The Desire for Peace and Joy
The tradition of gift giving at Christmas began with the Magi bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the Christ Child. While living in Italy I became familiar with their Christmas gift tradition. It tells of a witch called Befana, who was invited to travel with the Magi to bring a gift for the Christ Child. She declined saying she had too much house work to do, but later changed her mind. Unable to find the Magi and Jesus she continues to search for them, and while doing so brings gifts or coal for all the good and naughty children on the eve of the 12th Day of Christmas, being the 6th of January. In Europe the 6th is called Epiphany, supposedly the day the Magi (gentiles) visited Jesus. In our southern Italian village, there was a community fair for the children where all the villagers came to celebrate Befana.
As a side note, the reason a witch was associated with the Magi was because they were priests who belonged to an ancient Persian craft of sorcerers. You might recall they followed a new star to find Jesus. This supposes two things, they had foreknowledge of this ‘saintly child’ and they were very familiar with the stars of the night sky. It is thought they may have been astrologers.
The quality of the gifts given by the Magi reflected the importance that they saw in this newly born infant laying in swaddling clothes in the stable of an inn. I suspect that having pagan wise men celebrate the birth of Jesus with expensive gifts was propaganda to have gentiles believe that Jesus was a very important person. If sorcerers from Persia thought he was that important, so should the gentiles.
Gift giving is more involved than just buying someone a gift. Typically, the first consideration is budget. This Christmas, each Australian is expected to spend on average just under $900 on gifts. The ‘who you buy for’ and the ‘what you buy’ obviously reflects the people that are most important to you. Those you value most. Even in the telling of the first Christmas gift-giving, the value of the gifts brought by the Magi (gold, frankincense and myrrh) reflected how important Jesus was to them. Think about how much you have spent on presents this Christmas. Whose presents did you spend the most money on? Why did you make those people a priority?
In most cases these people meet a key need. It may be that they provide security. It could be they help us to have a sense of worth or belonging, helping us to feel loved and loveable. That need generally arises from a personal narrative that emerged through our formative years. For most, it’s a narrative of scarcity of one form or another, that informs all the choices we make even into adulthood. That need informs what we desire, which in turn determines what we value. What we value dictates how we spend our resources (time and money), which includes Christmas.
This is in contrast to someone who has become both aware of and free of their narrative. Through expanded awareness, these people desire and value things that are no longer encumbered by their past. Through being more aware and therefor more mindful, their values arise from inner stillness, which typically manifests as empathy, compassion and benevolence. When we are informed by our narrative, our past, much of our focus is egocentric. When we are able to be present we can see what is happening around us, leading to opportunities to serve. Some people serve from their ego too, but it generally results in exhaustion. Aligning with sustainable values will see you “love your neighbour, as yourself”.
It’s almost ironic that the sustainable values that free us from the needs of our narrative, are the main themes of Christmas. Peace and joy are foundational to almost every Christmas carol. Yet in spite of the warm fuzzy feeling they evoke, by Boxing Day, ‘Joy to the World’ and ‘Peace on Earth’ are discarded along with the wrappings. When the desire for peace and joy replace the desires that emerge from your narrative, the consciousness of Christ is born in you. In this, Christmas holds a new personal meaning. Empathy and compassion naturally emerge, as does benevolence. The need for those things that bring relief to our fears and suffering are replaced by the desire to serve as a peacemaker, promoting mercy, and being charitable both spiritually and physically.
In this consciousness, the gift of giving happens all year long. In this consciousness, Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of Christ (consciousness) within you. It’s a time be grateful for being free of the limiting effects of your narrative and to acknowledge the peace and joy you experience all year long. I wish this for us all.
Merry Christmas from me and from all of us at EAP, and may your New Year be filled with peace and joy.
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