This Sunday we enjoyed a special Christmas presentation of words and music as part of our Sacrament programme. The programme was compiled by our Bishop and comprised of readings, recorded music, congregational carols and musical items.
Recording: Tabernacle Choir & Natalie Cole, Processional: Come, O Come
Reading 1, 2 Nephi 2:18-2
Recording: Alfie Boe & Tabernacle Choir, I Wonder As I Wander
Reading 2, 1 Nephi 11:13-21 & Mosiah 3:8
Reading 3, Luke 1:26-38
Carol: duet, 205 Once In Royal David’s City
Reading 4, Jeffrey R. Holland Maybe Christmas Doesn’t Come from a Store Ensign, Dec. 1977, 63–65
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.)
We cannot be certain what the historian intended, but we do know these two were desperately poor. At the purification offering which the parents made after the child’s birth, a turtledove was substituted for the required lamb, a substitution the Lord had allowed in the Law of Moses to ease the burden of the truly impoverished. (See Lev. 12:8.) . . .. . . As a father I have recently begun to think more often of Joseph, that strong, silent, almost unknown man who must have been more worthy than any other mortal man to be the guiding foster father of the living Son of God. It was Joseph selected from among all men who would teach Jesus to work. It was Joseph who taught him the books of the law. It was Joseph who, in the seclusion of the shop, helped him begin to understand who he was and ultimately what he was to become.
I was a student at BYU just finishing my first year of graduate work when our first child, a son, was born. We were very poor, though not so poor as Joseph and Mary. My wife and I were both going to school, both holding jobs, and in addition worked as head residents in an off-campus apartment complex to help defray our rent. We drove a little Volkswagen which had a half-dead battery because we couldn’t afford a new one (Volkswagen or battery).
Nevertheless, when I realized that our own night of nights was coming, I believe I would have done any honorable thing in this world, and mortgaged any future I had, to make sure my wife had the clean sheets, the sterile utensils, the attentive nurses, and the skilled doctors who brought forth our first born son. If she or that child had needed special care . . . I believe I would have ransomed my very life to get it.
I compare those feelings (which I have had with each succeeding child) with 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 100 miles 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? 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?” But I am certain Joseph did not mutter and Mary did not wail. They knew a great deal and did the best they could.
Carol: 206 O Little Town of Bethlehem
Reading 5, Luke 2:1-16
Reading 6, Barbara Norton: David R. Crocket Christmas at Winter Quarters, Church News Dec. 21 1996 (includes a recording: Fiddlesticks, “Farewell To Nauvoo”
Throughout 1845 anti-Mormon persecution in Illinois grew in frequency and intensity. By Autumn it was clear that the city of Nauvoo would have to be abandoned. The exodus began prematurely in February as a result of mob violence. In appalling conditions and intense suffering the saints made their way across Iowa to Winter Quarters. The westward migration continued throughout 1846 until by Christmas some 10,000 people were accommodated in temporary homes, some in just tents or wagons, the more fortunate in turf or timber shacks and cabins.
Christmas Day at Winter Quarters in 1846 was a working day. It was also a day for joy, a day to count many blessings despite numerous trials. Harriet Young, wife of Lorenzo Dow Young, recorded: “This morning we were saluted from every quarter with ‘Happy Christmas’ or ‘Christmas Gift.’ We staid at home, retired from the busy crowd.” . . .
. . . The frozen Missouri river nearby, reflected the bright sunshine as the Saints went to work at their various day’s activities. Among the daily tasks were, fetching water from wells and streams, chopping wood, building houses, patiently caring for the more than three hundred sick in the city, watching the children, and feeding the animals. Mary Richards spent her morning gathering together a large load a clothes. She went to her sister-in-law’s house “to spend Christmas over the wash tub.” Mary and Jane Richards washed all day, enjoying their company, and certainly they spoke longingly of their husbands (Samuel W. Richards and Franklin D. Richards) who were away
from home on this Christmas Day, serving the Lord on missions in England.
The Church leaders, including President Brigham Young, attended to important business in council meetings during the afternoon and into the evening. There was an incredible amount of planning and organization that still needed attention, to prepare for the continued massive exodus of the Church to their future mountain home in the Rocky Mountains. These faithful Saints also took time this day to stop and reverently reflect on the Savior’s birth. They reminisced about their difficult journey during the past year that brought them settle at this location on the west bank of the Missouri River. They cast their thoughts on loved-ones who were away: In the Mormon Battalion, on missions, on trading expeditions, and dear family and friends who during the year had departed from this life. . . .. . . After the labors of the day were complete, time was spent in small, quiet gatherings of family and friends. A small party was held at the home of Elder Heber C. Kimball. His daughter, Helen Mar Whitney, wrote that it “was very enjoyable and passed off in fine style.” A gathering was also held at Edwin Wooley’s home which was attended by many sisters, including Eliza R. Snow, Patty Session, Phoebe Chase, Hannah Markham and Hannah Green. Surely they discussed the Christmas Days of years gone by, including the previous year in their beloved City of Joseph, Nauvoo the Beautiful.
As the night became late, the Saints quietly returned to their homes, wagons and tents, put their children to bed and retired to rest for the important work of the coming day. They knew that their Savior had been born, lived, and died for them. They rejoiced despite their afflictions, that they were blessed to receive the restored gospel in their lives. They retired with the hope of a better day, when they could celebrate future Christmas Days under permanent roofs, in a land far to the west. The faith and sacrifices experienced on that Christmas Day long ago, reaped blessing and rewards for generations to come.
One of the early pioneers, John Menzies Macfarlane, later wrote the carol the missionaries will nowsing for us, the only carol in our hymn book written by a latter-day saint and one of very few LDS hymns to be accepted in the wider Christian community, 212 Far Far Away On Judea’s Plains.
Carol, 212, Far Far Away On Judea’s Plains
Reading 7, from Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
The name Scrooge has become synonymous with an anti-Christmas spirit of selfish miserliness and lack of charity. But we should remember that that is not how the story ends. The famous Dicken’s book “A Christmas Carol” is about change and redemption. It is a metaphor of the redeeming power of Jesus Christ. These are the last few paragraphs.
“A merry Christmas, Bob!” said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. “A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob! Make up the fires, and buy another coal-scuttle before you dot another i, Bob Cratchit.”
Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man,as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.
He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!
May we have the same joy and spirit of goodwill in our Christmas this year
Carol: 202 O Come All Ye Faithful