בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לזְּמַן הַזֶּה.

Bārūch atāh Adonai Elohênū melekh ha`ôlām šeheḥeyānû veqîmānû vehigî`ānû lazman hazeh

Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, king of the universe, who hast given us life and sustained us and brought us to this season

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve

The white “Christ candle” is traditionally lit on Christmas Eve, symbolizing that the True Light has come into the world to usher in the new covenant prophesied by Jeremiah 31:31–34.  The Lord himself referred to this covenant at the Last Supper when he said that the sacrament represented his “blood of the new testament, which is shed for many” (Mark 14:24).  He thus made possible the blessings and promises of the“new and everlasting covenant” mentioned throughout latter-day revelation, whereby we are promised all that God has if we have faith in Christ and make sacred covenants of our own in his name.
“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people . . . for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31–34, emphases added)
In our family, the lighting of this candle is the culmination of our Christmas Eve activities. After a special dinner and the production of our annual Nativity play, written by our children themselves and based as much on tradition and scripture videos as upon the biblical texts, we light all five candles and have a more serious final Christmas reflection. After reading the words of Jesus in 3 Nephi 1:13–14, we then read the familiar Christmas story from Luke 2:1–14 and sing “Silent Night” together.
. . . And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. 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.
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 2:1–14)


One of the highlights of our lives was the Christmas Eve that we spent at Bethlehem during my year teaching at the BYU Jerusalem Center (click here to see our blog entry of that experience). 

With my family in front of the Basilica of the Nativity, 2011




On an open hillside with Bethlehem in the background, a site reminiscent of the original "Shepherds Field"


But wherever we are, and at any time of the year, we can celebrate the birth of our King best by giving our lives and hearts to him.  The lyrics of the Catalonian carol "What Shall We Give to the Babe in the Manger" beautifully review the nativity of our Lord but also point us forward to his life, death, and resurrection. Likewise, the words of the much-loved sacrament hymn, "Jesus, Once of Humble Birth," both recall the birth of the Son of God in a stable and point our minds forward to his glorious Second Coming, an important message of the Advent season.
"What shall we give to the Babe in the manger, what shall we offer the child in the stall? Incense and spices and gold we’ve got plenty, are these the gifts for the King of us all?

"What shall we give to the boy in the temple, what shall we offer the Man by the sea? Palms at his feet and hosannas uprising, are gifts for Him who will carry the Tree.

"What shall we give to the Lamb who was offered, rising the third day and shedding His love? Tears for his mercy we’ll weep at the manger, bathing the infant come down from above."
"What Shall We Give to the Babe in the Manger?"
Traditional Catalonian Carol, arr. Mack Wilberg (from A Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas)






A new and sweetly stirring tradition that Elaine and I added to our final Advent celebration this past year was to end it with the singing of the sacrament hymn “Jesus, Once of Humble Birth.” Its words by LDS apostle Parley P. Pratt (1807–1857) are set to a tune adapted from Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791–1864). As Karen Davidson observes in her study of LDS hymns, “This hymn is a triumphant meditation on the paradoxes of the Savior’s life and ministry . . . on the one hand are the poverty, pain, and submissiveness of the Savior’s life; on the other hand are his sovereignty and power, the miracles of his atonement and resurrection” (Davidson, Our Latter-day Hymns, 196).
Jesus, once of humble birth,
Now in glory comes to earth.
Once he suffered grief and pain;
Now he comes on earth to reign.
Now he comes on earth to reign.

Once a meek and lowly Lamb,
Now the Lord, the great I Am.
Once upon the cross he bowed;
Now his chariot is the cloud.
Now his chariot is the cloud.
Once he groaned in blood and tears;
Now in glory he appears.
Once rejected by his own,
Now their King he shall be known.
Now their King he shall be known.

Once forsaken, left alone,
Now exalted to a throne.
Once all things he meekly bore,
But he now will bear no more.
But he now will bear no more.
Even as we joyfully celebrate the birth of our King, we should keep in mind why he was born into this world.  As I wrote in God So Loved the World, "Rejoice in the sublime truth that God so loved the world that he sent his Only Begotten Son---as a gift at his birth, a sacrifice at his death, and a source of hope at his resurrection."

Pivotal for over a decade to my celebration of both Christmas and Easter are these inspired words of the late President Hinckley:
Titian, "Crucifixion"
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.”

                    President Gordon B. Hinckley
                    “The Wondrous and True Story of Christmas,” Ensign, Dec. 2000, 2

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Fourth Advent: Peace

All three purple and the one pink candle lit
The Babe of Bethlehem, who came as the True King of Israel, stood in marked contrast to Herod the Great, the technical "King of the Jews" at the time.  Jesus was, as Isaiah prophesied, above all a "Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6).  However, the peace that Jesus brings to our lives is more often internal and spiritual than it is external and temporal.

While the prophesies of Isaiah describe an era of world peace that Christ will establish in the Millennium with his Second Advent, the joyful message of both Christmas and Easter is that we can have peace in this life now, regardless of the earthly circumstances in which we may find ourselves.  War, terrorism, crime, and social injustice and violence may destroy outward peace, and the loss of loved ones, grief, disappointments, faded faith, and a host of worries can crumble our inner peace.  But through Jesus Christ, we can be reconciled to God, having peace of conscience and the quiet, strengthening support of his spirit in times of trouble and heartache.  Then, once we are at peace with God, we can work, heart by heart, at being at peace with those around us.

In the New Testament, Paul describes "the peace of God, which passeth all understanding" (Philippians 4:7), and in the Doctrine and Covenants we are promised that we can have "peace in this world" as well as "eternal life in the world to come" (D&C 59:23).  Accordingly, on the last Sunday of Advent, which is the last Sunday before Christmas itself, we celebrate the peace that the birth of Jesus promised and the Atonement of Christ accomplished.


The Promised Advent
  •  "And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:  And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD;  And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears:  But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth . . ." (Isaiah 11:1–4, emphasis added)
  • "And behold, I say unto you, this is not all. For O how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that is the founder of peace, yea, even the Lord, who has redeemed his people; yea, him who has granted salvation unto his people; For were it not for the redemption which he hath made for his people, which was prepared from the foundation of the world, I say unto you, were it not for this, all mankind must have perished. But behold, the bands of death shall be broken, and the Son reigneth, and hath power over the dead; therefore, he bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead." (Mosiah 15:18–20, emphasis added)

On the Eve of His Coming: The Annunciation to Joseph


The Church of St. Joseph in Nazareth
Although it is not known exactly when the angel came to Joseph, the fact that it happened after Mary "was found with child" places it securely after Gabriel's annunciation to Mary and probably after she returned from her visitation to Elisabeth, when her pregnancy would have been obvious.

One can only imagine the emotional turmoil that Joseph felt as he struggled with the knowledge that his fiancee was pregnant.  The angel's message no doubt brought peace to this good man, who had already shown that he was eager to do the right thing by Mary and the child.
When as . . . 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.
With Elaine and Samuel in front of the Holy Family
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 . . . (Matthew 1:18–25)
Click here to watch a video of me giving a tour and describing both the annunciation sites in Nazareth.


Joseph and Jesus, Our Children and Us (from God So Loved the World, 34)


Guido Reni, "Saint Joseph with the Infant Jesus" (Wikimedia Commons)
            The story of how Joseph the Carpenter accepted, protected, raised, and no doubt loved a precious child who was not his own is one that stirs the heart.  In many traditions, his goodness and faithful discharge of his special mission has earned him the title Saint Joseph, and he is honored together with Mary and the Baby Jesus as part of a Holy Family.  After the Infancy Narratives of Matthew and Luke and the brief story of the boy Jesus in the temple, Joseph is never heard of again.  Passing references to Jesus’ supposed father (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3; John 6:42) together with his absence otherwise later in the Gospels seem to suggest that he was no longer alive when the adult Jesus began his public ministry.  We are left instead with the impression of a very good man, the loving husband of a special woman and the guardian of a precious child.

