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CHAPTER TWO - The First Initiation . . . The Birth at Bethlehem - Part 2

Finally, every initiation leads to expanded service. Practical spiritual living must follow the moments on the mountain top. Self and its attainment must be forgotten in service to others. From this there is no escape. Every pinnacle of achievement is followed by a cycle of testing. Every new revelation grasped and appropriated has to be adapted to the needs of a consequent and strenuous life of service, and initiation ever calls forth renewed testing and enhanced power to serve.

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"And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth [55] her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn." [lx]32

In these simple words the momentous story begins—a story of such far-reaching consequences that only today are we beginning to register the results. Only today, two thousand years after the event, is the lesson of Christ's life taking formative effect in the imaginations of men; only today is the unique lesson which He came to teach producing the needed changes in the capacity of men to apprehend. Only now are we becoming aware that the historical evidence of His arrival on earth is history itself, and that there is in the world the evidence of two great streams of endeavour or of activity—that which is the stream of the common, separative, unfolding consciousness of man, and that which is the steady application of the message of Christ to current affairs, modifying them, changing them and determining—far more than we can realise—the way that we should go. Christ came in the fullness of time, just as humanity was approaching maturity, and showed us, in Himself and through His life, what a man could be and was.

The Son of God is also the Son of Man! This fact has, perhaps, been forgotten in the emphasis laid upon His divinity. That divinity is there, and nothing can touch or hide it; it is radiance and pure white light. But the manhood is there also, a guarantee to us of our opportunity and of our potentialities, an endorsement of our faith. In the magnetic power, breathed out through the words of the Beloved Apostle as he portrayed Christ as the Son of God who speaks divinely, we have fallen down in love and adoration before that divinity. But His manhood is emphasised by St. Luke and St. Matthew, just as His life as the Great Server was emphasised by St. Mark. We have fought over the divinity of Christ. Had there been no Gospel but the Gospel of St. [56] John, only His divinity would have been known to us. Christ as man, and what He did and was as man, is not considered by this writer.

Any modern writer, when responsible for a biography of the Christ, would come under most serious criticism (from the theologians and the orthodox) had he omitted these important points. But evidently, in the opinion of the apostle, they were not of paramount importance. It was the Spirit of Christ that was vital and necessary. The other three apostles supplied the setting and the detail, and apparently did much to bring that detail into conformity with the teaching of the past, as to the environment and lives of the past world-teachers and saviours, for there is a curious identity in events and occurrences.

We have fought over the detail connected with the phenomenal appearing of Christ, and have overlooked the emphasis laid in three of the initiations upon His words and their meaning. We have taken our stand upon the physical happenings of His life and have struggled to prove the authentic historicity of those physical events, and all the time God Himself speaks, "Hear ye Him."

Another point which is frequently forgotten is that, in so coming to earth and taking human incarnation, God testified to His faith in the divinity which is in man. God had sufficient confidence in men and in their reaction to world conditions so that He gave His Son to demonstrate the possibility to man and thus save the world. In this He gave expression to His belief, and His conduct was dictated by that belief. In reverence I would like to say that man's divinity warranted an expression of divinity. So God acted. Dean Inge, when writing upon the works of Plotinus, says very appositely that "the conduct of life rests on an act of faith which begins with an experiment and ends with an experience." These words are true of God and of man. God had such faith in man's innate spirituality—and what is spirituality but the expression, in form, of divinity?—that He ventured on a great [57] experiment which has led into the Christian experience. Faith in Christ! Faith in humanity! Faith in man's responsiveness to the experiment! Faith that the vision given will be transmuted or developed into experience! Such was the faith of God in humanity. The Christian faith, in spite of dogma and doctrine, and in spite of the distortions of the academic theologian and the impositions of a few unintelligent churchmen, has brought together God and man, blended in the Christ, and so presented the truth that each human being can also have faith to venture the experiment and undergo the experience. This vital, dramatic, mystically pictured yet living truth, when grasped by the mind and understood by the heart, will enable each aspirant to the Christian Mysteries to pass through the gateway of the new Birth into light, and walk thenceforth increasingly in that light, for "the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day." [lxi]33 This truth is still a living truth and enriches and colours all our faith.

In this continuity (which is the basis of our faith in the love of God) there have been, as we have seen, many Words sent forth from the Centre. Many Sons of God, down the ages, have given to humanity a progressively revealing vision of the "heights of possibility," interpreting God's Plan to the race in terms suited to each age and temperament. The uniformity of their life story, the appearance again and again of the Virgin Mother (whose name is frequently a variation of the name Mary), the similarity in detail of the birth story, all indicate to us the constant re-enactment of a truth, so that from its dramatic quality and its repeated happening, God impresses upon the hearts of men certain great truths which are vital to their salvation.

