Thursday, December 24, 2009

In Celebration of Jesus Christ's Birth

In the councils of heaven that preceded the creation of this earth our Father announced the need for a Savior—a volunteer who would live a life unblemished by sin and then willingly lay it down on our behalf. “And the Lord said: Whom shall I send? And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here am I, send me.” Jehovah, the Firstborn of the Father and “the holiest of all” His children, agreed to descend “below all things” so that you and I might be lifted up and return to the Father’s presence; he is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” for our sake.

Even before His birth prophets testified of his coming. After the Fall, “the Lord said unto Adam: Behold I have forgiven thee thy transgression in the Garden of Eden,” and “[t]his is the plan of salvation unto all men, through the blood of mine Only Begotten, who shall come in the meridian of time.” While many plain and precious truths concerning the coming of Jesus Christ have been lost from the Old Testament, Jacob testifies in the Book of Mormon that “none of the prophets have written, nor prophesied, save they have spoken concerning this Christ.”

Those who heed this prophetic message have always looked to the Savior for deliverance. Isaiah promised the ancient Israelites that “a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Even now in the spirit world, “the dead speak forth anthems of eternal praise to the King Immanuel, who hath ordained, before the world was, that which would enable us to redeem them out of their prison,” and we regularly implore Jesus Christ to “Come, O Thou King of Kings.” Whether the wait is for his birth, for temple ordinances or for his Second Coming, the anticipation of Christmas—of redemption through Jesus Christ—is a consistent aspect of worship among Christ’s covenant people, Israel.

For those who look forward to the Christmas season “with an eye single to the glory of God” it seems as though “all things denote there is a God”; they find types and shadows of Christ in “the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it.” The sight of a well-formed tree calls to remembrance Isaiah’s words concerning “the stem of Jesse” and the “Branch [that has] grow[n] out of his roots.” The twinkling Christmas lights strung on such a tree and the stars in the heavens are just two of the many reminders that Jesus Christ is the “light of the world.”

Those who have “ears to hear” will find an audible testament of their own dependency on the Christ in the sound of a bleating sheep as it searches for the “Lord Jesus, that great shepherd” or in the sound of a gavel as a magistrate passes sentence in the same way that Christ will when we meet him and the servants he has sent to guide us through mortality “before the pleasing bar of the great Jehovah, the Eternal Judge of both quick and dead.” Indeed, for those who will open their “ears to hear,” even the ringing of chimes or the pealing of a bell can be a beautiful “melody in your heart to the Lord” as you contemplate the perfect example of and the transcendent gifts given us by “The Prince of Peace.”

With the Christmas season comes an extra measure of good will. Remembering the “condescension of God,” when the “only Potentate, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords,” “descended below them all” and was born into a stable, it is easier to make good choices and to bless the lives of others, even at the expense of our own pride. It is easier to be patient with those who try our patience, to serve those who take our service for granted, and to love those who love only themselves. This extra measure of good will is both a spiritual gift available through the enabling power of Jesus Christ’s perfect Atonement and the only gift that we can possibly give to him in return.

During his mortal ministry the Savior taught that “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” This is a principle that resonates with us throughout the Christmas season as we share our time, talents, and material possessions with others more willingly than at other times of the year. As our increased good will stimulates our generosity, let us not forget to be generous with our most precious possession: our testimonies of the gospel, the good news that Jesus Christ lives and that he has restored his Church to the earth! This is good news indeed, and as Christians—men and women who have pledged to “stand as witnesses” of his name “at all times and in all things, and in all places”—we ought to share our knowledge and joy with all those around us.

When Jesus Christ was born more than two thousand years ago, angels descended from heaven to announce his coming. The angel Gabriel appeared to Elizabeth and to Mary, to Zacharias and to Joseph. An angel likewise appeared to shepherds in a field and proclaimed “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” On the night of Christ’s birth the very heavens bore witness of his divinity as a star appeared in the sky and angels descended to earth.

In acknowledging the angelic hosts that testified of the infant Immanuel’s eternal identity, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland offered this reminder: “I have spoken here of heavenly help, of angels dispatched to bless us in time of need. But when we speak of those who are instruments in the hand of God, we are reminded that not all angels are from the other side of the veil. Some of them we walk with and talk with—here, now, every day. Some of them reside in our own neighborhoods. Some of them gave birth to us, and in my case, one of them consented to marry me. Indeed heaven never seems closer than when we see the love of God manifested in the kindness and devotion of people so good and so pure that angelic is the only word that comes to mind.”

In this, the dispensation of the fullness of times, you and I are responsible for sharing the love of God and the news of his Son’s birth and life, his death and resurrection. Alma wished that he “were an angel, and could . . . speak with the trump of God, . . . and cry repentance unto every people,” but realized that “the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word.” We are called to be ministering angels to those we live with, to teach those of our own nation and tongue the gospel. Having heard the angels’ song, we must now go forth and share it with others.

Of all those who eagerly awaited the birth of Jesus Christ, surely no one felt more love and devotion for the Savior than Mary, the mother of his mortal body. It was Mary’s privilege and responsibility to rear the Christ child as her own son, to provide an example of obedience and faith to the great Exemplar, who was obedient even unto death and by whose faith “the worlds are and were created.” We know that Mary took this responsibility seriously, making regular visits to the temple and doing “all things according to the law of the Lord.” Because of her efforts, at least in part, Jesus “grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.”

The late Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained that “we see in Mary a pattern of piety and submission to the will of the Lord which is the perfect example for all” parents. As Mary taught her son and Savior “to love and serve” others, provided for his “physical and spiritual needs,” and demonstrated by example the need “to observe the commandments of God,” so too must we “raise [our] children in love and righteousness.”

The little ones for whom we have a sacred responsibility—whether by virtue of familial relationships or church callings—are no less innocent and pure than Jesus Christ was on the night he was born, and we are responsible for preserving that holy connection to heaven in their hearts for as long as possible. The tender feelings of Mary must be our feelings, and we must treasure our little ones in the same way that she treasured hers.

In addition to caring for the children placed in our custody by our Father in Heaven, you and I also have a responsibility to learn from their example. When his apostles asked the mortal Messiah “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? . . . Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

When the mightiest of all God’s children condescended to enter mortality as a small, helpless infant, he voluntarily left his place at the right hand of the Father to set a perfect example for us. We honor Jesus Christ for the exemplary life he lived after his baptism, but it is appropriate that the one sent to save us from our sins came in the guise of a little child. He came as a baby in purity and light so that we might reach our potential as children of God. As we commemorate his birth and remember that he has come to save, let us look forward to the day when we shall once more be like him as he was both at his birth and at his death—pure as he is pure, holy as he is holy.


Becky said...

Thanks for sharing this Zach....Merry Christmas to you and your sweet family. We'll miss you this year. xoxo

Juhani said...

This article shakes the tradition about the birth of Jesus: