|("Light Amongst the Darkness" courtesy of Ann Yoder)|
"As far as man is concerned, all things center in Christ."
-Elder Bruce R. McConkie
(of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles)
This past Sunday I had the honor of being invited to speak in Sacrament meeting on the ancient prophesies of the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and the fulfillment of those prophesies, using the Bible as my main source.
I have to say that this talk was the most difficult talk to prepare for me. Not that I didn't absolutely LOVE the topic, it was simply overwhelming to funnel all that there was to discuss into a 12-14 minute talk.
Add to that the feeling like there was something hidden in all of the prophecies and scriptures. Some theme or lesson to discover that isn't as obvious as the traditional message of the Savior's birth, the fact that He had finally come...."Glad tidings of Great Joy!"
I'd read & read & read, exhausting all the typical ways I normally go about preparing a talk or lesson. Yet I'd still come up empty-handed.
What was it that I was seeking in all this? Was I seeking in vain? Was the ONLY message the fact that our Redeemer had been born; end of story? All week I found myself hungry for more, and I was not finding what I was craving.
(Again, don't get me wrong, what I was finding was wonderful. I could just feel there was something more. Something between the lines that I was missing.)
Even up to 2am, Sunday morning I had notes scribbled EVERYWHERE, and yet I had no plan. No outline to follow. No great & grand quotes to share. Just a list of scriptures.
When I arrived at church yesterday morning (a few minutes late, thanks to the roads), I still sat there on the stand petrified, writing & organizing my scriptures with my thoughts, and praying like NO OTHER that the Lord would be with me. That He would direct my thoughts and help me convey the message I knew was there, yet I could not quantify with my own words.
The line from Away in a Manger kept repeating in my mind, "Be near me Lord Jesus I ask thee to stay, Close by me forever and love me I pray..."
I needed Him so badly.
I felt impressed to share that line from the song, and it's message of comfort I'd been clinging to; from there I started reading those scriptures aloud.
I'm not sure it was the traditional talk many expected, but I feel confident it was what I was supposed to share. Here are the thoughts from which my talk came:
******************************************************In Moses 5:9, it was revealed to Adam as to who Jesus Christ was as the Only Begotten of the Father, "And in that day the Holy Ghost fell upon Adam, which beareth record of the Father and the Son, saying: I am the Only Begotten of the Father from the beginning, henceforth and forever, that as thou hast fallen thou mayest be redeemed, and all mankind, even as many as will."
Further evidence that Jesus Christ was foreordained (or chosen prior to this Earth) to enter this world as our Savior came in Moses 5:57, with Adam's children's reaction to his testimony of the coming Savior, "For they would not hearken unto his voice, nor believe on his Only Begotten Son, even him whom he declared should come in the meridian of time, who was prepared from before the foundation of the world."
To Moses, it was revealed as to why Jesus Christ was chosen to be our redeemer. "But behold, my Beloved Son, which was my Beloved and Chosen from the beginning, said unto me--Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever." (Moses 4:2)
It is important to reflect on the gift which was our Savior, the Only Begotten:
The Father gave His Son. The Son gave His life. What shall we give?
...This year, our family has chosen to take a different approach to Christmas & gift-giving this year. It has involved scaling our purchases & gifts back quite significantly. (This is a more humble position than most at this time of year. Some would equate this to being poor, but really this was our choice and has nothing to do with our bank account.) What's come as a result of this choice has been amazing.
As I find that I'm not out there, elbow-to-elbow with mobs of shoppers, I've been able to focus more on the true meaning of Christmas, which is our Savior.
Several years ago, while in Idaho, our family decided to adorn our Christmas tree with pictures and scriptures of the Savior. This year, despite probably being outnumbered by other ornaments, those that stand out most to me are these same images of Jesus Christ. He is where I find my heart turned at this time...
Again the question is, what shall WE give? The answer is found within the pattern we have before us in the first Christmas:
the pattern of purity...simplicity...humility...meekness....and lowliness of heart.
Just as Christ had been chosen before this Earth, Mary also was foreordained, to be the mother of the Messiah.
Isaiah prophesied, "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." (Immanuel translates to "God with Us." As his mother was mortal, and his father was immortal, He was truly part of God here, walking the earth with us Himself.) -Isaiah 7:14
Why did He come as an infant? Why didn't He descend as an immortal being...as a grown man?
There are so many different circumstances that the Lord could've been born into. Yet, as per Heavenly Father's plan, it was to a 15 year old mother who was engaged to another man that Jesus would be born.
Mary was young, and engaged according to the traditions of her time and age. Therefore she was untouched by any man. Had she been older she would have already been married to someone, and therefore would not have been pure enough to carry God's Only Begotten Son. She truly was "a precious and chosen vessel" (as taught in Alma 7:10). Mary was also righteous & wise beyond our understanding. She may have been initially surprised to learn that she had been chosen to be the mother of the Messiah, however she was willing to serve in whatever capacity her God commanded.
Mary's testimony of praise is recorded in Luke 1:46-55, "...My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things... [translates to blessings & deliverence]...; and holy is his name. And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hathe sent empty away. He hath holpen... [translates to helped]...his servant Israel, in rememberance of his mercy; As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever."
