[An Article relating to the Symbol]
The Real story of Christmas begins with a young man and his weary wife who were desperately searching for somewhere to stay. When I look at the figure of Joseph in my Nativity set I find myself wondering what emotions filled his soul in those final moments that led up to the birth of Christ. The early events of that evening must have been heartbreaking for Joseph, the protector and guardian of his tiny family, as he watched the woman he loved entering into labour without any place to stay.
The scriptures tell us that on that night “there was no room for them in the inn” [Luke 2:7]. But the footnote for that scripture gives us an even better understanding of the circumstance. It reads, “There was no room for them in the inns.” It seems that the young couple did not just stop at one place to find shelter, but were turned away over and over again with the words that must have become discouragingly familiar, “no room”.
Our Christmas season sometimes resembles that first Christmas night. The season is packed so full that we may find ourselves echoing that same sentiment, “no room”. With parties and programs, shopping and decorating, it is hard to make room for anything extra. But after the last gift is given, the fancy dishes are cleared away and the house is finally settled down for an evening, how often do we find ourselves longing for something more?
It is in those quiet hours that I think of Joseph. On that first Christmas night there was no room, only the shelter of a small, simple stable. It was in that humble circumstance that the Saviour was born. I often wonder, as I think of Joseph caring for his weary wife, if he watched over the newborn child and longed for family, a warm meal, a soft bed for his wife and a handmade blanket for the baby.
Elder Holland describes what that night must have been like.
One impression which he persisted with me is that this is a story of intense poverty. I wonder if Luke did not have some special meaning when he wrote not “there was no room in the inn” but specifically that “there was no room for them in the inn”[Luke 2:7;emphasis added]. We cannot be certain what the historian intended but we do know these two were desperately poor.
I wonder what Joseph must have felt as he moved through the streets of a city not his own, with not a friend or kinsman in sight, nor anyone willing to extend a helping hand. In these very last and most painful hours of her “confinement”, Mary had ridden or walked approximately 160 Kilometres from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea. Surely Joseph must have wept at her silent courage. Now, alone and unnoticed, they had to descend from human company to a stable, a grotto full of animals, there to bring forth the Son of God.
I wonder what emotions Joseph might have had as he cleared away the dung and debris. I wonder if he felt the sting of tears as he hurriedly tried to find the cleanest straw and hold the animals back. I wonder if he wondered: “Could there be a more unhealthy, a more disease-ridden, a more despicable circumstance in which a child could be born? Should the mother of the Son of God be asked to enter the “valley of the shadow of death”[Psalm 23:4] in such a foul and unfamiliar place as this? Is it wrong to wish her some comfort?”
Perhaps this provides and important distinction we should remember in our own holiday season. Maybe the purchasing and the making and the wrapping and the decorating should be separated, if only slightly, from the more quiet, personal moments when we consider the meaning of the baby (and his birth) who prompts the giving of such gifts. [We] need to remember the very plain scene, even the poverty, of a night devoid of tinsel or wrapping or goods of this world. Shepherds would soon arrive and later, wise men would follow from the east. But first and forever there was just a little family, without toys or trees or tinsel. With a tiny baby – that’s how Christmas began. By Emily Freeman
[Song] Guard Him Joseph
[Scripture] Matthew 1:24
Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him.
[Challenge – Be Obedient] – Joseph was a carpenter. He was also the husband of Mary, and a descendant of King David. In the scriptures, Joseph is described as a ‘Just man’. This means he was honest and fair. Joseph was also kind. Joseph received a personal revelation from God before the birth of Jesus and then again when the lives of his family were in danger. Because He listened to this message, he kept his family safe. Jesus always showed love and respect for Joseph. At Christmas, Joseph is a symbol of righteous fatherhood. Today let us be obedient like Joseph was.
[A Story relating to the challenge]
The Perfect Gift
by Melanie Jacobson
When I was a kid, we had a lot of Christmases where we didn’t get much in the way of presents. My parents both had stable jobs as teachers, but medical bills for my dad wreaked regular havoc on our budget, and Christmases were a luxury we often trimmed back. We didn’t mind. We always got something.
