Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas talk 2013

What, nobody is going to volunteer as tribute?  Well, please consider this talk your first gift this Christmas!  You’re welcome!

What wonderful music and talks we have enjoyed so far.  Christmas truly is a magical season.  It amplifies our reverence towards our Savior, and reminds us of God’s great gift to us, providing for us a way to be saved and returned to His presence.

You know, it’s funny.  I thought with the recent emphasis on missionary work, I’d consult my mission journals for some inspiration.  I am so disappointed in myself.  I did discover one gem, though.  A bit of a Christmas miracle.  Is it tacky to quote yourself?  Oh well, here we go.  “Last night we went to a Christmas party.  Brazilian Christmas is different.  They have a huge dinner Christmas Eve, sometime around 11 at night.  There’s not a lot of things better than a Brazilian Churraso.  The bad part was it didn’t get over until 1:00 am.  We left the house, walked to the bus stop and realized – no more buses until morning.  However, just then a bus passed and stopped for us.  He wasn’t supposed to be picking up passengers – he was done and heading home.  But, he stopped, drove us to our doorstep and did it all free of charge.  A little bit of a Christmas miracle.”

Christmas has many lessons to teach us, but they are simple and pure.  I’m not going to stand here today and unleash some groundbreaking doctrine about Christmas.  Have you ever contrasted the birth of Jesus with that of earthly royalty?  Think of the pageantry, the extravagant nature of things when a new child is born into a royal family.  The press coverage, the non-stop attention given to the event.  Now think on the birth of Jesus.  He could not have come into more humble circumstances.  There was no ceremony, no processions, just a very humble manger, surrounded by humble people.  I think we sometimes lose sight of this in our own Christmas traditions and celebrations.  Maybe we could all set aside a few moments and just enjoy the simple nature of Christmas this season.  Read the scriptures together, sing some carols, even watch one of the films the church provides, and just reflect upon the simple, humble, reverent aspects of the holiday season.  One year one of my brothers in law decided we should do a reading from the scriptures to help teach the true meaning of Christmas to some our nephews that have never set foot in a church.  Was it a blazing success?  I’d say kind of.  I’m glad he made the effort, and I’m grateful it taught all of us the value of patience.  And I’d say we learned we should have started sooner and done it each year.

When I think of my own fondest Christmas memories, I’m so grateful for them.  They aren’t about presents, but instead focus on people and service.  I recall being invited to perform in a Brass quartet for a Christmas festival up in Morgan.  It was outdoors at night, and it was so cold the valves on my baritone would freeze shut.  I must have used a quart of valve oil to keep that bad boy purring along.  But I also recall the beauty of the event, and the spirit that was there.  Honestly, we sounded really good, and the Christmas hymns and carols resonated throughout the scene.  There was a live nativity portrayal, and something about it all was just magical.  I don’t think it’s any wonder or miracle that Christmas events can so easily take on a reverent, spiritual nature.

Build memories with your families.  Now that my Mother is no longer with us, I’m thankful to be able to remember Christmas time with her.  I can remember we always had this worn out fake Christmas tree, and she decided we needed some pine scents in the air.  She asked me to trim some of the evergreen shrubs from out in front of the house.  We then took those clippings and lined them along the top of the window valances, then placed various Christmas decorations in them.  I’m not sure Dad was 100 percent appreciative of my winter pruning job, but the shrubs lived, Mom had per pine scent and I was convinced there were pine shrubs in Bethlehem for a bit.

My Grandpa would go crazy with Christmas decorations in his yard.  I do wish I had a picture of it.  It was seriously a yard of signs, figures, lights and other Christmas items.  No real order to the thing, just utter chaos.  It was pure genius!  But his real Christmas thing was if it snowed on Christmas eve or Christmas morning, which it often did up in Morgan.  You could count on the old Allis Chalmers tractor firing up and plowing every road, driveway and parking lot in sight.  No cab on that tractor, just a seat up there in the open.  But that man would plow until everyone could get out and enjoy Christmas with others.  And when his health failed, my Dad took over plowing duties.  Neither man was much of a church goer, but I knew by their service that they place special importance on the Christmas holiday.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t work some Dr. Seuss in to this talk.  You know, if you really listen to the words, I think he was really onto something.  “And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”  I spent two Christmas seasons in Brazil, with people that had little to nothing.  But they still celebrated the holiday, without presents or any fancy decorations or events.

