Monday, December 26, 2016

Reflections on Christmas: The Easter Connection

The gifts have been unwrapped and the decorations will soon be put away.  We have reflected for a time on the birth of Jesus and in a small way we have reflected on the marvelous life of Jesus.

In reality, the search for Jesus will take us far beyond the manger in Bethlehem.  If we would truly follow the star we must go to Nazareth, to Galilea, to Jerusalem, if only in our hearts. 

We must find not only the infant Jesus, but Jesus the man.  We must find the fisher of men, the teacher, the leader,  the healer,  the friend.  We will find him by the sea of Galilea. We will find him on the Mount of Olives.   We will find him on the dusty roads of Palestine. We will find him with the leper, the adulterer, the crippled, the sick.   Ultimately, if we would find Jesus, we must follow the star to the Garden of Gethsamane, to Golgatha, and to the Garden Tomb.

Our worship must take us past the manger to kneel at the cross, for here he finished his work.   The gift was complete.   This is the gift that matters most; the gift of all gifts; the gift of the atonement of Jesus Christ. Without Easter there could not be a Christmas.  This is the gift of which the angels  exhultantly sang; good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.  Joy to the World, the Lord is Come! 

Jesus forever changed the world.  He has forever changed me.

 “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

The glorious message of Christmas is the Easter Message.  It is the message of the empty tomb.  Like Mary Magdalene, I have stood in the empty tomb, and I know now just as surely as Mary knew then, that Jesus has overcome the world.

May we always feel the peace that passeth all understanding  in the sweet knowledge that Christ has overcome the world.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Reflections on Christmas: The Olive Press

We saw olive trees everywhere in Israel. They are interesting trees, with uniquely shaped trunks. They live for hundreds and even thousands of years. Olive oil is a nearly perfect food, and is highly prized for its healing properties. 

In the past, olives were picked by hand and dropped on cloth on the ground, then gathered for pressing.

The first pressing was to be used in the temple, the second pressing was for consumption, and the third and final pressing was fuel for heating, cooking and light.

Friend-husband and I in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Elder Todd Christopherson said, "Let us consider the cost of God’s precious love. Jesus revealed that to atone for our sins and redeem us from death, both physical and spiritual, His suffering caused Himself, “even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that [He] might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink. 

"His agony in Gethsemane and on the cross was greater than any mortal could bear. Nevertheless, because of His love for His Father and for us, He endured, and as a consequence, He can offer us both immortality and eternal life.

'It is poignantly symbolic that “blood [came] from every pore” as Jesus suffered in Gethsemane, the place of the olive press. 

"To produce olive oil in the Savior’s time, olives were first crushed by rolling a large stone over them. The resulting “mash” was placed in soft, loosely woven baskets, which were piled one upon another. Their weight expressed the first and finest oil. 

"Then added stress was applied by placing a large beam or log on top of the stacked baskets, producing more oil. 

"Finally, to draw out the very last drops, the beam was weighted with stones on one end to create the maximum, crushing pressure. 

"And yes, the oil is blood red as it first flows out."

This ancient dead olive tree was moved to the BYU Jerusalem Center because of its interesting and beautiful trunk. Some time later the "dead" trunk began to grow new branches. You might say the tree was resurrected.

I am the resurrection and the life. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.  John 5:21.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Reflections on Christmas: The Sea of Galilee

There is so much to love about Galilee.  The sea, or should I say lake, is a jewel shining in the midst of an unforgiving desert.  I will never forget the beauty and power of the things I saw and heard there.  Like the life-giving sea, Jesus gives living water to each of us in the deserts of our lives. 

Some of my favorite scripture stories happened near the Sea of Galilee: Jesus calling His Disciples, Jesus healing the sick, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus walking on the Water, Jesus rescuing Peter who also walked on water, Jesus calming the sea.  

I have always loved the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000.  A large number of people had gathered to hear Jesus.  It was nearly time for passover and there was no place to get food.  The disciples seemed stressed.  An unnamed boy had brought a little food.  It seems he was the only one.  Five barley loaves and two small fishes, may have been enough to satisfy a hungry boy, but certainly could not feed this army of people.  Or could they?

We can only guess at the size of the loaves.  Perhaps they were the size of a biscuit.  The size is irrelevant in comparison to the number of people who were fed.

Jesus offered a prayer and the disciples distributed the food.  5,000 people ate and were filled and 12 baskets of fragments remained. 

I love that the Lord can take what we have and make it enough.  He can do it with food.  He can do it with money.  He can even do it with time.  No matter how limited our resources may be, the God of miracles can make it more.

There is so much more I love about Galilee, but I will save it for another day.

Reluctant Goodbye at Galilee

One last look at the Galilee
That ancient life-giving scriptural sea
The scenes of stories held dear to me
Where Jesus’s footsteps feel near to me
Revealed doctrines grow more clear to me
As Son-light sparkles and shines for me
On the sacred sea of Galilee.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Remembering Christmas: No Other Name

The name "Jesus" was specified by the angel Gabriel.  It means Savior.   His other names are no less descriptive. Christ means annointed one.   Messiah means deliverer.  Immanuel means God with us.  

The scriptures teach "there is no other name given, whereby salvation can come to the children of men."     Like Nephi, we can barely comprehend the condescension of God.  

This helpless baby nestled in the staw  was Jehovah,  the God of Israel,  the Great I Am,  the Creator of heaven and earth,  the Lord of Lords, the King of Kings, the Bright and Morning Star....and he became like us, that we might become like him. 

Did Mary and Joseph know that Jesus must be born in Bethlehem, the house of bread?

How appropriate that the "Bread of Life" would begin his life in the city named the house of bread.  How did they feel about the humble place of his birth?  Would they have chosen a stable? a manger?  What did Jesus mean to teach us by coming  in this way? 

This is the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The Catholic Church holds Christmas Mass here each year on Christmas Eve.  The acoustics are awesome.  We took opportunity to sing Christmas carols together in this beautiful place.  

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Reflections on Christmas: What Kind of Man would God Choose to be the Father of his Son

"Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother  Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.  

Recreation of a Nazareth Village like the one where Joseph lived.
Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to maker her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.

But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the lord appeared unto him in a dream saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife; for that which is conceive in her is of the Holy Ghost.

And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS ; for he shall save his people from  their sins....

Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife."

Liz Lemon Swindle's beautiful painting.
Joseph was no less valiant than Mary.  Imagine his feelings as he perceived that his love had been betrayed.  Imagine his heartbreak, his anguish at his shattered dreams.  Yet, at the angel's word he too showed complete and immediate obedience. 

 Don¹t you just marvel at the strength of his spirit, his trust, his faith.  We know so little of Joseph, but we imagine him gentle and kind, strong and protective. We know that he would have been equal to Mary in righteousness and spirituality.  What kind of man would God have chosen to raise his son?   Joseph would stand beside Mary.  He would teach and guide Jesus.  He would act as father. 

When Joseph went to Bethlehem                             
I think he took great care
To place his tools and close his shop and leave no shavings there.
He urged the donkey forward then, with Mary on its back,
And carried bread and goat cheese in a little linen sack.
I think there at the busy inn that he was meek and mild
And awed to be the guardian of Mary’s sacred child.
Perhaps all through the chilly hours he smoothed the swaddling bands,
And Jesus felt the quiet strength of Joseph’s gentle hands.
And close beside the manger bed, he dimmed the lantern’s light
And held the little Jesus close upon that holy night.

Children's Songbook, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 1989 p.38
Word by Marilyn Curtis White

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Reflections on Christmas: Mary

Depiction of a Nazareth of home in a recreated Nazareth Village

"...the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth.

To a virgin espoused to a man named Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary...

And the angel said unto her, Fear not, mary: for thou has found favour with God.

And, behold, thou shalt conceive in they womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS."  (Luke 1:26-31)

What kind of woman would God choose to be the mother of his son? Nephi calls her a virgin most beautiful and fair.   Alma calls her a precious and chosen vessel of the Lord.  

Historians tell us that Mary was very young when she was told of her sacred mission, perhaps as young as 13, and probably not older than 16.  Can you imagine the thoughts that must have 
filled her young mind?  

It would be she who would prepare Jesus for his triumphant mission.  Her baby would be the son of God! This was neither the first nor last time that the Lord would choose someone very young for his most important work.  David was just a boy when he was annointed King of Israel.  The Savior would come through his blood line. 

I love Liz Lemon Swindle's younger Mary.
Mormon was just 10 when he was entrusted with the plates, and 16 when he took charge of the Nephite armies.  Joseph Smith was 14 when he saw the father and the son, and began his mission to restore the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the earth.  We begin to see that you are never too young to be of great service to the Lord.

We love the words that Mary spoke as she accepted her sacred calling. "Behold the handmaiden of the Lord.  Be it unto me according to thy word."  If only we could be so obedient to the will of the Lord.

The name, Mary, means bitter...perhaps a reminder that a sword would one day pierce her heart. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Reflections on Christmas: Wise Men Still Seek Him

In my nativity set, I have camels, presumably to carry the wise men to Bethehem. We occasionally saw camels in Israel, but it was in Jordan that I had the chance to ride a camel.  It was great fun and I have new respect for the Wise Men.

