PUTTING ON THE CHRIST
Welcome to the month that can bring out great joy and connection for people OR stress, anxiety and even depression. So, wherever you are on the holiday continuum, we welcome you here this month, and it is my hope and prayer that you will be nurtured and nourished by your experience.
And in the month of December, we celebrate the birth of Jesus. Now, in Unity, we do not exclusively celebrate the birth of the man, but rather we expand our celebration to the birth of the Cosmic Christ in all of us, using the man as our Master Teacher.
Stephen Mitchell, in his book, The Gospel According to Jesus, wrote: "We can't begin to see who Jesus was until we remove the layers of interpretation which the centuries have interposed between us and him, and which obscure his true face, like coat after coat of lacquer upon the vibrant colors of a masterpiece. The portrait of Jesus that emerges from the authentic passages in the Gospels is of a man who has emptied himself of . . . the mental trappings and spiritual baggage that separated him from the true life of Spirit. . . . His trust in God was as natural as breathing, and in God's presence he himself was fully present. In his very language, he reflected God's deep love for everything that is earthly; for the sick and the despised, for the morally admirable and as well as repugnant, for the weeds as well as the flowers, for the lions as well as the lambs. He taught that . . . God's compassion embraces all people. There are no pre-conditions for it, nothing we need to do first, nothing we have to believe. When we are ready to receive it, it is there. And the more we live in Its presence, the more effortlessly it flows through us."a
Isn't that beautiful? We will deepen into some of its meaning this month as we celebrate what it means to live from a place of Cosmic, or Christ, Consciousness, and today we are "Putting on the Christ," but before we do, I want to share with you a story. Now, it may not be an entirely factual story (Snopes says it isn't), but it's a good one and applies to our work together this morning! So we will look at it as a parable.
It is told that a seminary professor was vacationing with his wife in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. One morning, they were eating breakfast at a little restaurant, hoping to enjoy a quiet, family meal. While they were waiting for their food, they noticed a distinguished looking, white-haired man moving from table to table, visiting with the guests.
The professor leaned over and whispered to his wife, "I hope he doesn't come over here."
But sure enough, the man did come over to their table. "Where are you folks from?" he asked in a friendly voice.
"Oklahoma," they answered.
"Great to have you here in Tennessee," the stranger said. "What do you do for a living?"
"I teach at a seminary," he replied.
"Oh, so you teach preachers how to preach, do you? Well, I've got a really great story for you." And with that, the gentleman pulled up a chair and sat down at the table with the couple!
The professor groaned and thought to himself, "Great... Just what I need... another preacher story!"
The man started, "See that mountain over there? (pointing out the restaurant window). Not far from the base of that mountain, there was a boy born to an unwed mother. He had a hard time growing up, because every place he went, he was always asked the same question, 'Hey boy, who's your daddy?'
"Whether he was at school, in the grocery store or drug store, people would ask the same question, 'Who's your daddy?' He would hide at recess and lunchtime from other students. He would avoid going in to stores because not being able to answer that question hurt him so badly.
"When he was about 12 years old, a new preacher came to his church.
"The little boy would always go in late and slip out early to avoid hearing the question, 'who's your daddy?' from the new preacher. But one day, the new preacher said the benediction so fast that the little boy got caught and had to walk out with the crowd.
"Just about the time he got to the back door, the new preacher, not knowing anything about him, put his hand on his shoulder and asked him, 'Son, who's your daddy?' He could feel the eyes of those around him looking at him. Now everyone would finally know the answer to the question, 'Who's your daddy?'
"This new preacher, though, sensed the situation around him and taping into his intuition, said to that scared boy, 'wait a minute!' I know who you are. I see the family resemblance now. You are a child of God.'
"With that he patted the boy on his shoulder and said, 'Boy, you've got a great inheritance. Go and claim it.' With that, the boy smiled and walked out the door a changed person. He was never the same again. From then on, whenever anybody asked him, 'Who's your Daddy?' he'd just tell them, 'I'm a Child of God.'"
The distinguished gentleman got up from the table and said, "Isn't that a great story?" The professor responded that it really was a great story and thought that he actually would share that with his seminary students!
As the man turned to leave, he said, "You know, if that new preacher hadn't told me that I was one of God's children, I might not have amounted to anything!" And he walked away.
