Friday, December 15, 2017

President Joseph F. Smith on Christmas as a reminder of past and future

President Joseph F. Smith (1838-1918) was the son of Joseph's brother Hyrum. He was ordained an apostle in 1866 at age 28, and served as a counselor to Brigham Young and the three presidents who followed.  He became the 6th president of the Church in 1901, and served until his death in 1918 at age 80.
"Christmas, to the Latter-day Saint, is both reminiscent and prophetic—a reminder of two great and solemn events, which will yet be regarded universally as the mightiest and most wonderful happenings in the history of the human race. These events were predestined to take place upon this planet before it was created. One of these was the coming of the Savior in the meridian of time, to die for the sins of the world; and the other is the prospective event of the risen and glorified Redeemer, to reign upon the earth as King of kings."
- The First Presidency (Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder, Anthon H. Lund), Millennial Star, 70:1 (January 2, 1908)
Click here to read the full talk

We typically do a lot of the "reminiscing" half of what President Smith and his counselors describe at Christmastime. But perhaps we don't do enough of the prophetic anticipation, looking forward to that second "most wonderful happening" for mortal existence:

It's good to consider how we might incorporate that second part into our Christmas celebrations, reviewing the prophetic descriptions of the upcoming second visit to earth, and pondering how best to prepare for that glorious time!

This is one of my favorite "Christmas scriptures," as a prophet anticipated the first coming. We can learn some things about our own anticipatory condition:
And now we only wait to hear the joyful news declared unto us by the mouth of angels, of his coming; for the time cometh, we know not how soon. Would to God that it might be in my day; but let it be sooner or later, in it I will rejoice. (Alma 13:25)
Alma was well aware of the prophecies of the coming Christ. In spite of opposition and disagreement from others who didn't understand, he held firm to his faith in the prophecies and knew of the joy that was to come for those who were prepared and ready. Alma was hopeful and eager for that event to come during his lifetime (unfortunately it didn't), but he knew it would be a time of "joyful news" regardless, and he was living in such a way that he was eager for the events to come. A great lesson for each of us!

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Thursday, December 14, 2017

President Russell M. Nelson on the beautiful symbolism of the Savior's birth

President Russell M. Nelson (born Sept 9, 1924) was an internationally-renowned heart surgeon when he was called to serve as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1984. He was set apart as president of the Quorum of Twelve on July 15, 2015.
"Yes, after millennia of preparation, the long awaited event occurred. Christ was born among men. No wonder angelic choirs sang as they knew that extended centuries of death and darkness were to be relieved by the Atonement, which was finally to come through this Babe of Bethlehem.
"Why Bethlehem? Is there symbolic significance in the meaning of the name Bethlehem, which in Hebrew means 'house of bread'? The Great Provider declared Himself to be the 'bread of life.' (See John 6:48.) How appropriate it was that He, the 'bread of life,' was to come from the 'house of bread.'
"But why among the animals? He, whom John declared to be the 'Lamb of God' (John 1:29), was born during the season of Passover amongst the animals, as were other lambs being prepared for Paschal sacrifice.
"At the birth of Him who is called the 'good shepherd' (John 10:14), shepherds were the first to receive the announcement of His holy birth (see Luke 2:8–16).
"At the birth of Him who once identified Himself as the 'bright and morning star' (Rev. 22:16), a new star appeared in the heavens (see Matt. 2:2; 3 Ne. 1:21). Shining brightly over Bethlehem, that star had been placed in orbit far in advance of the foretold event in order that its light could coincide in time and place with His blessed birth.
"At the arrival of Him who is called 'the light of the world' (John 8:12), darkness was banished as a sign of His holy birth (see 3 Ne. 1:15, 19). He was born the Son of God and the son of a virgin mother, as foretold by Isaiah (see Isa. 7:14) and other prophets. (See 1 Ne. 11:13–21; Alma 7:9–10.)"
- Russell M. Nelson, "Why This Holy Land?," Ensign, December 1989, p. 14
Click here to read the full article

In this very interesting article, President Nelson (then a relatively new member of the Twelve) considered many aspects of symbolism and meaning related to the Christmas season, the Holy Land, and the life of the Savior. He answers the question, "Have you ever wondered why the Lord chose to accomplish His mortal ministry in the exact location that He did?"

There is beautiful symbolism in so many aspects of the Savior's birth, that we sometimes forget in the onslaught of the modern Christmas season. This is a good summary to help draw our attention back to the sacred events, and would be appropriate to review in a quiet family setting. The rest of the article draws further attention to additional aspects of the Savior's life, and is highly recommended for personal or family study!

