December 25, 2008 – Christmas in the Divine Presence
Christmas morning is something very special in terms of the schedule in Puttaparthi. Till a few years back, the Lord clad in pure and pristine white would grant darshan to all the eagerly awaiting devotees from the shiny silver door leading to the balcony in the Mandir premises. It’s been a few years since those days, but the lovely taste and feelings of those beautiful mornings linger in the hearts of the thronging thousands as they encircle the hallowed Mandir premises singing carols. The way the Christmas processions have progressed with each passing year has been symbolic of a spiritual revolution that is encompassing the world over with His presence. Those were the days when Swami would physically come up in the balcony to bless the devotees. The devotees would carry candles and sing hymns glorifying the Father and His blessed Son Jesus. Today, the candles are absent and carols are no longer restricted to "Christian" themes as they embrace all, being sung in the glory of the single God. The whole experience represents a movement from the religious to the spiritual.
More joy awaits the watching ones…this is the way to express the beautiful morning of 25 th December. True to the feeling entailed in the expression, the Christmas morning indeed was brought forward from the previous evening wherein the spirit of the festivity was very much ringing in….and the beautiful morning had men and women clad in white singing His glory in the waking hours rounding the ashram, and at the culmination they sang Christmas Carols for the Lord in the Mandir. Two screens that had been put up in the Mandir played clips of the times when Swami would bless the thousands with candles and people rejoiced in that memory and the joy of the brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God.
The celebrations in the Divine Presence got underway at 8:30 a.m. with Swami's arrival from Yajur Mandir. There was a procession by the members of the Nativity scene as Swami watched on. A few tiny tots moved up to Swami offering Him flowers and Love. Swami smiled and blessed them. Swami was in shiny white and the moment the hem of His robe was visible to the vast gathering, a rapturous applause of glee moved through the entire Sai Kulwant Hall. The Heavenly Father that He is, He was seated on a lovely golden throne and He entered the hall as the heart of the procession. Soon the procession moved on and Swami gracefully granted darshan to the joyous devotees. The Veda chanting was on and it was such a harmonious co-mingling of the instrumental carols on the PA system and the Veda chanting by the students. One can say with surety that such a Christmas will never be witnessed anywhere else in the world.
Swami completed the darshan rounds and then arrived in the portico. Several cakes and their makers awaited the Lord's attention. Swami smilingly moved from one cake to another, lighting the candles on them and gracing them with a gentle cut from the knife. Blessing all the cakes thus, Swami arrived on the dais. The whole hall was so beautifully decorated and lit up. Swami blessed the programme to begin. The University brass band was the first to perform. It turned out to be a scintillating band display by the University boys. Some of the popular Christmas numbers namely, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reinder, Noel, etc. were rendered to perfection by the well trained students. Swami kept tapping His hands in rhythm to the playing band. The audience too clapped in unison to some of the lively numbers. After about 5 pieces, Swami said that it was time now for the Primary school violins to take over.
The kids rose and with wonderful co-ordination and harmony played a few carols and bhajans on the violin. Towards the end, they played the famous "Jingle Bells" piece and with that popped up half a dozen Santas! They moved to the stage where Swami took chocolates from their bags and threw them to the students nearby. Then He bid them to go around spraying their chocolates on all. All the devotees leapt and rushed for the chocolates, for they had been blessed by Swami, and just receiving one made them feel that they had a part of Him with them! Swami watched these scenes from the stage and soon two "snow machines" installed on the roof of the hall began to emit snow flakes adding to the Christmas atmosphere.
As the violins completed their performance, Swami blessed the University students to begin their carol programme. Swami looked so beautiful - the embodiment of purity in the silken white robe! A mere sight of Him was enough to send thrills of joy through ones being. People drank in thirstily at His form and the eyes feasted on a magnificent supper!
The students beginning with the Aumkara, presented a most joyful gift of Christmas Carols tied together by a thoughtful and informative voice-over narrative depicting the entire course of the story of His Divine Advent - the Christmas Story, to all assemblage consisting of a sizeable number of western devotees. Starting with " Light one thousand candles", they sang a variety of carols covering all the significant aspects of Christmas. As the programme went on, Swami sifted through the various letters that He had collected during the rounds. The programme climaxed with the song, " Come everyone to Santa Claus's Party". It was at this time that the "senior" Santas came onstage. Swami blessed them and their bagful of chocolates too. Then they hopped and skipped around throwing chocolates to all the devotees and students. The programme continued after that with a few more songs. Swami then blessed the more prasadam to be distributed to all. The Christmas day also happens to be the Students’ Hostel Anniversary. So, a few students moved to Swami to show the pictures of the decorated hostel. They also showed Him pictures of His visits to the Hostel with the aim of (as they put it), "making Him nostalgic and inducing another Hostel visit!" Swami smiled (for no motive is secret from Him!) and blessed the students. A few more Christmas cards were blessed before Swami received arthi.
The afternoon session began at about 4:40 p.m. with Swami's arrival. Swami moved to the stage and blessed the proceedings to begin. Mr. John Behner sought His blessings and began his introductory talk.
