around us is constantly barraging us with appeals to the senses, and at no time is the barrage more intense and more insistent than at Christmastime. The stress within our minds is mirrored by a frenetic outer world. I personally find the Christmas season to be overwhelming. My senses are pummeled with an endless onslaught of repetitive music, flashing lights, bustling crowds, noisy toys, and determined pitchmen trying to sell me the "perfect gift." Everyone and everything is clamoring for my attention. It is simply too much. I want to retreat into my cave and not come out until it is all over.
The whole nature of our conventional Christmas is summed up for me in a tongue-in-cheek Star Trek Christmas ornament I recently saw (at Hallmark, of all places). It was a miniature "Borg Cube," the starship of a sinister alien race called the Borg, whose sole goal is to rapaciously assimilate everyone they encounter into the evil Borg Collective. At the touch of a button, the ornament droned out a Christmas version of the Borg Collective's standard message to the unfortunate souls they aim to assimilate, a version that for me perfectly captures the relentless nature of the season: "We are the Borg. Enjoy your holidays. Resistance is futile."
But resistance is not futile. We can turn away from the sensory barrage. One way we can do this is by literally withdrawing from the world in meditation, as we do in our extended Workbook practice periods. Another way we can do this, a way we can use when we are out and about in the world, is simply to de-emphasize the importance of what our senses are reporting to us. Even as we take in the sights and sounds of the world around us, we can remind ourselves that none of what we are seeing and hearing is the truth. The truth is in Christ, Whose birth we are quietly awaiting amidst the cacophony of the outer world.
Let Christ be welcomed where He is at home.
By setting aside both the stress within our minds and the frenzy without, we open a space where Christ can be welcomed. Just as we set up a quiet nursery to welcome a newborn baby to her new home, so we set up a quiet "nursery" within our minds to welcome the newborn Christ child to His new home. Actually, "new home" is not quite accurate here, for Christ is our true Self, and He has in fact been at home in our minds from the very beginning. In truth, He is being welcomed into the ancient home He never really left.
This is the essence of Christmas in the Course: It is not primarily a celebration of the birth of Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, but a welcoming of the Christ into our own minds right here and right now. This is the welcome that Jesus is asking of us, the welcome of Christ to the inner altar of our minds: "Welcome me not into a manger, but into the altar to holiness, where holiness abides in perfect peace" (T-15.III.9:6).
And let Him hear the sounds He understands, and see but sights that show His Father's Love.
When we bring a new baby into our home, we want to provide an environment that is appropriate for her, a nurturing, healthy place where she can grow safely into adulthood. It is the same with the Christ child that we are welcoming into our minds. He is not at home in the physical world, the world of the senses. He does not understand the sights and sounds that make up our world. Such a world is not a healthy place for Him to grow up; it is the ego's world, and the ego is constantly threatening to kill Him before He can ever reach maturity, just as Herod tried to kill the baby Jesus. Our conventional way of celebrating Christmas, then, is strange indeed. We claim to be celebrating the birth of Christ, but because our manner of celebrating it emphasizes physical sights and sounds so much, we actually end up pushing Christ right out of our minds.
So, we must provide Him with an environment other than the physical world to grow up in. And we do this simply by choosing to see the world with His vision: the vision of Christ. This points directly to the Course's main means of birthing the Christ in us: forgiveness. "Here is the babe of Bethlehem reborn" (T-19.IV(C).10.8), and here is the source of His sustenance. It is through forgiveness that we look past the sights and sounds of the ego's world, and see beyond them to the real world of holiness and love. It is through forgiveness that we interpret the physical world in a different way, a way that shows us the love shining behind the fear and hatred and attack that the world seems to present to us. This is what the Christ in us understands.
The true way to celebrate Christmas, then, is by beholding the world with the eyes of forgiveness. "Who can be born again in Christ but him who has forgiven everyone he sees or thinks of or imagines?" (W-pI.192.8:1). We see Christ in ourselves when we see Christ in everyone. Forgiveness is the environment in which the Christ in us is born, and in which He flourishes and grows to maturity.
Let Him no longer be a stranger here, for He is born again in me today.
Christ has been a stranger, both in our minds and in the world, for a long time. Our minds have been lost in the ego's darkness. Our outer world has been a projection of that darkness, a world of fear and chaos in which we have been under constant stress. Our way of celebrating Christmas has been simply one more version of this same dynamic, one more way in which we lose ourselves in the darkness of the ego's world and push away our awareness of the Christ in our midst.
But it doesn't have to be that way. We can turn away from the ego, and turn toward our true Self. We can lay aside our stress, and open our minds to peace. In the Gospels, Jesus said, "I was a stranger and you invited me in" (Matt 25:35, NIV). This Christmas season, we have the opportunity to invite the seeming stranger, the pure and holy Christ Who is our true Identity, into our minds. Let us not wait any longer. Let us heed the voice of our elder brother Jesus, calling upon us to make this very day the birthday of the Christ in us: "It is in your power to make this season holy, for it is in your power to make the time of Christ be now" (T-15.X.4:1). May you find the holiness and peace that Jesus wants us to experience on Christmas Day and every day: the holiness and peace ushered in by the coming of the Christ Self that all of us share.