Meister Eckhart on the Meaning of Christmas (and therefore Advent)

I don’t know any Christian writer who has more fully understood and developed the distinction between honoring the birthday of the historical Jesus and honoring the birth of the Cosmic Christ in all of us than Meister Eckhart.  How we understand the meaning of both Advent and Christmas hangs in the balance.

“I am the Light of the World.” Sculpture by potter M.C. Richards, from The Stations of the Cosmic Christ.

In a Christmas sermon Eckhart preaches from the Wisdom Scriptures that read as follows:

When peaceful silence lay over all, and night had run the half of her swift course, the great warrior leapt from his heavenly throne into a doomed land…  (Wis 18:14f)

He begins his sermon this way:

We celebrate here in temporality with a view to the eternal birth, which God the Father has accomplished and accomplishes unceasingly in eternity, so that this same birth has now been accomplished in time within human nature.  What does it avail me if this birth takes place unceasingly and yet does not take place within myself?  It is quite fitting, however, that it should take place within me.

This woodcut by Albrecht Durer places the Madonna and Child in a cosmic context. WikiArt; public domain.

Eckhart takes the occasion of the Christmas midnight liturgy to speak about three births—that of ourselves in the Godhead; that of God in us; and that of ourselves as sons and daughters of God.  As he puts it, God was reborn today as a human being and we human beings are to be born in him in a divine way.

Eckhart proposes that our very name as human beings is that “we must be born” and that the Creator’s name is “to bear.”  Eckhart invented a word for our rebirth, calling it Breakthrough (Durchbruch in German, a word he invented).  He says that one’s breakthrough “is nobler than one’s flowing out” or being born.  Our rebirth is greater than our birth for “in this breakthrough I discover that I and God are one.” 

Here we find hints of what Julian of Norwich would call our oneing with God.  (She invented that word in English as Eckhart invented “breakthrough” in German.)  This oneing or breakthrough or satori or ecstasy is our being born—it is our rebirth, our coming awake, our enlightenment, our “first resurrection” (Thomas Aquinas).  It is therefore our Christmas and the deeper meaning of Christmas—and of advent.  Our Coming alive and awake.

The inner shift of enlightenment may take place at any time, in any place. Photo by joniscreative.com on Flickr.

This breakthrough in consciousness (Eckhart compares it to a lightning flash) is an “eruption,” an insight into the fact of our oneness with Divinity.  A real awakening, a self-awakening.   

This second birth or rebirth instructs us about how to relate to the rest of creation–for “those who know themselves know all creation.”  Says Eckhart:

In the soul that aides in a present now, God begets his only begotten Son, and in this birth the soul is born again in God.  It is one birth: as often as the soul is born again in God, the Father begets his only Begotten Son in the soul.  

Breakthrough need not be a rare event.  It happens often “to the person who is awake.” 


Adapted from Matthew Fox, Passion for Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart, pp. 292, 302f., 312.

Banner Image: “Divine Connection.” Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

Do you find a deeper meaning to Advent and Christmas when you hear Eckhart expound on the mystery of our being born, awakened, and “broken through” by the Godhead and our being born as sons and daughters of God?

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3 thoughts on “Meister Eckhart on the Meaning of Christmas (and therefore Advent)”

  1. Avatar

    Thank you for bringing forth the message of Meister Eckhart on his Christmas gospel. It presents a wonderful way to introduce the message of Christmas to every Christian, personalizing the birth of the Christ.

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