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Reflections for Christmas

December 15 2003:

At length she brought the babe to her people, carrying him in her arms. They said "O Mary! Truly a strange thing hast thou brought!"

As Christians around the world prepare for Christmas, ARC offers some relevant and inspiring readings. Here are readings from Islam, Hinduism and Orthodox Christianity.

Islam: from Surah 19, verses 16 to 27

Mary's story

[This is] the story of Mary, when she withdrew from her family to a place in the East.

She placed a screen to screen herself from them: then we sent to her our angel, and he appeared before her as a man in all respects.

She said: "I seek refuge from thee to Allah Most Gracious. Come not near if thou dost fear Allah."

He said: "Nay, I am only a messenger from thy Lord to announce to thee the gift of a pure son"

She said: "How shall I have a son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I an not unchaste?"

He said: "So it will be. Thy Lord saith: That is easy for me: and we wish to appoint him as a sign unto men and a mercy from us; it is a matter so decreed."

So she conceived him and she retired with him to a remote place. And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm tree.

She cried in her anguish: "Ah! would that I had died before this! would that I had been a thing forgotten."

But a voice cried to her from beneath the palm tree: "Grieve not! for thy Lord hath provided a rivulet beneath thee; and shake towards thyself the trunk of the palm tree: It will let fall fresh ripe dates upon thee.

"So eat and drink and cool thine eye. And if thou dost see any man, say, 'I have vowed a fast to Allah Most Gracious, and this day will I enter into no talk with any human being."

At length she brought the babe to her people, carrying him in her arms. They said "O Mary! Truly a strange thing hast thou brought!"

(Adapted from the Revised Edition edited by The Presidency of Islamic Researches, IFTA, Call and Guidance, published by the King Fahd Holy Qur'an Printing Complex, Saudi Arabia).

Hinduism: from Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 7

"When one cycle ends all beings enter my nature, and at the start of the next cycle I send them forth again. Through my material energies, I again and again send forth this host of beings, who are helpless in nature's embrace."
God's Energies

4 My material energies are divided into eight: earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and ego.

5 Besides this external nature is my internal nature, made up of the living beings who sustain the world.

6 All beings are born from these two natures. Thus I am the origin of the entire universe and its dissolution too.

7 There is no truth superior to me. All rests on me, as pearls strung on a thread.

8 I am the taste of water, the light of the sun and moon. I am the syllable Om in the Vedas, the sound in ether and ability in human beings.

9 I am the original fragrance of the earth, the radiance in fire. I am the life of all that lives, the penance of all ascetics.

10 I am the seed of all beings, the intelligence of the intelligent, and the power of the powerful.

11 I am the strength of the strong, free of passion and desire, and I am desire that accords with the spirit.

12 The states of goodness, passion and darkness come from me, and are within me, though I am not in them.

COMMENTARY: Reality is made up of God's energies. The material world is formed of his external energy which is temporary, illusory and sorrowful by nature. We conscious beings, who share the same nature as God, belong to his internal energy, whose natural qualities are sat-cit-ananda - eternity, knowledge and bliss. The differences between ourselves and Krishna are that he is unlimited and independent, while we are small and depend on him for our existence, as sparks depend on a fire.

from Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 9

The Divine is Within and Beyond Everything

4 I pervade this universe in my hidden form. All beings are in me, but I am not in them.

5 Yet all beings do not rest in me. Behold my mystic opulence: supporting all yet beyond all, my Self is the source of everything.

6 See how the mighty wind, blowing everywhere, moves always within the vastness of space. So all beings move in me.

7 When one cycle ends all beings enter my nature, and at the start of the next cycle I send them forth again.

8 Through my material energies, I again and again send forth this host of beings, who are helpless in nature's embrace.

9 This work has no hold over me. I sit apart, detached from all this activity.

10 By my direction, nature produces all moving and non-moving beings, and so the world revolves.

COMMENTARY: God is everywhere and we all live within him. Yet Krishna is also beyond this world, untouched by the work of creation and maintenance. He is far away in the sense that he is detached and does not interfere. Living beings have their desires, and at the beginning of each new cycle of creation he empowers them to go forth into the universal dawn to fulfill them. Krishna does not interfere in our freedom because he is generous and his nature is unlimited.

(excerpts from The Illustrated Bhagavad Gita, translation and commentary by Ranchor Prime, Godsfield Press 2003)

Orthodox Christianity: from Orthodoxy and the Ecological Crisis, by the Ecumenical Patriarchate

"Thine Own of Thine Own we offer unto Thee"

With these words the liturgy captures the heart of the Orthodox vision and understanding of our relationship both to creation and the Creator. Creation - ourselves included - is of God. We do not own creation but we are the free agents through whom creation is offered to the Creator.

The purpose of creation is summed up in its worship of the Creator. This is most beautifully expressed in the Christmas Hymn:

"What shall we offer Thee, O Christ, who for our sake was seen on earth as man?
For every thing created by Thee offers Thee thanks.
The angels offer Thee their hymn;
The heavens, the star;
The Magi, their gifts;
The shepherds, their wonder;
The earth, the cave;
The wilderness, the manger;
While we offer Thee a Virgin Mother, O pre-eternal God, have mercy upon us..."

Hymn for Vespers, Christmas Day

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