Thirty-five years ago this month, I wrote a very special song, one that has remained for many people a favorite among my compositions. I still recall repeatedly wiping away the tears that I might see to write. It was a carol, and I gave it the name, “The Christmas Mystery.” The refrain went:
Who’ll tell to me this mystery,
How a tiny babe in a manger laid
Could so many hearts to love persuade?
This holy son of Mary!
We human beings have a tendency to look at the world around us superficially. Our essential reality is not our outward humanity: It is the eternal soul. For we are not this body with its trappings of nationality, language, and gender. Still less can we achieve self-definition through the religions to which we adhere. Our essential reality is beyond every physical and mental limitation.
This one inner reality, although defined variously in Christianity, Judaism, and Hinduism, and though appearing outwardly in the garb of American, African, or Asian, is forever beyond form. Though we, as human beings, are born into imperfection and limitation, our eternal, indeed our only, mission in life is to learn how, through the lessons of earth life, to unite our souls with the Infinite Source of all life.
When Jesus said in the Bible, “I and my Father are One,” he was declaring that he had united his soul with the Infinite Spirit. His words were meant as a challenge and an inspiration to us all to “go and do likewise.” He was saying that he had accomplished what he had come on earth to help all of us to accomplish: to unite our souls with the endless source of Divine Love.
And that is what all the great religions are about. Theologians have attempted logically to define the eternal truths, but no verbal statement can possibly replace the actual experience of those truths in the soul. The religious spirit is that aspect of human nature which reaches up in longing for eternal realities. And religion is that teaching and code of behavior which inspires and guides mankind toward the fulfillment of this soul-aspiration.
In this deeper sense, a self-styled atheist may be more truly religious than many an avowed religionist. For if he expresses selfless love for others, and serves them with dedication and humility, what, essentially, is missing? Is God petty, that He would reject such a man simply because he doesn’t believe in Him with his mind, and embrace all the bigots who worship Him through grandiose prayers while feeling no charity for his other human children in their hearts?
It is a mistake, to narrow our understanding of love by defining it as “Christian.” Love is not great because Jesus loved. Jesus, rather, was great because he demonstrated so perfectly the quality of love. Hindus do not love the great truths propounded in The Bhagavad Gita because it was Krishna who taught them. Rather, they love Krishna because he was such an inspiring manifestation of those eternal realities. Human beings achieve greatness only insofar as they manifest higher principles. Always, it is principles that count, not the countless forms in which principles have, at various times through the ages, been decked.
Let us then, during this Christmas season, view the birth of Jesus not only as a particular event in history, but as a particularly sweet expression of a universal truth. Let the birth of Divine Love in that little form two thousand years ago inspire us to conceive and give birth to that love within ourselves, through the virgin purity of our hearts’ devotion.
In this way, Christmas can become a holy season not for Christians alone, but for people everywhere on earth, regardless of any religious affiliation. The three wise men represented the other world religions in their visit, filled with respect and adoration, to the Christ child. Let us, like them, open our hearts and souls to Universal Love, as it calls out to us from the altars of every religion. Thus, we may solve at last the eternal challenge to our understanding: the Christmas Mystery.