I wanted to write a few words about the Luke Christmas story and Christian custom, tradition and myth. It seems, in our real-time or media time, in which many ignore the past and live for no apparent future myths are under fire. From Nativity star up to bright lights, from Christmas story to Midnight mass, the advent and Christmas season is full of symbols that have various backgrounds and history. I like to introduces some of them and explain religious and psychological significance. As C.G Jung showed, symbols and myths are representations of collective archetypes and of high significance for every culture. Myths are not lies, even if one lacks transcendental depth, collective archetypes are still part of us.
The myth-less time
“37 Million Americans know MYTHS when they see them” is written atop a billboard 2012 in NYC, and continues to ask, “What myths do you see?” in between the pictures, suggesting that Jesus and the other figures belong in the same category. It has been said the billboard is “ignorant and vulgar”, because the American Atheist’s billboard message equates myth with untruth, which demonstrates a lack of knowledge about culture, art, history and psychology , among other things. Free speech has been allowed against Western and Asian religions that made some peace with the area of enlightenment. It seems those 37 millions poor souls are really lost – they have no transcendental experience, not even myths anymore. From a Jungian perspective, their Ego wants to kill their Self for a Merry Food, Fun and other F#s.
“a spiritual desert is spreading – an interior emptiness, an unnamed fear, a quiet sense of despair.”
― Pope Benedict XVI
Jesus shows a different way. The church year has as its base five liturgical seasons that recall the great events of Christ’s life. Proceeding in historical order, Advent, the first liturgical season, prepares Roman Catholics for the celebration of the Incarnation, God becoming human, celebrated on Christmas Day. The Christmas season recalls Jesus’ birth and the significant events of his early life, culminating in his baptism.
Myths have always helped people to ope with their fate, make sense of the senseless: A natural disaster was slightly less arbitrary for the people if he believed divine anger behind it. Unlike in religions, philosophy or science the myth appears not cool dogmatic and therefore rational, but creative, by itself claims poetic freedom or also the irony: “He speaks in pictures, is never clear,” compared to dogmatic teachings. That is why art offers the myth until today as a “natural habitat”, in the narrative, in allegories, pictures, sculpture, dance and music. Since enlightenment the myth have recovered but no longer from his suspicion, a testimony of human immaturity of the citizen or but – as the representative of social philosophy criticized them – the self-aggrandizement of the mind. Social philosophy have mistaken lies by myth, and failed to see that more people had been killed by rational cunning than by myths. The Christmas story created around the real historic events is the most powerful myth of hope.
Jung and the Christmas story
C. G. Jung used the Christian background and often Catholicism’s powerful symbols throughout his career to illuminate the psychological roots of all religions. Jung believed religion was a profound, psychological response to the unknown–both the inner self and the outer worlds–and he understood Christianity to be a profound meditation on the meaning of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Jung’s personal relationship with Christianity to his psychological views on religion in general, his hermeneutic of religious thought, and his therapeutic attitude toward Christianity included extensive elaboration to ” “Christ as a Symbol of the Self,” and from Aion, “Answer to Job”.
The Christian message is not a mere collection of dogmas and codes of conduct, but to offer in the form of the Christ the light on the way to truth and life. The gospel is not primarily theological instruction. Much more important is the question: How can succeed in the incarnation of the people to follow his example? Very early on Christians began therefore to understand the Christmas story metaphorically. These Christians perceived the figure of Christ – even the term “Christ” – as symbolizing the spiritual light that breaks into the darkness of ignorance and illusion.
This spiritual light has also been called the archetype of the “Divine Child,” the “True Self” or “God” by spiritual writers like Carl Jung, the mystic and founder of analytic psychology. He described the mythological Divine Child as symbolic of creative power within the human psyche. But the Bible also tells us that the coming of the Divine Child was not welcomed by everyone. It was not long before the child and his parents had to flee for their lives from the kingdom ruled by King Herod.
