[Symbol] The Sheep
[A Story relating to the Symbol]
A Broken Sheep and a Contrite Spirit
By Margaret McDowell Davis
I realized that I was like the broken sheep of my Nativity set.
The Christmas season began with the enjoyable busyness of shopping, baking, and decorating the house. I especially enjoyed placing my favorite Nativity set on prominent display on the fireplace mantel. Two days before Christmas, the house was abuzz with the gathering of children and grandchildren.
On the morning of Christmas Eve, I became concerned when I heard loud, accusing voices coming from the family room. I walked into the room to find a ceramic sheep from my favorite Nativity lying in pieces on the hearth. One of my grandsons had been admiring the Nativity, and he accidentally knocked the figure to the hearth. I could see his anguish as he apologized about the accident. I assured him that the sheep could be repaired.
Later, as I placed the mended sheep back with the other ceramic figures, the Spirit gently reminded me that I was very much like this sheep. I thought of the times when I had been broken through sin, sorrow, or suffering and needed to mend my spirit. I remembered how, during those times, the Good Shepherd took me up in His arms and carried me.
Prompted by this experience, I searched the scriptures for more about the Good Shepherd, and I rejoiced in the words of Isaiah: “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young” (Isaiah 40:11). I could not deny His love for me as I read that “he numbereth his sheep, and they know him; and there shall be one fold and one shepherd; and he shall feed his sheep, and in him they shall find pasture” (1 Nephi 22:25).
Ever since that Christmas Eve, the ceramic sheep has been a significant part of my observance of the Savior’s birth. Each time I place the broken but mended sheep next to the Christ child in the manger, I feel greater love for the Savior and His Atonement. I recommit to “follow the voice of the good shepherd” (Alma 5:57). I remember that the Lord is my shepherd and that I too need to remain close to Him, for when I am broken, I know He is there to help me mend.
Sweet are the words, “The Lord is my shepherd” (Psalm 23:1).
[Song] Lamb of God
[Scripture] John 10:27
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
[Challenge – Be Willing] – In the scriptures Jesus is called the lamb of God. This is because the lamb, or sheep, is a symbol of gentleness and patience. It is also a symbol of purity and sacrifice. Jesus was gentle, patient and pure. At Christmas, the sheep or lamb reminds us of sacrifice. we can sacrifice our time and give up doing things that are wrong so that we can be more like him. Sheep are known for their willingness to follow their master. So let’s find a way today to act without having to be told to do something good or helpful.
[Story relating to the challenge]
A Gift for Jesus
Marilynne Todd Linford
A couple years ago at the BYU art museum, I saw a mural-sized painting—about seventeen feet wide by seven feet tall—by Brian Kershisnik. I sat and studied the setting and the figures of Mary, Joseph, the infant Jesus, two midwives, and a dog with her pups, all of which took up less than one-third of the giant canvas. I was delighted by the depiction, especially as my attention focused on the flowing throng of heavenly hosts that filled the rest of the painting. Angels of all ages were anxiously, joyfully—some tearfully, some jostling for a better view—observing the newborn Christ. I interpreted the angels to be premortal spirits who were able to witness and vicariously participate in this key moment in the world’s history by observing through the veil. I wondered if the artist drew himself as one of the more prominent angels, maybe the big one elbowing his peers for a better view. Perhaps in pre-earth life there was a random selection process, or even a Conference Center–ticket distribution system, whereby some of us received the opportunity to be a spectator. Or perhaps we all had the chance to catch a glimpse of the long-heralded arrival.
I hoped I’d been able to witness the fulfillment of the prophecy that “there shall a new star arise, such an one as ye never have beheld” (Helaman 14:5). Although I wouldn’t have been chosen for my current singing voice, I would have loved to be a member of the heavenly choir who sang the announcement of the Savior’s birth: “Glory to God in the highest” (Luke 2:14). How I would have enjoyed watching Mary’s and Joseph’s faces when the Wise Men “opened their treasures . . . [and] presented unto [Christ] . . . gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11).
As I sat pondering the ideas this painting kindled, I thought of Mary and the joyful gift she experienced as the Babe of Bethlehem was born. How much more joy she must have felt, years later, to see her Son as a glorified, resurrected being, the Savior of us all! I wondered if she knew in her lifetime that He visited His “other sheep” in what would become the American continent. How I would have loved to hover above that scene as reported in the book of 3 Nephi.
