“The Messiah will come only when he is no longer necessary; he will come only on the day after his arrival; he will come, not on the last day, but on the very last.”
~ Franz Kafka
Flying out of Hartford to be with my family for Christmas this week was surreal, not because the travel was snarly, confused, or difficult, but because everyone in that airport and then in my connecting airport in Baltimore was nice: people were happy, helpful, everyone talking with total strangers in the lines, which were moving fast. Several times on the journey I grinned and laughed with joy, because it was so utterly unlike what we are enculturated to expect from holiday travel.
Yet it was entirely of a piece with what I have been experiencing this Winter Solstice season: the kindness and gentleness with which people treat each other during this time, the way we all look out for one another.
From now until Twelfth Night is the year’s darkest band of days. Yet there is something about Yuletide that is utterly pure and angelic, a sense of love, safety, compassion, justice, and elevation from harm. We gather with others, feed them, give them presents to show that they are important to us, tolerate their idiosyncrasies; our hearts swing violently in rejection of materialism and greed when we reverently watch A Charlie Brown Christmas or any variation on A Christmas Carol. For a few precious days, we make the world as it longs to be made.
Some say that ever ‘gainst that season comes
Wherein our Savior’s birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long:
And then, they say, no spirit dares stir abroad;
The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallow’d and so gracious is the time.
~ from Hamlet, Act I Scene 1
For a few precious days, we make the world as we know, deep down, it truly is. People from Christian traditions do this while celebrating the arrival of the Messiah in the form of Jesus. And while the last thing I want to do is spark yet another Christmas controversy, please hear me when I say that no matter what tradition you come from, any or none or your own, what people call the Messiah is already happening, is resounding now, right now at Christmastide, and all we have to do is continue to do it.
Woven into Jewish mysticism, into Kabbalah, is the idea that each individual being in Creation is a shard of an originary great Vessel that was shattered at the beginning of being. The entire work of Time is the calling for all of us to restore the completeness, to remake the wholeness of the world. When that is done, in the fullness of Time, the world will be set for the arrival of the Messiah.
But you see, what pulls the heart about this story is that everything we want a Messiah to be able to do for us—to rectify injustice, to bring love into the world—is already done by us in order to prepare the way. We, among ourselves, complete the work that is the healing of creation. We have the forces within us, the light and love and wherewithal, to fix the world: oil spills, species endangerment, bigotry, cruelty, famine, war. When we are able to do those things it will be a sign of our maturity, our readiness.
Like attracts like, so the resonance of this world will conduct the Messiah to arrive. But the world will already be fixed! So when or whether or not the external Messiah does come, he or she will arrive as a grace note at the end of Time, in a world that has made itself Messianic: with wisdom, love, justice, and peace. And the proof that could actually happen is shown to us in the way we treat each other, every Christmas season. If it is possible now, it is possible all the time.
Why is Yuletide the time that we make sure that everyone is fed, put our voices together to sing songs, smile at one another on the street? Why are the darkest days of the year the time when people are at their best? I suspect it is because this is the time that we emit our own warmth and light, that we create a light on Earth that comes from ourselves, from our interactions, from our peacefulness. Because in the longest darkness we really feel how necessary warmth and light are, and also realize how much warmth and light we bear within us, and we want to share that: to keep others warm, to make others laugh, to make sure everyone feels loved. In a lavishness of open heart that holds nothing back it comes bursting out of us in spontaneous holiday wishes and blessings: we wish everything for everyone.
Many of us have seen the images from Buddhism of the great bodhisattva deity, Kuan Yin, as the thousand-armed Buddha Avalokiteshwara, hands extending from her heart like countless sun rays. The idea of the Bodhisattva is this: a being who is finally free to leave this earthly realm of samsara which is the flow of otherwise endless births and deaths, who merits being able to transcend into nirvana, decides instead, in an act of overwhelming compassion, to keep being born, so that she can help liberate others. An enlightened heart cannot rest until all other hearts are free.
None of us is truly saved until everyone is saved.
The secret of the thousand-hands image is this: We all are these hands. Each of us is a hand in a great divine operation, aiding one another, setting each other free. We are the Universe repairing itself. We are the means by which the Divine acts in the world.
Now, at the Solstice, when the warmth and light that comes from the sky is at its furthest slant, we feel the greatest surge of Love, we are the closest to being like angels. When external light is drawn away, we feel the full force of our own. And it is so powerful right now, at this season and in the world. Pay attention, right now, to the fervor to set things right: our attention for workers to be treated fairly; for streams to be kept pure; for gay people to be able to marry; for whales to be set free.
Something wondrous is happening. A new world can be created, if we let it. In time, if we let it. This Solstice, pay attention. It could be like this all the time, for all people and animals. What if it were?
Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu.
May all beings everywhere be happy and free.
Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax!
Glory to G-d in the highest, and on Earth, peace.
Gracious Yuletide, blessed be, and Love!
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Editor: Bryonie Wise
Images: courtesy of the author