22 December 2011

The Birth of Jesus

Talk given in Sacrament Meeting - 18 December 2011

The Christmas story, the story of Jesus’ birth has been told and retold for centuries in venues ranging from great Gothic Cathedrals to tiny log cabins to fox holes at the battlefront.  Millions are likely more familiar with this story than they are with the circumstances and details of their own birth.  Jesus’ nativity is the story of obedience, service, peace and hope.   

“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; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.”

The word taxed in the King James Bible can be translated also as counted, or numbered. It was a census being taken and everyone went to the city of their ancestral home.  When the Israelites entered the promised land it was divided among the tribes with the area of Bethlehem, already an old city, being given to the tribe of Judah. Joseph and Mary traveled south to be counted among the descendents of the tribe of Judah.

Having given birth five times, myself, I can imagine what a journey that must have been; and then arriving to find the city thronged with the returning families that had scattered over the years. Perhaps the journey took longer than anticipated because of frequents stops for rests. Whatever the reasons, it wasn’t too long after arrival that the birth of Mary’s child was imminent.

 “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.”   (Luke 2:1, 3-7)

The scriptures are silent as to who attended Mary as she labored and delivered this special baby. Perhaps Joseph sent for a midwife, perhaps a relation, Aunt or cousin, was there. Perhaps there were angels unseen, but ministering and comforting a young wife far from home giving birth to the Savior of the world in humble circumstances.

We do know what happens after Jesus is born.
“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)

“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.”  (Luke 2: 15-17)

The Shepherds didn’t procrastinate after hearing about the Savior’s birth. They didn’t call for a meeting and put it on the calendar. They went “with haste” to the manger where the baby lay.  After they saw for themselves, they left the stable bursting with good news, telling everyone they could about the wondrous babe in the manger.

Is there a message for us here?  We can’t be satisfied merely to hear about Jesus.  We must seek him ourselves.  Searching for him “with haste” and then when we have found him; telling others, sharing the precious gift of God, just as the shepherds of old did. Finding the Savior should change our lives. Having faith in him should change our lives. Obeying him will change our life. Following him will change our life. Sharing him will change others.

The story doesn’t end there though. The Lord taught Nephi saying “Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men,. . .and that I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea even upon all the nations of the earth?” (1 Nephi 29:7)

Matthew records what happened next in Jesus’ story.

“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?

“And they said unto [them] 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.’  

“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.”  (Matthew 2:1-2, 5-6, 9-11)

The scriptures don’t give us the identity of the wise men from the east; but I believe they could have been prophets from the eastern lands to whom the Lord revealed the signs of his coming. They recognized the signs when given and journeyed westward to Bethlehem to offer their gifts to the newborn King.

We can offer gifts to Christ also.  He said “And ye shall offer . . . unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit . . . Therefore, whoso repenteth and cometh unto me as a little child, him will I receive, for of such is the kingdom of God.” (3 Nephi 9:20, 22)  “For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.” (Mark 3:35) “Therefore let your light so shine before this people, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (3 Nephi 12:16)  “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40) 

Why is celebrating Christmas so important? Christmas celebrates the beginning of the mortal life of the One who would grow up to accomplish the mission of the Great Atoning Sacrifice.  Jesus is our Brother, our Spiritual Father, our Exemplar, our Healer, our Lord and Savior.  We celebrate his mortal birth in gratitude for his condescension and mercy in coming to save us from the bonds of death and sin.

Is there a right way to celebrate his birth? Christmas can be anything that leads us to Him, to obey Him, to serve Him, to share Him with others.  When we look beneath the trappings of commerciality we can find the core of love and service that motivates our celebration.  Then we will exclaim with the Psalmist “I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.  My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the Lord.” (Psalms 104:33-34)

I testify that he lives; he guides his church through a living prophet today; and his Atonement is infinite and eternal, which means for each of us.

May you have a peaceful and joyous Christmas with loved ones.