So some years ago we started the tradition of gathering in the living room for family prayer before going downstairs. Once more we light the candles of our Advent wreath in turn, remembering the Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace that Christ brings, then lighting again the central white Christ Candle.
Having gathered early in the magical semidarkness of a living room lit only by Christmas lights and candles, we kneel together and thank God for the great gift of his Son, and then thank him for the bounty that allows us to give and receive the gifts that we are about to share. Only then do we descend into the family room to see what Santa has brought the children, returning later to sit by the Christmas tree in the living room to open our gifts to each other.
For us, then, the central white Christ Candle serves as the focus of our Advent preparations and the culmination of our Christmas celebrations. The fact that Advent also looks forward to Jesus’ second coming has also led to our using this candle to think about the day when he will again be present with his people. But the great joy of both the Christmas and Easter message is that Jesus Christ can always be present in our lives if we open our hearts to him. Indeed, in some traditions, this candle sometimes represents the Advent theme of Presence, meaning that the promised Messiah has at last arrived and is present with his people.
However, given the emphasis of Book of Mormon Christmas passages on the salvation that Jesus’ birth and death and resurrection make possible, I have begun to consider this candle as representing a new fifth Advent theme, Salvation. In the biblical stories as well, the angel of the Lord told Joseph that he should call the baby “Jesus,” or Yēšûa`, because “he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21b), and the canticles of Mary, Zacharias, and Simeon likewise included expressions of joy over the coming salvation (see Luke 1:69, 77; 2:30).
Salvation: The Reason the Word Was Made Flesh
- “This is the day that the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. Save now, I beseech thee [Hebrew, hosanna], O Lord . . . Thou art my God, and I will praise thee: thou art my God, I will exalt thee. O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever” (Psalms 118:24–25a, 28–29, emphases added).
- “And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light unto the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6, emphasis added).
- “And moreover, I say unto you, that there shall be no other name given nor any other means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent” (Mosiah 3:17, emphasis added)
- “ . . . that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal. And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance” (Alma 34:14b–15, emphasis added).
- “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the flory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth” (John 1:14)
O God, thou hast made us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of thy Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we, who joyfully receive him as our Redeemer, may with sure confidence behold him when he comes to be our Judge; who lives and reigns with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Praising God for Salvation
|The faces of the men of the Mormon Tabernacle
Choir exude the joy of the season |
as they sing the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah
Messiah is divided into three parts, only the first of which treats the promised birth of Jesus. The work as a whole was originally performed during Lent, the preparatory period leading up to Easter. However, it has become traditional to perform the first part, together with the “Hallelujah” chorus from the second part, during Advent, making it an important musical fixture of the Christmas season.
When we remember that halleluyah is Hebrew for “praise YHWH” or Jehovah, it is a wonderful way to thank the Lord for the salvation that he has brought us.
A couple of years ago we decided to add a final Christmas devotional at the end of December 25, which is, after all, the First Day of Christmas, with eleven more leading up to the end of the Christmas season with Epiphany on January 6 (see below).
The idea of a devotional to draw together all of the strings from the preparation of Advent, the joy of Christmas Eve, and the magic of Christmas morning when I stumbled upon a short essay by Max Lucado called "Christmas Night," the beginning and end of which read as follows:
It’s Christmas night. The house is quiet. Even the crackle is gone from the fireplace. Warm coals issue a lighthouse glow in the darkened den. Stockings hang empty on the mantle. The tree stands naked in the corner. Christmas cards, tinsel, and memories remind Christmas night of Christmas Day. . . .
. . . It’s Christmas night. In a few hours the cleanup will begin—lights will come down, trees will be thrown out. Size thirty-six will be exchanged for size forty, eggnog will be on sale for half price. Soon life will be normal again. December’s generosity will become January’s payments, and the magic will begin to fade.
But for the moment, the magic is still in the air. Maybe that’s why I’m still awake. I want to savor the spirit just a bit more. I want to pray that those who beheld Him today will look for Him next August. And I can’t help but linger on one fanciful thought: if He can do so much with such timid prayers offered in December, how much more could He do if we thought of Him every day?
For the complete story "Christmas Night" click here. I highly recommend it, either for solo reading or together with family and friends. Our newest Christmas tradition is to gather around our Advent wreath one last time, light the candles, read the story and then read the response of the shepherds to their having found the Christ Child:
“And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.” (Luke 2:17–20)
We then sing "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" and offer a prayer of gratitude for this wonderful season.
Christmas Is a Season
(Extracted and adapted from "Remembering Christmas," Good Tidings of Great Joy, 135–36)
If I am not careful, a certain melancholy is likely to settle over me late each Christmas afternoon, perhaps that evening. All the preparation for the season, spiritual and otherwise, comes to a climax Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. Then when the gifts are all opened, or perhaps later when the Christmas meal is at last finished, the celebration is all over, and the joy of Christmas can be replaced by a certain sadness. Yet, when this occurs, it is clear to me that my studying, reading, singing, and devotions in advance of Christmas may not have been enough. My efforts to make Christmas a more religious and spiritual occasion have not been successful if giving and receiving gifts, having fun, and eating reveal themselves to have still been the real focus of my season.
As President Monson has observed, if we want the Christmas spirit to last for more than one day, we must seek Christ, find him, and then daily follow him. To have the spirit of this special season with us always, we need to do more than celebrate Christmas; we need to remember what it means every day.
Traditionally, Christmas was a season, not a single day. Rather than being some kind of countdown to the big day, the customary Twelve Days were a celebration that began with Christmas and stretched to the eve of Epiphany on January 6. In recent years we have tried to recapture some of that concept of a season of celebration rather than just a day. While we still take down our tree and many of our decorations on New Year’s Day, perhaps out of convenience as much as anything, we have started leaving our Christmas lights on until January 5, the night our family reads the story of the coming of the Wise Men from Matthew 2. And rather than abruptly ending our December pattern of reading and singing together each evening, we now try to read some of the other stories that follow the birth and the adoration of the shepherds, such as the Presentation in the Temple and then the story of Jesus as a boy, later teaching in that same temple (Luke 2:41–52).
For Christians, every day should be Christmas as each new day presents again to us God's great gift of salvation in his Son Christ Jesus. May we be like Mary as we seek to magnify the Lord by helping to bring, each day, Jesus more fully into the world through our testimony and service.
Look for a final essay, "Christmas throughout the Year" as well as two final holiday posts on Epiphany and the Presentation ("Candlemas," in the Anglican tradition).