Today, millions of people around the world mark the birth of someone they believe to be divine.
As important as it is to celebrate Jesus’ life, I feel it’s even more important to question what it really means to be divine.
What does it mean to say that today, a few thousand years ago in the middle east, God took on human form?
Without necessarily realizing it, all of us have absorbed ideas and preconceptions about this event and what it means.
The Divine Within Us
One particularly prominent assumption that most people carry is that this was a one-off occurrence, never to be repeated in historical time. God became man once and only once; to suggest otherwise makes you a heretic.
With the help of the gnostic gospels (a group of texts that circulated in the centuries following Jesus’ death that were eventually deemed heretical and banned), I’ve come to see this assumption hasn’t been universally shared even among Christians.
One provocative line in the gnostic gospels comes in the Gospel of Philip. There, we find the assertion that it is possible to become transformed in such a way where one is “no longer a Christian, but a Christ.”
The implications of this much more ‘democratic‘ view are interesting to consider.
Christ as a Bodhisattva
We can find a parallel in Buddhism in the assertion that walking the Buddha’s path turns us not into Buddhists, but Buddhas. Remember that Buddha means awake, while Christ means messiah (which in turn, means anointed one).
In this way of looking at things, both Buddha and Jesus were examples who actualized an aspect of their human potential that is actually latent in all of us.
Like a seed waiting to bloom, we all have this Christ/Buddha/divine/liberated consciousness within ourselves.
This is indeed good news (what the word ‘gospel’ literally means)! You can’t be blamed for wanting to go out and trying to actualize it in yourself.
But for me and my own interest in trying to ‘birth the Christ within,’ I soon bumped up against an unexpected barrier: my own conception of what Christ/Buddha nature is.
The mystics have all told us the biggest obstacle to the realization of God is the idea of God itself. We cannot think ourselves into becoming Christs; in fact, ideas of what ‘being Christ’ means is our primary obstacle.
Yet no matter how many times I heard the teaching that ‘It’ cannot be conceptualized, I found myself making images and projecting my ideas onto what I thought ‘It’ was. I then judged myself against the standards I had set up in my mind.
It was only when I began to drop concepts that I opened to the possibility that the reality the word ‘God’ points to is much more simple than I could have ever imagined. It’s only when I stopped imagining what ‘It’ was that I became open to see that ‘It’ may be none other than this very moment, whatever I happen to be experiencing at the time.
God is at home, it is we who have gone out for a walk. -Meister Eckhart
Said another way, if I think of heaven/paradise/nirvana as something that will perhaps happen to me in the future, I’m blocked from seeing it right in front of my face.
Perhaps this is what Jesus meant in the Gospel of Thomas (another gnostic text) when he said, “the kingdom of heaven is spread upon the face of the earth, but men do not have eyes to see it.”
Someone who attains (and maintains) this perception could be said to be a Christ. And whenever this happens, it’s Christmas day.
Even though the interpretation I’m putting forth here wouldn’t sit well with traditional, orthodox Christian teachings about the meaning of this day and the purpose of Jesus’ life, I’d rather tell myself this type of story.
Instead of seeing the birth of Jesus as a one-off event that took place at a specific moment in history, we can see it as an inspiration for what can happen to any of us at any moment: the birth of our own divine self, which manifests not in speaking about it, but in acting it out in every moment.
We’re only open to this possibility if we tell ourselves that it is possible.
So on this blessed day, may this Christ-consciousness take birth in YOU! May YOU come to discover and live out your divine, enlightened nature. And may YOU see this potential in everyone you meet.