Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas Sacrament Meeting talk

OK, here's the talk I gave today. I was last after our Christmas program. I didn't have much time. I skipped everything before the **** about about 1/4 of the rest of it, skipping here and there. I'm really happy with how it went, though I have to admit I was a little annoyed at how little time I had even though the program was really nice. It was an interesting experience because of that; that's for sure.

Shanghai, China International Branch

Some of you may remember my husband, Robert Beckstrand, who spoke a few weeks ago. But just to review, we have 6 children ages 13 to 3, and we recently moved here from Mesa, AZ. Rob came in June and the rest of us came in August. Rob is from Nevada, and I'm from Phoenix, AZ. Rob served his mission in Japan with Sis Takeshige, and I served my mission in Argentina. Neither of us speaks Chinese, but we're getting along here pretty well so far, in part, due to the kindness of so many of you, particularly our neighbors the Lambs, the Lee’s and the Tao’s. Our family, like many of yours, has learned about working extra hard here just to meet our basic needs. One of my favorite things about the Savior is the opportunities he has offered us to work extra hard for an understanding of even the basic meaning behind His life, teachings, and atoning sacrifice.

The third chapter of the Gospel of John tells us about a Pharisee named Nicodemus. Nicodemus has seen something Good in the Savior that he wants to understand better so he comes to the Savior and asks: “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.” The Savior’s response shows how anxious the Savior is for others to feel a nearness with God like himself, but how does He help Nicodemus do that? By giving him a puzzle, a puzzle that only makes sense when you take it out of the customary context that society has established as acceptable.
3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
 4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?
 5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

Why does the Savior give Nicodemus a puzzle to solve here? Furthermore, how can any of us, with all the trappings of mortality, understand that knowledge that is important for us to grow spiritually and have the companionship of our Father in Heaven? The Savior said,
 7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.
 8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

First off, we shouldn’t be surprised or bewildered about the mystery of the Spirit and those things not of this world. No matter who we are, we need to receive and believe the witness of others so that we can understand the Savior and the Salvation He offers us.

 9 Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?
 10 Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?
 11 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.
 12 If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?
 13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.
 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
 15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Nicodemus must have understood Him at least a little because he later defends the Savior to the Pharisees and also brings spices to his burial. That last verse, however, has been on my mind a lot in preparation for this Christmas Sacrament talk. God loves the world, and He really wants us to have everlasting life with Him. So He sent His Son to be the Savior of the world. But He didn’t just give us a Savior. He gave us the puzzle of the birth of His Son. As I was chatting with some friends about this talk, one of them said, jokingly, “be sure and tell the part about Santa bringing his reindeer to the manger scene...most people would be perplexed if that was left out...” Today our challenge of finding our Savior in the midst of the materialism and other misleading traditions surrounding this holiday is no less challenging than it was for the Jews who were searching for their Messiah, their deliverer, who came in the form of a baby that depended entirely on others for even the most basic needs. And not only did He come as a baby but He was also conceived in a socially unacceptable way to a Very poor family in tumultuous times.

Mary is a great example of someone for whom the Savior’s birth was a puzzle. In Luke we read:
26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.
29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.
31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.
32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:
33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
. . .

38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38)

And what does she learn by submitting to the Lord and receiving that witness? What does the puzzle look like when she has a chance to figure things out a little?

Talking to her cousin Elizabeth who is also big and uncomfortable with her own puzzle, Mary speaks aloud the thoughts of her heart:
46 . . . My soul doth magnify the Lord,
47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
49 For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. (Luke 1: 38-50)

For the Jews as a nation, however, this puzzle became an ongoing struggle for them. According to the Bible Dictionary, “many Jews . . . were looking only for a deliverer from the Roman power and for greater national prosperity; so when the Messiah came, the nation as a whole rejected him. Only the faithful were able to see in Jesus of Nazareth the true Suffering Servant of Isa. 53, as well as the true Prophet, Priest, and King of Israel.”

What did God send us when He sent His Son? He sent the world an opportunity not only to worship His Son but also an opportunity to serve a helpless Baby born to a family with very little worldly goods, social status or even societal acceptance.

In a talk by Elder Holland entitled, “Maybe Christmas Doesn’t Come From A Store” he says, “One impression which has persisted with me recently is that this is a story—in profound paradox with our own times—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; italics added.) We cannot be certain, but it is my guess that money could talk in those days as well as in our own. I think if Joseph and Mary had been people of influence or means, they would have found lodging even at that busy time of year. I have wondered if the Inspired Version also was suggesting they did not know the “right people” in saying, “There was none to give room for them in the inns.” (JST, Luke 2:7.)

“Furthermore, “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? Is this a place fit for a king? Should the mother of the Son of God be asked to enter the valley of the shadow of death in such a foul and unfamiliar place as this? Is it wrong to wish her some comfort? Is it right He should be born here?”

“At this focal point of all human history, a point illuminated by a new star in the heavens revealed for just such a purpose, probably no other mortal watched—none but a poor young carpenter, a beautiful virgin mother, and silent stabled animals who had not the power to utter the sacredness they had seen. Shepherds would soon arrive and later, wise men from the East. Later yet the memory of that night would bring Santa Claus and Frosty and Rudolph—and all would be welcome. But first and forever there was just a little family, without toys or trees or tinsel. With a baby—that’s how Christmas began.”

What can we do to solve this puzzle of our Savior’s birth in our own hearts? Share the joy of His love, worship him in our hearts and our actions, and serve Others just as the shepherds did, and the wise men, and Mary and Joseph, along with untold others.

In 3 Nephi the Savior says:  “Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world.  Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up—that which ye have seen me do.  Behold ye see that I have prayed unto the Father, and ye all have witnessed.
  And ye see that I have commanded that none of you should go away, but rather have commanded that ye should come unto me, that ye might feel and see.“ (3 Nephi 18: 24-25)

The shepherds and the wise men all were true to the light and understanding of the Savior’s birth and they came and felt and saw the joy of that great event.

The Gospels don’t include a record of the kind souls that might have helped this Holy family in the midst of their intense poverty. But I suspect that there were many who served the Savior and His family just as He later describes when talking of the final judgment. In Mathew 25:31-40 He says:
31 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:
32  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:
33  And he shall set the sheep on his aright hand, but the goats on the left.
34  Then shall the King say unto them on his aright hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
35  For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
36  Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
37  Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee?  or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
38  When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in?  or naked, and clothed thee?
39  Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40  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.

In these verses we learn that we should serve the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned. From the story of the Savior’s birth we learn that we should also serve the helpless, the impoverished, and even those who have been rejected by the world.

God does a lot of things in puzzles that don’t make sense to the world. The birth of His Son is a wonderful puzzle that continues to challenge His children in every society and every culture. The challenges of understanding the way the Lord works are real. But that’s the point. So is the challenge of fitting ourselves for the kingdom of God. The challenges are is real and very personal. And when we overcome these challenges and solve these puzzles for ourselves, we qualify ourselves for the everlasting life that the Savior’s Mercy made possible. I testify that . . . In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Merry Christmas all!!!

1 comment:

Becky said...

Beautiful. Thanks for sharing.