One of these truths is that the love of God is eternal, and that His love for His people has been steadfast and unalterable. Whenever the time is ripe and the need of the people warrants it, He comes forth for the saving of the souls of men. [58] Krishna in ancient India proclaimed this truth in the majestic words:

"Whenever there is a withering of the law ... and an uprising of lawlessness on all sides, then I manifest Myself.

"For the salvation of the righteous and the destruction of such as do evil; for the firm establishing of the law I come to birth in age after age.

"He who thus perceives My birth and work as divine, as in truth it is ... he goes to Me, Arjuna." [lxii] 34

Again and again such teachers have come forth, manifested as much of the divine nature as the racial development warranted, spoken those words which determined the culture and the civilisation of the peoples, and then passed on their way, leaving the seed sown, to germinate and bear fruit. In the fullness of time Christ came and, if evolution means anything at all and if the race as a whole has developed and unfolded its consciousness, the message He gave and the life He lived must necessarily sum up all the best in the past, completing and fulfilling it, and proclaim a possible future spiritual culture which will greatly transcend all that the past may have given.

The majority of these great Sons of God were, curiously enough, born in a cave and usually of a virgin mother.

"In regard to the Virgin Birth it is significant that there is no reference to it in the Epistles which form the earliest Christian documents; but, on the contrary, St. Paul speaks of Jesus as `made of the seed of David according to the flesh' [lxiii]35 that is to say, of the seed of Joseph, David's descendant. The earliest Gospel, that of St. Mark, dating between A.D. 70 and 100, does not mention it; nor does the Gospel of St. John, dating from some time not earlier than A.D. 100. The Book of Revelation, written between A.D. 69 and 93, is silent on the subject, though had the Virgin Birth then been an important tenet of the faith it would undoubtedly have figured in the mystical symbolism of that composition." [lxiv] 36

[59]

Isis was often represented standing on the crescent moon, with twelve stars surrounding her head. In almost every Roman Catholic church on the continent of Europe may be seen pictures and statues of Mary, the "Queen of Heaven," standing on the crescent moon, her head surrounded with twelve stars.

"It would seem more than a chance that so many of the virgin mothers and goddesses of antiquity should have the same name. The mother of Bacchus was Myrrha; the mother of Mercury or Hermes was Myrrha or Maia; the mother of the Siamese Saviour—Sommona Cadom was called Maya Maria, i.e. `the Great Mary'; the mother of Adonis was Myrrha; the mother of Buddha was Maya; now, all these names whether Myrrha, Maia or Maria, are the same as Mary, the name of the mother of the Christian Saviour. The month of May was sacred to these goddesses, so likewise is it sacred to the Virgin Mary at the present day. She was also called Myrrha and Maria, as well as Mary...." [lxv]37

In the symbolic language of esotericism, a cave is regarded as the place of initiation. This has always been so, and a very interesting study of the initiatory process and of the new birth could be made if the many references in the ancient writings to these events which have transpired in caves were collected and analysed. The stable in which Jesus was born was in all likelihood a cave, for many stables were, in those days, hollowed out of the ground. This was recognised by the early Church, and we are told that "it is well known that whereas in the Gospels Jesus is said to have been born in an inn stable, early Christian writers, as Justin Martyr and Origen, explicitly say He was born in a cave." [lxvi]38

In studying these five initiations of the Gospel story, we find that two of them took place in a cave, two on a mountain top and one on the level between the deeps and the heights. The first and last initiations (the Birth into life and the Resurrection into "life more abundantly" [lxvii]39) took place in [60] a cave. The Transfiguration and the Crucifixion were enacted on the summit of a mountain or hill, whilst the second initiation, after which Christ entered upon His public ministry, took place in a river, in the plains around Jordan—symbolic perhaps of Christ's mission to live and work down amongst men. The Masonic phrase to "meet on the level" takes on here an added significance. After each mountain experience, the Christ came down again on to the level of daily life and there manifested the effects or results of that high event.

Mithras was born in a cave, and so were many others. Christ was born in a cave and entered, as did all the others, upon a life of service and of sacrifice, thus qualifying for the task of world Saviour. They brought light and revelation to mankind and were sacrificed, in the majority of cases, to the hatred of those who did not understand their message, or who objected to their methods. All of them "descended into hell and rose again on the third day." There are twenty or thirty of these stories scattered through the centuries of human history, and the stories and the missions are ever identical.

