Shattered Silence

Shattered Silence

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Five Truths I Never Knew About Christmas

Faith was dormant in my home growing up,
and religion was never really discussed.
Religion was never part of my family life when I was growing up. My mother and father were both baptized at young ages, like many, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons); but to individually varying degrees and for numerous reasons, religion just didn’t stick with them as they reached adulthood and were married. Traditionally, when my two oldest brothers reached the proper age of eight, they too were baptized into the LDS Church. My parents likely had outside influences who convinced them that their sons’ baptisms were expected. But even though we were all raised in a loving environment by dedicated parents, the shreds of my brothers’ faith would not be nurtured to blossoming within the walls of our home.

We celebrated holidays
like other families.
We were a typical nuclear family: My father worked from early morning to afternoon in a steel plant, and my mother worked from home as a seamstress and stay-at-home mom and was always around when my brothers and I got home from school. We lived in a four bedroom house in a middle-class neighborhood. We had dogs and a cat, nice furnishings, a beautiful, well-kept yard, and as far as I know we never went without. 

Probably, we celebrated all the same holidays and events that our neighbors did, with our own unique traditions. We feasted on buttery boiled shrimp and steak on New Year’s Eve; always got cake, ice cream, and balloons on our birthdays; my mom and dad were always slipping us dollar bills to go buy candy and drinks, or go to movies or to the swimming pool; when school started we always got to go to the mall with my mom to buy all new clothes; Halloween costumes were homemade and old pillowcases held our loot; Thanksgiving was plentiful and made from scratch; and Christmas never disappointed—presents galore, just about everything we wanted and more, neatly wrapped and stacked on the living room furniture by morning.

"Abinadi Appearing Before King Noah"
by Arnold Friberg.  This was my favorite picture
in the Book of Mormon.
Both of my parents worked hard in and out of the home to provide for our family. But there was one area of my wellbeing that I was never properly taught to embrace or nurture—my spirituality. Coming from a Mormon background, my family had a few things lying around the house that I curiously approached a few times as a child; an old Book of Mormon is the item I remember the most—a gift to one of my older brothers when he was baptized, but likely cast aside soon thereafter. There were pictures inside the book of scripture that I loved to look at; epic paintings of scenes and people and stories recorded within that book’s pages.

I remember several times trying to commence reading the book from the beginning, but the language was difficult to understand, and I gave up only a few pages into the volume. Still, I was curious about the book’s contents and about the pictures therein. 

I loved the stories from the Book of Mormon, but
I had no idea they really occurred long ago.
When I turned eight years-old myself, some missionaries from our local congregation came over to talk to me. My mother told me that I didn’t have to talk to them if I didn’t want to, but I was curious about the men and their sudden interest in such a young boy as me. The men gave me a large book, like a comic book, with lots of small pictures and brief captions. It was a Book of Mormon Reader, a summarized account of the events recorded in the Book of Mormon, only tailored for children. 

I read the children’s book several times. I loved the stories of Nephites and Lamanites, of the righteous and the wicked, and of a man called Jesus Christ who lived anciently and visited the Book of Mormon peoples. I wasn’t sure who He was—not exactly. But as I looked at pictures of Him as a baby in a wooden box filled with hay, and angels surrounding the stable where He lay with His mother and father, I thought that He must be the same Jesus about whom I sang in my favorite Christmas carols. 

I didn't know who Jesus was or why He was
important.
He was the same baby Who was the centerpiece of the Nativity scene that my mother set up on our fireplace every Christmas. And as the pieces came together slowly for me, I began to understand that He was the same man whom I had seen in pictures with His hands and feet nailed to a giant wooden cross and raised up on a mountain, bleeding and dying in portrayed agony that even a child could understand.

At eight years-old, I was beginning to understand that there was more to Christmas than Santa Claus and presents, or decorated pine trees and stockings. Christmas was the celebration of the birth of Jesus, long ago, in a stable in a town called Bethlehem. I knew that Jesus was important to some portion of the rest of the world, but I still didn’t know if He was important to me. Christmas carols proclaimed that Jesus was a Savior, the Lord, the Son of God. But what that actually meant to me, I wouldn’t find out for at least another eight years of my life.

