Lessons of Christmas Day
For four millennia, from the days of Father Adam, prophets declared to the world that there would be born a Savior, the Son of God. They said:
Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and shall bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel…
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…
And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God…
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…
For according to the words of the prophets, the Messiah cometh in six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem; and according to the words of the prophets, and also the word of the angel of God, his name shall be Jesus Christ, the Son of God…
The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee…
And behold, he said unto them: Behold, I give unto you a sign; for five years more cometh, and behold, then cometh the Son of God to redeem all those who shall believe on his name. And behold, this will I give unto you for a sign at the time of his coming; for behold, there shall be great lights in heaven, insomuch that in the night before he cometh there shall be no darkness, insomuch that it shall appear unto man as if it was day. Therefore, there shall be one day and a night and a day, as if it were one day and there were no night; and this shall be unto you for a sign; for ye shall know of the rising of the sun and also of its setting; therefore they shall know of a surety that there shall be two days and a night; nevertheless the night shall not be darkened; and it shall be the night before he is born. And behold, there shall a new star arise, such an one as ye never have beheld; and this also shall be a sign unto you. And behold this is not all, there shall be many signs and wonders in heaven…
Lift up your head and be of good cheer; for behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world, to show unto the world that I will fulfil all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets… And it came to pass that there was no darkness in all that night, but it was as light as though it was mid-day. And it came to pass that the sun did rise in the morning again, according to its proper order; and they knew that it was the day that the Lord should be born, because of the sign which had been given. And it had come to pass, yea, all things, every whit, according to the words of the prophets. And it came to pass also that a new star did appear, according to the word…
But thou, Beth-lehem 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.
Matthew records the events the immediately preceded His birth, saying,
“And in the sixth month [of Elizabeth’s pregnancy] the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women…Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God…And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word…And Mary said, 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; and holy is his name.”
The Lord knew, while Mary was yet dwelling in the premortal life, that she would accept the responsibility and the pain that would come from being the mother of His Son in mortality. He knew she would magnify this calling, just as He knew Eve would fulfill the great responsibility she would be given of initiating mortality for all His children. This realization brings to me the understanding that He also knew that I am capable of doing what He has called me to do in this life. My mission is not one to be recorded in scripture, but for my posterity, may be as vitally important. He knew I could do this, so when I doubt my ability to do all that is asked, I should ponder the missions of my sisters in the premortal life, Eve and Mary, and trust that He will give me the strength to do all I am called to do.
Joseph also was called to perform an important mission. To him was given the mission to be an earthly father to the babe, teaching him of the Lord, training him to follow His Father’s will. Though there would be sisters and brothers come to the family, the eldest of the children was the son, not of Joseph, but of the Eternal Father. Matthew records,
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.
I learn from Joseph that when the Lord calls me to do something, His timeline is to be my priority. With the assurance of the Spirit, I am to act on the promptings given me. Joseph arose and, from the scriptures, we can understand that he acted quickly to complete the process begun with the betrothal, and made Mary his wife, caring for her in all things, but not acting as husband in all things until after she gave birth to the Son of the Highest.
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Cæsar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed… And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judæa, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
Mary, in the last days of her pregnancy, traveled about eighty miles to obey the commands of the political rulers of the land. They had to travel the distance because Joseph was “of the house and lineage of David.” Whatever means of travel available to her, it was not comfortable. Nights would be spent on the hard, uneven ground with only a blanket as a cushion. If fortunate, she may have had a simple pallet to provide some cushion for tired and aching bones and muscles. Meals would have been simple foods, things the couple could carry with them. Nights were probably chilly, as is common to the spring of the year. From her example, I learn to endure in patience. Joseph knew his family heritage. From his example, I learn that knowing my heritage and lineage is important, for my ancestors are part of my eternal family. Knowing my roots gives me direction in life, and fills my heart with gratitude for all I have been given. I rejoice in the faith of my forefathers. Some, having heard the message of the Restoration, left their homelands to heed the call to gather to Zion. For others, I don’t know what brought them to this New World. All left behind the life they had known, and traveled to a new land, many to learn a new language. They labored long hours, and built a rich heritage for me.
Even as Joseph and Mary traveled, and arrived in Bethlehem, seeking lodging, the righteous Nephites awaited the promised sign of a new star, with a day, night, and day as one.
…they did watch steadfastly for that day and that night and that day which should be as one day as if there were no night, that they might know that their faith had not been vain. Now it came to pass that there was a day set apart by the unbelievers, that all those who believed in those traditions should be put to death except the sign should come to pass, which had been given by Samuel the prophet. Now it came to pass that when Nephi, the son of Nephi, saw this wickedness of his people, his heart was exceedingly sorrowful. And it came to pass that he went out and bowed himself down upon the earth, and cried mightily to his God in behalf of his people, yea, those who were about to be destroyed because of their faith in the tradition of their fathers. And it came to pass that he cried mightily unto the Lord all that day; and behold, the voice of the Lord came unto him, saying: Lift up your head and be of good cheer; for behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world, to show unto the world that I will fulfil all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets. Behold, I come unto my own, to fulfil all things which I have made known unto the children of men from the foundation of the world, and to do the will, both of the Father and of the Son—of the Father because of me, and of the Son because of my flesh. And behold, the time is at hand, and this night shall the sign be given… And it came to pass that the words which came unto Nephi were fulfilled, according as they had been spoken; for behold, at the going down of the sun there was no darkness; and the people began to be astonished because there was no darkness when the night came… And it came to pass that there was no darkness in all that night, but it was as light as though it was mid-day. And it came to pass that the sun did rise in the morning again, according to its proper order; and they knew that it was the day that the Lord should be born, because of the sign which had been given… And it came to pass also that a new star did appear, according to the word.”
From the example of the Nephites, I learn to be steadfast in obedience. They remained steadfast, look ing forward to the fulfillment of prophecy, trusting the sign would be given. I learn that He will do all He says He will do, and that all things will happen on His timeline. I am to be patient, trustworthy, and faithful as I await the day when I receive all the promised blessings. If obedience calls upon me to give up my life, I am to be faithful to that end also, knowing that all will be made right.
And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered…And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
The scriptures give only hints at the surroundings of the long-awaited birth, saying only there was no room for them in the inn. From those few words have come the traditions that the birth occurred the night of their arrival, or soon thereafter, and the image often seen of the heartless innkeepers turning away to expectant couple. Although Joseph was “of the house and lineage of David,” it appears there was no family there who could provide shelter for them. So, they found shelter in the warmth and seclusion of a shelter for the animals, where a manger became the cradle for the newborn babe. Most likely, Joseph was alone with her during those hours of labor, and with her, marveled and rejoiced in the birth of the Promised One. From their example, I learn to be satisfied with what I have, and to know that no matter how humble my surroundings, the Lord is mindful of me, and will be with me. I love the words, “the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.” Having awaited the birth of my children, with the discomforts, concerns, and challenges of those days, I can relate to the feelings this young mother must have felt. Especially with the birth of a first child, is the unknown that awaits, beyond any control of the mother. At all time, much in my life is beyond my control. Each day brings new challenges, mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional. Yet there remains the promise. The days will “be accomplished” that I shall be delivered from this mortal test, and return to my Father and all family and friends who have gone before, now awaiting my return.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, 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. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
He who would be Shepherd of all, was born as mortal shepherds guarded their sheep. From the shepherds, also, I learn of Him. Shepherds watched carefully at night during the lambing season each spring. The sudden appearance of great light in the heavens, with an angel in the midst of that light, struck fear in the hearts of the shepherds. Just as months before when the angel appeared to Mary, the first words to the humble shepherds came, “Fear not.” He says the same thing to me today, “Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.” (D&C 6:36) If I don’t fear, I can hear the voice of the Lord, guiding me through the Spirit, and receive messages of great joy and comfort.
“And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child… And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.”
From the actions of the shepherds, I learn how to obey His commandments – “with haste.” I learn to share the message of great joy, that during this, the last dispensation, all things have been restored.
“And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him. And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. And there was one Anna, a aprophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.”
From Simeon and Anna, I learn to endure patiently, to wait upon the promises of the Lord. I learn to bear witness of the truths I have been given, and to serve Him as I wait on Him for all things He promises me.
”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. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judæa: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. 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. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.”
From the account of the wise men’s visit, I learn that they had sought long for the King. The family was no longer in a stable, using a manger for the bed of the Babe. Perhaps Joseph, the carpenter, found opportunities in Bethlehem to provide for his family. Whatever the circumstances of their daily lives, the scriptures are silent except for hints. At the time of the visit of the wise men, Christ is now a “young child,” living in “the house.” Their trip to Bethlehem was not a short visit. A suggestion of the timing is found in the account of Herod, who, working from the time he knew the wise men arrived at his court and the information he received from his advisors regarding the time of the star’s appearance, ordered the death of all the children two years old and under. But the wise men, having found the King they sought, had listened to and obeyed the warnings of their dream, and returned to their “own country another way.” Their example teaches me patience and endurance as I seek for truth, and obedience when told to change “my way” to “His way.”
“And when they [the wise men] were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son. Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men…But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life. And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judæa in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee: And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.”
Joseph teaches me how to obey. He obeyed the law of the land to travel to Bethlehem for the taxation, but when the Lord told him to flee, he arose and left “in the night.” Later, following the death of Herod, he returned and lived where the Lord directed. Joseph had undoubtedly planned for the future of his family, but bent his will to the will of the Father. So must I bend my will to the will of the Father.
At the end of His life, the Savior showed His love, in all things. Having completed His mission, having suffered all things in atoning for the sins of all mankind, having endured the pain and indignities of the cross, He looked to the woman who gave him life. There stood his mother, undoubtedly weeping, knowing He would leave, and she must yet remain in mortality. In spite of His pain, He looked upon her, and then, looking to his beloved disciple, John, commended her care to the disciple. John, obedient to the calling of the Master, “took her into his own home.” Then, and only then, did He look to His own feelings, saying, “I thirst.” Having received the sponge with vinegar, He announced, “It is finished,” and “gave up the ghost,” triumphant over sin and death. What a blessed day we celebrate today, as we remember the beginning of His mission, and with it, remember the purpose of all He did…that we, one day, may dwell with Him in the mansions prepared for us.
As the shepherds watched over their flocks by night, as the Lamb of God lay in a manger, so must I look forward to the return of the Lamb. He has said we are to “prepare the way before my face for the time is at hand; the day
or the hour no man knoweth; but it surely shall come.” As He came, unexpected by the shepherds, He will come, unexpected by all who deny the reality of the prophecies. May I be prepared, as were Joseph and Mary, the shepherds, Simeon, Anna, the wise men, John, and all who received Him, though their witness be unrecorded, is my prayer.