Posted by: Scott | December 24, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Bethlehem…

Thinking Outside the Christmas Photo Box

I recently heard again for the first time in years the Chris De Burgh song “A Spaceman Came Travelling” – a twentieth-century take on how the first Christmas might have happened – and it made me wonder about perceptions of reality.

For instance, can you imagine yourself as a shepherd tending to your flock one night, and you suddenly see a new light in the sky, a new star, and a tremendous sounding of what seems like music, coming from that light. It’s something you’ve never experienced before, so how would you possibly interpret your experience to a fellow shepherd?

You: “Well, I saw this light in the sky…”

Other shepherd: “There are lots of lights in the sky.”

You: “Not that big. And they don’t make any sound. This light was so bright and large, it was like…” Your lack of scientific knowledge has you grasping for equivalents, and all you can think of is “…like a blazing chariot.”

You can imagine the other shepherd’s reaction: “A blazing chariot? Buddy, you need to spend more time around people, and a lot less around sheep. By the way, you have water or wine in that sack?”

That exchange would of course have been followed by the experiences of others nearby. People would have also become aware of a new birth, which, combined with the sudden appearance of the lights (or lighted craft), would have been enough to convince many in those days that that child – the future Jesus of Nazareth – was special. His whole life would be observed and interpreted for meaning; hence the various Gospels that have lived to this day, charting the life, words and deeds of a remarkable man.

I got to thinking about this because peoples’ interpretations of reality are largely dependent on prior experience. But being dependent on past experience can cloud your judgment, and even make you fearful. In of one of my favourite movies, ‘Men in Black’, Kay reminds the future Jay just how society collectively interprets things they don’t understand:

“Fifteen hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was the centre of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat. And fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone this planet. Just think what you’ll know… tomorrow.”

Kay was of course was referring those who doubted Galileo and Newton, among others – people who dared to think outside the box of common perception, and who were ridiculed and even persecuted for their original thoughts. Jesus was killed for daring to say that people (Jews) could not be free unless they freed themselves from within. Change is neither easy nor fast because of the limitations of other peoples’ perceptions.

Why is this important to me? I see change in the world, and I look for meaning in that change. In the last lines of his song, De Burgh looks to the future, and reinterprets part of the Christian Book of Revelations:

“And just before the dawn at the paling of the sky,

The stranger returned and said ‘Now I must fly.

When two thousand years of your time have gone by,

This song will begin once again, to a baby’s cry…”

It is claimed by some that Jesus of Nazareth was born in the spring of 24BCE. (Early Christians apparently co-opted a then-popular pagan Winter Solstice celebration to make his birth and life more easily accepted and relevant to non-Christians.) Chris De Burgh recorded and released his song in 1975, which, if you do the math, is almost exactly two thousand years later. You can’t help but wonder if there is something to the idea that maybe the world has been changing so much and so rapidly for a reason, and that maybe another remarkable being is walking the streets of the world, spreading a message of hope. Old societal structures and assumptions are no longer taken for granted. There is a growing cry for justice in the world, in the affairs of governments and institutions. Maybe something big is afoot.

But what, or whom, then do we look for? If what I said above is in any way relevant, then we have to look for ideas and people who challenge the ways we’re doing things right now, people who are warning us of how far we have strayed from the path we should be taking. Just for the record. You don’t have to look far to find such voices. They’re the ones who cry for sanity and wisdom in the wilderness of our meaningless, consumption-drive lifestyles; lifestyles fed by equally meaningless, undignified work. What’s more, they’re the ones trying to do something about it. After all, words without deeds are meaningless.

 Perhaps we should look and listen. We might just see something, hear that song the shepherds once heard, a long time ago. And once again the doors of perception will be blown wide open. Just think what then we’ll know… tomorrow.

 Happy Christmas.

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