Around the time I was in middle school, our fortunes changed. My dad’s health had been okay for a while, the hospital bills had all been paid off, and more presents piled up beneath the tree at Christmastime. It wasn’t a hard thing to get used to, and we liked it: lots of shredded wrapping paper followed by haphazard stacks of all the things we’d asked for in front of us.
We had another lean year when I was in high school and my dad lost his job, but then it went back to normal again—traditions and Christmas food, family and friends, putting together the Christmas tree, and opening gifts on Christmas morning.
Christmas took on a different meaning when I left home for BYU. After spending a whole semester living off of Rice-a-Roni and pinching pennies, it was nice to come home and grab things out of the fridge whenever I wanted, and opening presents on Christmas morning felt like the purest indulgence. Stuff just to have stuff? I loved the sense of security that came with being a little spoiled by my parents for that one day.
And then came the Christmas where it all got upended by someone who had just the wrong combination of intelligence and laziness. It’s a complicated tale involving fraud, big business, and cold, cold calculation.
A few days before I was supposed to come home from BYU for Christmas break during my sophomore year, I got a call from my dad. This was always a big deal because my parents were deaf. To call me, he first had to call a relay operator, who would then call me. Next, my dad would type into a machine called a TTY, and the operator would read his message to me. I would respond, and the operator would type my message back to my dad. It wasn’t the easiest way to have a conversation, so generally when my dad called, he had something specific in mind. I wasn’t quite worried because every now and then he would make up a reason to call me just as a pretext so we could communicate in those pre-email days. But I was definitely on high alert.
Even without hearing his actual tone, frustration underlined all of his words the operator read to me. “Wanted to let you know that we’ve been robbed, and it’s going to take a while to get everything straightened out. Someone forged the check we wrote for car insurance and cashed it.”
The thing is, my parents paid their insurance for all three vehicles twice a year, so the check was for over $700. Someone had painstakingly altered the line where it said whom the check was written to and had instead filled in the name of a toy store. The note on the memo line read “Kids Christmas.”
Hindsight makes me grateful that in our family, presents were only a bonus at Christmastime and never the point. My parents would never have dreamed of stealing to make it happen. Christmas could still be Christmas in our home without gifts, and as it turned out, that year that was exactly how it would have to be.
As someone barely out of her teens, I was beyond frustrated, not by the lack of gifts but by the unfairness of the thievery.
“We won’t be able to do much as far as gifts go,” my dad told me.
It turned out that the perpetrator worked in the insurance company’s regional office. She’d been caught, and the bank was already aware that my parents had been fraud victims. The money was eventually returned, but it took weeks to get it all sorted out. In the meantime, my parents paid the insurance company again, another $700, to make sure the cars stayed insured. That was where the designated Christmas money—and then some!—had disappeared to.
What was more, my dad explained, tithing settlements were approaching. “We could use that money for Christmas and then catch up with our tithing in January when they resolve everything at the bank, but your mom and I want you to know that we never considered that option. We want to pay the Lord first. We can do delayed Christmas presents in January. We’ll make sure to ship you something at school.”
My dad was never one to give a lot of gifts, and the ones he gave were terrible, but they were so carefully considered that I could only love them. Many years later, when I moved back in with them for a time, I mentioned that my room, a converted garage, was often drafty. That year, for my thirtieth birthday, he bought me tubes of caulk. He was delighted with himself. In his opinion, it was the best gift he could give me: a lesson in caulking so I could fix problems like this in the future for myself. On another Christmas, he gave me plastic hooks for my bedroom wall. It seemed he thought the reason I always had clothes all over my floor was because I needed more places to hang things.
I promised him that I understood about the delayed Christmas and had no problem with it, but when I got home for the Christmas break a week or so later, I could tell the sparseness beneath the tree bothered him. My dad had been an educator his whole life, and his deafness limited the number of places he could teach. He’d taken a job in LA that kept him away from his family five days a week solely to provide for us, and it weighed on him that he wouldn’t be able to give us gifts. But he was sure that paying tithing and waiting on the Lord was the right thing to do, even with the bare space beneath our tree.