"The Jesus-story, it will now be seen, has a greater number of correspondences with the stories of former Sungods and with the actual career of the Sun through the heavens—so many indeed that they cannot well be attributed to mere coincidence or even to the blasphemous wiles of the Devil! Let us enumerate some of these. There are (1) birth from a Virgin mother; (2) the birth in a stable (cave or underground chamber); and (3) on the 25th December (just after the winter solstice). There is (4) the Star in the East (Sirius) and (5) the arrival of the Magi (the `Three Kings'); there is (6) the threatened Massacre of the Innocents, and the consequent flight into a distant country (told also of Krishna and other Sungods). There are the Church festivals of (7) Candlemas (2nd February), with processions of candles to symbolise the growing light; of (8) Lent, or the arrival of Spring; of (9) Easter Day (normally on 25th March) to celebrate the crossing of the Equator by the Sun; and (10) simultaneously the outburst of lights at the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem. There is (11) [61] the Crucifixion and death of the Lamb-God, on Good Friday, three days before Easter; there are (12) the nailing to a tree, (13) the empty grave, (14) the glad Resurrection (as in the cases of Osiris, Attis and others); there are (15) the twelve disciples (the Zodiacal signs); and (16) the betrayal by one of the twelve. Then later there is (17) Mid-summer Day, the 24th June, dedicated to the birth of the beloved disciple John, and corresponding to Christmas Day; there are the festivals of (18) the Assumption of the Virgin (15th August) and of (19) the Nativity of the Virgin (8th September), corresponding to the movement of the god through Virgo; there is the conflict of Christ and his disciples with the autumnal asterisms, (20) the Serpent and the Scorpion; and finally there is the curious fact that the Church (21) dedicates the very day of the winter solstice (when any one may very naturally doubt the re-birth of the Sun) to St. Thomas, who doubted the truth of the Resurrection!" [lxviii] 40

Any student of comparative religion can investigate the truth of these statements, and at the end will stand amazed at the persistence of God's love and the willingness to sacrifice Themselves which all these Sons of God manifest.

It is therefore wise and timely to remember that:

"These events are reproduced in the lives of the various Solar Gods, and antiquity teems with illustrations of them. Isis of Egypt, like Mary of Bethlehem, was our Immaculate Lady, Star of the Sea, Queen of Heaven, Mother of God. We see her, in pictures, standing on the crescent moon, star-crowned, she nurses her child Horus, and the cross appears on the back of the seat in which he sits on his mother's knee. The Virgo of the zodiac is represented in ancient drawings as a woman suckling a child—the type of all future Madonnas with their divine Babes, showing the origin of the symbol. Devaki is likewise figured with the divine Krishna in her arms, as is Mylitta, or Istar, of Babylon, also with the recurrent crown of stars, and with her child Tammuz on her knee. Mercury and Aesculapius, Bacchus and Hercules, Perseus and the Dioscuri, Mithras and Zarathustra were all of divine and human birth." [lxix]41

It is apposite to recall that the cathedral of Notre Dame [62] in Paris is built upon the ancient site of a Temple of Isis, and that the early Church very frequently availed itself of a so-called heathen opportunity to determine a Christian rite or a day of sacred remembrance. Even the establishing of Christmas Day on December 25th was so determined. The same writer quoted above tells us that:

"On the fixing of the 25th December as the birthday of Jesus, Williamson has the following: `All Christians know that the 25th December is now the recognised festival of the birth of Jesus, but few are aware that this has not always been so. There have been, it is said, one hundred and thirty-six different dates fixed on by different Christian sects. Lightfoot gives it as September 15th, others as in February or August. Epiphanius mentions two sects, one celebrating in June, the other in July. The matter was finally settled by Pope Julius in 337 A.D., and St. Chrysostom, writing in 390, says: `On this day (i.e. 25th December) also the birth of Christ was lately fixed at Rome, in order that while the heathen were busy with their ceremonies (the Brumalia, in honour of Bacchus) the Christians might perform their rites undisturbed.'" [lxx]42

The choice of this particular date is cosmic in its implications, and not unwittingly, we can be sure, did the wise men of earlier times make these momentous decisions. Annie Besant tells us that:

