Miracles, Light & Life

Christmas gift suggestions: To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect.

The Festival of Lights

In the dark days of December comes the wonderful holiday of Hanukkah, celebrated in Jewish homes. Originally known as the "Festival of Lights," Hanukkah commemorates a miracle that occurred in 165 B.C., after Judas Maccabaeus and his followers reclaimed Jerusalem from a Greek emperor who considered Israel a Greek province.

In an attempt to assimilate conquered nations into a cohesive and controllable society, the Greek empire prohibited any other religion; Jews were forced to abandon their faith and ordered to worship Greek gods. By decree, the Temple of Jerusalem was turned into a Greek shrine, and Jews were forbidden to study the Torah, celebrate their holidays, or practice Jewish customs. Many Jews, disobeying the edict, died for their beliefs. After a three-year guerrilla campaign, the Maccabees were victorious and the temple was restored to Jewish worship. As part of their rededication ceremony (the word "Hanukkah" means dedication) the Maccabees began an eight-day purification rite, only to discover there was barely enough sacred oil to keep the temple menorah - a candelabrum with eight branches - lit for one day. Miraculously, the temple lamp burned continuously for eight days. Ever since that time the Jewish people have observed Hanukkah in remembrance of their struggle for religious freedom and the miracle of restoration, symbolized by the abundance of oil.

Many who celebrate Christmas believe that Hanukkah is a festival reserved solely for those who practice Judaism. But as Harold Kushner points out in his enlightening and engaging meditation To Life: A Celebration of Jewish Being and Thinking, if it weren't for Hanukkah, we wouldn't be celebrating Christmas. Had the Maccabees not rebelled against the Greeks, the Jewish faith would have faded into Greek culture, never to be heard of again. "There would have been no Jewish community for Jesus to be born into a century and a half later. No one would have remembered the messianic promises he claimed to fulfill. Without Hanukkah, there would have been no Christmas."

When one follows any family tree back far enough, there are bound to be surprises. And those who follow the Christian path will discover, if they truly search for their roots, that by faith, we belong to the House of David. Jesus lived his entire life as an observant Jew. He celebrated Hanukkah as a child; the Last Supper was a Passover seder. All the apostles and most of those who became his early followers were Jewish. The crowds who came to hear Jesus called him "Rabbi," the Hebrew word for teacher. Perhaps our similarities and heritage are greater than our differences after all.

Personally, I've come to think of Hanukkah as a celebration of authenticity. The Maccabees refused to surrender what made them authentic - their faith - even if it cost them their lives. Not to be able to live as observant Jews was not to live at all. I also consider the Hanukkah miracle the earliest recorded demonstration of Simple Abundance. Two thousand years ago there was only enough sacred oil for one night. But all that these faithful, courageous, and grateful people had was all that they needed.

Sacred oil in a temple. Loaves and fishes on a mountainside. Miracles are of Spirit, not any one faith. Miracles are for anyone who believes. That is the heart of Hanukkah and the soul of Christmas. The more we allow ourselves to recognize the wisdom and truth in other spiritual paths, the closer to Wholeness we become.

Sarah Ban Breathnach, Simple Abundance - A Daybook of Comfort and Joy 1995

About the Author

   Sarah Ban Breathnach, this week's contributing author 

Sarah Ban Breathnach's (pronounced "Bon Brannock") work celebrates quiet joys, simple pleasures and everyday epiphanies. The wisdom, warmth, compassion and disarming candor of her No. 1 New York Times bestsellers, Simple Abundance - A Daybook of Comfort and Joy and Something More (both published by Warner Books) have made her a trusted voice to millions of women.

The Legend of the Christmas Cat

The tale of the Christmas cat begins on a star-filled wintry night in a humble Bethlehem stable soon after Jesus' birth. The shepherds had returned to their flocks, the Wise Men were on their way home and the angels had ceased their joyful singing. In the bare straw the tired mother cuddled her tiny son against the bitter cold. The swaddled baby cried ceaselessly and would not be comforted, although his mother, Mary, sang sweet lullabies and rocked him gently until she was exhausted and near tears herself.

Mary laid the bawling baby back in his makeshift crib and walked over to the drafty doorway. She stared up at the clear night sky at a bright star directly overhead. "I can't do this alone, Lord." The weary mother blinked back her own tears and desperately pleaded with God to send some help, any help, to comfort the baby.

As the baby's cries continued to pierce the otherwise silent night, a small pair of pointy ears suddenly shot up from beneath a pile of straw in the far corner of the barn. A furry head sporting long whiskers emerged and looked around curiously. A large mouth yawned luxuriantly and out stepped a lean and furry brown striped body. The resident barn cat slowly stretched its legs and treaded delicately across the dirt floor toward the young mother and child.

Mary turned back toward the manger and noticed the movement of the small creature. She sighed as she tucked her baby more tightly into his coarse bed, "I'm sorry Cat, I think no creature in this barn is going to get rest tonight." Mary sat down on the floor, took the cat in her lap and stroked it gently.