I don’t remember even one of us three kids being upset with my parents for this choice. My youngest sister was fifteen, and we’d witnessed my parents’ faithfulness and obedience for so many years that we wouldn’t have expected anything less. We were frustrated by the person who had felt stealing from my parents was the best way to take care of her own Christmas, but we kept our frustrations to ourselves and focused on our other traditions. We made my dad’s special queso dip that can only be served from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. We rented movies and popped popcorn on the stovetop, drenching it in enough butter to float it out to sea. And we waited for my dad to finish out the last week of school before Christmas break so he could come home and make it really feel like Christmas at last.
He finished on a Friday. I expected him to come home looking tired and ready to drag me to the sofa for a Star Trek marathon. Instead, he called all of us kids together and sat us down.
“On Sunday, your mom and I went in for our tithing settlement and handed the bishop the money that could have saved Christmas. We declared ourselves full tithe payers, and we had no regrets. Today as I was walking out to catch a ride back out of LA with my coworker, I felt a strong prompting to check my teacher mailbox. I’d already checked it a little earlier, and it had been empty, and I didn’t feel like holding up my carpool buddy by walking all the way back to the office. But the prompting came again, so I asked her to wait, and I went back to my mailbox. There was a new envelope in it, and when I opened it, there was a check for some back pay the district owed us from contract negotiations.”
He smiled then, leaning forward to tell us the best part of the story. “The amount of the check is almost the exact amount that was stolen from us. We didn’t pay our tithing because we thought the Lord would save Christmas. We did it to be obedient. But I know the timing of this check and the prompting to go back and check an empty mailbox that I wouldn’t see again for three weeks was the Lord’s way of rewarding that obedience. So Christmas presents are on again. Give me your lists!”
There were presents that year. But I don’t remember a single one. Instead, I remember the gift my dad gave us that sticks with me still: an example of faith and obedience.
I’ve experienced many Christmases since then and opened presents that will hold a special place in my home for the rest of my life, but my dad’s gift that year has become a permanent part of me, woven into the fabric of who I am. At times when I have struggled with my faith, this is one of those touchstone moments I come back to, a small miracle that can’t be explained by coincidence, only by the kindness of a loving Heavenly Father. And so my father did it again: he found me a gift that is exactly what I need.
Media links: [A Christmas message from Elder Richard J. Maynes]
[The First Christmas Spirit]
10th Anniversary Advent Throw-Back :
[A favourite from previous Advents]
[To Do Good Always] by President Gordon B. Hinckley
In each of us there is at Christmastime something of our childhood. We all revel in the fun of Christmas—of giving and receiving tinseled presents, of singing favourite carols, of feasting on goodies we never miss at other seasons, of gathering together as family and friends, all having a wonderful time.
But there is something else, something better, and that is to sit together as families and read again the fascinating story of the birth of Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem of Judea. It is a wondrous story told in language ever so simple and beautiful by the writers of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.
All of us have heard these readings since we were very young. They are a part of our lives, a very important part. Every child, certainly every child who regards himself or herself as Christian, should know and enjoy the story of our Lord, the Son of God, who came to earth and died for each of us.
That story has been told by many writers who have taken it from the accounts in the New Testament. It has been told with beauty and understanding by those who have written with love and respect. One of these was Charles Dickens, the most popular English author of his times. He lived from 1812 to 1870. He wrote such timeless books as A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol, Nicholas Nickleby, Oliver Twist, and David Copperfield. He was the father of ten children, and evidently was one to delight them with stories that came of a vast imagination.
He was also one who loved the Lord and who wanted his children to love the Lord. In 1849, while he was writing David Copperfield, he took time to write in his own hand The Life of Our Lord. It was not written for publication, but only for his own dear children. He would not permit its publication. It was a personal thing, a simple testimony from him to them. His children, when they grew, would not permit its publication. It remained a closely held family affair for eighty-five years. Then his youngest son died in 1933. With the passing of that generation, the family concluded that the work might be published.
I was a missionary in London in 1934, sixty years ago, and I vividly recall the advertisements of one of the popular newspapers that Dickens’s The Life of Our Lord would be published serially. I paid little attention to it. Following serialization, it was published as a book. There was a surge of interest, and then it seemed to fade.
