[In December, 1931, when Gandhiji was voyaging back to India, after attending the Second Round Table Conference in London, he gave the following talk on Christmas Day at the request of Christian fellow-passengers who used to attend the daily morning prayers conducted by him.]
I shall tell you how, to an outsider like me, the story of Christ, as told in the New
Testament, has struck. My acquaintance with the Bible began nearly
forty-five years ago, and that was through the New Testament. I could not
then take much interest in the Old Testament, which I had certainly read,
if only to fulfill a promise I had made to a friend whom I happened to meet in a
hotel. But when I came to the New Testament and the Sermon on the Mount,
I began to understand the Christian teaching, and the teaching of the Sermon on
the Mount echoed something I had learnt in childhood and something which seemed
to be part of my being and which I felt was being acted up to in the daily life around me.
I say it seemed to be acted up to, meaning thereby that it was not necessary for my
purpose that they were actually living the life. This teaching was
non-retaliation, or non-resistance to evil. Of all the things I read, what
remained with me forever was that Jesus came almost to give a new law — though
he of course had said he had not come to give a new law, but tack something on
to the old Mosaic law. Well, he changed it so that it became a new law — not an
eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, but to be ready to receive two blows
when only one was given, and to go two miles when you were asked to go one.
I said to myself, this is what one learns in one's childhood. Surely this is not
Christianity. For all I had then been given to understand was that to be a
Christian was to have a brandy bottle in one hand and beef in the other. The
Sermon on the Mount, however, falsified the impression. As my contact with real
Christians i.e., men living in fear of God, increased, I saw that the Sermon on
the Mount was the whole of Christianity for him who wanted to live a Christian
life. It is that Sermon which has endeared Jesus to me.
I may say that I have never been interested in a historical Jesus. I should not care if it
was proved by someone that the man called Jesus never lived, and that what was
narrated in the Gospels was a figment of the writer's imagination. For the
Sermon on the Mount would still be true for me.
Reading, therefore, the whole story in that light, it seems to me that Christianity has
yet to be lived, unless one says that where there is boundless love and no idea
of retaliation whatsoever, it is Christianity that lives. But then it surmounts
all boundaries and book teaching. Then it is something indefinable, not capable
of being preached to men, not capable of being transmitted from mouth to mouth,
but from heart to heart. But Christianity is not commonly understood in that way.
Somehow, in God's providence, the Bible has been preserved from destruction by the
Christians, so-called. The British and Foreign Bible Society has had it
translated into many languages. All that may serve a real purpose in the time to
come. Two thousand years in the life of a living faith may be nothing. For
though we sang, "All glory to God on High and on the earth be peace," there
seems to be today neither glory to God nor peace on earth.
As long as it remains a hunger still unsatisfied, as long as Christ is not yet born, we
have to look forward to Him. When real peace is established, we will not need
demonstrations, but it will be echoed in our life, not only in individual life,
but in corporate life. Then we shall say Christ is born. That to me is the real
meaning of the verse we have sung. Then we will not think of a particular day in
the year as that of the birth of the Christ, but as an ever-recurring event
which can be enacted in every life.
And the more I think of fundamental religion, and the more I think of miraculous
conceptions of so many teachers who have come down from age to age and clime to
clime, the more I see that there is behind them the eternal truth that I have
narrated. That needs no label or declaration. It consists in the living of life,
never ceasing, ever progressing towards peace.
When, therefore, one wishes "A Happy Christmas" without the meaning behind it, it
becomes nothing more than an empty formula. And unless one wishes for peace for
all life, one cannot wish for peace for oneself. It is a self-evident axiom,
like the axioms of Euclid, that one cannot have peace unless there is in one an
intense longing for peace all around. You may certainly experience peace in the
midst of strife, but that happens only when to remove strife you destroy your
whole life, you crucify yourself.
And so, as the miraculous birth is an eternal event, so is the Cross an eternal event in
this stormy life. Therefore, we dare not think of birth without death on the
cross. Living Christ means a living Cross, without it life is a living death.