We did not hear about Wise Men  while in Bethlehem though the scriptures testify that they visited the baby Jesus.  The wise men did not really kneel at the manger as we often imagine.  They came much later, perhaps as much as two years later.  We know this because Herod on learning that he had been tricked by the wise men ordered the death of all babies two years and younger.

Even though we know this, we celebrate the coming of the Wise Men when we celebrate Christmas.  We display them in our nativity sets and we include them in our singing of carols and in our  Christmas pageants 

The wise men, or Magi, came from afar, and unlike the  common, humble shepherds were men of wealth, influence, and power,  perhaps even kings.  And so we see that the Savior did not come to just one nation or class of people.

The Savior’s mission was to all people, rich and poor, learned and ignorant, humble and influential, Jew and gentile.   All men, no matter what their race or station can come to the Savior and become whole.  We are reminded that when he comes again every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ.

We feel a sense of wonder as we imagine the Wise Men opening their treasures for the small Jesus.  Their gifts were so well chosen.   Gold, a gift reserved for royalty, a gift representing a crown, a gift befitting a king. Frankincense, a type of incense used by the priests in the temple.  This was given as a symbol of his priesthood, his divine power, his Priestly nature.  Frankincense was used in the temple for sacrificial offerings, and was given to the baby Jesus... Jesus, who would one day teach us much about sacrifice...Jesus, who had come to sacrifice himself for us, that we might live again.  The third gift, myrhh, was a type of perfume used for burial, a gentle reminder that Jesus would one day die for us.

Don't you love these images:  Learned men searching for Jesus, the source of truth and knowledge; Influential men traveling through the darkness, to find the light of the world--following the star to seek the bright and morning star; perhaps even Kings, bowing before the King of Kings. 

Wise men still seek Him.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Reflections on Christmas: Shepherds

Oh how I wanted to see the Shepherd's Fields.

 The idea of shepherds has so much significance to me. I am touched by the thought that humble shepherds were the first to hear that Jesus had been born.  It delights me to know that God loves ordinary people doing ordinary work.  I am one of those ordinary people, and I love knowing that I matter to him.

Despite this symbolism, I believe that these shepherds were far from ordinary, for they tended temple sheep.  These sheep were sacrificial lambs who would be used in temple sacrifice, just as Jesus was the sacrificial lamb who would sacrifice His life for the sins of His people.

The symbolism is flawless.  Jesus is the Lamb of God and the Good Shepherd.  The angels sent these humble shepherds to worship the Lamb of God.  Perhaps they brought a lamb or two as a gift for the new born shepherd-king.

As it turns out the Shepherds Fields are now covered with houses in modern Bethlehem.  We happened to see a shepherd in Jerusalem near the Mount of Olives.

We were never close to any shepherds in Israel. It is my hope to draw ever closer to the one true shepherd of my heart--Jesus the Christ.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Reflections on Christmas: Bethlehem

I was warned that Bethlehem would be different from the Bethlehem of my childhood stories.  I grew up imagining a wooden stable like the ones I had seen on the farm where I grew up.  The stable in my mind was very like the barn on my dad’s farm.  Only smaller.

Eventually I learned that the stable was more of a cave or grotto.  Even though I know this, I display a small wooden stable each Christmas with my small Mary and Joseph, hand painted by my talented daughter-in-law.

Was I warned that the stable would be small and crowded?  Or that the religious atmosphere might be somewhat foreign to me?  I don’t remember.  Perhaps I was.

We had been in Israel several days before we visited Bethlehem, and I had already learned that where ever a sacred site had been identified someone had built a church over the site or at least in close proximity.  Because of that the church built over the stable-cave was not a complete surprise.

The church was being remodeled and so there was scaffolding and other signs of construction.  There were candles and many electric lights and chandeliers, none of which seemed to match.  If there was significance to the randomness of the lights, no one mentioned it. Perhaps the lights were meant to honor the holy infant who was to be the Light of the World.

It was crowded and there was a line to see the place where Jesus was born.  We were told that this was a short line.  We felt a bit rushed because of the people behind us and the small space inside the cave.

We hastily glanced around us, touched the gold star on the floor where they said the baby had been born, and wished we could see the manger, which is now in Rome.  We wondered if there had been room for animals and shepherds in this tiny place.

I wrote this poem shortly after our visit to Bethlehem.

In Search of the Stable

Is this cave the stable in Luke’s story,
The place where you were born?
I touched the star where they said it happened

And snapped a photo in your honor
Of the place they say you slept.
The manger is in Rome not here.
This is not the way I pictured it.

I have a different picture of this place
In the manger of my heart
and the stable of my mind.
I like my picture better,
But I am glad to be here anyway
And wish you a happy unbirthday
In October instead of April, or December