 I began to realize that Christmas was about more
than pine trees and presents; it was about Jesus.
As a teenager I listened to the testimonies of others, my Latter-day Saint friends and religion teachers, as they expressed their love and appreciation for Jesus Christ in all seasons, not just at Christmastime. I learned words like atonement, sin and repentance. I came to know concepts like salvation, redemption, and eternal life. Little by little I realized that Jesus was indeed important to me; I just never knew the reasons why. I learned Jesus’ commandments and His teachings, and I made the choice to follow Him. I was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at age sixteen, and took upon myself the name of the Savior of the world.

In the past eleven years, I’ve learned even more about Jesus—who He was before the earth existed; who He was as He walked the dusty roads of Palestine; who He is now as our resurrected Lord; and who He will be when He returns to the earth to rule as King of kings. Not only that, but my knowledge has helped to create my own testimony of the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ, and His integral role in my salvation. Indeed, it’s difficult to imagine that for the first years of my life, I was oblivious to the existence of a God or a Savior when both my Heavenly Father and my Lord Jesus Christ are now at the very center of my life and my joy.

As I pondered all this recently, and in light of the holiday season, I discovered that there are, essentially, five truths about Christmas that I never knew as a child, but of which I am now able to testify. These truths are inseparably entwined into my life and my faith as a Latter-day Saint and a disciple of Jesus Christ.


Truth #1:  The Old Testament and the Book of Mormon foretell the coming of a Savior, Jesus Christ.



Seven-hundred years before the birth of Christ, the ancient Prophet Isaiah foretold the coming of a Messiah who would redeem the world from sin:

          “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.” 
          ~ (Isaiah 9:6)
"The Prophet Isaiah Foretells Christ's Birth"
by Harry Anderson.


Likewise, the Book of Mormon Prophet, Nephi, recorded his vision of the coming of the Savior six-hundred years before the advent of Christ: 

          “And it came to pass that I looked and beheld the great city of Jerusalem, and also other cities. And I beheld the city of Nazareth; and in the city of Nazareth I beheld a virgin, and she was exceedingly fair and white.
          “And it came to pass that I saw the heavens open; and an angel came down and stood before me; and he said unto me: Nephi, what beholdest thou?
          “And I said unto him: A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins. …
          “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 11:13-15, 18-21)


Adam & Eve performed animal
sacrifice in similitude of Christ.
The Law of Moses, given by the Lord to the ancient Israelites after their deliverance from slavery in Egypt, was a type and a shadow of things to come, namely, the advent of the Son of God. Ordinances of animal sacrifice and burnt offerings were practiced by ancient Jews as a similitude of the Only Begotten of the Father, who would enter the world to be sacrificed, and whose blood would atone for the transgression of Adam and bring immortal life to all of God’s children, past and present. This practice began with Adam and Eve after they were cast out of the Garden of Eden (Moses 5:4-9).

Many other prophets in the ancient Americas, as recorded in the Book of Mormon, proclaimed that the Son of God would come into the world, Whom would be called Jesus Christ. Many inspired men foretold the Lord’s birth, His ministry, His atonement, death, and subsequent resurrection long before Jesus actually came; and the righteous among God’s children in the ancient Americas also followed the Law of Moses until it was fulfilled by the shedding of the blood of Christ (Alma 25:15).

The Old Testament, too, has many instances in which revelation was given to men of God about the coming of Jesus Christ; to many in our day, these ancient prophecies in the Bible can seem confusing. But for those who knew and studied the word of God before the advent and Christ, the condescension of God was clear and hopeful. Prophets like Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, David, Zechariah, and others knew of, wrote of, and looked forward to the birth of a Holy Son, the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh.


Truth #2:  The New Testament records the mortal life and ministry of Jesus Christ.


"Boy Jesus in the Temple" by Grant Romney Clawson
Copyright © 2002 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
The Apostle Luke wrote a detailed account of the life of Jesus. Luke begins with the Savior’s humble birth in a stable in Bethlehem; then he describes an occurrence in the Lord’s youth when Joseph and Mary found the twelve year-old Jesus in the temple at Jerusalem conversing with doctors and learned men. When His mother, Mary, questioned Jesus about his seemingly thoughtless behavior, her Son’s response was, “[Knew] ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:42-49).

The four gospels—the books of the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—all tell of the Savior’s miracles among the people of the Holy Land. Jesus went about healing those who suffered from all manner of ailments. The blind received their sight (Matthew 9:27-31; John 9:1-11); the deaf were made to hear (Mark 7:32-35); the lame walked (John 5:1-9); lepers were made clean and the sick were made whole (Luke 17:12-19; Mark 5:25-34); and those who had died were raised once again to life (Mark 5:21-24, 35-43; John 11:41-44).

"The Sermon on the Mount"
by Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834 - 1890)
Jesus confounded the wise and the learned who opposed him. He struck down the corruption of the Pharisees and Sadducees whose skewed beliefs and practices kept the gospel from reaching the hearts and minds of the Jewish people. Jesus’ sermons and teachings established a new law among the people of the world who professed to follow the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Hatred became love. Enemies became friends. Revenge changed into childlike submissiveness. Haughtiness turned to humility. Dominion gave way to meekness (Matthew 5-7). And with the death of the Son of God, the ritualistic sacrifice of animal flesh and blood would instead become a striving to offer to God a broken heart and a contrite spirit (3 Nephi 19:19-20).

The Apostle John tells of the Lord’s instruction to His disciples on the night of the Last Supper, when Jesus gave the Twelve Apostles charge over the kingdom, and each other:


          “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.
          “These things I command you, that ye love one another.”
          ~ (John 15:16-17)

The Jews would crucify their Messiah.
Then, with His betrayal by one of His own disciples and His subsequent arrest and trial by corrupt officials, the innocent life of Jesus of Nazareth was outspokenly professed to be of less worth than that of a convicted murderer (Mark 15:6-15). To appease the raging people, Pontius Pilate, a Roman governor in Judea, ordered Jesus whipped and scourged for His purported crimes, while Roman soldiers mocked Christ’s divine kingship by crowning him with thorns (John 19:1-3). But more of the Lord’s blood would be required to meet the demands of the angered crowds, who cried with loud voices to crucify the Man with whom Pilate had found no fault (John 19:6). The Jews would kill their own Prophet, their Messiah.


Truth #3:  Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Firstborn of our Heavenly Father.



Jesus Christ is the only person ever to be born on earth of a mortal mother and an immortal Father. From His mother, Mary, Jesus inherited His mortality—He was subject to hunger, thirst, pain, fatigue, and death. From God, His Holy Father, Jesus inherited divine powers; because of the immortal seeds given to Him by His Father, Jesus’ life could not be taken from Him until He had willingly fulfilled all that the Father had sent Him to earth to do.

The Father and The Son appeared together to
Joseph Smith.
The mighty God, our Heavenly Father as well, has declared on several occasions in recorded scripture that Jesus Christ is His Only Begotten Son. In records kept by Moses, Heavenly Father says that Jesus was with Him “from the beginning” (Moses 2:26). Upon Jesus’ baptism by John, the voice of the Father was heard from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). To the ancient Nephites in America, the Father announced the visitation of the resurrected Christ by saying, “Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name—hear ye him” (3 Nephi 11:7). Likewise, the Father introduced His Son in a similar way, when He and Jesus Christ appeared to the boy Joseph Smith to usher in the last dispensation, an event known as the First Vision.

The Apostle John writes the account of the Lord Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin, the highest order of leadership among the Jews. During their secret nighttime visit, Jesus testified of Himself and His own purpose on earth with this well-known declaration:

          “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
          “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”
          ~ (John 3:16-17)

Word had travelled among many of the people of ancient Palestine, among whom Jesus had lived and ministered, that Jesus of Nazareth proclaimed Himself to be the Promised Messiah, the Son of God. For this reason was the Lord arrested and brought to a mock-trial before the high priests of the Sanhedrin. Upon being questioned by a member of the Jewish leadership the night of His arrest, Jesus held His tongue—until He was asked flatly if the rumors about His claims of divinity were true:

          “Again the high priest asked him, and said unto him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? 
          “And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.”
          ~ (Mark 14:61-62)
Jesus was accused of blasphemy for declaring
that He was the Son of God, the Savior.

The gospels of the Bible are filled with Jesus’ declarations to many concerning His truly divine connection to God the Father. Jesus spoke often of doing His Father’s will (John 6:38-40). He prayed to the Father, to the witness of others (Matthew 26:39). Jesus expounded the scriptures and announced that in Him were the prophecies of the Messiah fulfilled (Luke 4:16-22). The corrupt leaders of Jesus’ native faith, however, would only perpetuate prophecy with their claims of blasphemy that would ultimately lead to the death of the Savior of the World.

After His death and resurrection, Jesus appeared to the righteous Nephite peoples in the ancient Americas, declaring once more in sacred record that He was the Only Begotten of the Father:

          “Behold, I am Jesus Christ the Son of God. I created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are. I was with the Father from the beginning. I am in the Father, and the Father in me; and in me hath the Father glorified his name.”
          ~ (3 Nephi 9:15)

Even in modern times, recorded again in scripture, Jesus has declared, “I was in the beginning with the Father, and am the Firstborn” (Doctrine & Covenants 93:21).


Truth #4:  Jesus’ conception and birth were miraculous and announced by angels.



Again from the writings of Isaiah, we read the prophecy of Jesus’ unprecedented mortal advent:

          “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
          ~ (Isaiah 7:14)

“The Annunciation:  The Angel Gabriel Appears 
to Mary” by John Scott
Copyright © 1997 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
Before Mary would be told by an angel about her destiny as the mother of the Lord, an angel visited her cousin’s husband who was a priest in the temple at Jerusalem. The angel told the man, Zacharias, that his wife Elisabeth would conceive a child whom they should name John, and that their son would be a forerunner in bringing people to the Lord their God. Elisabeth, though advanced in age and unable to have children all her life, would indeed conceive and bear a child, who would become John the Baptist, the prophet who prepared the way for the coming of the Savior (Luke 1:5-25, 57-63).

There seems to be but little known of Elisabeth’s cousin, Mary, the mother of Jesus, except that she was a descendant of David living in the town of Nazareth, and espoused to a man named Joseph. Of importance, the scripture tells us, is that she was virtuous and pure, and had not known a man. When the angel named Gabriel appeared to her, he told her she was highly favored of the Lord; he informed Mary that for that reason, she would be overcome by the Holy Ghost and “conceive in [her] womb, and bring forth a son, and … call his name JESUS,” all while retaining her perfect virtue (Luke 1:26-38). This unique circumstance was the sign and the miracle of the coming of the Son of God into the world as foretold by prophets.

Elder James E. Talmage, a Latter-day apostle of Jesus Christ, explained in beautiful and understandable terms how such a conception could have taken place between an immortal Being, God the Father, and a mortal woman of Galilee:

          “That Child to be born of Mary was begotten of Elohim, the Eternal Father, not in violation of natural law but in accordance with a higher manifestation thereof.”
          ~ Elder James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ (1981), 81 (emphasis added).

God, the Eternal Father is the literal parent of Jesus, just as much as Mary was; but the woman’s conception took place without stripping Mary of her virginity. Therefore, Mary remained a pure and chosen vessel for bringing forth the Son of the Everlasting God, while also keeping her commitment of espousal to Joseph.

The errand of angels was still not over in announcing the good news; Mary returned after a three-month visit to her cousin Elisabeth’s home, heavy with child. Her fiancĂ©, Joseph, was worried about their engagement under the new and embarrassing circumstances, and desired to put an end to their marriage commitment—until he, too, was visited by an angel. In a dream of the night an angel spoke to him:

          “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.”
          ~ (Matthew 1:20-21)

Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph in the most
humble of circumstances.
Finally, as the birth of her first Son drew near, Mary made her way with Joseph from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem to be counted in a census ordered by Caesar. While there, Mary and Joseph were forced to spend the night in a stable because they could not find a room at any inn. It was there, in the humblest of circumstances that Mary labored and gave birth to the Savior Jesus. While uneventful to the rest of the quiet world, angels would again hail the happening among others who were themselves of humble means:

"Glad Tidings of Great Joy"
by Walter Rane

Copyright © Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
          “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.” 
          ~ (Luke 2:8-14)

The Messiah had come! The Savior was born! Lying in a box where feed was kept for animals, and tightly-wrapped in strips of cloth known as swaddling clothes, the Only Begotten Son of God, had come down from His throne on high to live amongst men and to fulfill the plan of His exalted Father. From the simplest and humblest of beginnings, the babe of Bethlehem would pass through pain, suffering, and death to rise to the status of King of Kings and Lord or Lords.


Truth #5:  Jesus Christ was sent to redeem the world from sin by sacrificing His own life.



Once again from the poetic verse of Isaiah, written hundreds of years before Christ, the mission of the Promised Messiah was beautifully told:

          “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
          “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
          “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”
          ~ (Isaiah 53:3-5)

After His resurrection, Jesus Christ ministered for forty days in His glorified form among His friends and disciples in the Holy Land. After the Lord had ascended into heaven, His apostles continued to testify of the Savior’s glorious triumph over sin and death. They did this by recording their experiences with the Savior of the World, and by sharing the message of the gospel with the others. 

Matthew the Apostle records Jesus’ institution of the sacrament, a lasting act performed in remembrance of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, which, at the time Jesus gave the instruction, was only hours away:

          “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.
          “And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it;
          “For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”
          ~ (Matthew 26:26-28)


"In Remembrance of Me" by Walter Rane
Copyright © Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

The resilient apostle and missionary Paul dedicated his life to preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world after experiencing a miraculous reprimand from the risen Lord Himself. Later, in one of his epistles to the people of Corinth, Paul testified of the crucial truth of the divinity of Jesus the Redeemer, the first basic witness that Paul had also received:

          “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
          “And that he was buried, and that he arose again the third day according to the scriptures.
          ~ (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

In his last written record, John the Revelator’s most important final witness was of Jesus Christ, “him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,” (Revelation 1:5), and that the Lord would come again to reign on earth.

The risen Christ Himself also bore witness of His foreordained role in His Father’s plan, and of the purposes He accomplished in the flesh through His atonement and resurrection from the dead. Gathered with His other sheep in the ancient America’s, Jesus said:

Jesus visited the ancient inhabitants of the New
World and organized His Church.
          “Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you—that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me. 
          “And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil— 
          “And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works.” 
          ~ (3 Nephi 27:13-15)

And in modern revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith, Jesus Christ has testified numerous times of His suffering for mankind, which, the Lord says, caused even He, “the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink.” But the glory goes to the Father, says Jesus, that the Son faithfully completed His task and brought redemption to the children of men (Doctrine & Covenants 19:18-19).

~

Jesus Christ is my peace in a
turbulent world.
I testify solemnly that these five truths of Christmas are indeed a reality. These simple truths have profound meaning to the inhabitants of the earth in all places, and in all periods of time; my knowledge and belief in them has blessed my life beyond measure. These truths are the fountain of my joy through every life experience. They are the roots of the character I strive to live by. They are a solid foundation for my perspective of the past, my faith for daily living, and my hope for the future. That fountain is endless in its abundance of mercy and peace. Those roots are strong in their resolve to be an example of the love of God. And upon that foundation, which is Jesus Christ, I know I cannot fall.

I add my own witness to those of prophets, apostles, angels, shepherds, and wise men: A Messiah was promised. A Savior was born. The Son of God did live on the earth. Jesus Christ gave His life for all mankind. The Redeemer of the world broke the bonds of death to live again. The Master still lives today; He loves us all individually and personally, and His arms are outstretched to receive us.

I testify to all who receive my words that the true and most important gifts of Christmas were given long ago: The Father gave His Son, and the Son gave His life, that all may come unto Them and be saved. I pray that broken hearts, contrite spirits, and willing minds can be our gifts to our Heavenly Father and our Savior not just at Christmastime, but always.


May the most important gift we give during Christmas be our
dedication to follow the Savior of the World, Jesus Christ.

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