That symbolizes “ego consciousness,” or the Ego that resists the coming up of spiritual light. Ego consciousness – which identifies with the body and the mind and which most people believe is all there is of a person thrives on disconnection from the Divine Child, Deep Self, Light, or God. It produces suffering and alienation and prohibits yearning for God. The only remedy for these feelings is surrendering and allowing the Light to rise and expand within consciousness. Recognizing this condition can lead to “spiritual vision” and “awareness of the infinite and eternal Spirit” within – a realization that renews the life of the individual. Here again Jung proved to be both insightful and admonitory: “The main danger is to succumb to the fascinating influence of archetypes, an especially concrete peril if we do not make the archetypal images conscious to ourselves. Since there already is a predisposition to psychosis, it can actually happen that archetypal figures, inherent in which is a certain autonomy by virtue of their numinous nature, break free of any conscious control, thereby acquiring full independence and
engendering phenomena of possession.” Today many are not aware of their unconscious, succumb to their Ego and mistake the Ego as their Self.
Luke’s Christmas Story
This Christmas story gives a biblical account of the events surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ. The Christmas story is paraphrased from the New Testament books of Luke in the Bible.The Luke gospel (Lk) must be seen together with Acts of the Apostles as a literary and historic work in two parts. According to tradition, the author was the physician Luke, who commanded a very good Greek. The internal evidence may be briefly summarized as follows:
- The author of Acts was a companion of Saint Paul, namely, Saint Luke; and
- the author of Acts was the author of the Gospel.
The arguments are given at length by Plummer, “St. Luke” in “Int. Crit. Com.” (4th ed., Edinburgh, 1901); Harnack, “Luke the Physician” (London, 1907); “The Acts of the Apostles” (London, 1909); etc.
Saint Luke belonged to the Greek inhabitants of Antioch and thus part of the first Gentile Christians, who have been evangelized by Paul. Antioch was a city in the ancient Syria (now Antakya in Turkey) of great historic importance. In science, both theses (Luke as a disciple of the Apostles and (Luke as cognomen) are represented by different researchers. Luke’s account of the Christmas story is traditionally read at home and played in our church. Luke’s gospel always focuses on women, in the Christmas story on Mary: the conversation she has with Gabriel, her willing participation in God’s plans, and her visit with her cousin Elizabeth. Luke tells of shepherds and angels, while Matthew describes magi and a guiding star. Intuition, myths and guiding truths of our lives – the freedom of individuals, the importance of love, the sanctity of life and family – are truths that are simply too big to be empirical proven (or disproven) or to tested in a laboratory. Lets face it, all evangelists – were less interested in recording history – at least not in political correct history telling the past for present purposes. They were in making confessions of faith enduring now millennium. Luke starts his whole attempt, by admitting that he wasn’t an eye-witness but offers his account to strengthen the faith of his community (Luke 1:1-4). Gospel writers clearly created myth with their reader client in mind editing various stories, sayings, and incidents they inherited. If you see the gospel from a Jungian perspective, the slogan “Dump the myth” becomes even more uninspired.
Christmas crib with nativity scene
That Jesus, God’s son, does not come in a stately palace, but in a humble stable in the world, is one of the strangest aspects of the biblical Christmas story. See “when they were there [in Bethlehem], the time of their birth came to Maria, and she gave birth to her son, the firstborn,” in the Gospel of Luke, and further: “You wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the Inn. No wonder that a Nativity scene with Mary, Jesus, Christ, ox and donkey not be missing under our Christmas tree.
There have been religious veneration of Nativity scenes in Rome at the beginning of the middle ages. Saint Francis of Assisi (1181/1182-1226) has contributed much to the spread of the crib. In the Christmas night of the year 1223, he held in a cave, a celebration of Nativity with live animals. Half a century later, there were the first Nativity scene in Rome. The ox and the donkey were not in the biblical Christmas story. That they still belong to the crib, has to do with the animals in different places of the Bible used as symbols and metaphors as that Mary and Joseph and the newborn Jesus in the crib in the night of the 24th.
Bright light in the dark night – the star of Bethlehem
If astronomy and theology come together, it is the cosmic symbol the star of Bethlehem that has led the Magi Bible according to the baby Jesus . Over the centuries, there have been different approaches to describe the phenomenon of astronomically. A theory is stating that the star was a comet. As well as it could have been even a supernova which is huge star explosion. However, there was an advanced Babylonian astronomy at that time already so we would know about the latter. But most likely it has been a special constellation, a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn from the Earth that looked like a single star according to the great German astronomer Kepler. I would assume that the three magi were Babylonian astronomers. The leading star has a great symbolic significance. It was a picture for that in Israel the Messiah come to the world, who bring salvation for all people, even for the pagan Magi from the East. The star shows the connection between heaven and Earth.
The advent reminds us that Christians should expect the second coming of Jesus Christ. It was Pope Gregory I (The Great, 590-604), who had set the number of four advent first in the sixth century. Also, the new liturgical year begins with the first Sunday of Advent. Originally it was a lent, between 11 November and the original date of Christmas, the feast of the Epiphany on January 6. Its Liturgical colour is Purple, synonymous with the transition and transformation, which is also carried in the before Easter (lent). The advent is important to us, the family comes together after a busy year. Advent devotions gives space for quietness, silences, to listen, to think and to dream and gives ourself a break. The own soul often neglected, really can prepare for the arrival of God on Christmas day and prayers be a source of strength for everyday life, to feel the ground beneath the feet again.
The Catholic Church celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ with the midnight mass in the Holy night. Until the 18th century this service was held early in the morning of 25 December – so after the nightly hour of birth, as it is described in the Gospel of Luke. Recently, the most parishes have brought forward the midnight mass, so that it is now either at midnight or even to 22 or 23: 00 of 24 December. General night prayer and reading services are referred to as “Mette”. The word derives from the Latin matutinus (for “served”). What part of the Gospel is read at the midnight mass, depends on the time of worship. The Gospel of Luke is presented in nightly “Mette”, while the so-called Christmas mass is celebrated in the morning of 25 December.
The Christmas tree
The strongest commercial symbol the Christmas tree has not really a Christian symbol but of the middle class civil society fond to neat things in the so called Biedermeier period. In this domestic protection area – then was a strong political repression by the noble class – Christmas celebrations with Christmas trees and Christmas carols wer introduced as known today,. So towards the end of the 16th century, it was a custom to place a tree in the living room during the Christmas celebrations and to decorate it with candy, nuts and apples. Around 1730, the Christmas trees received their first candles. The Catholic Church was always against Christmas trees, because the clerical saw a sufficiently meaningful symbol of Christmas in the Nativity scenes. The first Christmas tree balls came 1839 onto the market, for the time being only for the well off society. In the course of time, there were always more beautiful and colorful baubles and were popular also among the ordinary people.
Death of the Ego or Death of the Self?
The birth of the Holy (inner) child can happen year-round, but in the darkest days of the year (“no alternatives”), the event is most powerful because in distress, we are more willing, to allow change and to see new possibilities and to create hope. This is made difficult by abundance and distractions, but even more by our Ego, by simplistic believe that only one of our function can be tolerated – Thinking. That is exactly what all those billboard atheists do. Like Herod wants to kill the infant Jesus they want to kill the myth, certainly their inner Self. “And every one who speaks a word against the Son of man will be forgiven . . .” (Lk. 12:10).
One of the Pope’s best (and the best books on Jesus) are the three volumes “Jesus of Nazareth”. It is the pope’s very personal account both historically grounded and faithful to the text of the New Testament. No polarization between the so-called “Christ of faith” and the “Jesus of history” is really needed. I would also refer to his standard work: “Introduction to Christianity”:. There he writes:
The dialog between god and man is imbedded in the dialog between men themselves. Their different religious giftedness and ability of divides men in prophets and listeners (and the deaf) and thereby forces them to stand by each other and into togetherness).
One should also keep myths very consciously, in particular the Christmas “routine” striving for spirituality and family values. Even if Christmas is often a cultural crossover it is useful emphasising on Christian traditions and taps in classical and religious music as art framework (with quite same American music from Internet Radio). A routine is encouraged for toys and Christmas trees, e.g. setup of toy train set in his room.
It’s not snowing today and no hope for “White Christmas” anymore. A pretty unusual warm and sunny Winter day. Why is snow so desirable? The Christmas carols and pop song are full of it. White symbolizes wholeness, connection to transcendence and enlightenment. Snow stands for purity.
I wish all a Merry Christmas! Especially our Jewish and Christian brothers and sisters and all other minorities prosecuted in the Middle East.
Christmas is a privileged opportunity to meditate on the meaning and value of our existence. The approach of this Solemnity helps us on the one hand to reflect on the drama of history in which people, injured by sin, are perennially in search of happiness and of a fulfilling sense of life and death; and on the other, it urges us to meditate on the merciful kindness of God who came to man to communicate to him directly the Truth that saves, and to enable him to partake in his friendship and his life. Therefore let us prepare ourselves for Christmas with humility and simplicity, making ourselves ready to receive as a gift the light, joy and peace that shine from this mystery.
—Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, December 17, 2008