Christmas

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The scriptures tell us various things about the nativity story. One of these events is of the coming of the wise men from the East:

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judæa in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him (Matt 2: 1-2).

Who were these men and why did they seek the King of the Jews? Many theories have been put forward; some believe that they were astrologers who saw this remarkable event foretold in the stars. As members of the Church, however, we believe that they were men who held the priesthood, “knew the spirit of revelation, had studied holy writ, conversed with angels, dreamed dreams and prophesied as did their counterparts among the Nephites” (JF McConkie, 1998: 94). Why are these men important and what relevance do they have to us today? You may have seen the slogan sometimes found on billboards that “Wise men still seek him”.

How many of us seek Christ in our lives today? And what does that actually mean? Are we not seeking Him because we have already found him? I think that every day of our lives is about continually seeking and finding Christ. The wise men were seeking to know him and as such worship him; we should be doing the same in our lives. 

But why is seeking him, and worshipping him so important for us? The events of the atonement of Christ exemplify that Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life”. Christ’s sacrifice and Resurrection enabled him to say that “no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).There is no other who could have opened up the way. It is Christ with whom we should be determined to build a relationship, so that we can return, cleansed from sin, to our Father in Heaven:

And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now? Have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless before God? Could ye say, if ye were called to die at this time, within yourselves, that ye have been sufficiently humble? That your garments have been cleansed and made white through the blood of Christ, who will come to redeem his people from their sins? (Alma 5:26-27).

This relationship and cleansing is a result of a conscious relationship with Christ. This relationship begins with a knowledge of Christ and his relationship within the Godhead, and with humanity:

Knowledge is necessary to life and godliness. Woe unto you priests and divines who preach that knowledge is not necessary unto life and salvation. Take away Apostles, etc., take away knowledge, and you will find yourselves worthy of the damnation of hell. Knowledge is revelation. Hear, all ye brethren, this grand key: knowledge is the power of God unto salvation… A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge, for if he does not get knowledge, he will be brought into captivity by some evil power in the other world, as evil spirits will have more knowledge, and consequently more power than many men who are on the earth. Hence it needs revelation to assist us, and give us knowledge of the things of God (Smith, J. 2007: 265-266).

Knowledge is a key to salvation (as it underpins beliefs and actions). A knowledge of truth is important, but there are truths that are more important than others; for example, a knowledge of the divinity and atonement of Christ are crucial first steps in gaining salvation. The help that this type of knowledge is to salvation is exemplified in the Doctrine and Covenants:

Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the Resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come (D&C 130: 18-19). 

The path to salvation is a way of knowledge. The knowledge and truth necessary for salvation is not restricted to knowledge of facts; knowledge of God refers to understanding who he is, but also refers to acting on this knowledge:

In the context of the Bible, knowledge− in its highest spiritual sense− had little to do with the intellect but was rather a matter of the heart. The Old Testament references to a man knowing God and to a man knowing his wife− meaning conceiving a child with her− both use the same Hebrew word (yada). As a man was to leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife and become one flesh with her, so he was to leave the things of the world, cleave unto his God, and become one with him. As faithfulness in marriage was essential to the nurturing of love, so faithfulness in keeping Gospel covenants was understood to be necessary in obtaining a knowledge of God. As love of spouse was strengthened in sacrifice and devotion, so the knowledge of God was obtained in living those covenants with exactness and honour (McConkie, J. 1987: 230).

Having a knowledge of Christ, involves having a correct understanding of his nature and work which then leads to a correct relationship with Christ. Latter-day Saints believe that one cannot have a true relationship with someone that is built on a misunderstanding of who they are and what they do. To know Christ is to be in a relationship with him, evidenced through faithfulness to his commandments and covenants.  

There are many ways that we can find him, and build a relationship with him. Some are obvious, others are perhaps less so.

Study his word

Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do (2 Nephi 32: 3).

Not only will they tell us what we should do, but the scriptures will also go a long way towards building a relationship with him. Most of you will be aware of the circumstances behind Ruth and I meeting. That for a year before we met, we wrote to each other. Through these letters we got to know each other and actually fell in love before we had ever met in person. How was this possible? The words that people write tell you a lot about who they are, their priorities in life and the character they possess. As we read the scriptures, all of which were inspired by Christ, we can learn who he is, his priorities for us, and the character he possesses. We can read of his love and care for humanity as we read the words that he inspired Nephi to write;

And he said unto me: Knowest thou the condescension of God? And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things. And he said unto me: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh. And it came to pass that I beheld that she was carried away in the Spirit; and after she had been carried away in the Spirit for the space of a time the angel spake unto me, saying: Look! And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms. And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! (1 Nephi 11: 16-21)

Or King Benjamin to speak;

For behold, the time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay, and shall go forth amongst men, working mighty miracles, such as healing the sick, raising the dead, causing the lame to walk, the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and curing all manner of diseases (Mosiah 3: 5).

And also, ye yourselves will succour those that stand in need of your succour; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish (Mosiah 4:16).

Bring him gifts

The Nativity tells us:

And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh (Matt 2: 11).