"He is always born at the winter solstice, after the shortest day in the year, at the midnight of the 24th December when the sign Virgo is rising above the horizon; born as this Sign is rising, he is born always of a virgin, and she remains a virgin after she has given birth to her Sun-child as the celestial Virgo remains unchanged and unsullied when the Sun comes forth from her in the Heavens. Weak, feeble as an infant is he, born when the days are shortest and the nights are longest...." [lxxi] 43

It is also interesting to remember that:

"The Venerable Bede, [lxxii]44 writing in the early part of the Eighth [63] Century, says that `the ancient people of the Anglian nation', by which he means the pagan English before their settlement in Britain about A.D. 500, `began the year on December 25th, when we now celebrate the birthday of our Lord'; and he tells us that the night of December 24th-25th `which is the very night now so holy to us was called in their tongue Modranecht, that is to say "Mother's Night," by reason of the ceremonies which in that night-long vigil they performed.' He does not mention what those ceremonies were, but it is clear that they were connected with the birth of the Sun-god. At the time when the English were converted to Christianity in the Sixth and Seventh Centuries the festival of the Nativity on December 25th had been already long established in Rome as a solemn celebration; but in England its identification with the joyous old pagan Yule—a word apparently meaning a `jollification'—gave it a merry character which it did not possess in the south. This character has survived, and is in marked contrast to its nature amongst the Latin races, with whom the northern custom of feasting and giving Christmas presents was unknown until recent years." [lxxiii]45>

At the time of the birth of Christ, Sirius, the Star in the East, was on the meridian line, Orion, called "The Three Kings" by oriental astronomers, was in proximity; therefore the constellation Virgo, the Virgin, was rising in the east, and the line of the ecliptic, of the equator and of the horizon all met in that constellation. It is interesting also to note that the brightest and largest star in the constellation Virgo is called Spica; it is to be found in the "ear of corn" (sign of fertility) which the Virgin holds. Bethlehem means the "house of bread," and there is therefore an obvious connection between these two words. This constellation is also composed of three stars in the shape of a cup. This is the true Holy Grail, that which contains the life blood, the repository of the sacred and the holy, and that which conceals divinity. These are astronomical facts. The interpretation of the symbolism attached from ancient days to these constellations is as old as religion itself. Whence came the signs, and how the [64] meanings and symbols associated with them came into being, is lost in the night of time. They have existed in men's minds and thoughts and writings for thousands of years, and are our joint heritage today. The ancient zodiac of Dendera (antedating Christianity by several thousand years) is ample proof of this. In the sun's journey around the zodiac, this "Man of the Heavens" eventually arrives at Pisces; this sign is exactly opposite the sign Virgo, and is the sign of all world Saviours. We have already seen that the age of Christianity is the Piscean Age, and Christ came to the Holy Land when our sun transitted into that sign. Therefore that which was started and had its being in Virgo (the birth of the Christ Child) is consummated in Pisces when that Christ Child, having attained maturity, comes forth as the world Saviour.

One other astronomical fact is of interest in this connection. Closely associated with the constellation Virgo, and to be found in the same section of the Heavens, are three other constellations, and in these three there is portrayed for us symbolically the story of the Child which shall be born, suffer and die and come again. There is the group of stars called Coma Berenice, the Woman with the Child. There is Centaurus, the Centaur, and Boötes, whose name in the Hebrew language means the "Coming One." First, the child born of the woman and that woman a virgin; then the centaur, ever the symbol of humanity in the ancient mythologies, for man is an animal, plus a god, and therefore a human being. Then He Who shall come looms over them all, overshadowing them, pointing to the fulfilment which shall come through birth and human incarnation. Truly the picture book of the heavens holds eternal truth for those who have eyes to see and the intuition developed rightly to interpret. Prophecy is not confined to the Bible but has ever been held before men's eyes in the vault of heaven.

Thus as "the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth His handiwork," [lxxiv]46 we have the prophecy [65] of that world event which took place when Christ was born in Bethlehem, the "house of bread," and Virgo rose above the horizon, whilst the Star in the East shone forth.

Christ came, then, to His Own flesh and blood because the world of men drew Him and the love of the Father impelled Him. He came to give to life a purpose and fulfilment, and to indicate to us the Way: He came to give us an example, so that we could be galvanised by the hope that "maketh not ashamed" [lxxv]47 to "press toward the mark for the prize of our high calling." [lxxvi]48

It should be noted here that the journey, preceding the birth, is also a part of the life-story of other teachers sent from God. For instance, we read:

"Among the thirty-two signs which were to be fulfilled by the mother of the expected Messiah (Buddha), the fifth sign was recorded to be, `that she would be on a journey at the time of her child's birth.' Therefore, `that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets' the virgin Maya, in the tenth month after her heavenly conception, was on a journey to her father, when lo, the birth of the Messiah took place under a tree. One account says that `she had alighted at an inn when Buddha was born.'

