Many years ago I promised you I would give you the real meaning of the Christmas story, but this has been a long time coming. Now you are grown up, 12 years old, and are no longer satisfied with merely learning about the details of a story. You want to know what is behind the Christ tale: why Jesus was born of a Virgin mother, why the Three Wise Men came and followed the Star, and for what purpose all of this happened.
Well, it is a long story, but we will try to unravel it together. First of all, we must understand that this story of the strange and beautiful birth of a little child, in a manger, of a Virgin mother, with a Star guiding Three Wise Men, has not been told only of that small boy Jesus, born in Bethlehem some twenty centuries ago. That very story has been told again and again by many other peoples, of course with different names and different cities, yet always the same wonderful events took place.
Last summer we talked about the life of the Buddha who came some 500 years before Jesus did. Do you remember that this little prince of India was also born of a Virgin mother whose name was Maya? That is an old Sanskrit word for Mary, and her little son was also known as a Savior of the world for he too brought great and noble teachings which led men to a higher way of living. Then the Persians tell an interesting story of the birth of their great teacher, Mithra, whose mother was a Virgin too, and it is related that when he was born there shone a great light round about him. Mithra's name, by the way, means 'friend,' and you can see what a great friend of all humanity is one who comes to bring light and truth. For we are so apt to quarrel that we forget that we really all are brothers, working together for a common goal, the bringing of understanding and warmth and kindliness to all peoples on the earth.
There is also the story of Krishna, the Sun-god of India, who came to earth well over 5000 years ago now, and it is told that when his mother gave birth to him the cave in which she lay became flooded with a 'heavenly light,' and both his father and mother appeared 'clothed with the sun.'
Now this last expression, 'clothed with the sun,' is a very old and a very beautiful one, and has behind it a deep meaning. It is never used without care, but only for those great men and women who have conquered all the evil in their hearts, and therefore whose natures have become so pure that they clearly reflect the light of the sun. In those ancient days the sun was called the Father of all, not only of physical beings like the plants and the earth, and even your body and mine, but likewise it was believed by wise men that the sun we see in the sky was a physical body only, hiding a great and shining Divinity. This Real Sun they called by many names. The Romans called it Sol Invictus, the 'Unconquered Sun,' as you will learn next year when you start Latin. The Greeks called it Apollo and by other titles; the Phrygians named their Sun-god Atys. And you remember that the Egyptians had their Osiris and Isis, and that Isis was also a Virgin who gave birth to a Sun-god which they called Horus? So you see many were the names given to that Invisible Sun in those days by all the peoples around the Mediterranean basin, because they all understood that when a man had completely conquered the ugly tendencies which made him want to hurt people, he opened up a pathway direct to the rays of that Real Sun.
Now where are we getting in our Christ story? It may seem a long way off, but actually we are right in the middle of it, because the very early Christians also knew these things. As late as the 7th century there was in use a Hymn to the Christ-Sun, which only goes to show that they had not then forgotten the truth behind Christmas. It is too bad that since then men lost that truth because they forgot to tell what Jesus really taught. But we can be glad that those first Christians were good men and remembered. They were simple folk who knew the difference between the true and the false, and also knew that the Christ story was not something which had never happened before, but was in very truth the culmination for their time of one of the most glorious experiences possible on this earth. They understood that what happened when Jesus became Christ was that he had successfully opened up the pathway between the sun in his heart and the sun in the universe, and that the rays of the Real Sun, which is a Divinity, shone fully upon him. Thus Jesus became like a Sun-god, because he really was 'clothed with the sun.'
Now Jesus represents you and me. He was born in a manger, that means in earthly existence. But Jesus did more than get born physically. He had to get born spiritually. All in the space of a few years he had to do what you and I will take ever so long to accomplish — maybe many lifetimes even! You see Jesus had to have a second birth, as John tells us in his Gospel, that is have a birth not only of the 'flesh' but of the 'spirit' too. So, Mary, the Virgin, represents the divine Mother, the spiritual source which was to give Jesus, the human soul, birth. She is called 'virgin' because she alone had to bring to birth all that was holy and good in Jesus. "Unless a man be born again he cannot enter the kingdom of God" — that is the human soul must be born again as the Christ-Sun without help from any source other than his own spiritual reservoir of strength. And Jesus had this 'second birth' at Christmas, really at the Winter Solstice time, December 21st. It meant that he was no longer just a human being, having all the ordinary troubles of men and women caused mostly by selfishness and greed. Jesus now was Christos, that is one 'anointed' with the sacred oil, and had become as near a Sun-god as any one could be. That is why they call him a Son of God because the god within him had become so full of light that it reflected the God in the universe. Isn't that a beautiful story?