Thanking Bhagavan profusely for the wonderful opportunity and blessing bestowed upon everyone, he divulged into varied details of the back stage operations that made the celebration a grand success. Making a special mention of the wonderful array of decorations made all over the Sai Kulwant Hall and Yajur Mandiram, he said, the preparations for the same started six months before Christmas with a dedicated team from the US taking the lead. Various wings of the ashram, the special group of ladies and gents from Indonesia who cooked food for the entire group, the Californian group of devotees behind decoration, the sevadals - all came in mention for their dedicated and loving service rendered during the run up to the festivity. Talking about the children choir and drama presentation to be followed the next day, Mr. Behner narrated the story of young Sathya Sai, as has been the practice during the rehearsal sessions every day to pep little hearts and minds, for the benefit of children, compensating for the miss out on the previous day owing to the tight schedule.
The first speaker for the afternoon was Ms. Gisela Sebastian, a long time devotee from Munich, Germany, a wonderful singer, and member of the choir group. She talked about the love of Bhagavan, the beauty of Christmas in Prasanthi and the greater significance of being in Prasanthi in the Divine Presence to celebrate in Christmas spirit. She went on to narrate her wonderful tale of her introduction into Sai fraternity. She said that she was directed to go to Sai Baba by her doctor at a time when she was in a critical condition. Not knowing anything about Sai Baba, she was reluctant at first but subsequently she met with a terrible car accident and lost her vision. Her passionate plea, prayer to this unknown God was heard and she had a dream…and got a promise…an answer to her prayer…! It was an amazing story of total surrender! She concluded with a mellifluous rendering of prayer to Bhagavan: At Thy Lotus Feet… I hold on to Thy Feet… Om Bhagavan… Om Sai Ram…
The last speaker for the session was Mr. Ted Henry, a veteran TV journalist and a news reporter of fame from Cleveland, Ohio, who runs a spiritual oriented programme on Television in the United States. Having traveled all over the world, Mr. Ted Henry was instrumental in interviewing many a devotee and these interviews were published in various Sai Media, including Heart2Heart e-journal and Radio Sai Global Harmony.
"We are among the luckiest people on the face of the Earth on this Christmas Day…We get to be on Christmas Day, with Jesus Himself," said Ted Henry commencing his rhetoric excellence. Narrating the incident when he sought Divine permission to take Bhagavan's name to the United States of America, to contribute his might as a journalist to the Sai Cause, Bhagavan gave him a firm ‘no’ as an answer, further advising him to take His Love instead. Henry said he understood the underlying message in it, that first he should be submerged in His love before taking His name across the world. Talking about his own boomerang story wherein through hundreds of interviews, seeing the love of devotees for Bhagavan and their tears of joy, he said the journalist in him has had a transformation and that was the wonder of Bhagavan. Traversing through the Divine Wonder and His life in true journalistic perception, Ted spoke about His all encompassing love, barring boundaries, bringing in transformation of heart. He prayed to Bhagavan to get them deeper and deeper into the majesty of His Divine Awareness!
And then came the moment all had waited for with bated breath. Mr. Behner requested Swami to deliver His divine discourse. With a sweet smile, Swami nodded and asked for the microphones to be brought. There was a loud round of applause. And this is what Bhagavan said, to put it as a summary.
Starting His discourse hailing Bharat for her glory and her spiritual leaning in all matters, Swami exhorted that all the seen in this world is momentary and subject to change. The only one that lasts without any change is the principle of Atma, the principle of Love. With Love one can conquer the whole of the world. And God, being the witness, does not give you good or bad. Everything is man's own making. With reference to the recent terror attacks, Bhagavan said that world was finding restlessness with wicked things happening everywhere. The best solution to counter this would be to develop self-confidence and pray to God. With Self-confidence in place one could achieve anything. Once we develop self-confidence and lead a life of love, nothing would ever happen to us. "God is in you, with you, above you, around you, below you". God is only ONE though He is called by different names and is seen as different forms. God is the only hero and once we rest our faith in Him, no bomb or any other artillery could disturb humanity.
God is the most powerful hydrogen bomb within, Swami said and asked, then why are you afraid of small tiny little bombs? Swami exhorted the assembly to develop self confidence. "In respect of God do not entertain any doubts; one doubt leads to another, and that multiplies and spoils man. If you want to lead a perfect and ideal life of a human being, dispel all doubts." All of you have come from distant lands with full of devotion and steadfastness for God. Hold on with that conviction and love. Develop the deep conviction that "I am God", Swami directed.
As is the case always, Swami's discourse had a message for each and every soul seated in the hall. It was 90 minutes of sheer profundity as words flowed in an endless stream from the Divine lips. The climax was two bhajans that Swami sang instead of His usual one bhajan. Swami sang both, "Prema Mudhita" and "Hari Bhajan Bina". After that, as prasadam was distributed, Swami asked the students to sing bhajans. Another small episode occurred while the bhajans went on. The wooden cover of one of the speakers kept in front of Swami fell off, slipping down the steps. A student went up and put it back in place as Swami watched. However, the problem was the satin cloth that was making the cover slip away. So, a few minutes later, the cover fell again and Swami looked at the student with a smile as if to say, "Nay...not a properly done job." The student went back and set it right, rectifying the problem. That was a job well done! Three bhajans later, Swami asked for arathi and then retired to Yajur Mandir.
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