"The mother of Lao-tse, the Virgin-born Chinese sage, was away from home when her child was born. She stopped to rest under a tree, and there, like the virgin Maya, gave birth to her son." [lxxvii] 49

We are told in the Gospel story that the Virgin Mary, with her husband Joseph and bearing within herself the Christ Child, went up from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem. Sometimes, through a study of the significances of the names we meet in the Bible and in tradition, we can throw much light on the episode itself and unveil some of its hidden meaning. In the study of the Bible story, I have used only the Bible itself and Cruden's Concordance. The interpretation of the names is taken from Cruden's Concordance. [66] Therein we find that "Nazareth" means "that which is consecrated" or set apart. "Galilee" means the "turning of the wheel"—that wheel of life and of death which turns continuously, carrying us all with it and keeping us upon the "wheel of existence," as the Buddhists call it, until we have learnt life's lessons and have become "a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the Master's use." [lxxviii]50

The long journey of existence lies behind the Christ, and He, with His Mother, journeys the last part of the way. Consecrated from past aeons to this very work of world salvage, He has first of all to submit Himself to the ordinary processes of birth and childhood. Christ came forth from Nazareth, the place of consecration, and went up to Bethlehem, the House of Bread, where in a peculiar way He Himself was to become the "Bread of Life" [lxxix]51 to a hungry world. He was set apart, or set Himself apart (as do all awakened sons of God) for the work of redemption. He came to feed the hungry, and in this connection two verses in the Bible convey light upon His task and its preparation. Isaiah tells us that "Bread corn is bruised," [lxxx]52 and Christ Himself told us that "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone, but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit." [lxxxi]53 This was the destiny awaiting Him when He came to the Birth in Bethlehem. Then He entered upon the career which eventually "bruised" Him and led Him to his death.

According to the concordance, the name Mary means "the exalted of the Lord." As one says these words, the famous picture, by Mulillo, of the Virgin, standing on the crescent moon and being gathered up into the clouds of Heaven, comes to mind. Such is the assumption of the Virgin into glory. There is another interesting point in connection with the constellation Virgo, upon which we might touch. Mary, the Virgin, in the symbolism of the ancient wisdom, stands [67] for virgin matter, for the substance which nurtures and nourishes and hides within itself the Christ child, the Christ consciousness. In the last analysis, it is through form and matter that God stands revealed. That is the story of the divine incarnation. Matter, overshadowed by the Holy Ghost, the third Person of the Trinity, brings to the birth the second Aspect of the Trinity, in the Person of Christ—cosmic, mythical and individual.

Associated with the story-book of the heavens there are three constellations (besides the constellation Virgo) which are symbolised by women. There is Cassiopeia, the Woman Enthroned. This is the constellation which is the symbol of the stage in human life at which matter and form are dominant and triumphant; when the inner divine life is so deeply hidden that it shows no sign, and only the material nature controls and rules. Then there comes the later stage in the history of the race and of the individual, when we find Coma Berenice symbolically emerging—the Woman bearing the Christ Child is seen. Here matter begins to reveal its true function, which is to bring to the birth the Christ in every form. When the turning of the great wheel of life has played its part, then Mary can come out of Galilee, from Nazareth, and journey to Bethlehem, there to give birth to the Saviour. Finally there is Andromeda, the Woman chained, or matter brought into subservience to the soul. The Soul or the Christ now rules. First, matter dominant, enthroned and triumphant. Then matter, the custodian of hidden divinity, beauty and reality, ready to bring them to the birth. Finally, matter as the servant of that which has been born, the Christ. However, none of this is brought about unless the journey is made from Nazareth, the place of consecration, and from Galilee, the place of the daily round of life; and this is true, whether one is speaking of the cosmic Christ, hidden by the form of a solar system; of the mythic Christ, hidden in humanity down the ages; of the historical Christ, concealed within the form of Jesus; or of the individual Christ, hidden within the ordinary man. For always the [68] routine is the same—the journey, the new birth, the experience of life, the service to be rendered, the death to be endured, and then the resurrection into more extended service.

Joseph's name means "he who shall add"; he was a builder, a carpenter, a worker in the building trade, one who adds stone to stone, or beam to beam. He is the symbol of the building-creative aspect of God the Father. In these three people, Joseph, the infant Jesus, and Mary, we have the divine Triplicity symbolised and represented, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, or Matter informed by Deity, and therefore typified for us in the Virgin Mary.