Having such a testimony, is it any wonder that she had not only been prepared for her role in this plan, but that she was at peace and accepting of God's will for her? Of Mary, Elder Bruce R. McConkie remarked, "...Certainly she was one of the noblest and greatest of all the spirit off-spring of the Father."
My favorite part of Handel's Messiah comes directly from Isaiah 9:6, it reads: "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace." The simple answer was given in this prophesy that a child would be born, a son.
In order to redeem us from the Fall, Jesus had to have a mortal body so He would have the power to lay down His own life. Without being mortal, there was no life to lay down. Therefore He HAD to be born here on Earth.
To have the power to take His life back up again (or to be resurrected), He had to be immortal, as that is only a power which God has. Therefore, based on the laws of nature (which are God's own laws, by which the universe is governed), He could not be 100% mortal nor 100% immortal and still be able to take upon Himself all of our sins, afflictions, & pain and to overcome both physical and spiritual death. (Because of the Fall of Adam, this was necessary for us to be able to return to our Heavenly Father's presence.)
Even more so, perhaps many wonder why the Savior was not born into a rich family, within a palace? This was something that the world could not wrap their heads around, even many of the Jews. Prior to the Lord's arrival, in the eyes of Israel, the precedence of a Deliverer had been set by Moses, who was 100% mortal and had been raised as Pharaoh's own. Perhaps they had been expecting more pomp & circumstance....more of a silver spoon in the mouth of the King of the Jews.
Why then was He born in a stable, in Bethlehem no less?
This is something we also read in prophesies of old. Per Isaiah 11:10, "And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious." Christ would be of the lineage of David (aka the root of Jesse), this is important when reading Micah 5:2, "But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting." In Judea, Bethlehem was not noteworthy in size, population, economical standing or power. It was irrelevant to the world, as compared to Jerusalem for instance, aside from being the city of King David's birth many generations earlier. (Note: Both Mary & Joseph were of the lineage of David, therefore that was what brought them to Bethlehem, as they were to return to their own city to be registered in the census & taxed per Caesar Augustus--Luke 2:1) In reality, aside from being prophesied of by ancient prophets for the Savior's birthplace "And thou, Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least amond the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel." -Matthew 2:6), Bethlehem was quite a humble and forgotten about place.
Furthering the pattern of meekness & lowliness of heart, we find that it is to the shepherds tending their flocks that the Savior's birth is first heralded, and not to rich men of society.
Angels declared to these shepherds: "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you 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. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger" (Luke 2:10-12). From there, the angel was joined by a Heavenly multitude singing "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men." (Luke 2:14)
The shepherds left the hills and went into Bethlehem seeking the Holy Child of which the angel spoke. According to the angel's word, Jesus was in fact wrapped in swaddling clothes (aka rags of burlap) and lying in the manger of a stable. (The stable was the only place in all of Bethlehem that was available at the time of the great census & taxing. Mary & Joseph HAD to be turned away at every inn, so that they would be in that lowly stable which the shepherds would seek. This physical inconvenience was the fulfilled sign, by which was needed to give the shepherds. Many of those shepherds otherwise left to their own devices, may have thought to seek the Infant King in a palace...and they would not have witnessed the beautiful Nativity in that stable.)
Heavenly Father's greatest gift was in fact given to us, wrapped up in humility, & garnished with lowliness of heart. On every side, in every way. Jesus Christ came into this world as the Only Begotten Son, for His Father's purpose & His role as redeemer, completely surrounded in meekness.
Therefore, again, what shall we give? What have we to offer that is worthy of Him?
We can look at the example of George Frideric Handel. He was a great composer of Italian & German operas and chamber music. Despite his 45 years of composing (which yielded over 200 works of various composition), it was only after overcoming many personal trials and afflictions that one of his last, but greatest, works came about: "The Messiah" (which was solely based in scripture, especially Isaiah). Today, the majority of Handel's other works have become less familiar & closer to obscurity. His greatest achievement came in his most abased, physically humbled circumstances. It came from his entire heart.
Much like Handel, or even a simple grain of sand which eventually transforms into a precious pearl, we must offer what is ours and only ours to give:
- willing service to render
- a smile
- our friendship
- our time
- our civility
- our testimonies
When humility is all we have to offer, the stage is set for the greatest miracles.
I bear testimony of the divinity of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Only Begotten Son of the Father...He who was prophesied to come as a child, to grow into the man who would be our Redeemer. Much like Mary, who "...kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart." (Luke 2:19), my heart is full, and much surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ I have pondered, and will continue to do so. I know that these miracles the scriptures have spoken of came to pass, and was all part of Heavenly Father's greatest plan, the Great Plan of Happiness.
For my Savior I am most grateful. For the grace, meekness, & lowliness of heart into which He entered this world, I am in awe. I want to strive to develop these aspects in my life, so I may be a better, more effective instrument in His hands, by which His work can continued to be carried out.
Also, I bear witness that this reflective time of the year is the perfect opportunity for us to echo the pattern of humility in our lives, so that we can be greater blessings in the lives of others.
May I convey my great love for each of you, and for my Heavenly Father & his Only Begotten Son.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.