The basic principle of Christmas is to light a candle in the darkness
Since we have now again reached that time of year when the Christmas lights begin to glow around us, as they have already long been doing in the shops and soon will also do in homes all over the Christian world, I would like to talk today about the Christmas tree.
The Christmas tree is the very culmination of the light of Christmas, but why all this light? This abundant use of light is first and foremost due to the fact that we live in a zone on earth where daylight at the winter solstice is very limited. In these latitudes the darkness of night envelops everything in a dark cloak from 3 pm to 9 am the next day, and further north the night is even longer. It is quite natural that in such a zone of physical darkness one becomes satiated with darkness and hungers for light and it is equally natural that one connects joy and festiveness with lighting candles. Here we have the Christmas gospel revealed in its purely physical aspect: the basic principle of Christmas is "to light a candle in the darkness". Since all phenomena in the universe are links in cycles, and since cycles always exist as spirals or links in greater cycles, this "lighting of candles" is a phenomenon which recurs in higher and higher forms of cycles. This means that even darkness must recur in a continuous succession of higher cycles or spirals, since there must of course exist a darkness within which a candle can be lit.
The principle of spiral cycles
What then is a cycle? It is a period of time within which living beings experience the four existing basic principles of the manifestation of life: spring, summer, autumn and winter. These principles are in turn respectively the same as evolution, culmination, degeneration and the latent state. Nothing in the world can exist without representing one or other of these four principles. Every single thing finds itself either in the stage of evolution and thus represents spring, or it is at its culmination and thus represents summer, or it is degenerating and represents autumn, if it does not appear in an apparently lifeless state, the latent state of life that we call winter.
If we imagine a twenty-four hour-period, of which today's daytime is a part, we can see that it is also a cycle within which the same principles hold true. This moment is a part of the day's "spring", but in our language we do not express it in this way; we say that it is "morning". However, we know that the sun is at its highest in the sky at 12 noon, at which point in time the day manifests its principle of summer which we call "noon". In this way the afternoon becomes the day's "autumn", and night the day's "winter".
If we think of the human being's own organism, we can also see there how it expresses one or another of the four seasons. Either it belongs to the child-stage and so still constitutes something of the latent physical form of life, the principle of winter, or it belongs to youth, which is the same as the principle of spring, a state in which the previously latent powers unfold and start to develop. Some people's organisms have reached the stage where they represent "summer", the age of maturity which is the culmination of the unfoldment of consciousness on the physical plane if they have not already reached the physical degeneration of old age which, expresses the principle of "autumn". But, just as the cycles of the year create a cohesive chain and a continuous renewal based on the same laws and principles, so our present life, within which our organism at the moment represents one of the four seasons, is only a little link in a chain of lives, only a "day" in a much larger cycle, which is called reincarnation, within the cosmic spiral cycle which you know from the analyses in "Livets Bog" (The Book of Life). In this way, everything that we can at all sense and experience is a link in a cycle which repeats itself in higher and higher forms. This is also true of "lighting a candle in the darkness".
Spiritual light and darkness
Just as we can be tired or satiated of the physical darkness and hunger after lighting the physical candle, so can one also become tired of darkness on another plane and likewise there long for light. The "other plane" I am talking about is a cycle of darkness and light which lies above the physical plane. It is thus not a question of physical darkness and light but of psychic or mental darkness and light.
What do we mean by this? Here we understand everything that has to do with our thought-life, our mental structure, which expresses itself in the physical world through our nervous systems. By virtue of this structure we sense a darkness and a light which lie on a higher plane than the physical. This darkness we know of as sorrow, dejection, hopelessness, depression and a sense of being forsaken by God; it may also be characterised as the human being's ignorance of his own identity as an eternal immortal being. And the light on the same plane - we know it as joy, inspiration, zest for life, love and creative power - can also be characterised as the beginning of cosmic consciousness, or the high-intellectual state where a being possesses knowledge about his immortality and cosmic identity.
The spiritual light is the true Christmas candle
Since people live mentally in the sphere of sorrow and sufferings, which is the winter zone of the soul, it is not surprising that the same beings long for or hunger after the light of the soul, its spring and summer. Just as there is a joy in lighting a physical candle in the dark period of the year, it is also about to become a joy to light a candle in the zone of spiritual darkness, and it is this spiritual light which is the true Christmas candle which all physical Christmas candles that are lit at this time symbolise on the physical plane. To light a real or true Christmas candle will thus be the same as lighting joy and zest for life in living beings' minds. The being who lights a candle and so brings zest for life into other human beings' spirit is a "cosmic Christmas candle".
The great world-redeemers have all been strong, shining beings in terrestrial mankind's mental winter zone
Looking back at the history of mankind, we see beings who have been so expert at illuminating souls that millions of people even today maintain their zest for life by virtue of this light. The great world-redeemers and truly wise men have all been strongly shining beings in terrestrial mankind's mental winter zone; what they, through writings, speech and behaviour, have given as neighbourly love, as information and wisdom, has enriched people's minds and made it easier for them to bear the burdens which weigh them down in life's sphere of darkness. If the light from these beings had not shone in the terrestrial human beings' winter zone, the history of mankind would have contained only descriptions of wars and more wars. The killing principle would have manifested itself to an extent which is impossible to imagine. Not in one single place would there have been hope of spiritual summer and sunshine, all hope would have been abandonned and spiritual polar night's ice-storms would shriek and whistle a funeral song over dead souls.