Somewhere along this domino trail of thought, I pondered on the fact that Mary’s Son, Jesus Christ, has given me the greatest gifts I will ever receive: the gifts of the Atonement and Resurrection. I became conscious (I’m sure to a very limited degree) that I have been a recipient of His goodness and mercy at every stage of existence, from eons before His birth to eternities beyond His death. He has been the giver, and I have been the receiver.
I wondered, Can a less-than-the-dust-of-the-earth human like me ever truly give anything back? Is it possible to give anything to Him who has everything and the capacity to give everything?
I knew others had asked themselves this question. Two examples came to mind. First I thought of a poem by Christina Rossetti: “What can I give Him, Poor as I am? If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb. If I were a Wise Man I would do my part, Yet what can I give Him? Give Him my heart” (In Jack M. Lyon and others, eds., Best-Loved Poems of the LDS People, 1996, 166–67). Next, I recalled Elder Neal A. Maxwell’s suggestion: “As you submit your wills to God, you are giving Him the only thing you can actually give Him that is really yours to give” (“Remember How Merciful the Lord Hath Been, Ensign, May 2004, 46).
I naively wondered how such a gift could be significant in the vastness of eternity. What would it mean to Christ? Then a scripture in 3 Nephi came to mind, and I realized that such a gift had been received by the Lord in Book of Mormon lands long ago, when our Savior appeared to a group of people in the New World following His Resurrection.
After suffering the pains of Gethsemane and Golgotha, the Lord visited his “other sheep” in Bountiful, and in a beautiful gesture of His love, He healed all those with physical, emotional, or spiritual wounds (Alma 7:11). I pondered the people’s response to this gift:
They did all, both they who had been healed and they who were whole, bow down at his feet, and did worship him; and as many as could come for the multitude did kiss his feet, insomuch that they did bathe his feet with their tears.” (3 Nephi 17:10)
Some time after the people’s expression of gratitude and reverence for their Savior, Jesus expressed sorrow as He recalled the contrasting cruelty and lack of faith He had experienced in Jerusalem. The scripture says He “groaned within himself, and said: Father, I am troubled because of the wickedness of the people of the house of Israel” (3 Nephi 17:14). Then He knelt and prayed words too sacred to record. “And the multitude did bear record . . . [that] the eye hath never seen, neither hath the ear heard, before, so great and marvelous things as we saw and heard Jesus speak unto the Father” (3 Nephi 17:15–16).
I thought of the disparity in experiences the Savior had had in Jerusalem and Bountiful. On one hand, the wickedness of the people of Jerusalem gave Him great sorrow. On the other hand, the righteousness of the people in the New World gave Him joy. Those who had mocked, scoffed, scourged, and nailed Him to the cross could not be more different from those who now bathed His feet with their tears. He wept for joy because of the righteousness of the people at Bountiful (see 3 Nephi 17:20–21).
Had I been a hovering, premortal spirit over this remarkable scene at the temple in Bountiful, I would have seen Jesus bid the multitude arise. I would have heard Him say, “Blessed are ye because of your faith. And now behold, my joy is full” (3 Nephi 17:20, emphasis added). Yes, mortals—mere mortals like you and me—can give the Savior of the world a gift. The faith-filled Nephites and Lamanites, by giving Him their loving hearts and obedient wills (both evidences of faith), gave Him joy! I like to think that if indeed I viewed that marvelous scene from beyond the veil, I also promised myself that when my turn on earth came, I would be a woman of faith who would also give Jesus Christ the gift of joy.
Media link: [What shall we give? Christmas Music Video]
10th Anniversary Advent Throw-Back :
[A Favourite from Previous Advents]
Quote: [from His Christmas devotional ‘Christmas Love by President Thomas S. Monson]
“Finding the real joy of Christmas comes not in the hurrying and the scurrying to get more done, nor is it found in the purchasing of gifts. We find real joy when we make the Savior the focus of the season. We can keep Him in our thoughts and in our lives as we go about the work He would have us perform here on earth.”
The Perfect Christmas
[A story by Jennifer Moore]
“James, honey, don’t touch the Christmas decorations,” I told my two-year-old son for what seemed like the hundredth time. I moved him out of the way and rearranged my beautiful olive-wood Nativity on the coffee table, making sure to return each figurine to its exact position to balance out the grouping: Mary and Joseph in the middle, next to the manger; Wise Men on one side; and shepherds on the other. Luckily, there were a few sheep to keep it symmetrical. I turned one or two and straightened the table runner they sat on.
Holding on to James’s hand, I helped his chubby finger point to the different characters as I told him the names and listened to his young voice and stilted words as he repeated them back as well as he could. When I pointed to the infant lying in the carved wooden hay, James said, “Baby Jesus” before I prompted him, and I made a mental tally mark on my list of things to do to create the perfect Christmas.
