The First Miracle of Christmas
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