Today the masses are on a journey. Today the teaching of the Path and of the Way to God is engrossing the attention of the aspirants in the world. We are on the Path of return to the individual and to the racial Bethlehem. We are now on the point of entering the cave wherein the new birth can take place, and therefore one stage of life's long journey is nearly completed. This symbolism is truer, perhaps, than we care to think it is. The world problem today is bread, and our anxieties, our bewilderments, our wars and our struggles are based upon the economic problem of how to feed the peoples. Today the whole world is occupied with the Bethlehem idea, with bread. In this subtle implication there surely comes to us a guarantee that as He came before to the House of Bread so will He again fulfil His word and fulfil Himself and return. The cave, a place of darkness and of discomfort, was for Mary the place of pain and weariness. This cave or stable story of the New Testament is perhaps as full of symbolism as any to be found in the Bible. The long and trying journey ended in a dark cave. The long and weary journey of humanity has brought us today to just such a hard and uninviting place. The life of the individual disciple, prior to taking initiation and passing through the experience of the new birth, is ever one of the utmost difficulty and hardness. But in the dark, and through difficulty, Christ is to be found, the Christ life can flower forth, and we can stand face to face before Him as the Initiator. The blind poet, [69] George Macdonald, sensed this when he wrote the beautiful words which have brought comfort to so many:

"Challenge the darkness, whatsoe'er it be,

Sorrow's thick darkness or strange mystery

Of prayer or providence. Persist intent,

And thou shalt find love's veiled sacrament.

Some secret revelation, sweetness, light,

Waits to waylay the wrestler in the night.

In the thick darkness, at its very heart,

Christ meets, transfigured, souls He calls apart."

In this cave of initiation, all the four kingdoms of nature can be seen unmistakably symbolised for us. In the rocky structure of the cave, the mineral kingdom appears. The fodder and the hay, naturally there, symbolise the vegetable kingdom. The ox and the ass represent the animal nature, but they represent also far more than that. The ox stood for that form of worship which should have been passing off the earth at the time Christ came. There were still many to be found who worshipped the bull, which was the worship prevalent in the age when our sun was passing through the age of Taurus, the Bull, and which was preserved at that time in the mysteries of Mithras and of Egypt. The sign immediately preceding the Christian era was that of Aries, the Ram or Lamb, and this is symbolised for us in the sheepfolds which surrounded Bethlehem.

It is interesting also to bear in mind that asses are definitely associated with the story of Mary and her Child. Two asses are found mentioned in the Gospel story, one coming from the north and bearing Mary to Bethlehem, and the other taking her down into Egypt. These are symbols of the two constellations called the Northern Ass and the Southern Ass, which are in the neighbourhood of the constellation Virgo.

We find the human kingdom represented in Mary and Joseph, with the human unity plus the duality which are so essential to existence itself. In the newborn Babe divinity [70] expresses itself. Thus, in that little cave, the cosmos is represented.

When Christ was born in Bethlehem, a threefold Word sounded forth. "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." [lxxxii]54 A triple Word was then given to us. It was chanted by angels in the night to the shepherds tending their flocks in the fields surrounding the stable-cave where the infant Child lay. A unique event had happened in the cosmos, and the hosts of heaven did honour to it.

This question of the earth's uniqueness has often troubled thinking people. Can so infinitesimal an atom in space as our planet be indeed of such interest to God that He permitted this great experiment to be tried here? Is the mystery of man and the significance of our purpose of such importance that nowhere else can it be paralleled?

Can anything really happen on this "ball of dust" of such vital import that it can warrant the angels in singing: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men"? We like to think that it can be so. We dread the moment when our futility appears as we look upon the stars of heaven, realising that there are thousands of millions of universes and tens of thousands of millions of constellations! We are such specks in a great immensity.

