Here we are on Christmas Eve once again. The last couple of years, we took time during this holiday to look at the beautiful symmetry between two of the greatest philosophers to ever live: Jesus and Seneca.
It’s incredible to think that these two men were born in the same year, in similarly distant provinces of the Roman empire. Few would have expected the impact that both would have on the world. Nor would Seneca or Jesus have imagined how their journeys would mirror each others’: Both would be immensely popular in their own time, and long after. Both would run afoul of the powerful interests of their time. Both would be forced, in their final moments, to live their teachings—Jesus, on the cross, asking for forgiveness for the people who had wronged him. Seneca as he comforted his friends and family when Nero’s goons came to demand his suicide. Tacitus would note how long ago Seneca had made plans for such an ordeal, writing that “even in the height of his wealth and power he was thinking of his life’s close.” So too had Jesus.
Because, despite their brilliance and their blessings, both these men—like us—were mortal.
We could spend hours sitting and thinking about the remarkable similarities between Jesus and Seneca…and them and us. As much as life has changed in two thousand years, as unique and unprecedented as their circumstances were, it’s not that different than our lives today.
Maybe that’s not a bad thing to spend some time thinking about tonight. Rather than focusing on what presents you’re going to get tomorrow, try to think of what you’re going to do with the gifts you were born with. Instead of thinking about what you’re going to eat, think about all the people without anything at all. Don’t think about your vacation. Think of this present moment, because it’s all you have.
Take a minute to sit with some of the ideas from those two great men and what they learned about life and love:
“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” —Jesus
“Nature bore us related to one another … She instilled in us a mutual love and made us compatible … Let us hold everything in common; we stem from a common source. Our fellowship is very similar to an arch of stones, which would fall apart, if they did not reciprocally support each other.” —Seneca
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” —Jesus
“Hecato, says: ‘I can show you a philtre, compounded without drugs, herbs, or any witch’s incantation: If you would be loved, love.’ Now there is great pleasure.” —Seneca
“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” —Jesus
“Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.” —Seneca
Whether you’re a Christian or a Stoic, today is a good day to remember that these ideas are not just something to “believe.” They’re something you do. You have to put the words, whether they are Seneca’s or Jesus’, to work. You have to live them.
Not just with your crazy family, not just on Christmas, but every day of your life.