Teach child the true meaning of Christmas. Check.
I picked James up and carried him out of the living room, reminding him that this room wasn’t for playing. I glanced around quickly to make sure he hadn’t disturbed anything else in my magazine-perfect decorated house. I headed off to find something to distract him and keep him away from the Christmas decorations.
This would be the first year my husband and I weren’t making the drive from Cedar City to Salt Lake a few days before Christmas to attend all of the family parties and to spend Christmas morning at one of our parents’ houses. We’d decided that we’d be the parents this year and have our very first Christmas at home to establish our own traditions and memories.
As the young mother of two-year-old James and three-month-old Ben, I was determined to make it the most perfect season ever. We’d put lights on the house in October before the first big snowstorm, and I’d hung a wreath with hand-sewn plush snowmen on our door after Halloween.
The day after Thanksgiving, we’d assembled and decorated a brand-new Christmas tree, upon which we’d hung our yearly “special” ornaments. Beneath the tree, gifts waited, covered in coordinating wrapping paper and tied with elaborate bows. CDs of holiday music rotated on a two-and-a-half-day basis so we would be able to hear all of them, and I figured out that if we watched one Christmas movie every other night, we would make it through my stack of VHS tapes before Christmas Day.
I’d worked tirelessly for weeks, sewing a tree skirt to match the tea towels hanging on the oven door and the throw blanket arranged on the back of the sofa. With each family member in mind, I’d chosen our stockings carefully, and they now dangled from pegs in the family room, precisely six-and-a-half inches apart. The house smelled like a blend of pine- and cinnamon-scented Yankee candles. Christmas quilts and pillowcases adorned each bed, and garlands and bows ensconced every shelf, railing, windowsill, and doorframe.
The perfect Christmas would take a little extra work, but it would be worth it when we looked back at all the amazing memories we were making.
A few days after the Nativity incident with my son and a flurry of holiday activities later, I was in the kitchen mixing up icing for gingerbread houses when I again heard the sound of the wooden figures sliding across the coffee table. I wiped my hands on my Christmas apron and hurried into the living room. James was moving the Nativity around again, and there was a crumpled piece of toilet paper draped across baby Jesus. I looked around, relieved that nothing else was out of place. Lifting James out of the way, I repositioned the figures and picked up the scrap of toilet paper. Play group would arrive at any moment, and I still needed to get all of the gingerbread-house candies ready.
I plopped James on the counter, where I could keep an eye on him, and scolded him again for playing in the living room. I reminded him that the Christmas decorations weren’t toys.
As we completed one activity, my mind was already racing to the next. Lists and planning and preparations were keeping us organized. The holiday season was rolling like a well-oiled machine.
I was even ready with family home evenings to last the entire month, complete with treat, activity, lesson, and song. My Young Women class had planned service projects; I’d made treats enclosed in cellophane and ribbon for my husband’s office. I had gifts arranged in a fabric-lined basket on a table inside the front door for my visiting teaching ladies, the Nursery leaders, and my husband’s home teaching families, and homemade jam wrapped and tagged for our neighbors sat in a basket next to the gifts.
I’d purchased matching sweaters from Baby Gap months earlier for James and Ben and had taken pictures of them in front of the tree to include in our family letter. I’d mailed the cards on December 1 and followed them a week later with the packages we were sending to relatives.
We’d been to the Christmas lighting ceremony on Main Street, written letters to Santa, and driven up to Leigh Hill to see the light display and get a candy cane, but there was still plenty more Christmas celebrating ahead. If we were going to do every single thing on the list, we needed to stick to our schedule.
The Saturday before Christmas, our day started early. After updating our three advent calendars, I dressed the kids in matching outfits, hurried to check Walmart and Kmart just to see if any Tickle Me Elmos had come in the night before, then drove down to St. George to get the kids’ pictures taken with Santa at the mall. We were all exhausted, but the ward Christmas party that night would be so marvelous we couldn’t miss it.
Some of the stakes in Cedar City had pooled their Christmas-party money and, in a warehouse by the airport, had built a set that looked like a small Jewish town. The wards took turns having their Christmas parties in “Bethlehem.” The young men dressed up as Roman centurions, we all had “coins” to pay our taxes and buy dinner, and everyone was supposed to come in costume.