Perhaps we are of more importance than we had guessed. Perhaps what happens to us in the realm of consciousness really does matter in the cosmic scheme. We know that it does not much matter what happens to the body. It is what happens in and through that body which counts. Perhaps what happens in and through the body, which we call a planet, indwelt likewise by God, is of vital moment in the plans of God Himself. This would give meaning to life; it is only when we apprehend meaning and appreciate it that we can understand the significance of the Word spoken at the birth of Christ. Let us paraphrase the message of the angels. It came from a group of beings and was spoken to [71] a group of beings. It is therefore a world message, a message which still awaits response. When the consciousness which is Christ's has been awakened in all men, then we shall have peace on earth and goodwill among men. When this has taken place, then will God be glorified. The expression of our divinity will bring to an end the hatred rampant upon earth and break down all the separating walls which divide man from man, group from group, nation from nation, religion from religion. Where there is goodwill there must be peace; there must be organised activity and a recognition of the Plan of God, for that Plan is synthesis; that Plan is fusion; that Plan is unity and at-one-ment. Then Christ will be all in all, and God the Father will be glorified. This must be brought about by a living union with God through Christ—through the historical Christ Who revealed God, and through the individual Christ, hidden in every human heart, Who must be brought to birth. None of the Epistles in the New Testament make this so clear as the Epistle to the Ephesians, for there is given the picture of possibility in terms that leave no excuse for misinterpretation. This epistle is:

"... penetrated through by that idea of a living union with Christ, and indwelling in Him. It is expressed in many metaphors. We are rooted in Him as the tree in the soil, which makes it firm and fruitful. We are built into Him as the strong foundations of the Temple are bedded in the living rock. We live in Him as the limbs in the body.... The indwelling, we say, is reciprocal. He is in us and we are in Him. He is in us as the source of our being; we are in Him as filled with His fullness. He is in us all-communicative; we are in Him all-receptive. He is in us as the sunlight in the else darkened chamber; we are in Him as the cold green log cast into the flaming furnace glows through and through with ruddy and transforming heat. He is in us as the sap in the veins of the tree; we are in Him as the branches." [lxxxiii]55

The realisation of this is needed today. Christ in God. God in Christ. Christ in you and Christ in me. This is [72] what will bring into being that one religion which will be the religion of love, of peace on earth, of universal goodwill, of divine understanding, and of the deep recognition of God. Then His impress and His life can be seen everywhere, in everybody and everything. The divine "signature" (as Boehme calls it) will everywhere be recognised. The life of God is today agitating the minds of men and causing them to move towards the birth chamber. From there they will pass into a new world where higher ideals and deeper contacts and richer understandings will characterise humanity.

When Christ came, we read that those of vision who were prepared said, "We have seen his star in the East and are come to worship him." [lxxxiv]56 This was the Sign given to the few who were ready, and who had made the necessary journey to Bethlehem. But another sign was seen by the many, and given by the angel of the Lord to the shepherds who were watching in the fields by night. "And this shall be a sign unto you, Ye shall find the babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger." [lxxxv]57 Here was a sign given to those watching ones, two or three, who were ready to consecrate their all, who perceived the star of initiation flashing forth and hastened to the initiation chamber. The larger number, who were interested and watching, needed a more concrete and more easily interpreted sign and were sent to see the infant with his mother. Their attitude is expressed in the words, "Let us now go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass." [lxxxvi]58 But the three who understood came to worship and to give.

When they saw this star shine forth, the three Kings undertook a journey and, laden with gifts, came to Bethlehem. They are symbols of those disciples in the world today who are ready to prepare themselves for the first initiation, to transmute their knowledge into wisdom, and to offer all that they have to the Christ within.

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The gifts they brought teach us the specific type of discipline which must be undergone in order to present to the Christ, at the time of the new birth, gifts which will be symbolic of achievement. These three offered to the infant Jesus three presents—gold, frankincense and myrrh. Let us study for a minute the specific importance of these to the individual would-be initiate. We are told by the esotericists that man is a three-fold person in his human nature, and this truth is endorsed by the psychologists through their investigations and research. He is a physical living body, he is a sum total of emotional reactions, and he is also that mysterious something which we call a mind. These three parts of a man—physical, emotional and mental—have to be offered in sacrifice, worship and as a free gift to the "Christ within" before that Christ can demonstrate through the disciple and initiate as He wishes to do. Gold is a symbol of the material nature, which must be consecrated to the service of God and of man. Frankincense symbolises the emotional nature, with its aspirations, wishes and longing, and this aspiration must rise as incense to the feet of God. Incense is also a symbol of purification, of that burning which removes all dross and leaves only the essence for the blessing of God. Myrrh or bitterness relates to the mind. It is through the mind that we suffer as human beings, and the further the race progresses and the more the mind develops, the greater seems the capacity for suffering. But when suffering is seen in its true light and dedicated to divinity, it can be used as an instrument whereby we approach nearer to God. Then we can offer to God that rare and wonderful gift of a mind made wise through pain, and a heart made kind through distress and through difficulty surmounted.