But this is not the case. Even though mental winter storms with cold, frost and death have raged over mankind's mental sky, hope has not left us, precisely because the Godhead, through the strong warming light of the world-redeemers, has lit a new hope, new longings, inspiration, joy and courage to face life in terrestrial mankind's dark mental winter night. Here we meet Christmas in its very highest revelation; mankind's history reveals to us that we are at a Christmas party given by the eternal Father himself. Terrestrial mankind is the dark fir tree on which the eternal Godhead has already lit, and is still in the process of lighting, shining and sparkling "Christmas candles" in the form of the world-redeemers and all the protagonists of humanity. Cosmic consciousness, high-intellectuality, the experience of immortality and of being one with the Father, and the ensuing lasting peace or bliss, are the Christmas presents mankind one day will receive. For most people these presents are still hidden for a time behind the great tree on which the individual human being himself will become a shining candle lit by the flame from a candle which has previously been shining clearly. When the human being himself becomes a Christmas candle whose warm humaneness radiates to all sides it will also be the time for this human being to receive the divine presents. The universe is God's great assembly hall; the planets, solar systems and galaxies are each of them windows which face the world of time and space. But we are ourselves eternity. One with the Father, we outlive suns and stars in order to see new suns and stars be lit. We are the masters of life and death; it is we who light and blow out the candles, our use of the will is our voice in the universe's hymn of thanksgiving and hymn to life. Equally well it can resound with a death-song, since death is necessary, but only in order that what dies can be born into a new life in higher forms, to the darkness of higher cycles where a greater candle can be lit in the darkness to make the shadows of the night retreat.
The "kingdom of heaven" will come to radiate from all people
Many people today take the attitude that they have "grown out of celebrating Christmas". They do not know that they are in the middle of a cosmic Christmas party where candles are continuously being lit in the darkness. But as long as human beings do not know this, it is divinely granted that people at any rate once a year celebrate the festival of light and experience the joy of giving. With Christmas we celebrate the fact that a child was born on this planet, a child who grew up and became a spiritual candle for people, a divine messenger from "the kingdom of heaven".
But he told people that "the kingdom of heaven" is also within them. There where the human being is prepared to serve rather than be served, there where he will rather suffer himself than be the cause of others' suffering, and there where he works on developing his humane abilities for the benefit of the whole, is "the kingdom of heaven" not only within him but beginning to radiate out from him in thoughts, words and actions. It is "the mentality of Christmas", a mental Christmas candle which lights up in the mental winter night. One can train oneself to achieve a real Christmas in one's own inner self by seeking to control one's own mind. There is plenty to irritate one or make one angry or bitter, even at Christmas-tide; this is the spiritual darkness, the snow-storm and the biting frost. It is the "Herod-mentality" which wants to kill "the Christ-child". But we of course know from the Christmas gospel that "the Christ-child" was not killed; he was saved from Herod's soldiers.
This old story tells us not only about an event which has taken place but about an event which is still taking place. The Christ-child was born not only in Bethlehem almost two thousand years ago; his birth is also about to take place this very day in you, in the individual human being. When the Christmas-tree shines and sparkles with so many candles and the star on the top, when people take each other by the hand and form a chain as a symbol of what people of all colours and all nationalities will one day do, when they sing about "peace on earth, joy on earth" and give each other presents, they also celebrate the birth of the Christ-child in their own inner innermost selves.
My cosmic analyses are a logical progression of thought, but they are also part of the Christmas message
It has been my particular mission to transfer the cosmic principles to intellectual analyses so that they suit both intelligence and intuition. These analyses are a logical progression of thought which the developed human being who has experience-material to work with can appropriate and see if they fit with those manifestations of life he meets in daily existence. But it is also a part of the Christmas gospel. There where these analyses become knowledge for you, a part of your lives, there is also world peace. Where cosmic knowledge becomes a reality for both the feelings and thoughts, neighbourly love must unfold itself, not as sentimentality but as real love which in an appropriate way benefits the individual being as well as the whole. I do not mean that because one works with spiritual science one becomes too "grown up" to celebrate Christmas. On the contrary, through spiritual science one comes to see many things in a different perspective than from before, and this will, with time, change the materialistic aspects of the customs of Christmas.
But it has become a necessity for people to celebrate the principle of Christmas, "to light a candle in the darkness", especially for those who live in the earth's physical winter zone. And it is important to think about the fact that the "basic notes of Christmas", the candles, the peace it is to give presents are the same as "the basic notes of the universe", neighbourly love, to be of benefit to the whole. It is that mentality which in time will be spread throughout the whole year and over the entire earth; then the "Christmas story" will have become a radiating reality in a physical world, and the earth a "Christmas star".
(Original Danish title: "Et juleeventyr" transcribed from a lecture given in December 1946, and edited and published in the Danish edition of Kosmos no.16,1973)
(Translated by Mary McGovern. Translator's note: The Danish for "to light a candle" can also be translated as "to switch on a light". I have chosen the former translation since Martinus is here refering to the traditional Danish Christmas-tree decorated with candles, but the latter translation can be kept in mind bringing the Christmas-tree up to date. MMcG)
© Martinus Idealfond 2001