In the beloved Song of God, the Bhagavad Gita, God promises that "whenever virtue declines and vice predominates, I incarnate on earth. Taking visible form, I combat evil and uphold dharma (virtue)."
The story of the three Wise Men (or Magi) appears only in the gospel of Matthew. Matthew was a tax collector and when Jesus saw him and said to Matthew, "Come, follow me," Matthew immediately left his collection booth to follow Jesus. As a much-hated tax collector, Matthew was obviously unorthodox but he could read, write, and do accounts. Of the four evangelists, Matthew seems to have had a particular interest in showing his Jewish compatriots that Jesus' life was foretold in the scriptures of the Old Testament.
But where would Matthew have learned of this story? If from Jesus, then Jesus would have presumably been told the story by his father or mother. But how would his parents have known the details of the Magi's visit to King Herod in Jerusalem before coming to Bethlehem? How would they have known that the Magi were warned in a dream not to tell King Herod that they had found the Christ-child? Whatever the source, you can be sure that the visit by the Magic must have had a special significance, one presumably to those with Jewish ears to hear. Or, perhaps it is for our ears that Matthew recounted this story?
Matthew, being unorthodox, was not only attracted to the equally unorthodox Jesus but may have also been knowledgeable regarding and curious about other cultures and traditions. The significance of this story is hinted at by Paramhansa Yogananda in the twentieth century when Yogananda declared that the Magi were none other than his own lineage (in past lives): Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, and Sri Yukteswar. Regardless of the facts, the story points to a significant connection between the Orient and the birth, life and mission of Jesus Christ. The Magi, who themselves are viewed as kings, came a great distance to present precious gifts to yet another king, albeit newborn and lying in a manger. How can this event not be fraught with meaning? The obvious significance is the recognition of Jesus' birth as the birth of a spiritual being. But why from "the East?"
"Whenever virtue declines....I incarnate on earth." Though Christians quite understandably admit of no other divine incarnation than Jesus, that dogma is questionable in the light of our exposure and knowledge of other religions. There's no reason that God should have but one son, is there? Does not the Old Testament make repeated mention of the "sons of God?" Does not the first chapter of John the Evangelist state that "as many as received Him (Christ) to them gave He the power to become the sons of God"? Taking our cue from the quote above from the Bhagavad Gita, is not obvious that down through history there have been times where the need for a savior was great? Consider the brutality of Jesus' times; the flagging power of the classical, so-called "pagan," religions; the inflexibility of caste and the oppression of so many people under Roman occupation.
Is this time in human history not such a moment? Orthodox religions are losing their appeal and at odds with one another; economic, racial, cultural and gender inequalities are rampant; threats of both war and the use of nuclear weapons are on the rise; climate change threatens all species of life on the planet; cooperation among nations is on the wane; and legislatures are polarized. Perhaps the avatara has already happened in the form of Paramhansa Yogananda and the lineage that sent him to the West.
Christmas, however is the celebration of the divine descent, or avatara, of Jesus Christ. Paramhansa Yogananda described the avatara, whether Jesus or others such as Krishna, Buddha, as being souls who, in a past life, achieved their son-ship with the Father and were sent back by God to uplift and redeem souls from the snares of delusion.
We not only celebrate the avatara of Jesus Christ in the Christmas season but we also celebrate the redeemer role of Jesus and other avatars. What is this redeemer role? Did Jesus (and others) come to redeem our sins? Well, yes, in a sense. But not in the passively sentimental sense that is implied by orthodox Christians. Un-redeemed souls do indeed require the spiritual help of a divine being, a savior. In India, this is expressed in the teaching that to achieve enlightenment the soul needs a guru. Though freely offered by the avatar, it is not cheaply won. The pearl of great price takes great spiritual effort. But why can we not redeem ourselves through self-effort alone: through penance, virtue, and devotion?
Christian dogma speaks of original sin, the fall of Adam and Eve, as the reason we need a Christ to reconcile us back to God--to make the perfect sacrifice necessary to atone for our sins. But a yogi would say we are equally burdened by our karma. Either way, we need something more than our own effort because we are imprisoned in a cocoon and blinded by a hypnosis of our separation from God.
An outside spiritual force or magnetism is needed for the soul to break through. The savior, or guru, appears when the disciple is ready (as the saying goes). That readiness is echoed in the parable of the prodigal son, when, in the midst of his self-inflicted deprivation, the son remembers and longs to return to his father's home. It is the first step. The role of the guru is to awaken our soul's memory of its home in God-consciousness--the home from which we were created. But the guru does more than just jog our memory. The guru has the spiritual power to give to those who "receive Him" the ability to be come sons of God. Nor is such power based upon a ritual, an incantation or priestly position.
Life on earth would be a paradise if everyone followed the Golden Rule to "do unto others we would want others to do to us." But it is not enough. More than mere reason is needed. The very fact of our inability to bootstrap our way to inner communion with God puts us on notice that we need a spiritual power outside of ourselves.At the Last Supper, Jesus rendered aloud an accounting to God the Father for the souls that were sent to him to be taught and uplifted. Except for Judas Iscariot, they were all accounted for. This reflects the yogic teaching that at the dawn of creation, that Being who will be our soul's redeemer is already known. But it is we who must consciously call upon God to send to us our savior. Isn't that a beautiful teaching?
In celebrating Christmas we celebrate the birth of an avatar, a redeemer of souls, in the human form of the Son of Man whom we call Jesus (the) Christ.
A blessed and joyful Christmas to all,