[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]
What does Christmas mean anyway? For many of us, the mythology has dropped away. In a scientific age, we may question the Virgin Birth and other miraculous events. Along with many modern scholars, we may question the story of angels, Wise Men and shepherds. For some of us, Christmas used to mean something, before we left our childhood religion behind. For others, it never meant anything in the first place.
Does A Course in Miracles provide any way to recover a sense of meaning around Christmas? The Course actually has a great deal to say about Christmas. It does so by using the metaphor of Christmas to describe the birth of a holy relationship. Perhaps, then, if we examine what the Course says about the holy relationship we can discover the true meaning of Christmas.
At first, there is the special relationship. Two people are locked in fear and conflict, chaos and suffering. The long story of their interaction seems to have no meaning, as conflict repeatedly intrudes on their attempts to maintain safety and control.
Then, a moment unlike all others occurs, a moment not of them. A moment not of time. They could never have planned this moment or arranged it. But somehow they allow it to happen. In that instant, the memories, the grievances, the accumulated mistrust, and all the certainties of who the other is, are suspended. In that instant, all is still. The conflict, the noise, the ongoing war stops. The guns are stilled. And something from above is born, something of God.
That moment is what the Course calls a holy instant. In that holy instant, Christ is born deep inside their relationship. And in that deep place, the relationship is healed by His presence, “washed in the waters of forgiveness…and set shining and firmly rooted in the world of light” (T-18.IX.9:4,13:1).
This Christ is merely an infant, “a tiny newcomer, dependent on the holiness of your relationship to let Him live” (T-22.I.8:7). Yet He is what guides the relationship to its new goal. For the conscious part of the relationship remains unhealed, just as before. Yet in the holy instant it was given a new goal, the goal of sharing God’s holiness. And the “tiny newcomer” will be the One that leads it there. The relationship will follow Him to the world of light.
Slowly, the relationship will grow up under His guidance. And as it does, so will the infant Christ “which nestles quietly in the safety of your relationship…grow into a mighty force for God…” (T-19.IV(C).9:2).
Eventually, the Christ will extend through the two people to reach the world. He will give them a special function, a service to humanity they can fulfill together. And as they perform this ministry, He will be in their hands, their voice, their eyes. He will walk the earth again through them and perform His ministry. Yet everything that He will do, which includes leading the world to God, was somehow contained in that original holy instant.
This story has special significance in relation to the Course, because this is its own story. The story of the birth of the Course is the story of the birth of Jesus once again into our world.
Helen Schucman and Bill Thetford begin in a typical special relationship, filled with anger and conflict. Then a holy instant occurs. In a moment unlike all others, they agree to find a better way together. Everything turns on that moment, a moment which the Course praises and embellishes repeatedly over the space of 6 chapters in the Text. In that moment, something is born into their relationship which will change their lives and the lives of countless others forever.
This “something” soon makes itself known as Helen begins to have a series of inner visions and psychic episodes, experiences which prefigure some significant event to come. And then, after several months, this “something” begins to dictate A Course in Miracles through her. Now it becomes apparent what exactly was born into their relationship. “I was a stranger and you took me in, not knowing who I was” (T-20.I.4:3). It was Jesus himself, appearing once again to the world to save us from our illusions.
This “tiny newcomer,” this voice that Helen hears in her mind, guides her and Bill to write a book, a book which can serve as Jesus’ voice in the world. And as each copy of this book goes out—now over a million of them—so too does he go out to once again carry on his ministry in the world.
A Course in Miracles, then, is a modern Christmas story. Helen played the role of Mary, the mother of Jesus; Bill took the role of Joseph. And Helen and Bill’s original holy instant played the role of the first Christmas. This line of thought is confirmed by Jesus, who called Helen “Mother” and “the one who gave me birth,” and told her the following about the appearance of the Course:
You do not understand what happened, nor the signs that still surround His birth. The star is there, and all attempts to call it something else will slip away in time….The Child has come, and has been born again (Absence from Felicity, p. 397).
Thus, in A Course in Miracles Jesus has been born again to a world so desperately in need of his light: “Here is the babe of Bethlehem reborn. And everyone who gives him shelter will follow him, not to the cross, but to the resurrection and the life” (T-19.IV(C).10:8).
Now we can get back to the first Christmas. By adapting ideas and passages about the holy relationship and by using what the Course says about the significance of the life of Jesus for our world, I will present what I believe Christmas means.
The world itself is the special relationship into which Jesus came. And it is a battlefield, seething with conflict, hatred, and death. Its battle has been raging since time immemorial, rising and falling, but never abating; rampaging through homes, streets, stores, fields, over the seas and even in the skies, despite all our best efforts to curb the violence and maintain the peace.