After several moments of staring at the manger and its earsplitting occupant, the cat leapt from Mary's lap and landed gently at Jesus' feet and began kneading its paws in the deep straw. Mary gasped with surprise; it was fine for a cat to sleep on her lap, but she wasn't certain about one sleeping with her infant. As she reached for the brown tabby cat to place it back on the floor, it curled up in a soft furry ball in the manger and began purring, softly at first, then steadily louder. Mary stopped, unable to remove the contented animal.

Baby Jesus opened his eyes wide in surprise and stared at the noisy creature sharing his crib. He stopped crying and listened as the barn was soon filled with the calming cadence of the cat's purr. The soothing sound seemed to echo off the old stone walls, and the cows, lambs and donkeys who shared the stable begin matching their own breathing and chewing to the cat's rhythm, until all were as one.

Jesus' breathing slowed and soon he fell fast asleep. In the ensuing stillness, Mary relaxed and whispered a "Thank you" heavenward. She pulled her rough cloak tighter around her thin shoulders and finally drifted off to sleep. Jesus slept peacefully through the rest of the cold night with the cat's furry warmth at his feet and its tranquil purr in his ears.

As dawn's first sunbeams pushed through the old barn doors and landed brightly on the peaceful manger scene, the refreshed and grateful mother leaned down toward the attentive cat, still in the manger with her sleeping son.

"Thank you, Cat", she softly whispered as she stroked the silky head. "How can I ever show my appreciation? I have nothing to give to you." The cat merely blinked its large eyes slowly and purred contentedly from the warm bed.

"Oh, I do know something I can do. I can ask God for a blessing on you." Mary reached down and gently traced her first initial, the letter M, on the cat's forehead while praying, "May the Lord bless you, most loving and sensitive of animals. May you and all your children carry this outward sign of the kind and gentle heart that beats within, and may all who see this mark reward you with loving kindness." The cat looked up at Mary and gave her a toothy grin and a joyful meow.

Today, all Tabby cats wear the letter M proudly on their foreheads as a sign that God sends extraordinary help in some very ordinary ways.

© December, 2001 - Lorraine Aho

About the Author

   Lorraine Aho, this week's guest author 

Lorraine Aho is the founder and CEO of SacredHome.com . . .for the art and soul of your home®, an online retailer of inspirational art and fine crafts. She lives in Sonoma, California with her husband and two cats.

Endings and Beginnings

The only thing that stays the same in my life is change. For me, there will always be some sort of dissatisfaction about something. There will always be decisions to be made as a result of that dissatisfaction. And there will always be a need for responsible action by following through with appropriate choices, based on knowledge and experience. Practice doesn't make perfect. Practice leads to more change. You can adapt, or you can perish. Either way requires you to change. Get used to it.
  • This month is one of gifts - custom, ceremony, celebration and consecration - not wrapped in tissue and ribbon, but as cherished memories. I began this period of celebration and custom with the gathering of family members to partake of a meal together. But while not all had the opportunity to celebrate a Day of Thanks with loved ones, many still found a moment or two to be thankful for blessings, and to remember holiday seasons of the past with fondness.

    I have given thought to the gift of loving family and friends, the gift of good health, and the most treasured gift of the opportunity to learn those lessons that will help me to move further along my Path, and grow into the person that I am meant to be. This time of year, I also begin to consider the circumstances of others, to become less selfish, and open my heart and my pocketbook for those I love as well as those that are less fortunate. I also consider the gift of the royal Son, born in a stable... the return of Light after the longest night of the year. It is a time of Love and of Miracles.

    This is also a time when I look back upon what I have accomplished during this year, measuring my progress against memories of where I was and what I was doing this time last year, or the year before. As children, we might have tried to fit into clothing that we had outgrown, which was too small for our growing body. Now as adults, we may try to hold on to old, outgrown attitudes or ways of thinking. What seemed so special to me last year may not work for me anymore, because I have grown.

    It is a time of endings, a time to put away the old and prepare for the new. This is a time of year to accept changes, to realize that the season of some things in my life are past, and to move on with hope for what the future holds. Let last year's toys be what they are: last year's toys. Remember them with fondness for the part they have played in life, then put them away and make room for the new.

    And so, I come to this final month of the year, cheering myself with festivities while the darkness grows longer each day. I bring the evergreen into my home to remind me of the immortality of the soul, that not all things die. I consecrate myself to personal growth and improvement, to sharing my blessings with others. While all about me in nature seems to decay and grow dim, it also dreams about the rebirth and renewal - within the bare bones of the landscape are the seeds of a glorious Spring, and an abundant harvest.

    This is a time to consecrate one's self to those seeds within that will grow and bloom, to sow that there may be reaping. Put faith in the abundance and potential that this time of year holds, and share the blessing of it with others.

    From me and mine: May the joy of this festive season visit you and yours, and may your life find the True Peace and Light you seek.

    Peace and Light, Michael

    email: Michael@N-Spire.com - or, send your Let me know what you think of this article to me right now!

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