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Pre-Existing Conditions

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men,” reads Luke 2:14 of the King James version of the Bible. This joyous call, worded differently in The Jerusalem Bible, is attributed to hosts of angels rejoicing after Jesus’s birth.


The Nativity (also known as The Holy Night (or La Notte) or as Adoration of the Shepherds) is a painting finished around 1529–1530 by the Italian painter Antonio da Correggio.

Earlier in his gospel, Luke, said to be a physician, writes that it was in the sixth month that Mary learned from the angel Gabriel that she was to conceive a son of the Lord and this son’s name was to be Jesus. Because she was a virgin, Mary doubted this, but the angel said the Lord would cover Mary with his shadow. Gabriel further announced that Mary’s elderly, barren cousin Elizabeth was six months pregnant with a son, proving, Gabriel assured Mary, that “nothing is impossible to God.”

Luke writes that around the time Mary was to give birth, Caesar Augustus had ordered a census of the whole world. This census required Joseph to travel to Bethlehem so he and his betrothed, Mary, could register together. Finding no room at the inn, Joseph and Mary found shelter in a stable where Mary gave birth to her son Jesus. The whole world of Caesar Augustus, Joseph, Mary and Mary’s son Jesus would soon face revolutionary times. This world obviously was not the whole world and far east of Bethlehem, a millennia old spiritual tradition held a tenet that when the student is ready, the teacher appears.

Jesus went on to teach.

Elsewhere in Caesar Augustus’s world, another teacher was winding down his public life while Jesus was growing into his. Hillel the Elder taught the ethic of reciprocity, aka, the Golden Rule: That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. Hillel also taught self-respect and duty, and I’m paraphrasing here: if I am not for myself who will be for me, and if I’m only for myself, what am I? As for duty, Hillel asked, if not now, when? I accept that most foreign quotations and translations are at some point paraphrased from some pre-existing translation.

Everything here started back there someplace else.

Detail of the Knesset Menorah, Jerusalem: Hillel the Elder teaching.

I grew up Catholic and felt affronted the first time some biblical literalists confronted me with bible verses carefully selected to convince me that most of what I’d learned and believed was false. My new friends assailed the nativity story which they insisted focused too much on Mary while also providing a reason to continue pagan merrymaking. Joy to the world.

Around that time, I learned in my University College Mythology class that the ancient Greek Titaness Mnemosyne, daughter of Uranus and Gaia and from whose name the term mnemonic derives, was the first to manifest memory. Following memory, Mnemosyne presented humanity with the written word. Unlike other Greek gods and goddesses, we know little about Mnemosyne although, much is now written about memory. New teachers appear as people age.

Do Muslims observe Christmas? No.

An Islamic website I accessed informed me that, in the 7th century AD, a forty-year-old meditator named Muhammad heard from the angel Gabriel, that ‘God had chosen him to be His Last Messenger to this world, and had imposed upon him the duty of leading mankind out of the welter of sin, error and ignorance into the light of Guidance, Truth and Knowledge. Gabriel then bade Muhammad to “read” the following verses: “Read in the name of thy lord and cherisher who created: Created man out of a clot of congealed blood. Read! And thy lord is most bountiful, He who taught the use of pen; Taught man that which he knew not. (sic)”’

Spiritual beings from different traditions often seem similar apart from their names.

Locally, some biblical beings found themselves renamed for new populations and new readers in the book the Book of Mormon. In 1820, in Manchester NY, Joseph Smith began reporting visions and sharing prophecies. One prophecy referred to golden tablets buried, but not found, near Palmyra NY. Smith’s followers practiced polygamy, then, abruptly proscribed polygamy likely to satisfy the government and obtain statehood for Utah. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints celebrates Christmas.

The ancient Greeks and Romans, northern Europeans, Indians from India and indigenous North Americans acknowledged female and male powers and the power of nature itself. Abolitionist, humanist and suffragette Matilda Joslyn Gage, born in 1826 in Cicero NY, criticized Christianity as serving to keep women powerless, uneducated and submissive. American women achieved suffrage in 1920. Matilda probably celebrated Christmas, but I can’t say for sure.

Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah. Happy Holidays. Peace, prosperity, good health, and ever increasing understanding for us all.

Debra Merryweather