Each of these gifts foretold Jesus as a king, his death and his resurrection. What gifts can we give that shows that we know who Christ is and what he desires from us. Throughout my life I have received many gifts, some like the American Football cufflinks that I received this morning show how much the giver knows me and the things I like. Others such as a bottle of wine I received one birthday suggests that the giver knows little about me and was seeking to please me in a way that they would like if they were me. We are not our Saviour, though we are working on becoming like Him. As such we should bring him the gifts he asks of us, not the ones that we might like if we were receiving something. People who seek their own gratification are described in the Book of Mormon: “And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God” (2 Nephi 28: 8). These people go some way to assuage God’s feelings, but cannot quite let go of their own will.

I received an email from Abi early in November with a list of presents she might like for Christmas. The Saviour provides us with a similar list but without the Demi Lovato CDs. What does he ask of us? Let us read some scriptures that point us in the right direction:

For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have (2 Nephi 28: 30).

In this we hearken to his counsel found through the scriptures, the promptings of the Holy Ghost and the living prophets. As we do we will gain more knowledge, and thus a greater relationship with the Saviour.

But blessed are they who have kept the covenant and observed the commandment, for they shall obtain mercy (D&C 54:6).

We keep the covenants that we have made. These extend from baptism, through the priesthood, Temple and marriage covenants. All are similar in that they require certain “obligations on the part of the individual, such as covenant and promise to observe the law of strict virtue and chastity, to be charitable, benevolent, tolerant and pure; to devote both talent and material means to the spread of truth and the uplifting of the race; to maintain devotion to the cause of truth; and to seek in every way to contribute to the great preparation that the earth may be made ready to receive her King,—the Lord Jesus Christ. With the taking of each covenant and the assuming of each obligation a promised blessing is pronounced, contingent upon the faithful observance of the conditions” (Talmage, JE [1976], 84).

In doing this we serve those people around us. As we read of the ministry of Jesus we learn that he not only served his immediate circle of friends, but especially those who were cursed and rejected by others and found themselves on the periphery of society. We read of him mingling with tax collectors, women, gentiles, lepers and so on. On reflecting on this I have realised that I may be good at serving and helping those people with whom I get along, and in my immediate circle of acquaintance and friendship, but what about those who have either been placed on the periphery by others, or placed themselves there? Am I doing enough to reach out to “lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees” (Hebrews 12: 12)? Who do I mean? Well without naming names, we can all think of people who are spiritually or physically on the outskirts of the Gospel, the Church or society. If we learn just one thing from the example of Christ it is that we are required to love all people. The scriptures tell us that “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4: 19). We can adapt that slightly to suggest that we love them, because he first loved us. We are able to love all people because of the love that he showed to us.

Now there may be something inside us that says, yes- that applies to me. I am on the outside and people have placed me there. That is the wrong attitude to take. With the Church and the Gospel it is never good to feel we are on the outside and certainly we should never blame other people. Edwin Markham wrote a short but beautiful poem that shows us all the importance of taking the initiative in drawing people towards us, and hence to the Saviour:

He drew a circle that shut me out —

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.

But Love and I had the wit to win:

We drew a circle that took him in.

There are many other gifts that we can bring to the Saviour, but we must listen to the Holy Ghost and search the scriptures to discover his will for us.

Partake of the sacrament

One final message for today that we can find from the Nativity story of how to draw closer to the Saviour. I mentioned earlier that the myrrh that the wise men brought signified the death of Christ. We must utilise the emblems today that point us towards the sacrifice that Christ wrought. I speak of the sacrament. As much as we study, as much as we serve, all will be nought unless we make the effort to worthily and seriously partake of the sacrament each week. The importance of the sacrament is a sermon in itself, but through this sacred ordinance we renew covenants and draw closer to the Saviour and the Holy Ghost. Joseph Fielding Smith taught:

If a man fully realized what it means when he partakes of the sacrament, that he covenants to take upon him the name of Jesus Christ and to always remember him and keep his commandments, and this vow is renewed week by week—do you think such a man will fail to pay his tithing? Do you think such a man will break the Sabbath day or disregard the Word of Wisdom? Do you think he will fail to be prayerful, and that he will not attend his quorum duties and other duties in the Church? It seems to me that such a thing as a violation of these sacred principles and duties is impossible when a man knows what it means to make such vows week by week unto the Lord and before the saints.

The sacrament sets the tone for the week, it sets the tone for our lives and relationship with the Saviour. One experience from the events of the resurrection, in my opinion, point us towards understanding that only through the sacrament can we develop a recognition of the Saviour in our lives. On the road to Emmaus two disciples were taught by the Saviour without recognising him;

And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight (Luke 24: 30-31).

As we partake of the sacrament we will recognise in the scriptures we read, the people we serve the presence of Christ and in the words of my favourite hymn:

Then in a moment to my view

The stranger started from disguise.

The tokens in his hands I knew;

The Saviour stood before mine eyes.

He spake, and my poor name he named,

“Of me thou hast not been ashamed.

These deeds shall thy memorial be;

Fear not, thou didst them unto me”