Monthly Archives: December 2013
Recorded in Latter-day Saint scripture is a rather dramatic account of the Nativity which, for obvious reasons, is not commonly reenacted on a church stage in front of small children.
Let me explain.
In the familiar Christmas hymn “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” we sing the words,
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.”
“The hopes of the long millennia before Christ came was that God could provide a Savior to lift us from the world of sin and death. The fears were that the Savior might not come, or that somehow he might fail in his mission. Of course, God keeps all his promises, and in the baby Jesus the long-promised Messiah finally arrived on the earth.” (1)
The hopes and fears of Christ’s miraculous birth were perhaps never so much pronounced as they were halfway around the world in the Americas. Around 6 B.C. a western prophet by the name of Samuel proclaimed to a group of predominately rowdy nonbelievers that Jesus Christ, the long awaited Messiah, would soon be born.
This Samuel predicted “a new star shall arise, such an one as ye never have beheld.” (Helaman 14:5) In fact, this new star was predicted to be so stunning that the prophet assured the people they would “fall to the earth” with amazement.
But wait! There’s more. Not only would this glorious star appear, but bright light would stay in the sky for “two days and a night,” the “bright night” being “the night before [Christ] is born.” (Helaman 14:4)
THE FIRST CHRISTMAS EVE: A TERRIFYING TEST OF FAITH
Five years came and went, then some began to question. What happened to the prophecy of Samuel? The people started “to say that the time was past for the words to be fulfilled, which were spoken by Samuel.” (3 Nephi 1:5)
Had the time truly come? Was Samuel wrong? Imagine the doubt that must have begun to cloud the minds and hearts of some of the believers as they reflected on the past five years. In fact, we read that “the people who believed began to be very sorrowful, lest by any means those things which had been spoken might not come to pass.” (3 Nephi 1:7)
The unbelievers consequently became so restless that they set apart a certain day “that all those who believed in those traditions should be put to death except the sign should come to pass.” (3 Nephi 1:9). Imagine the terror of wishing in your heart for the sign of the star to appear, yet the terrible possibility that everything you’ve ever believed could lead to your most certain death if left unfulfilled.
I now quote master storyteller Ted Gibbons in what he believes was a most terrifying Christmas Eve:
“I can imagine a sophisticated [unbeliever] slipping through the fence to talk to his neighbor on the front porch in the gathering darkness. ‘Ralph, give it up! There are only seven days left. Think of your children and your beautiful wife . . . Come with us. You can’t really believe that one of these nights the sun will go down and you will still be able to weed your garden. It gets dark every night. It always has. It always will.’
How hard it must have been to be faithful to the words of Samuel when it kept getting dark! No one had seen him for five years (Helaman 16:8). For that matter, the great prophet Nephi, the son of Helaman, had disappeared as well (3 Nephi 1:2). What a test to believe in the absent prophets and ancient scriptures when the lives of loved ones were on the line!
Those who remained faithful and continued to watch were not motivated by social conscience or some economic order that had blessed their lives. These were people who believed in the star and the Son and the manger and the miracle. They were not people who thought it all might be true. They were people who knew.
How many minutes passed after the sun went down, on the night it happened, before people began to raise their heads in wonder? How long before they were sure? And what must those with murder in their hearts have been thinking? Among the most believable words in all of scripture are those describing the unbelievers on that night.
And there were many, who had not believed the words of the prophets,
who fell to the earth and became as if they were dead, for they knew
that the great plan of destruction which they had laid for those who
believed in the words of the prophets had been frustrated; for the sign
which had been given was already at hand (3 Nephi 1:16)
Every time those infidels regained their senses and opened their eyes, it was light. That brightness was an inescapable physical witness of a brilliant spiritual reality. The sun had set, but another Son had risen, in a stable, in a manger, in an obscure village in Judea. And that Son would never go down. In fact, because of the light of that night, it will never be absolutely dark again.” (2)
Therefore, the first miracle of Christmas, or the very first miracle Christ performed in mortality, was that of saving many lives from imminent destruction. Today that miracle continues. Spiritual darkness sweeps throughout the world like a paralyzing plague, yet a cure can be found through the master healer of our souls, who promises never to cease providing His life-giving light to all those who will have Him to be their King.
(1) From Symbols & Shadows, by Jay and Donald Parry
(2) From Ted L. Gibbons, 2008 Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine Lesson, http://www.ldsgospeldoctrine.net
There’s something special about those Christmas shepherds and “prophets from the east.” It turns out, they were not only real people, but also symbols for the greatest of all people.