Charles Dickens taught another way we can help see Christmas correctly.  He wrote “For it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.”

The songs we sing have lessons to teach us as well.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel.  Isaiah taught “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman* is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”.  This prophecy was fulfiled as indicated by Matthew “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
   and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’”

Far, Far Away on Judea’s Plains.  An interesting side note, this is one of the few LDS hymns to be embraced by the broader Christian community.  It was written in 1869 for a Christmas program in our own St. George.  I’d share more, but Elder Rasband kind of stole my thunder with his Christmas message.  He did a great job, so if you are curious to learn more, watch this years Christmas devotional.

Now, one of my favorite Christmas songs is I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.  I love the version by the Christian rock group Casting Crowns.  If you haven’t heard it, you should.  It really seems to convey the thoughts and emotions of Longfellow, the author of the poem on which the song is based.  The song tells of the narrator's despair, upon hearing Christmas bells, that "hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men". The carol concludes with the bells carrying renewed hope for peace among mankind.  During the American Civil War, Longfellow's oldest son joined the Union cause as a soldier without his father's blessing. Longfellow was informed by a letter dated March 14, 1863, after his son had left. The son soon got an appointment as a lieutenant but, in November, he was severely wounded[3] in the Battle of New Hope Church. Coupled with the recent loss of his wife Frances, who died as a result of an accidental fire, Longfellow was inspired to write "Christmas Bells".

He first wrote the poem on Christmas Day in 1863.  What a powerful Christmas lesson about hope.

In 1914, during World War I, the sacred nature of Christmas was even able to stop war, at least for a day.  The war had raged for several years, and many soldiers had hoped it would end by Christmas.  Yet Christmas Eve came, and they were still in the wet trenches doing battle.  Then, on Christmas Eve itself, several weeks of mild but miserably soaking weather gave way to a sudden, hard frost, creating a dusting of ice and snow along the front that made the men on both sides feel that something spiritual was taking place.  Christmas greetings were shouted across the battle front, and soon carols could be heard.  The German Silent Night was answered by The First Noel.  Before long, soldiers were out of the trenches, shaking hands and exchanging gifts.  Fighting resumed the next day, but for Christmas, along some of the battle lines, a Christmas miracle occurred.

As time has permitted a bit longer up here, I’d like to remind you of the story The Other Wise Man.  Artaban followed the same signs as the other wise men did.  And he had gifts for the newborn king – a sapphire, a ruby and a pearl of great price.  However, he stops along the way to help a dying man, which makes him late to meet with the caravan of the other three wise men (from the Bible). Since he missed the caravan, and he can't cross the desert with only a horse, he is forced to sell one of his treasures in order to buy the camels and supplies necessary for the trip. He then commences his journey but arrives in Bethlehem too late to see the child, whose parents have fled to Egypt. He saves the life of a child at the price of another of his treasures. He then travels to Egypt and to many other countries, searching for Jesus for many years and performing acts of charity along the way. After thirty-three years, Artaban is still a pilgrim, and a seeker after light. Artaban arrives in Jerusalem in time for the crucifixion of Jesus. He spends his last treasure, the pearl, to ransom a young woman from being sold into slavery. He is then struck in the temple by a falling roof tile, and is about to die, having failed in his quest, and yet he knew that all was well, because he had done the best he could. A voice tells him "Verily I say unto thee, Inasmuch as thou hast done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, thou hast done it unto me," and he dies in a calm radiance of wonder and joy. His treasures were accepted, and the Other Wise Man found his King.

One final story for you.  A candy maker wanted to make a candy that would help us remember what Christmas is really about.  So he made a Christmas Candy Cane.  He incorporated several symbols for the birth, ministry, and death of Jesus Christ.

He began with a stick of pure white, hard candy.  White symbolizes the virgin birth and sinless nature of Jesus.  Hard candy was used to symbolize the solid rock, the foundation of the church, and firmness of the promises of God.

The candymaker made the candy in the form of a “J” to represent the name of Jesus.  It also represented the staff of the Good Shepherd.

The candymaker then included red stripes.  He used three small stripes and one large red stripe to represent the suffering Christ endured at the end of his life.  The candy became known as the candy cane decoration seen at Christmas time.  The meaning has faded, but still gives joy to the children young and old, whom Jesus loves and treasures.

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