As we study the meaning of these three gifts brought by the disciples of old to the infant Jesus, and as we see their meaning as it applies to our individual situation, it becomes equally apparent that today humanity, as a race, stands before the infant Jesus, in the House of Bread, at the end of a [74] long journey, and can now offer, if it so will, the gifts of material life, of purification through the fires of adversity, and of the suffering to which it has been subjected. Humanity can journey from Galilee by way of Nazareth. Gold, the thing that today seems to be the very life-blood of the people, must be consecrated to the Christ. Frankincense, the dreams and visions and aspirations of the multitude, so real and deep that the nations everywhere are struggling for the expression of these dreams—these too must be dedicated and offered to the Christ, that He may be all in all. And the pain and suffering and agony of humanity, never before so acute as now, must surely be laid at the feet of Christ. We have learnt much. Let the meaning of it all penetrate into our hearts and minds, and let the reason of the pain drive us to offer it up as our ultimate gift to Christ. Pain is ever the accompaniment of birth. Suffering is found within every birth chamber. The realisation of this awakens the deepest and most constructive kind of optimism in the minds of those who ponder upon world suffering and agony. May it not indicate the birth pangs which precede the revelation of the Christ? When it is realised, then we can say with St. Paul:

"For His sake I have suffered the loss of everything, and reckon it all as mere refuse, in order that I may win Christ, and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own, derived from the Law, but that which arises from faith in Christ—the righteousness which comes from God through faith.... I do not say that I have already gained this knowledge or already reached perfection. But I press on, striving to lay hold of that for which I was also laid hold of by Christ Jesus.... But this one thing I do—forgetting everything which is past and stretching forward to what lies in front of me, with my eyes fixed on the goal, I push on to secure the prize of God's heavenward call in Christ Jesus. Therefore let all of us who are mature believers cherish these thoughts; and if in any respect you think differently, that also God will make clear to you. But whatever be the point that we have already reached, let us persevere in the same course." [lxxxvii] 59

5

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The account of Christ's childhood as given us in the Gospels is dismissed in a very few words. Only one episode is related, and that is the one in which Jesus, having reached the age of twelve years, was taken up by His Mother to the Temple of the Lord and there, for the first time, gave indication of His vocation, and evidenced the realisation that a mission was pre-ordained for Him. Prior to this, His parents had conformed to all the requirements of the Jewish ritual; they had also sojourned in Egypt. Of His time there, we are told nothing. All that we know is covered by the words:

"They returned into Galilee to their own city Nazareth. And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon Him." [lxxxviii]60

Students would do well to remember that the number twelve is regarded by the esotericists of all faiths as signifying the number of completion; it recurs again and again in the various scriptures of the world. The following comments are of interest in this connection, showing as they do the significance of this number, and its relation to initiation:

"The accomplishment of the age of twelve years signifies a full period of evolution when an initiation was undergone by the Christ soul. This took place in the inner mind (the temple) and corresponded to an awakening of the logical and intuition sides of the soul. These are the father-mother principle, indicated by the presence of the parents." [lxxxix] 61

And again,

"This number (of the twelve disciples) is typified by many things in the Old Testament; by the 12 sons of Jacob, by the 12 princes of the Children of Israel; by the 12 running springs in Helim; by the 12 stones in Aaron's breastplate; by the 12 loaves of the shew-bred; by the 12 spies sent by Moses; by the 12 stones [76] of which the altar was made; by the 12 stones taken out of Jordan; by the 12 oxen which bare the brazen sea. Also in the New Testament, by the 12 stars in the bride's crown, by the 12 foundations of Jerusalem which John saw, and her 12 gates." [xc]62

All these recurrences of twelve probably have their origin in the twelve signs of the zodiac, that imaginary belt in the heavens through which the sun appears to pass on its journey in the course of a year, and during its greater cycle of approximately 25,000 years.

Having completed the preparatory work, by His twelfth year Christ again underwent an intuitive experience, going up from Nazareth (the place of consecration) to the Temple, where that intuition led Him to a new realisation of His work. There is no sign that He knew in detail what that mission was; He went into no explanations to His Mother. He started to do the work that was the nearest duty, and to teach those whom He found in the Temple, astonishing them with His understanding and His answers. His mother, bewildered and distressed, called His attention to herself and to His father, but only received the calm answer, spoken with conviction, and so changing all life for her: "Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" [xci]63 That business, as it developed in His consciousness in the passing of the years, became far broader and wider in its all-embracing love than the average orthodox Church seems willing to admit.