I was taught throughout my childhood to find Jesus Christ in every worthy story I heard, in every experience I had, and every person I met. This advice has served me well, especially as I contemplate what Christmas really means amid the hustle, bustle, and commotion that unfortunately comes with the season.
It is said that because the word “mas” means “more” in Spanish, Christmas should really be interpreted as “more Christ.” Is it possible, then, that we can see more of Christ through the familiar characters in the story of the Nativity?
THE SHEPHERDS: A TYPE OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD
Imagine what an honor it must have been to be among the first to witness those special preliminary moments of our Savior’s mortal existence on that tranquil, holy night.
After a rather startling revelation from an angel (1), the shepherds came to the manger “with haste” and observed the Son of God lying in a humble manger, fit for a servant yet made for a King.
But the story doesn’t end there! The shepherds, “when they had seen it…made known abroad…concerning this child” (Luke 2:17). These shepherds could not contain their joy and became the first missionaries of the dispensation of Christ.
David O. McKay, ninth president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said,
“The shepherds did not say, ‘I wonder if this be true.’ They did not say, ‘Let us go and see if this thing be true’; they said, ‘Let us go and see this thing which is come to pass which the Lord hath made known unto us’…What would you give-you who may not have that assurance-to have in your hearts that same confidence that Christ is born, that Christ lives, that God had heralded his birth by angels in heaven? All doubt would be banished, all worry concerning our purpose here in life would cease. That is what such a testimony means.” (2)
What can these lowly shepherds teach us about Christ?
- Christ is the Good Shepherd (John 10:11) and the “Shepherd…of your souls” (1 Peter 2:15). He knows his flock and leads all of His sheep (us) with perfect grace, compassion, humility, and integrity.
- The sacrificial rites of the Law of Moses were never about animals. They represented “that great and last sacrifice” (Alma 34:14), our Savior, the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29).
- Like Christ, the shepherds were “not ashamed of the gospel of Christ” (Romans 1:16) and were valiant missionaries
Therefore, it is only fitting the shepherds would be in attendance at the Great Shepherd’s sacred birth.
THE WISE MEN: BRINGING JEWS AND GENTILES TOGETHER
We don’t know much about the wise men. In fact, we don’t even know if there were exactly three. But we do know they came “from the east to Jerusalem” (Matthew 2:1). This little tidbit informs us they were clearly Gentiles, if not Gentile prophets.
If this is to be believed, having both Jew and Gentile receive the invitation to join in the celebration of Jesus’ early years was a sign of not only social and political inclusion, but also religious inclusion. The message is clear: All are invited to partake of the goodness of Christ (2 Nephi 26:28).
The wise men presented to the Savior three precious gifts, each possessing Christlike symbolism:
- Gold: a symbol of royalty. Gold was most commonly presented to kings, so why not the King of Kings?
- Frankincense: a symbol of God’s name (Malachi 1:11). This resin was also used to prepare sacrifices.
- Myrrh: oil used to anoint princes or kings
If we were to go with the tradition of the “three” wise men for the sake of drawing more parallels, we could say that each wise man represents each member of the Godhead: The Father, The Son, and The Holy Ghost (Spirit), who, together, provide us daily gifts.
WHAT DO THE SHEPHERDS AND WISE MEN TEACH US ABOUT CHRIST?
Christmas 2011 in Oshakati, Namibia
I have fallen victim to the commercialism of Christmas too many times. I miss the days when I was serving a mission for the Lord in the beautiful country of Namibia, located in southwestern Africa.
Two years ago, my mom sent us missionaries a big box of small toys and candy to pass out to the children of Oshakati, Namibia, on Christmas Eve. The smiles on each child’s face instantly proved that the joy of Christmas is found in serving and observing the joy in others. Just as sacrifices in Moses’ day were never about animals, worldly gifts in our day are never about the gifts themselves.
So what, then, are the shepherds and wise men teaching us about the true meaning of Christmas? There are, of course, many ways to answer this question. In my life, the shepherds are telling me to always be ready and willing to come when Christ beckons me, and to be diligent in sharing His tidings of great joy to all I meet, whether through words, music, or service.
The wise men remind me to give my own “gifts” to the Savior this year as a token of my personal sacrifice to become more like Him.
There are many things we can learn from the Nativity story and the characters that so humbly represent where the focus should be this season and always: on Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who condescended into mortality out of love for us and devotion to His Father.
May we always remember the reason for the season!
(1) Luke 2:8-14
(2) Man May Know for Himself: Teachings of President David O. McKay, compiled by Clare Middlemiss [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1967], 466.