I’d glued the invitation for the party in our Christmas scrapbook and had surrounded it with die cuts of a Middle-Eastern cityscape, a Christmas star, and palm trees. A rectangular piece of sand-colored paper measuring exactly four-and-a-half by six-and-a-half inches waited to frame the picture of our family at “Back to Bethlehem” night. Even though my husband was out of town, I was still determined to complete the page with the perfect picture of my boys and me in our costumes.
I wore a bedsheet over my shoulder and tied around my waist with a belt, and covered my hair in a scarf. Ben was easy to wrap in blankets, and then I turned my efforts to James, who had fallen asleep on the stairs.
I woke him up and put him in his bathrobe, but when I tried to tie a pillowcase around his head with a strip of fabric, it was too much, and he started to cry (though anyone who has had a two-year-old knows that cry is a mild term). I decided to worry about the pillowcase when we got to the party.
Simply put, that night was a disaster. Sitting on a cement floor, trying to juggle a colicky newborn and a two-year-old who was melting down at the idea of eating pita bread, hummus, and olives was a low point, to say the least. Realizing I hadn’t even remembered my camera and knowing this tantrum was only going to get worse, I folded the blanket, and the three of us left the party, worn out and frustrated.
James was too wound up to fall asleep, so I sat him on the couch to calm him down while he watched Elmo Saves Christmas, even though it was out of order in the VHS stack.
Just as Elmo and Santa were singing “Keep Christmas with You All through the Year,” I put the cinnamon rolls and wassail for Sunday morning into the fridge and went to get James. It was hours past bedtime, and we still had to tear a ring off his paper chain and read a Christmas story.
James wasn’t on the couch, where I’d left him.
I heard the scrape of wood, and the irritation that I’d felt all evening surfaced. The night had been ruined, and I was completely drained. I closed my eyes. This wasn’t going to be pretty.
I stormed up the stairs to the living room. When I reached the doorway, I drew in a breath to unleash my anger, but what I saw stopped me cold, and my heart felt like it had been smashed in the Grinch’s measuring device. I remember the scene as clearly as if it had happened a moment ago.
In the glow of the Christmas-tree lights, James was carefully pushing all the wooden figures closer together until they surrounded the baby Jesus in a tight circle, and he was saying their names in toddler grunts that only moms understand. He lifted the baby from the manger and, with his chubby hands, clumsily wrapped a piece of toilet paper around the mostly naked, little carved body, rocking him and humming a tuneless song before carefully setting him back down.
I stood stunned in one of those moments of clarity, where it was like someone had handed me a new pair of glasses and suddenly the world looked different. My gaze moved around my perfect house to the tree and the quilted throw pillows, the nutcracker on the piano, the bows, the garland. Everything suddenly seemed garish and excessive.
I lifted James onto my lap, and we sat on the sofa quietly as the Christmas spirit filled the room. The real Christmas Spirit. The very thing I’d tried to create through months of planning and hours upon hours of work. The feeling was something that couldn’t be manufactured. It was as simple as just sitting quietly.
I’d discovered what had been missing from our perfect Christmas: time to actually remember why we celebrate Christmas in the first place. It wasn’t a chance to show decorating skills or the ability to find the perfect gift. Christmas wasn’t about making traditions just for the sake of crossing them off the list. I felt squirmy, a little sick, and a lot ashamed as I considered the past few months and how seldom I had actually remembered Christ as a part of my perfect Christmas.
The next day, I helped James choose fabric to make a blankie for the wooden baby Jesus, just as we had a few months earlier for his little brother, Ben. I cringed inside when he picked blue fabric with a pink floral pattern but took a calming breath and cut it into a small rectangle, which he carefully tucked around the little figure.
In a book, this story would wrap up neatly. This is where I’d say that I immortalized the moment by snapping a picture and putting it in the “Bethlehem” page of the Christmas scrapbook or how, from that day forward, I learned my lesson and the holidays have been calm and easy ever since, but neither of those is true.
I did learn something though. And sixteen years later, that experience still rates among one of the most dear to my heart. Every year at Christmastime, I pull out that mangy scrap of ugly fabric and place it on baby Jesus to remind me of the moment when a two-year-old taught me a powerful lesson—the lesson I should have taught him. He showed me the importance of slowing down and being grateful. And even though traditions can be distracting, when our hearts are in the right place, traditions make the holidays special and help facilitate the Christmas spirit.
Elder James Moore is spending his first Christmas away from home this year, serving the Lord as a missionary. I know he is sharing the same Spirit he felt as a little boy and is teaching the people in the Washington Everett Mission that the greatest Christmas traditions of all are also the simplest and center around our Saviour’s love.
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