Monday, 24 December 2012

If Christ Came at Christmas

Christmas. Whatever its pagan roots might have been, there is no doubting that there was a good and grand design in the creation of this Holy Day. It guaranteed that even the most decided atheist or rebellious sinner is reminded, once a year, of that name, Christ. And with that name the idea that in the darkest, coldest hours there is hope, love and assurance. He waits for them to reach out to Him.

For those of us who seek to always remember Christ, this season is more than a party. We come to this chapel each week to witness to our Heavenly Father not just our yearly remembrance of him, but our weekly, daily, hourly remembering of Him. We know of His sacrifice, what he accomplished, not just in this earth life, but in the pre-earth life and after his death.

In the words of Neal A. Maxwell, we know that He is,

"utterly incomparable in what He knows, what He has accomplished, and what He has experienced. Yet movingly He calls us His friends." That, "we can trust, worship and even adore him without any reservation! As the Perfect Person to sojourn on this Planet, there is  none like Him!"

For us, His disciples, Christmas is a time for us to remember the redeeming love we have felt and ask the question that Alma, the Book of Mormon prophet asked,

"if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?"

Can I feel so now? How do I lift Christmas above the regular daily, weekly, monthly worship?  Where do we find Christ at Christmas?

An interesting question; "where would I find Christ at Christmas?" If I were to answer that question literally, what would be the answer? If Christ came to our City of Preston this Christmas, where would he go? what would he do?

In preparation for this talk I decided to read through the Gospels once again to see if I could find clues to how He would plan His time when all the world celebrated His own birth.

The following are some of my suggestions of what Jesus’ schedule might include, providing scriptural reasons for my choices.

In 3 Nephi 11 Christ began His visit to the people of the Americas at the Temple in Bountiful. The people there did not know he was coming. But they were in the right place at the right time and as a result were blessed to hear the Father's voice from Heaven proclaiming His Son,

"Behold, My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name - hear ye Him!"
And Christ would speak, saying as he did then,

"Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world. And behold, I am the alight and the life of the world; and I have drunk out of that bitter bcup which the Father hath given me, and have glorified the Father in taking upon me the sins of the world, in the which I have suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning."
What would have been the chances of you being at the Temple that Christmas Eve when Christ would come, unannounced, unexpected? I am sure that the spirit would have prompted us. Would we have listened?

If you were one of those present at the time he arrived you would have been there before the crowds. He would have been so completely available to you, to speak with, to touch His hands, kiss His feet and wipe away tears of joy. He would have given instruction and counsel to be taken and shared with all those who love Him, but might not have been there at that moment.

So where would I find Christ at Christmas? Firstly, at the Temple.

            The next thing I imagine Christ doing is gathering His missionaries around him. A great, endowed, spiritual power rests with the full time missionaries. It comes because of the sacrifices they have made. Not so much the sacrifice of leaving family, friends and life behind, but rather in the far greater sacrifice of a disciplined daily life. It is their commitment to daily obedience to high ideals of living, to study the gospel every day, to look first to the welfare of others before themselves and to not take in any worldly influences and distractions. Principles we could all live up to, whether serving a full time mission or not.

            Whenever modern day apostles visit a country they always ask for the missionaries to be gathered, separate from the members, for them to meet and speak to. In the Provo MYC at Christmas, one apostle and his family will visit the Missionaries there and celebrate Christmas with them. I feel sure that this is not just to strengthen the missionaries themselves, but the apostles themselves feel the inspiration of these dedicated people.

            Being with missionaries who have dedicated themselves fully to their work is an inspiring place to be. I think of the many Christmas Day’s we have had the missionaries in our home, and how much we have missed them on the years they did not come. I can truly testify that, if you want the Spirit of Christ in your home, look no further than the missionaries. Having them in your home is to invite Christ within.

            In Mark 10:13-16 we read,

            “And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them.
            But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.
            Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.
            And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.”

            With the added knowledge of how Jesus blessed the children of the ancient Americas we can have no doubt that Christ would spend time with all the children at Christmas, and He would want it to be a good, long time. Playing with them, blessing them, answering their questions, talking to them, just being with them.

            How do we bring our children to Christ at Christmas? Are they interested more in toys and games? Do we allow them, and show them how to me blessed by His love for them?

            Whilst reading the Gospels I noted how much time Jesus spent in the wilderness.  In Mark 1:35 it reads,

            “And in the morning, rising up a great while before the day, he went our and departed  into a solitary place, and there prayed.”

            Sometimes Christ took others with him as he does in chapter 6: 31, 32.

            “And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat. And they departed into a desert place by ship privately.”

            Clearly there needed to be time away from the demands and the hustle and bustle for Christ and his disciples to pray, ponder and rejuvenate themselves. In the hustle and bustle of our Christmas comings and goings, will we determine to find a solitary place to pray, to tune ourselves into the spirit and quietly ponder and remember the feeling of love for the season? Perhaps we will find Christ in such a place, in the natural world, His marvelous creation, a wilderness of our own making and discovery.

            Throughout His mortal ministry Jesus was continually among the sick and afflicted. It is interesting to note that most of the time they were brought to him by others, family and friends, to be healed. The question I now find myself asking is;

            “Who would I bring to be healed?”

