Track 10: Angels we have heard on High – Piano Guys, David Archuletta & Mormon Tabernacle Choir
The High Places of Christmas By Sterling W Sill
Among early-day peoples, before the days of temples, it was customary to erect altars on hill tops. These special places of worship were called “high places.” One of the most famous of these was located at Gibeon, where young King Solomon used to go to offer sacrifices and where the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Ask what I shall give thee.” (2 Chronicles 1:7.) God seems to have favoured this custom of meeting with his servants in high places. He called Moses up to the top of Mount Sinai to spend those memorable forty days. It was from Mount Sinai that God gave the Ten Commandments. Moses spent his last mortal hours on the top of Mount Nebo. Jesus himself often went to the mountains.
It was on a high mountain where he was transfigured and appeared in shining garments with Moses and Elias before Peter, James, and John. The greatest of all human discourses was the Sermon on the Mount. And Jesus ascended to his Father in heaven from the top of Mount Olivet.
If I had the words and ability to make you feel the spirit of Christmas, I would take you to some of those high places of Christmas thought. The most important thing that anyone ever gets out of Christmas is the Christmas spirit. At its best, this is the spirit of worship, the spirit of service, the spirit of Christ.
But all of our Christmases, as well as our lives themselves, are lived on several different levels. There is a constant ebb and flow in our lives. We have some upbeats and some downbeats. There are some high tides and some low tides in all of the things that we do. Suppose we explore some of the various levels of Christmas.
Level No. 1 is the level of joy and gaiety. Christmas is the time of our greatest happiness. During this period we sing Christmas carols and listen to sacred Christmas anthems and inspiring oratorios. We have parties, feasting, and celebrations. And we increase the Christmas spirit as we develop our own happiness level.
Level No. 2 is the level of beauty and festivity. We decorate our cities, our streets, and the outside and inside of our homes. More than any other holiday, Christmas is home-centred.
Level No. 3 is that of our Christmas communication and giving. This custom was started by the wise men who followed the star across the desert and laid their presents at the feet of the new-born King. We also increase our visiting at Christmastime. In addition, we send our millions of beautiful, highly coloured Christmas cards and we give many useful and beautiful presents. Sometimes we accuse ourselves of commercialism. Some business houses may do as much business during the Christmas season as they do in all of the rest of the year put together. But this has many good points. We sell more good books at Christmastime than at any other period. And no one would ever think of giving a shoddy or a dirty book for Christmas.
A large part of this greater business activity is because of our gifts of clothing, food, and beautiful things. Some philosopher once said that the only real gifts are those gifts that we make of ourselves. “All other gifts,” said he, “are merely imitations of gifts.” But the more we think about it, the more we are convinced that almost all gifts are gifts of ourselves.
Each one of us has been assigned to carry on some part of the work of the world, for which we usually receive some material compensation. Each day as we expend our energy and capability, we are exhausting some portion of our strength and the money that is given us in exchange for our life’s energy. That is, our industry is being made negotiable and transferable.
It is pretty difficult to get along without money, and even though it may be called commercialism by some people, yet money represents our labour with which we buy books, presents, and Christmas cards. We can build temples and send out missionaries and provide college educations and buy flowers for our wives with that part of us that we have made negotiable through our work.
Level No. 4 of Christmas has to do with the great traditions and the great literature of Christmas. Each year we love to recount the thrilling story of the star that appeared in the East and led the wise men across the desert. We think about the shepherds who were watching their flocks by night upon the hills of Judea and to whom the announcement of the Saviour’s birth was made. And then we visualize that great concourse of angels who had come from the presence of God to welcome the new-born King of the earth, which he himself had created. We might also try to understand what kind of young woman Mary must have been to have been chosen to be the mother of the Son of God, the greatest being who ever lived upon our planet.
But all of us are wonderful people. Someone has said, “There are no ordinary people.” The most ordinary kind of person with whom you ever have anything to do, if you could see the veils of his mortality drawn aside, may be the kind of person that you would feel like falling down and worshiping before. That is, if you could have seen Abraham as he tended his flocks on the plains of Palestine, you may have thought of him as a rather ordinary kind of shepherd. But if you could have seen Abraham as he stood among the noble and great in the council of God, or if you could look in on Abraham at this instant as he lives and rules with God, it may be that you would think of him on a little higher level of importance. The apostle Paul said that we should be careful how we entertain strangers because some have entertained angels unawares.
But who are we? One translation of the scripture says that we are made for a little while lower than the angels. But many of us were also once among the noble and great in the council of God. All of us were in his presence a hundred years ago and were then his angels. And when we get married, have children, and conduct our family home evenings, we are also entertaining angels.
On two of the levels of Christmas we are greatly inspired by the personal life of Christ. One is the inspiration we get from him as a man and the other is the inspiration we get from him as God. Even at age twelve he was teaching the wise men in the temple. Before his short three-year ministry had been concluded, he had earned the right to be called the Great Teacher, the Master, the Great Physician, the Worker of Miracles. J. A. Francis makes an appraisal of this most outstanding character by saying:
Here is a man who grew up in an obscure village, the child of a poor peasant woman. He worked in a carpenter shop until he was thirty, and then for three years he was an itinerant preacher.
He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never owned a home. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put his foot inside a big city. He never travelled two hundred miles from the place where he was born.
While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied him. Another betrayed him. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed upon the cross between two thieves. While he was dying his executioners gambled for the only thing he owned, which was his cloak. When he was dead, he was laid in a borrowed tomb through the pity of a friend.
But since then nineteen wide centuries have come and gone, and today he is the very centre of the human race. I am well within the mark when I say that all of the armies that ever marched, and all of the navies that were built, and all of the parliaments that ever sat, and all of the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has this one solitary life.
Then we come to the highest level of Christmas—that of Christ as God. The biographies of most great men start out on the day that they were born. However, to adequately understand the life of Christ, we must go a long way back beyond that point. Nothing is more clearly written in the scripture than the fact that the life of Christ did not begin at Bethlehem. Neither did it end on Calvary. He said, “I came forth from the Father and am come into the world. Again I leave the world and go unto the Father.” In his memorable prayer in the garden he said, “And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” (John 17:5.)
Our lives are so closely related to his that they can best be studied together. And it is just as plainly written in the scripture that none of our lives began at our birth and neither will they end when we die.
All of the prophets from the time of Adam knew a great deal about the life of Christ long before he was born. Jesus said to the Jews: “Before Abraham was, I am.” He is called Emanuel, meaning “God with us.” He is the King of kings, the Lord of lords. He gave his life to redeem us from death. He led the forces in the war in heaven to preserve our individual free agency, and we were associated with him and were under his direction through all of the interesting experiences of that first estate. We know a great deal about his life during that period. In writing the life of Christ, the scriptures also tell us a great deal about his third estate, and as we look back to Bethlehem and the Creation, so we also look forward to that wonderful period beyond the boundaries of mortality.
We know that Christ is scheduled very soon to come again to the earth. This time he will come in power and great glory, with all of his holy angels with him to execute judgment upon all the ungodly and to inaugurate upon our earth his millennial reign of a thousand years of peace and happiness, when the work of this world will be finished. This will be in preparation for this great winding-up scene of our earth’s history and the final judgment. Then this earth will be dedicated as the celestial kingdom of God for those who have lived here upon it and who have qualified to live here eternally. We know about the glorious place that is contemplated for those who are faithful to God, and if we have conformed our lives to him, then we will have an eternal high place in God’s presence forever.