Sunday, 16 December 2012

Christ is the True Gift of Christmas

A Sermon by Matthew P. Gill
17 December, 2012

A special, virtually tangible spirit envelops the Christian world at Christmas with intensity unknown the rest of the year.

To Latter Day Mormons, the Christmas story, from Bethlehem to Calvary, takes precedence over the tinsel and the toys, for the Saviour is the centre of Christmas not just a Latter Day Christmas but the centre of all Christmases.

With this in mind Christmas should liberate us from prejudice, peevishness, and pressures. It puts us back into perspective with our religious beliefs, our family relationships, our cultural heritage, and our precious past. A simple trinket becomes priceless after repeated appearances on a Christmas mantle. Even a broken bauble cannot be left off the tree if it’s always been there, it goes up again! Such treasures are symbols of shared times in an aura of a magic and hallowed season. Christmas is for everyone, the child, the childlike, and the mature.

Whether you are giving the gifts or getting them, planning a surprise or delighting in one, Christmas opens the door to deep joy. Latter Day Mormons, like everyone else, enjoy giving and receiving presents at Christmas, but there is a difference between presents and gifts.

The true gifts may be part of us, giving of the riches of the heart and mind and therefore more enduring and of far greater worth than presents bought at the store. Part of the purpose for telling the story of Christmas is to remind us that Christmas doesn't come from a store. We must remember the very plain scene, even the poverty, of a night devoid of tinsel or wrapping or goods of this world.

As the scripture records: “And I beheld the city of Nazareth; and in the city of Nazareth I beheld a virgin, and she was exceedingly fair and white. And it came to pass that I saw the heavens open; and an angel came down and stood before me; and he said unto me: Nephi, what beholdest thou? And I said unto him: A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins.” (1 Nephi Chapter 3/11:13-15)

Only when we see that sacred, unadorned child of our devotion the Babe of Bethlehem will we know why the giving of gifts is so appropriate. And no matter how many times we read the biblical account of that evening in Bethlehem, we always come away with a thought or two we haven’t had before, of course, among the greatest of gifts is the gift of love.

Some, illustrated by the character Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens's A Christmas Carol, have a hard time loving anyone, even themselves, because of their selfishness. Love seeks to give rather than to get. Charity towards and compassion for others is a way to overcome too much self-love and at this season of giving we Latter Day Mormons feel that more than many.

However, after all this, the most important thing to us as Latter Day Mormons is the real meaning of Christmas. The real meaning of Christmas comes to those who have taken Christ into their life as a moving, dynamic, vitalizing force. The real spirit of Christmas lies in the life and mission of the Master.

The birth of Jesus Christ was extraordinary in that it involved the condescension of both the Father and the Son, two eternal beings. The Father condescended in sending His Son; the Savior condescended in taking upon Himself a mortal body and offering Himself as a sacrifice for sin. Is it any wonder that angels were assigned to declare the Savior's birth on that holy day?

As the scripture records the angel of the Lord, saying:  “Lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:9-14)

And we learn from Latter Day scripture that the arrival of the Saviour was also announced to the ancient People of Light, as the Prophet Jeraneck records, “Now the Lord took me to a place that I had never seen before, and I saw a Virgin, and she was pure and unspotted and she was moved upon by the Holy Spirit and she gave birth to a baby boy. And this baby was the Lord of Heaven. And she gave birth to him in a stable built into the rocks, and she named him Jesus. And many people came unto his bedside and they laid gifts at his feet. I saw Sharaneck, that he laid Gold at his feet, and many people came unto him and worshipped him, for it was this Jesus that is the very Almighty that speaks to us, and the very same Lord that we worship.”

Knowing the importance of our Lord’s birth, there is a beauty at Christmastime that comes upon us in a very special way, and our Hearts are opened to a new measure of kindness. Love speaks with increased power. Tensions are eased, love abounds and a great spiritual feeling overcomes us. Of all things which we bear testimony, none is as important as our witness that Jesus, the Christmas child, came to earth from the realms of His Eternal Father, here to work among men as healer and teacher, our Great Exemplar. Most important, He suffered on Calvary's cross as an atoning sacrifice for all mankind.

Who needs Christmas? We all do! Every one of us! Because Christmas can bring us closer to the Saviour, the only source of lasting joy. We need Christmas because it helps us to be better people, not only in December but in January, June, and November. Because we need Christmas, we had better understand what it is and what it isn't. Gifts, holly, mistletoe, and red-nosed reindeer are fun as traditions, but they are not what Christmas is really about. Christmas is that glorious moment when the Son of our Father joined his divinity to our imperfect humanity.

And so, let us not forget with our family that at this time of Christmas, this season when gifts are given, let us not forget that God gave His Son, and His Son gave His life, that each of us might have the gift of eternal life.

Christ is born! Let all Creation rejoice in it!

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