Years later Sister Hinckley found a copy of the book and read it to our children. While there are some doctrinal matters in it with which we would disagree, it is a wonderful story, told in language beautiful and easily understood. At this Christmas season, may I share a few lines with you? I give them just as Dickens wrote them, without editing.
“My dear children, I am very anxious that you should know something about the History of Jesus Christ. For everybody ought to know about Him. No one ever lived, who was so good, so kind, so gentle, and so sorry for all people who did wrong, or were in any way ill or miserable, as he was. And as he is now in Heaven, where we hope to go, and all to meet each other after we are dead, and there be happy always together, you never can think what a good place Heaven is, without knowing who he was and what he did.
“He was born, a long, long time ago—nearly Two Thousand years ago—at a place called Bethlehem. His father and mother lived in a city called Nazareth, but they were forced, by business to travel to Bethlehem. His father’s name was Joseph, and his mother’s name was Mary. And the town being very full of people, also brought there by business, there was no room for Joseph and Mary in the Inn or in any house; so they went into a Stable to lodge, and in this stable Jesus Christ was born. There was no cradle or anything of that kind there, so Mary laid her pretty little boy in what is called the Manger, which is the place the horses eat out of. And there he fell asleep.
“While he was asleep, some Shepherds who were watching Sheep in the Fields, saw an Angel from God, all light and beautiful, come moving over the grass towards Them. At first they were afraid and fell down and hid their faces. But it said ‘There is a child born to-day in the City of Bethlehem near here, who will grow up to be so good that God will love him as his own son; and he will teach men to love one another, and not to quarrel and hurt one another; and his name will be Jesus Christ; and people will put that name in their prayers, because they will know God loves it, and will know that they should love it too.’ And then the Angel told the Shepherds to go to that Stable, and look at that little child in the Manger. Which they did; and they kneeled down by it in its sleep and said ‘God bless this child!’
“Now the great place of all that country was Jerusalem—just as London is the great place in England—and at Jerusalem the King lived, whose name was King Herod. Some wise men came one day, from a country a long way off in the East, and said to the King ‘We have seen a Star in the Sky, which teaches us to know that a child is born in Bethlehem who will live to be a man whom all people will love.’ When King Herod heard this, he was jealous, for he was a wicked man. But he pretended not to be, and said to the wise men, ‘Whereabouts is this child?’ And the wise men said ‘We don’t know. But we think the Star will shew us; for the Star has been moving on before us, all the way here, and is now standing still in the sky.’ Then Herod asked them to see if the Star would shew them where the child lived, and ordered them, if they found the child, to come back to him. So they went out, and the Star went on, over their heads a little way before them, until it stopped over the house where the child was. This was very wonderful, but God ordered it to be so.
“When the Star stopped, the wise men went in, and saw the child with Mary his Mother. They loved him very much, and gave him some presents. Then they went away. But they did not go back to King Herod; for they thought he was jealous, though he had not said so. So they went away, by night, back into their own country” (The Life of Our Lord, London: Associated Newspapers, 1934; reprint, Philadelphia, Westminster Press, pp. 11-17).
And so this beautiful story opens. Dickens wrote of Joseph as the father of Jesus. Joseph was so recognized by the people. But we know that Jesus’ father was God, the Eternal Father, and that Jesus Christ was his Only Begotten Son in the flesh.
Dickens continues to give his children the story of the life of the Master, who he speaks of as “Our Saviour.” He tells of his teachings, of the miracles he performed, of his death at the hands of wicked and evil men. And then he concludes his little book with these words: “Remember!—It is Christianity TO DO GOOD always—even to those who do evil to us. It is Christianity to love our neighbour as ourself, and to do to all men as we would have them Do to us. It is Christianity to be gentle, merciful, and forgiving, and to keep those qualities quiet in our own hearts, and never make a boast of them, or of our prayers or of our love of God, but always to shew that we love Him by humbly trying to do right in everything. If we do this, and remember the life and lessons of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and try to act up to them, we may confidently hope that God will forgive us our sins and mistakes, and enable us to live and die in Peace” (ibid., pp. 124-27).
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