Yet one silent, holy night, for a moment, it all ceased. As Edgar Cayce said, “And all the rabble and all the jeers of a world were stopped.” Who knows what actually happened that night, but somewhere in the world, somewhere apart from all the noise of battle, there was stillness. And in that stillness there occurred “the birth of holiness into this world.”
This is the one line in which the Course describes the meaning of Christmas, and that line speaks volumes. In full, it says, “In this season (Christmas) which celebrates the birth of holiness into this world, join with me who decided for holiness for you” (T-15.III.7:1). The meaning is clear: Jesus decided for holiness for the whole world. Somehow in his decision for God, we all decided. His entry into the earth therefore was the birth of holiness into this world.
The first Christmas, then, was a planetary holy instant, in which holiness was born once and for all into the global special relationship. In that holy instant, our collective journey was forever changed. The Christ Presence entered our world at some deep level and healed it. All of the casualties of the global battle, “the broken bodies and the shattered limbs, the screaming dying and the silent dead, [were] gently lifted up and comforted” (T-27.V.3:4). Humanity, tired and bloodied, was “uprooted from the world of shadows…safely brought through the barriers of guilt, washed with forgiveness and set shining and firmly rooted in the world of light” (T-18.IX.9:4,13:1).
True, the conscious patterns of our world were unchanged. The world went on just as before; the endless battle barely paused. But unbeknownst to us, in that holy instant the whole goal of life on earth had been “abruptly shifted to the exact opposite of what it was” (Text, p. 337; T-17.V.2:6). Before we had pursued the goal of sin. But now we had allowed in the goal of holiness. And from its home, submerged deep in the collective psyche, holiness would inevitably rise up and someday replace all of the world’s battles with the golden silence of God’s peace.
Who else could lead us to this goal but the “tiny newcomer,” the child through which this goal was born? For in that child was contained, as in a seed, all of the holiness the world would someday attain, and all the means for its accomplishment. “In its tiny hands it holds, in perfect safety, every miracle you will perform, held out to you” (T-19.IV(C).10:4). Though seemingly small and frail, this child contained not only the promise of his adult accomplishments but also the promise of humanity’s awakening.
But as yet it is just a promise. The child must grow up. Therefore, “The infancy of [global] salvation is carefully guarded by love, preserved from every thought that would attack it, and quietly made ready to fulfill the mighty task for which it was given you” (T-19.IV(C).9:4). As Jesus grows up the holiness that entered at his birth finds an opening through which it can flow out into the world. It pours out through his words and through his deeds. And in his final act it is fully released, and leaps beyond the body, beyond locality, to reach the entire world.
This is what his followers experience. Though they see him no more, they feel his abiding presence, guiding them, comforting them, electrifying them. They are set on fire with love and become absolutely fearless. Thus, as their movement sweeps the known world, it bears witness to the new sun in the skies of humanity, the new Spirit in the collective mind. However misguided they were, however much their B.C. mindsets distorted this Spirit’s pure impulse, they were being carried along by the winds of a new spiritual climate. They were the harbingers of humanity’s awakening, an awakening which, unbeknownst to the rest of the world, had on some deep level already occurred.
The Spirit of Jesus that guided them is still abroad in the world today, guiding us to the goal which he planted in us so many centuries ago. He is still with us, inspiring little Christmases wherever there are open minds, just as he did with Helen and Bill. For as he told them: “My task is not completed until I have lifted every voice with mine” (T-13.VII.17:2). Therefore, he will continue to shepherd us until the whole world follows him, “not to the cross, but to the resurrection and the life” (T-19.IV(C).10:8).
Yet even when we reach the final moment of our collective journey, when all hands are joined as the world is shined away in light, we can remember that this moment was born on the first Christmas. In that ancient planetary holy instant was contained the whole reversal of the sad saga of human history. In that tiny infant lay the end of the world and the guarantee that all of us would reach that end and pass beyond it to unlimited life in God. Though the birth happened quietly and out of the way, though few knew of it and the world went on as before, in a sense, the world ended then and there. And it is just taking a very long time for us all to realize that.
Therefore, if we had been one of the few who were physically present on that silent, holy night—perhaps a shepherd or a midwife—we would have been able to open our eyes the next morning, walk out into the fresh air, look at the bright new day and say with a deep exultation in our heart:
What is here begun will grow in life and strength and hope, until the world is still an instant and forgets all that the dream of sin had made of it. (Manual, p. 87; C-E.4:6).