The seminary professor and his wife were stunned. He called the waitress over and asked her, "Do you know who that man was who was just sitting at our table?"
The waitress grinned and said, "Of course, Hon. Everybody here knows him. That's Ben Hooper. He's the former governor of Tennessee!"
Again, in the words of Stephen Mitchell, in his book, The Gospel According to Jesus: "God's compassion embraces all people. There are no pre-conditions for it, nothing we need to do first, nothing we have to believe. When we are ready to receive it, it is there. And the more we live in Its presence, the more effortlessly it flows through us."
We don't have to do or be anything in order to receive God's love and compassion. There are no pre-conditions for it. It is bestowed on all of us - whether it's a fatherless little boy from Tennessee or you and me! When we are ready to receive it, it is there. This is such an important thing to remember. When you are ready to receive it, it is there!
The story in the New Testament of Zacchaeusb is a great example of when we are ready to receive it, it is there.
Zacchaeus was a materially-centered person, obscured from seeing the Truth. He was a tax collector and perhaps, just perhaps, took advantage of people for his own gain.
But he was ready for a change. Life wasn't working for him like he wanted and something in him was waking up. He knew there was more. He heard about this person named Jesus walking the land and changing people's lives and something in him said he needed to see him. So when Jesus came into his town, he was excited and joined the crowds to listen to him and to see him. Except, there was a bit of a problem for Zacchaeus. Anyone know what it was?
He was short! So short, he couldn't see a thing and probably couldn't hear anything either. He was completely lost in the crowd.
But he was determined to see Jesus, so he decided to run ahead of the crowd and climbed a Sycamore tree, so that he could see above the crowd when Jesus passed by. When Jesus did pass by the tree, he sensed something, which caused him to look up. There he saw this man sitting in the tree. And he immediately knew that this man was ready to receive something new in his life.
So he said, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today."
This brings to mind the beautiful passage, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. . . if any man will open up, I will come in and sup with him."c No matter where you are in consciousness, all you have to do is knock or climb a tree - meaning be willing to receive the Love of God - and you will find the new experience.
Zacchaeus was very materially wealthy. He had all that he could possibly have, but he knew he had not attained all that he could be. So he made a new commitment with life. He took a look at himself from a higher level of consciousness and caught a vision of his Christ-self. And it started with his willingness to receive.
Are you, this morning, willing to receive the Love of God? I hope so! For the more we are willing to not only receive, but then to live in Its presence, to "Put on the Chirst," the more effortlessly it flows through us.
In The Science of Mind, Ernest Holmes wrote: "It was impossible for Jesus not to have become the Christ. As the human gave way to the Divine, as the man gave way to God, as the flesh gave way to Spirit, as the will of division gave way to the will of unity -- Jesus the man became a living embodiment of the Christ."d
In Talks on Truth, Charles Fillmore writes: "[Jesus] recognized His identity in God as the Christ, the Son of God; . . . so each of us is a son of God. We shall come into conscious recognition of the Christ mind, effecting the junction between our mind and God's mind just as soon as we let go of the limitations mortal sense."e
It is our spiritual mandate to let our humanness give way to our Divinity so that we too may become a Christ. It is our spiritual mandate to live in the presence of God's Love, so that it can effortlessly flow through us, and this is a perfect time of year for us to be reminded of this!
And Jesus gave us the formula of how to do this when he said: " Ye must be born anew."f He meant that we must be reborn to the awareness of the Christ potential within us, the Light of God within us, so that it may spring forth into expression and illuminate our lives. We must live in Its presence, so it can flow through us.
And so, this is the consciousness I invite you to bring to the table this month: When you see the lights on the houses and on the Christmas trees, don't just look at them and marvel at how beautiful they are, know that they represent the light within you.
When you fill your home with Christmas candles, don't just think about the dramatic effect they have on your room and the great mood they set, know that they represent the light within. In all you do, be joyous, know that your joy is infectious and it spreads, reaching out like light.
As you do your holiday shopping, know that it's not the dollar value on the gift or really even the gift itself, but the fact that the gift is a physical representation of your light, which you are sharing with those you care about.