            In the past four months I have worked with the mentally and physically disabled, the neglected, elderly and homeless. At times I have found myself remembering this account in Mark 9.

            And one of the multitude answered and said, Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit;

            And wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away: and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not.

            He answereth him, and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him unto me.

            And they brought him unto him: and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming.

            And he asked his father, How long is it ago since this came unto him? And he said, Of a child.

            And oft times it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us.

            Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.

            And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.

            When Jesus saw that the people came running together, he rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him.

            And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him: and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, He is dead.

            But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose.

            Perhaps this story come to mind mostly when I have spent time with those who are severely autistic as it sounds so familiar to some that I have encountered. I have realized though, as I spend time with them that this is where Jesus would be, healing these people.

            I am reminded of the man at the Pool in Bethesda being told to rise up, take his bed and walk. Of the blind receiving their sight. I have met so many who are sick, or poor, or ignorant of their true potential as sons and daughters of a loving God. People who would, I believe, if born into different circumstances would not live as they do now.

            As I ponder this question, ‘who would I bring to Christ at Christmas’, I begin remembering some of the times in the past months, experiences I have had with the people I have worked with and met.

            In a dementia unit I assisted a dear lady to get ready for bed. To help her off with her slippers I found myself kneeling at her feet and realized that I was kneeling as Christ must have done, at the feet of His disciples as he washed them. I felt a deep reverence for the lady I was helping and a great love for her as I wished her good night. Pondering that experience I have concluded that ordinary acts can become holy and meaningful simply by remembering Christ as we do them.

            Then there was the game of chess I played with a man in the homeless shelter. He didn’t smoke, drink or do drugs. He had studied art and showed me some of his beautiful work, but he was very humble about. I shared with him the idea of a pre-existence and the idea that God is literally the Father of our spirits. That we are here on this earth to become like him. I know that these thoughts have begun to take root in his heart, because he told me so the next time I saw him.

            One young lad I met in accommodation for young people at risk of homelessness. He was one of those loud, foul mouthed and violent eyed youths you walk on the other side of the road to avoid. Once he stopped swearing and blustering for a brief moment and, noticing me said, something like,

            ‘you must think I’m a right ….., always moaning and swearing whenever you are around.’ With a smile, hiding the nervousness for how he might take my response I said,


            He laughed and we ended up having a good conversation. I told him that I could see that his anger came from the frustration of feeling that life was not supposed to be like this. That he felt he was capable of great things, but life just wasn’t giving him the chance to prove it. He looked a bit stunned and didn’t say anything after that, until his mates turned up and  he yelled at them about 'being careful of that woman, she can see right through you'. He turned out to be a polite and pleasant young man.

            Just this past week I went carol singing with friends in Preston town centre. I can’t say that I know we brought anyone closer to Christ. However it ended up that we didn’t want to leave, didn’t want to stop singing, though our voices were dying and it was cold and wet.  We didn’t want to leave because we had caught a hold of a feeling we didn’t want to let go of. The spirit of Christ.

            We need to bring people to Christ, but the success of our efforts is not always the most important outcome. The most interesting thing about at least making the attempt is that you end up bringing yourself to Christ.

            In Matthew 25 Jesus taught,

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:

And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:

And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

            Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

            When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

            Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

            And the King shall answer and say unto them, 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.

            It has been odd, growing older with no family of my own, while my younger brothers and sisters have married and now have their own families. I am both part of them and not, which has often meant feeling displaced at Christmas, and the season has actually lost a lot of its excitement.

            However, two Christmas’ ago I decided to be part of a charitable opportunity in London which happens every year, called ‘Crisis at Christmas’. For about ten days over the Christmas season, four centers around London take in the homeless, or those that were once, or who are lonely, and invite them to have good food, new clothes, to get washed and cleaned, a hair cut, to see the dentist and doctor, mix with volunteers, listen to live music and actually celebrate Christmas. I took part and did an afternoon shift on Christmas day.

            I can’t say that I did anything particularly brilliant or had any grand emotional experience. I had a few interesting conversations with people who had once been homeless. But I did discover a new ‘Christmassy feeling’.

            This feeling was nothing like the childish excitement I remember feeling and believe a lot of adults long to return to and try to relive through their children and grand children. It was a very quiet and feeling I had to ponder on for a while before I could realize what it was.

            I am sure you have felt that feeling of anti-climax and the end of Christmas Day. So many people have told me they prefer Christmas Eve because of the anticipation that comes with it, rather that the feeling of ‘well that’s another Christmas done with’ that comes at the end of Christmas Day.

            The feeling I had at the end of that Christmas was the complete absence of anticlimax, replaced with a sense of satisfaction, wholeness and completeness. It wasn’t a strong, overwhelming, emotional feeling. In fact I could have missed it. It felt good, I felt satisfied.

            So what is my conclusion?

            If you have found yourself less excited about Christmas than you would like to be, maybe you need to consider changing the way you celebrate it. Maybe only in small ways, maybe in large sacrifices. But examing how we celebrate Christmas may well lead us to examine how we can better live our lives as true disciples of Christ. It may mean judging others less, having Christ in our thoughts more, or spending less time with good things and more with the very best of things.

            I know that for myself, the words in Matthew are true. As I have begun to seek to serve more, rather than to indulge my appetites, I have discovered myself closer to Christ, walking beside Him, with more of His comfort in my heart.

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