No wonder he was called the Prince of Peace and the Great Physician. For he not only healed men's bodies but their minds and their hearts, and showed them that hatred ceases not by hatred but by love — the very thing that the Buddha of India had tried so hard to impress his disciples with, but which they also soon forgot.
Some men say it is a sad old world. And yet, despite the cold wars and the hot wars and the lukewarm wars that exist in so many parts of this earth, there is today more unselfishness and more real understanding in men's hearts than there has been for centuries. Formerly people hardly were aware of other people across the waters, and even if they were they didn't much care if they suffered famine or disease or war. Nowadays we feel the pain and the heartache from every corner of the globe because what one suffers we all must feel. We don't always do much about it, but at least we care, and one day we shall know how to help. Well, let's get back to our story. What about those Three Wise Men who brought the gold, frankincense and myrrh? The Gospels don't really tell us much. They don't even give their names, nor what country they came from, so that many legends have grown up around them. Some people say they came from Persia and that is why they call them Magi, meaning 'great' in wisdom. Others, like St. Augustine, believe there really were Twelve Wise Men. But whether there were Twelve or only Three, why do you suppose they were sent to 'follow the Star'? And what was that Star?
Those are questions which the most learned men have asked themselves a thousand times, and for many centuries. But the wisest among them say this, that the Kings or Wise Men are symbols, and that the gifts they brought were also symbols, and stood for certain qualities which Jesus was to need in order to become the Christ. Now that is difficult to understand all at once, but I will explain first of all what symbols are. You use them all the time, only you don't know it. Every time you smile, that is a symbol that you are pleased and happy; and every time you shake your head, you are using a symbol for saying No. Those are very simple ones. Symbols actually are a kind of shorthand, a useful means of saying a whole lot in a few words, or by a sign. Your sister Brita writes shorthand, to you just a meaningless jumble of hen-scratches, but she can read it right off. To her those 'scratches' are not at all meaningless, but symbols of long sentences and may be even a whole book. But you can't understand a thing until she has it all typewritten. Then you can read it. That is exactly what the ancients have done for thousands of years. They have used certain things as symbols of other things, the way the old Egyptians sometimes spoke of a horse when they really meant the sun, and a bull when they wanted to talk about the moon. The wisest among them had a kind of symbolic shorthand which only they understood.
So we can say that the Wise Men were symbols in this Christ story of certain qualities which again stood for certain planets in our solar system. If you want to make them Twelve Wise Men you will have to have twelve planets (maybe your Dad can work this out as he has a lot of those ancient astronomical books). But if we stick to the Three Wise Men, then we can say that Melchior, who brought the casket of gold, stood for Venus, and represented the light that Jesus was to shed upon the world; Caspar, who brought myrrh "in a gold-mounted horn" some say, stood for Mercury; and Balthazar who offered frankincense, 'pure incense,' stood for the Moon.
Not everyone agrees about which Wise Man brought which gift. But you and I don't need to worry our heads over these details. We can leave them to the scholars. The important point is that these Kings or Wise Men were used as symbols to bring to Jesus something very special which he must have in order to fulfill his mission.
But what about the star? Ask your Dad to look up what Kepler, the great German astronomer, tells regarding the cycle of 800 years when several planets get together in what he calls a syzygy. A dreadful word, but it simply means that certain planets, as they revolve about the sun at different speeds, every once in a while catch up with each other and seem to form a line with the sun and the earth and the moon. Well, such a thing as that Kepler proved (at least to himself) happened just about the time Jesus was supposed to have been born. If so, then you can see that the Star was really a wonderful gathering of planets in the direction of the sun, in order that Jesus could open wide the pathway from the sun in his heart to the sun in the heavens. Think about it, and you will begin to see how closely we are linked with the sun and the stars and all things in the universe.
Now, Ingeborg, we must say goodbye. Remember just this: the story of Christmas is a beautiful story of the human soul, and Jesus represents the divine climax of what you and I and every single person on earth may one day become. What he lived for and died for was that all of us might bring the Christ-Sun to birth within our own hearts. My love to you, as always, and God Jul!
G. F. K.
P. S. Ask Carl to put out an extra large sheaf of wheat on the pole for the birds for Christmas, won't you? I think it's going to be a very cold winter this year.
(From Sunrise magazine, December 1951; copyright © 1951 Theosophical University Press)