            Those who have adopted or fostered the children of others may identify particularly with Joseph.  But those of us who have biological children of our own or even those who have not yet been blessed with any children can still learn a dear lesson from the example of Joseph.  In a real sense, none of our children are our own.  Priceless spirit children of heavenly Parents, all children on this earth are only here on loan from a loving God who trusts all of us—parents, grandparents, family, friends, and even strangers—to protect, care for, teach, and love them.
            Occasionally on Christmas Eve I give each member of my family a card depicting Mary with Jesus or Joseph with Jesus.  We each take some time to write on the back of it some gift that we will give the Savior that coming year. Without fail, looking at an artistic depiction of Joseph fills me with a great sense of duty and gratitude.  Looking at the image of Mary underscores for me that Elaine is not just my wife; she is herself a daughter of God.  Thinking of how I hope some man will one day treat my own daughter, Rachel, I realize how my Father in Heaven wants me to treat Elaine. In other words, God is not just my Heavenly Father; he is, in a sense, also my father-in-law!  And as I look at my own precious children, I feel, like Joseph, that I have been entrusted with a great treasure.  Recognizing that Joseph was a strong, responsible, and loving man who sought and received revelation to care for his family, I am inspired to emulate those qualities.  In those moments, the gift I hope to give my Lord that year is to be more like Joseph the Carpenter.
See also Peggy Fletcher Stack, "Joseph's Example an Inspiration for Stepfathers Everywhere," Salt Lake Tribune 12/21/13.


 
The Peace that Christ Brings
  • "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." (John 14:27)

  • "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:  By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God."  (Romans 5:12, emphasis added)
  • "Be careful for nothing (alt., "do not worry or be anxious about anything"); but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.  And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."  (Philippians 4:67, emphasis added) 
  • " . . . the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ . . ." (Mosiah 4:3, emphasis added)
  • "Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me." (D&C 19:23, emphasis added)

Looking Forward to Christ's Second Advent  
  • "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.  And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.  And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice' den.  They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.  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."  (Isaiah 11:6–10, emphases added)
  • "And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.  And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away."  (Revelation 21:2-4, emphasis added) 
The traditional Anglican collect for Fourth Advent from the Book of Common Prayer reads: 
Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that thy Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Music for Advent

A fitting carol for the last Sunday of Advent is “It Came upon the Midnight Clear,” the last verse of which speaks of the time “when the new heaven and earth shall own the Prince of Peace their king.”
It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth
To touch their harps of gold:
"Peace on the earth, good will to men
From heav'n's all-gracious King."
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing.

Still thru the cloven skies they come
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heav'nly music floats
O'er all the weary world.
Above its sad and lowly plains
They bend on hov'ring wing,
And ever o'er its babel sounds
The blessed angels sing.

For lo! the days are hast'ning on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold,
When the new heav'n and earth shall own
The Prince of Peace their King,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.


As part of our recognizing and honoring Joseph, I love the song, "Joseph Dearest, Joseph Mine."  In Good Tidings of Great Joy, 36, I wrote: “One of the most popular Christmas songs in Germany, this tune has been sung to two different texts, Resonet in laudibus, the earliest copy of which dates to between 1355 and 1360, and Joseph, Lieber Joseph Mein, which may be as old as 1400.  Frequently sung after the Reformation in Lutheran communion services on Christmas Eve, it was also sung at weddings because the loving relationship between Joseph and Mary seemed to typify the ideal Christian marriage.  In harmony with Matthew’s focus on the figure of Joseph the Carpenter, the role the lyrics paint for Joseph is a fitting tribute to the man chosen to be the protector of the Son of God.”




As we quickly approach Christmas Eve, I am always stirred by one of the oldest Christmas texts, Corde natus ex parentis or “Of the Father’s Heart Begotten” written by Aurelius Prudentius c. 348–413. Best known for its setting to the Medieval chant “Divinum Mysterium,” J. M. Neale’s English rendition is deeply moving and catches the mystery of the Incarnation.


Of the Father’s love begotten
ere the worlds began to be,
he is Alpha and Omega —
he the source, the ending he,
of the things that are, that have been,
and that future years shall see
evermore and evermore.
  
O that birth forever blessed,
when a virgin, blest with grace,
by the Holy Ghost conceiving,
bore the Savior of our race;
and the babe, the world’s Redeemer,
first revealed his sacred face,
evermore and evermore. 

This is he whom seers in old time
chanted of with one accord,
whom the voices of the prophets
promised in their faithful word;
now he shines, the long-expected;
let creation praise its Lord
evermore and evermore.

Let the heights of heaven adore him;
angel hosts, his praises sing:
powers, dominions, bow before him
and extol our God and King;
let no tongue on earth be silent,
every voice in concert ring
evermore and evermore.

Christ, to you, with God the Father
and the Spirit, there shall be
hymn and chant and high thanksgiving
and the shout of jubilee:
honor, glory, and dominion
and eternal victory
evermore and evermore.