And I particularly love this idea: When you go to holiday parties or family gatherings, yes, enjoy the wonderful food (in moderation, of course), but use your holiday feasts to symbolize the "feast of the pure substance of Spirit which is ever accessible to you" to paraphrase the meaning of a meal according to the Metaphysical Bible Dictionary by Charles Fillmore. He wrote: "The feast of the pure substance of Spirit is ever accessible to the individual. Before one can partake fully of the substance of Spirit there must be a willingness to turn the attention to the ideas of Spirit, to the exclusion of all outer attractions. Having turned our attention to the invisible substance, we move upon it with our thoughts and words of Truth, in faith believing that our words are instantly fulfilled (filled full) in Spirit."g
Use the trappings of this Holiday season to remind you to put on the Christ, the Consciousness of the Cosmic Christ, and let it flow through, around and AS you!
And now please join me in the candle lighting ceremony.
Twelve Lights of Bethlehemh
Rev. Dr. Tom Shepherd created this ceremony to link the Twelve Powers of humankind with the telling of the Christmas story.
1 Baby Jesus—Life (red candle)
Acolyte: The red candle represents Life, which we light for the baby Jesus.
Narrator: Jesus was like a candle in a dark world. When we think of Christmas, all thoughts flow toward his birth. Light from light, Jesus demonstrates the universal Divine Presence, and through him, we see the image of God in everyone.
2 Mary—Faith (dark blue candle)
Acolyte: This candle represents Faith, which we light for Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Narrator: According to the Gospel of Luke, when confronted by the Divine commission to give birth to and nurture the Christ child, this ordinary young woman responded with extraordinary words of trusting faith: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name" (Luke 1:46-49).
3 Joseph—Understanding (gold candle)
Acolyte: This candle represents the golden light of Understanding, which we light for Joseph, the father of Jesus and husband to Mary.
Narrator: With an understanding heart, Joseph accepted his role in the amazing circumstances we celebrate this season. The gospels report that, after the angel choirs had adjourned to heaven and the Wise Men returned to their far-off lands, it was Joseph who remained as father and guardian of a child whose life would change the world. In quiet ways, by acts of unsung courage, he demonstrated a keen understanding of the dangers and joys of life, and always acted from the highest principles for the greatest good.
4 Bethlehem—Power (purple candle)
Acolyte: This candle represents Power, which we light for the little town of Bethlehem.
Narrator: Purple is the ancient color of kings and emperors. Prophets had foretold that the Promised One would come from Bethlehem, the place where the powerful King David had been born. Yet the power Bethlehem represents is far greater than the might of armies. Bethlehem means "house of bread" in Hebrew, and one day the child born that night would challenge all people to feed the hungry, and clothe the needy, and comfort the afflicted. By the words of power he brought, Jesus taught humankind to affirm the Power and Presence of God in all circumstances. The power of that affirmation will heal the sick, lift the poor out of poverty, and transform the world into a commonwealth of peace.
5 Shepherds—Love (pink candle)
Acolyte: This candle represents Love, which we light for the shepherds.
Narrator: These were simple folk, not kings in their palaces, yet the Gospel of Luke says the birth of the Christ child was announced to them as "good news of great joy for all the people" (Luke 2:10). They responded with eagerness, and when they knelt before the manger, their hearts were filled with divine Love.
6 Prophets and Herald Angels—Zeal (orange candle)
Acolyte: This candle represents Zeal, which we light for Prophets and Herald Angels.
Narrator: The Prophet Isaiah had written: "For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace … The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this" (Isaiah 9:6-7). Luke reports that angelic voices rang out that dark night, announcing the holy birth. "And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!'" (Luke 2:13). Jesus would tell the people that God favors everyone. Isaiah the prophet and the Herald Angels conspired to give us a vision of heaven and earth united by the power of Zeal.
7 The Manger—Order (dark green)
Acolyte: This dark green candle represents Divine Order, which we light in memory of the Manger.
Narrator: Jesus has been called "King of kings" and "Lord of lords." Yet, when it was time for him to be born, his desperate parents converted an animal food trough into a makeshift cradle. As Luke writes, she "wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn" (Luke 2:7). This simple action shows God working through all circumstances. Looking at the manger in the Christmas crèche offers a visual symbol of the balance and harmony flowing through the Universe. Even when circumstances appear desperate, we can access that flow of good through exercising our trust in Divine Order.
