Even as small children we were gathered up, still asleep, and carried to the midnight Christmas Eve service at St. Thomas Episcopal Church. Somewhere between wakefulness and dreaming, standing with our heads about level with a forest of adult knees, we watched, awestruck, as the crèche scene came to life. Over our heads we heard the minster’s sonorous, incantatory rumblings, the choir’s full-throated booming of hymns and carols. Incense rose in clouds; the flames from a profusion of candles flickered hypnotically. There were the shepherds, Joseph and Mary and baby Jesus, and the three kings bearing gifts—and we, in imagination, were bringing our own gifts to the manger.
At home again, we were allowed to stay up a little longer, to help our mother prepare a plate of cookies and a glass of warm milk (“from our own cows,” she pointed out) as a gift for Santa Claus, who would have come from far, far away and so would need something to eat and drink, especially on such a cold and snowy night.
Our young hearts rapt with expectancy, we gazed at the fireplace, imagining the sleigh wending its way from home to home, above the clouds, across forests, mountains, seas, rising as high as the stars. And Santa Claus, whom we loved with all the fervor of our young hearts, was coming to us, bearing gifts. When he came, he would find our surprise gift waiting, and he would know how much we loved him.
We knew too, for our parents had told us, that if we could stay awake long enough on Christmas Eve, we might actually see the sleigh sailing across the sky on its way to our home. I lay in bed, struggling not to fall asleep, gazing out the window, waiting for his coming. As I drifted in and out of sleep, I saw a point of light coming toward me, growing brighter and brighter. I knew I had seen him, and was comforted.
Christmas morning, at the barest glimmer of dawn, we crept downstairs, holding our breath, peeking around the corner of the stairwell toward the dining room table, and the fireplace beyond. The glass was empty; on the plate only a few crumbs remained; the stockings were stuffed with gifts. He had come.
Christmas Eve, seventy years later, little human family now transmuted into worldwide spiritual family, our hearts opened to the Christmas mystery. When the shepherds spoke, so simply and wonderingly, of the kindness and welcoming given them by the three kings, of how these kings, and Jesus too, had come on earth many times, my thoughts turned to what Yogananda has told us—that it was our own Masters, Babaji, Lahiri, Yukteswar, who came from the East to honor Christ, born as Jesus; that in our own era Jesus has returned the journey, coming to Babaji in the Himalayas to ask that a great soul be chosen, trained, and sent to the West to show suffering mankind the way to commune inwardly with his (and our) inner divinity, the Christ consciousness.
Late into the night we meditated, holding in our hands a gift, wrapped and beribboned, for the Christ child. My gift I prayed be infused with the trust and faith and love I had known as a child. Listening to Yogananda’s chant “Opal Flame,” my heart melted in gratitude, for here our Master was showing us the way to follow the light followed by the three kings, the light my child’s mind had seen as Santa coming: “Through the star in opal eye, ½See the Christ ev’rywhere.” Our true gift to the Christ child is to offer ourselves with devotion, reverence, and gratitude into the light in the forehead, to pass through that light into the realm of Spirit: “Follow the starry eye, ½To see the Christ born in thy soul anew.” Our true gift to the Christ child, what our souls most yearn for, is so utterly to give ourselves into the starry eye that we become the Christ consciousness: “Baptize me in Thy Light.½Spreading my soul with Christ½In the bliss ev’rywhere.”
In divine friendship,