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Elder L. Tom Perry shares a Christmas memory

Elder L. Tom Perry (1922-2015) was called as an Assistant to the Twelve in 1972, then as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1974. At the time of his passing at age 92, he was the oldest living general authority and the third in seniority among the leading quorum.
"Many years ago I found myself as part of occupation troops in a foreign land just at the end of a terrible war. It was not long after we arrived in this country before we developed a great love and concern for the people we were there to watch over. This was especially true of the young people, the children. Many times we would find them scavenging in our garbage cans looking for food to keep themselves alive. This deeply touched us, and we wanted to make a more substantial contribution to them. We raised what money we could and found a local religious group that was willing to open an orphanage for them. We donated as much time as possible to improve the facilities and provided them with the operating funds they needed.
"As Christmas approached, we sent letters home to our families asking that, instead of sending gifts to us, they send toys for the children in the orphanage. The response of our families was overwhelming! Toys arrived daily from our homes.
"We found a tree suitable to use as a Christmas tree, but we had no traditional decorations for it. A lady taught us how to make little birds by folding square pieces of paper, and these became the major part of the decorations for the tree. The presents were wrapped mostly in discarded Stars and Stripes newspapers. I'll never forget Christmas Eve with those children. I am sure many of them had never seen a Christmas tree in their lives.
"We sang Christmas carols to them, but we weren't very good at this. They had been rehearsing for weeks so they could sing a song to us in English. It was not a Christmas carol, but it was beautiful. They sang, 'You Are My Sunshine.' We were deeply touched with the spirit of the children that Christmas Eve, especially as they opened the presents sent from our families. I suppose some of them had not had a toy in many, many years.
"This is a Christmas I'll never forget because we were learning the true meaning of this great holiday season. The greatest joy we can receive in life is giving—to bring into the life of someone else a little joy and happiness."
- L. Tom Perry, "A 'Sunshine' Christmas," New Era, Dec. 1988
Click here to read the story

Elder Perry served in the United States Marine Corps during World War II, and was part of the Japanese invasion during that time. Far from feeling anger and vindictiveness, he was sensitive to the struggles of the citizens there. Among his efforts as a soldier were organizing work projects to help rebuild Christian churches that had been destroyed in the conflict. This story comes from that context, as a young Tom Perry "practiced what he preached" and shared the true spirit of Christmas with people who were supposed to be his enemies.

What a great example from a great man. A true disciple will always be striving to bind up wounds, to reach out in love, and to share the message of the Savior's love.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

President Ezra Taft Benson on keeping Christ in Christmas

President Ezra Taft Benson (1899-1994) was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1943, and served as the 13th President of the Church from 1985 until his death in 1994 at age 94.
"Without Christ there would be no Christmas, and without Christ there can be no fulness of joy....
"And now, my beloved brothers and sisters, what must we do this Christmas season—and always? Why, we must do the same as the Wise Men of old. They sought out the Christ and found Him. And so must we. Those who are wise still seek Him today.
"'I would commend you,' urged Moroni, 'to seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written.' (Ether 12:41.) And God has provided the means—the holy scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon—that all who seek may know that Jesus is the Christ....
"What a gift it would be to receive at Christmastime a greater knowledge of the Lord.
What a gift it would be to share that knowledge with others."
- Ezra Taft Benson, "Keeping Christ in Christmas," First Presidency Christmas devotional, 1 December 1985; see Ensign, Dec. 1993, 2, 4-5
Click here to read the full article

We proclaim "Joy to the World!" during the Christmas season, and President Benson reminds us that there is no fulness of joy without Christ at the center of Christmas. And so the key for us, as for wise men of old, is to seek Him, to find Him:

President Benson goes on to teach that the means given to us to "seek Him" is through the scriptures that God has provided for us, "particularly the Book of Mormon." We should seriously consider during the Christmas season how we can better receive a gift of knowledge of Him in our personal lives, by feasting on that source of knowledge. And with the knowledge, how we can then share the gift with others, blessing their lives with the testimony and light of Jesus Christ!

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Monday, December 11, 2017

President Gordon B. Hinckley on the wondrous and true story of Christmas

President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910-2008) was called to the Quorum of Twelve in 1961. He served as a counselor in the First Presidency from 1981-1995, then as Church President until his death in 2008.
"This is the wondrous and true story of Christmas. The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem of Judea is preface. The three-year ministry of the Master is prologue. The magnificent substance of the story is His sacrifice, the totally selfless act of dying in pain on the cross of Calvary to atone for the sins of all of us.
"The epilogue is the miracle of the Resurrection, bringing the assurance that 'as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive' (1 Cor. 15:22).
"There would be no Christmas if there had not been Easter. The babe Jesus of Bethlehem would be but another baby without the redeeming Christ of Gethsemane and Calvary, and the triumphant fact of the Resurrection.
"I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Eternal, Living God. None so great has ever walked the earth. None other has made a comparable sacrifice or granted a comparable blessing. He is the Savior and the Redeemer of the world. I believe in Him. I declare His divinity without equivocation or compromise. I love Him. I speak His name in reverence and wonder. I worship Him as I worship His Father, in spirit and in truth. I thank Him and kneel before His Beloved Son, who reached out long ago and said to each of us, 'Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest' (Matt. 11:28)."
- Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Wondrous and True Story of Christmas,” First Presidency Christmas Devotional, December 4, 1995
Click here to read a report of the devotional
Click here to read a later reprint of the message