8 Wise Men—Wisdom (yellow candle)
Acolyte: This yellow candle represents the flame of Wisdom, which we light for the Wise Men.
Narrator: Many people saw the star, but the Gospel of Matthew says only the Wise Men from the East chose to act on their vision. The power of Wisdom is the guiding light that gives us the right decision when we trust the Christ within. With this candle we remember the good judgment shown by wise men and wise women throughout the ages who have found the way to their inner Christ.
9 The Star of Bethlehem—Imagination (light blue candle)
Acolyte: This candle represents Imagination, which we light in memory of the Star which led the Magi to Bethlehem.
Narrator: The Gospel of Matthew says Wise Men followed that star until it came to rest over Bethlehem, where they found the Christ. The star represents the ability to create new ideas and set them in motion. It is the power to see through appearances to the inner, eternal Truth of every circumstance. With the eyes of Imagination, the Magi found their Christ by following a star; we can use our power of Imagination to discover the Christ within everyone.
10 Gold—Strength (light green candle)
Acolyte: This candle represents Strength, which we light in memory of the gift of gold.
Narrator: The first gift the Magi gave the baby Jesus was gold, which represents the kingly nature of Jesus, his prosperity consciousness, and his ability to perform all necessary tasks. It is appropriate that the color of monetary currency today is often light green, like this candle. Spiritual Strength is the true gold of existence, the energy of God flowing through us. Gold also symbolizes the gifts of God, which strengthen us during times of difficulty and give us the ability to share our time, talent, and treasure with others.
11 Frankincense—Will (silver candle)
Acolyte: This silver candle represents Will, which we light in memory of the gift of frankincense.
Narrator: Because frankincense was an incense of the temple, it represents the divine nature of Jesus, which is the Christ that dwells within everyone. To allow more and more of the Christ to express through us takes an act of Will, the willingness to name and claim our divine heritage.
12 Myrrh—Renunciation or Elimination (russet candle)
Acolyte: This russet brown candle represents Renunciation, which we light in memory of the gift of myrrh.
Narrator: This candle points to the human nature of Jesus. In biblical times, myrrh was a perfume used to prepare bodies for burial. It represents the power to let go and let God, to recognize we are in good hands when we trust God. Jesus, who was born in a manger, would die on a cross. Yet his teachings have changed billions of lives for the better. If he was able to let go and let God, so can we. As we celebrate the birth of the Christ child this night, we release any thoughts of lack or limitation and turn our lives over to God's guidance, knowing in every circumstance God is within us, we are in God, and all is well.
May there always be room in your heart
for divinity to find a birthing place.
May you be holy as the angels were,
faithful as the shepherds were,
humble as the cattle were,
wise as the Wise Men were.
May you have the compassion Mary had
and the understanding Joseph had,
and may the blessing of the Christ child be yours,
not because of His birthright long ago,
but because His love is born in you today!
The small candles that are being given to you are to remind you that you have been entrusted with a gift of God, the Christ within you, and that as Jesus became the light of the world by letting His light shine, so that same Christ light, quickened and glowing in each of us, is to become the light of our world, and is even to reach beyond our own world into the life of others.
The candles were given to you unlighted, because you alone can bring forth the light that is within you, even though others may call it forth by the inspiration that they give you. You are to light them from the light of the universal Christ, for it is in the light of the Christ that we find the light within us and learn how to bring it into expression. You are to place your candle with the others, there to let it shine and add its brightness to "the light of the world." You will place your candle in a bed of salt, for those who light the light of Christ within themselves are indeed the salt of the earth. So this simple ceremony becomes a prayer of the hand and the heart as well as of the lips so that the Truth which it symbolizes may be speedily manifest for you.
You can then take a special blessing that has been lovingly selected with the prayer that it may reach the person for whom the Spirit intends it.
So, row by row, come forward, light your candle from the Christ candle, place it in the tray of salt before it, and go back to your seat
Now that everyone has added their own unique individual light to the light of the world, let's just go around the room and read the affirmation that you received
aStephen Mitchell The Gospel According to Jesus
dThe Science of Mind, Ernest Holmes p. 359
eCharles Fillmore Talks on Truth, p. 167
fI Peter 1:23
gMetaphysical Bible Dictionary Charles Fillmore p. 634
hRev. Dr. Tom Shepherd