[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]
It’s Christmas night, I’m overflowing with joy, and there’s nothing I’d rather do than share it with you. In fact, my joy seems incomplete without my sharing it with you!
Let me tell you how this has come about.
Every year in our pre-Christmas Sunday gatherings here at Course Oasis, I guide people through the four weeks of Advent, each week focusing of one of the four themes of hope, peace, love, and joy. In this way, we prepare for Christmas to “come to” us and we prepare to come to it. The first week, Mary, one of our students, brought her 80-ish mother, Betty, who had been noticing such changes in her daughter since Mary had started studying the Course with us, that she wanted to come and see what this Course––and we––were all about. Finding out what the Course had to say about Christmas seemed a good place to start.
We spent that first week discussing the hope of happiness and freedom contained in Jesus’ teachings and how crucial releasing our brothers from our expectations and demands is to fulfilling that hope. As part of that discussion, we touched on what Jesus says in the Christmas sections about love being linked to sacrifice. We did the Christmas releasing exercise from T-15.XI.10, and I suggested that we continue practicing it throughout the pre-Christmas season.
I heard later via Mary that her mother had been quite disturbed by the thought that we associate love with sacrifice and imprison our loved ones with our expectations and demands. She had been left wondering where the joy of Christmas was. That got me thinking about Jesus’ teachings on Christmas. They weren’t new to me, but Betty’s concerns made me stop and pay more attention to them and wonder why he emphasized so much the connection between love and sacrifice. The answer came to me in my quiet time the next morning:
Traditionally, Jesus is seen as God’s only Son, whom He loved so much that He sacrificed him to die for all of us sinners. This supreme act of love by God, and His Son’s willingness to die––out of love––for all of us, supposedly wiped away all of our sins.
However, in his Christmas teachings, Jesus is saying that a loving God would never sacrifice His Son in the name of love. Since God is total love, total love must mean total sacrifice to us. No wonder we’re afraid of God and of love. Jesus goes on to say that love is not sacrifice, but “separation from love” (T-15.XI.4:1). “The lesson I was born to teach, and still would teach to all my brothers, is that sacrifice is nowhere and love is everywhere.” (XI.7:5). There is no sin and we have never sinned; therefore, there is no need for us to atone or prove our love through sacrifice. Jesus showed us his love, not by coming into the world to die for our sins, but by coming to release us from our belief that we are sinners!
It is through his teachings about our sinlessness and oneness in Christ that he has given us the gift of release, and all he asks of us is that we release our brothers by teaching them the same lessons. He wants us to be free and he knows that is the only way we will be free.
Just as his birth marked the birth of his holiness into the world, this time of Christ marks the birth of our holiness into the world. No wonder this is the season of joy! “Let no despair darken the joy of Christmas, for the time of Christ is meaningless apart from joy” (XI.8).
Betty’s questions and my reflections on them carried me through the next three weeks of Advent and inspired our annual Christmas celebration last Sunday. This year the whole celebration took on such a deeper meaning because of them. I really felt that the people who came understood that Jesus was serious about this being the time of Christ and birth of holiness into the world––and into them. They saw that for Christ to be reborn in them, they needed to give the Holy Spirit “all that hurts [them]” (their expectations, demands, judgements, guilt, etc.) so that they could release their brothers. They needed to remove all that stood in the way of the holy birth. When I guided them through an expanded version of the releasing exercise from “Christmas as the End of Sacrifice,” they felt that and some of them even experienced a major healing of a relationship.
When I took them through a slightly revised version of Robert’s “Holiness Visualization,” I could feel everyone actually preparing to accept the birth of holiness in them. At the end of the evening, there was such a hush and sense of holiness in the room as we passed the Christ candle from person to person and, addressing him or her by name, said, “I honour the birth of the holy Christ in you.”
The Advent gatherings and that final celebration didn’t only affect the people who were there, but they also had a profound effect on me. It was as if I found the joy that Betty was wondering about as I prepared for each week’s gathering and that joy permeated my days. After the celebration last Sunday, I spent my pre-Christmas days in joyful anticipation, “pregnant” with the thought of this holy day and the birth of Christ. Last evening, Christmas Eve, I was like a little kid, all excited about Christmas morning; but I wasn’t anxious to see what Christmas presents I had received; no, I could hardly wait to celebrate Jesus’s birth and the birth of Christ! And that’s just what James and I have been doing today, spending Christmas as we think Jesus would want us to.
I am so grateful to Betty for sparking this deeper reflection in me and for providing me with the opportunity to share the real meaning of Christmas with my brothers, and I’m glad that she found the joy that she though was missing.
Yes, Betty; there is joy in Christmas, for “the time of Christ is meaningless apart from joy” (XI.8)!