To truly appreciate Christmas, President Hinckley suggests, we must see it in the context of the Savior's complete ministry. Each Christmas we commemorate the beginning; but without the rest of the story, the birth has no real significance:

What a beautiful testimony from a prophet of God! The Christmas Story truly is wondrous and powerful when we recognize all that followed. As we commemorate Christmas this year, we should take time to ponder and study the rest of the life of the Savior, and in particular, His atoning sacrifice and the healing power it offers to each of us.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland on the Christmas message and families

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland (born December 3, 1940) served as Church Commissioner of Education from 1976-1980, as the president of BYU from 1980-1989, as a Seventy from 1989-1994, and as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles since 1994.
"At this focal point of all human history, a point illuminated by a new star in the heavens revealed for just such a purpose, probably no other mortal watched—none but a poor young carpenter, a beautiful virgin mother, and silent stabled animals who had not the power to utter the sacredness they had seen.
"Shepherds would soon arrive and later, wise men from the East. Later yet the memory of that night would bring Santa Claus and Frosty and Rudolph—and all would be welcome. But first and forever there was just a little family, without toys or trees or tinsel. With a baby—that’s how Christmas began.
"It is for this baby that we shout in chorus: 'Hark! the herald angels sing Glory to the newborn king! ... Mild he lays his glory by, Born that man no more may die: Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.' (Hymns, no. 60.)"
- Jeffrey R. Holland, "Maybe Christmas Doesn’t Come from a Store," address given to the Religious Instruction faculty at BYU, December 12, 1976; see Ensign, Dec. 1977, pp. 63–65
Click here to read the full talk

In the midst of the many retellings of the Christmas story, it's easy to forget that based on the New Testament record, the actual event of the birth of the Savior was a very simple and solitary occurrence. Joseph and Mary were apparently alone in the stable as witnesses of one of the most important events of all history.

This is a beautiful summary: "First and forever there was just a little family, without toys or trees or tinsel. With a baby—that’s how Christmas began." And it's with family that we continue to find the greatest joys and blessings of the season as well.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Saturday, December 9, 2017

President Harold B. Lee on fiction vs. truth in Christmas stories

President Harold B. Lee (1899-1973) was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1941. He served as a counselor in the First Presidency from 1970-1972, then as Church president from July 1972 until his passing less than 18 months later in December 1973.
"Are you mindful of your dramatizations that you discard, ... fictitious incidents in the lives of sacred characters?  How careful must we be that we do not build in the child's concept of God a sort of a Santa Claus impression of Him.  We must, rather, take the position that the Apostle Paul did to the Hebrews when he said, in essence:  'For we have not an high priest that cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmity. For he was tempted in all points, even as we are, yet he was without sin. Let us, therefore, come boldly into his throne of grace and ask for his mercy and his grace to help us in our time of need.'  (See Hebrews 4:15-16.)
"May I plead with you teachers of children that you do not make fictitious reference to the Lord and Savior of the world.  May you stay with the context of the scripture and reduce it to understandable terms in order that the full reverence for sacred things might be impressed upon you.
"This may be something of almost hearsay to some, but let me ask you, last Christmas did none of you hear the reading of 'The Littlest Angel'?  Well, I would like to plead with you, if you did have it and you have it anywhere in your files, to bury it so deep before next Christmas that you cannot find it for the performance of children next Christmas.  There, again, we are doing something for the enjoyment of the children that subtracts from sacred things."
- Harold B. Lee, "Inspirational Guidance Year Round," Primary June Conference Address, 1948; see also THBL pp. 443-444

There seems to have always been a temptation to fictionalize the Christmas story. Since the scriptural account is somewhat sparse on details and descriptions, many have managed to embellish and expand the story in ways ranging from "The Little Drummer Boy" to "The Littlest Angel." President Lee's concern is mixing the fiction with the actual story of the Savior's birth, in ways that detract from the sacredness of the events, subtly turning God into Santa Claus:

There is enough power in the true story of the Savior's birth and life to satisfy any need, including little children., if taught appropriately. The caution is to not be "doing something for the enjoyment of the children that subtracts from sacred things."

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)
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