There are many different ways to read the scriptural texts. The first is to take the stories and parables in their literal, obvious context and apply these as a code for moral living. The second is to delve deeper and seek out the esoteric meanings concealed symbolically throughout the texts. Thirdly one can use the verses as a means of preparation for the higher stages of contemplative prayer in which case mystical experience or communion with God would be the ultimate aim of the aspirant. Of course one stage of study leads to the next and accordingly the sincere student is taken from the gross levels to the more subtle as his intuition develops and his perspective widens.
In studying the most generally accepted version of Christ's life, we learn that prior to his actual birth there reigned in Judea a cruel and zealous king, Herod. Now, when King Herod heard from the three wise men who had come to seek the child Jesus, that an even greater king than he was to be born in the land, he decided to kill all the children under two years of age. This he accomplished by sending his soldiers from house to house with instructions to kill so many children. However, Mary who was carrying the Babe and Joseph who was espoused to the blessed Virgin Mary, received a warning from the Lord and escaped toward Egypt.
Although there are various opinions as to the exact birthplace of Jesus the story goes that he was born in the little town of Bethlehem. It is here that the three wise-men, having been guided to the spot by a bright star on the horizon, found the baby Jesus in a stable lying upon a bed of hay amongst sheep, cows and other animals.
A fascinating feature of this account, which has always baffled readers, is the mysterious aspect of the virginity of Mary. For how is it possible to conceive a baby and yet remain a virgin? The Bible provides little information on this miraculous event except to say that Jesus was born of the Holy Spirit. So either it is outside the scope of our limited understanding to know how Jesus was actually conceived or there is another angle which can only be understood symbolically.
At any rate, the interpretation of esoteric language is based on subjective and personal insights and need not be accepted as divine revelation. To debate these views is perhaps missing the real message of the virgin birth, which only expresses itself when the vessel is empty, that is, when there is purity of heart and innocence in the devotee. Also the simplicity of the birthplace of Jesus indicates that humility is necessary before the inner light of consciousness can truly shine through a human being. The fact, too, that Mary and Joseph were under great stress due to the threat of King Herod's proclamation, shows that the true nature of fee divine is often only revealed under conditions of great suffering or when other conditions are favourable such as readiness of the devotee to receive divine grace.
Father Bede Griffiths in 'Return to the Centre' provides us with a beautiful insight into this mystery when he says that the virgin birth marks the transcendence of sexuality, the achievement of human perfection. The new man is not born by sexual generation- 'not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God'. (John 1:13)
Now, when the three wise men came from the East to pay homage to the baby Jesus they brought with them three interesting gifts. The first of these wise men or Magi was Melchoir (black skinned). Black is the colour of matter and identification With the physical body. So Melchoir personifies the physical body. His gift, myrrh, is a medicine, tonic and antiseptic, which strengthens the physical body. Gasper and Balthasar were the other two Magi. Gasper brought a present of gold which belongs to the heart and astral body and which symbolizes pure sentiments (heart of gold). King Balthasar offered frankincense from the resin of the Boswellia Tree. Incense corresponds to the mental sheath and smoke belongs to the element air. Frankincense therefore symbolizes lofty and noble thoughts.
Willing, feeling and thinking are the capacities associated with the three Kings, which in the human being hold together the personality in which is encased the spiritual spark. These three capacities act as transmitters of the spiritual light which can sanctify and shine through them to the outer world. Each and every human being carries that light. During the twelve holy days from Christmas to Epiphany we are closer to that naked light and may perceive it, so that we may know and recognize it later on, shining through its garments.
There is another interpretation of the three wise men which describes how the star which they followed represents the star of initiation. This star which had risen for the newborn Christ and which guided the wise men was intuited by the 'inner eye'. Also it rose from East which signifies 'going within'. The three gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh represent the qualities of right perception, right aspiration and right judgement. The fact that Jesus was born in a stable represents the animal nature in man which has to be tamed and mastered before the spiritual Christ principle can be stirred into action. Here Herod represents the concrete, worldly mind, concerned only with the problems of physical existence, but the awakening of spirituality represented by the Christ child seeks to transcend this materialism.
By the above interpretations of the three wise men and the birth of Christ we can see how meditation on the scriptural texts gives new meaning and novelty to their contents. But the ability to develop this faculty depends upon a certain receptivity and openness of mind. Yet it is also important not to over-intellectualize the teachings or to place too much emphasis on abstractions. After all, it is the simple experiences of life that are the most valuable.
Over Christmas we celebrate the day the word became flesh. When God became man and renewed our hope and faith in that which we call 'love'. This is the mystical union which is the goal of human existence. So the best way we can celebrate Christmas and share this gift is to give something of ourselves to life- to offer peace and goodwill to all mankind and become one with the yoga of Christ. Here we will find in the depths of our heart the true secret of Christmas.