Saturday, 20 December 2014

2014 Winter General Assembly Sermons

Prophet Matthew P Gill's Sermon

We like many others celebrate the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ at this season of the year. On Christmas eve we join with millions of Christians from around the world in celebration of the birth of the Saviour. How grateful we are that the baby Jesus was born for the Saviour came “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man”. His birth transcends everything that we know.
 
We remember the shepherds that watched on that eventful night. We picture them sat in an open cave to protect them from the night’s coolness, yet still able could watch their flocks. They sat in the dark, looking out into the starry sky and suddenly they beheld angels, angels dressed in exquisite whiteness in the centre of infinite glory, and then they spoke un to the humble shepherds: “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” (Luke 2:10–12). Did not the angels sing that night? Sometimes we, too, may seem to hear faint music, not loud, but in symphonic harmony it can penetrate deeply in to our hearts. The never-to-be-forgotten melody, the cry of the ages: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14).
 
As Latter Day Mormons at this beautiful season, we pledge ourselves to his work and invite all people everywhere to join us in our prayers of joy and love and gratitude for the life and teachings of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Each year as Christmas comes around one problem that faces nearly everyone in the Mormon and Christian world, parents especially is the question of Father Christmas. I have asked many times upon my knees while in fervant prayer, should we continue to make Father Christmas a part of our Christmas celebration at all? Is the idea that Father Christmas is a false notion and should have no part in Christmas and valid one? Can we have a proper balance in Christmas activities, including both the worship of Christ and the spirit of giving embodied in Father Christmas? Should we even be celebrating Christmas on December 25th at all, but instead on April 6?
 
I stand here today as the Prophet of God and proclaim that as a church we feel that those who say they don’t want Father Christmas in Christmas because he is a lie, a fictional character, seem to have overlooked another deception of a sort. That is, they overlook the fact that the Lord was not born on December 25, he was born on April 6, in the springtime remember the “beauty of the lilies.” So maybe we shouldn’t be celebrating anything on December 25. Frankly, it’s hard not to be cynical about the whole subject of Christmas these days what with the world falling ever deeper in the clutches of commercialism and agnosticism, nevertheless, I proclaim that we The Latter Day Church of Jesus Christ have encouraged there to be a good healthy balance at Christmastime where the worship of the Saviour and the spirit of giving embodied in Father Christmas work well together. Let us not forget that Father Christmas is based on someone called St. Nicholas, this man loved children and often gave them gifts with no ulterior motive. I think it is important to tell them that St. Nicholas really is embodying the spirit of the season the idea of giving and remembering to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ because the wise men gave gifts to the child Jesus and so we give gifts at Christmas and we tell our children that this man Father Christmas brings to them gifts as did the wise men to the Christ child.
 
Christmas gifts should be in memory of the divine gift, the life of Jesus Christ. His gift gave us eternal life; our gifts should be given with joy to those who receive. His gift was the sacrifice of his earthly life. We have arrogantly reversed the proper order. Our first gift at Christmas should be to the Lord; next to the friend or stranger we meet; then, charged with the effulgence from giving, we would enhance the value of our gifts to our very own. How can we give to the Lord? What shall we give to him? Every kind word, every help given, is as a gift to God, whose chief concern is the welfare of his Brothers and Sisters. Every gentle deed to our neighbour, every kindness to the poor and suffering, is a gift to the Lord, and in doing these things we thereby fit ourselves for our divinely planned destiny. The desire and the effort to give to the Lord, born of the surrender of man to the plan of salvation, stamp every Christmas gift with genuine value. They who identify themselves with the plan, who do not resist it, who earnestly seek to tread the path of the plan, are true givers to the Lord, and their gifts to men come with the flavour of heaven. The Lord and his plan must have pride of place in all our Christmas celebration.
 
Obedience, sacrifice, love, once these tests have been met, the gifts of Christmas, small or great, become more pleasing to the Lord, by a subtle, spiritual sense, more acceptable to the recipient, and leave permanent joy with the giver. So I say unto you all, would it not be better this Christmas to give first to the Lord, directly through obedience, sacrifice, and love, and then to give to him indirectly through gifts to friends and family? If we do this, perhaps many of us would discover a new Christmas joy, a Christmas in Christ, at last a Christmas that has him, the Lord of us all, at centre stage. Amen

Apostle Elder Peter C Barber's Sermon

In the New Testament we read about the 3 wise men who visited Jesus, just after his birth. However, it was Bible scholars who came up with the number 3. Nowhere in the Bible does it specify the number of wise men who came to visit Jesus. The scholars came up with 3 because of the number of gifts that were given to Jesus. The gifts Frankincense, gold, and myrrh.
 
In the book of Matthew, chapter 2 verse 1 it says:- “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem.”
 
Reading down further in the book of Matthew, chapter 2 verse 11, it says:- “And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshiped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.”
 
As these gifts were given to the Son Of God I thought I would take a closer look at the properties of these gifts.
 
Frankincense apart from being used as a cosmetic and as a fragrance, frankincense oil has numerous medicinal uses. Immune System: Frankincense Oil is effective as an antiseptic, and even the fumes or smoke obtained from burning it have antiseptic and disinfectant qualities that eliminate the germs in the space where the smoke filters out. It can be applied on wounds without any known side effects to protect them from tetanus and becoming septic. It is equally good on internal wounds and protects them from developing infections. Oral Health: Those same antiseptic qualities also make frankincense oil a useful preventative measure against oral issues, like bad breath, toothaches, cavities, mouth sores, and other infections. Look for natural oral care products that include frankincense oil if you enjoy the flavour or aroma, and want to include a strong antiseptic in your health regimen. You can even create your own all-natural toothpaste with frankincense oil and baking soda, or a mouthwash with water and peppermint oil. Astringent: The astringent property of Frankincense Oil has many benefits, because it strengthens gums, hair roots, tones and lifts skin, contracts muscles, intestines and blood vessels, and thereby gives protection from premature losses of teeth and hair. This astringent quality also reduces the appearance of wrinkles, and combats the loss of firmness of intestines, abdominal muscles, and limbs associated with age. Above all, frankincense acts as a coagulant, helping to stop bleeding from wounds and cuts.
 
Myrrh is a very powerful antioxidant making it protective against aging skin. The Arabian people believed it helped wrinkled, chapped, and cracked skin. Today, myrrh is widely used in oral hygiene products. It is purifying, restorative, revitalizing, and uplifting. We also know that Myrrh was given to Baby Jesus along with Frankincense and Gold. So, Myrrh and Frankincense were considered luxury items used by the wealthy and highly regarded next to gold.
 
Now for gold, it is a chemical element. It is a bright yellow dense, soft, malleable and ductile metal. The properties remain when exposed to air or water. Chemically, gold is a transition metal and a group 11 element. It is one of the least reactive chemical elements, and is solid under standard conditions. The metal therefore occurs often in free elemental form, as nuggets or grains, in rocks, in veins and in alluvial deposits.
 
In the Book of Jeraneck Chapter 5 verses 19-30 we read:-
 
19. And Hadjaneck said unto the people:
 
20. “Listen to my brother.” And Sharaneck told the people with the power of the Lord in his voice:-
 
21. “I have prayed unto the Lord and he has loosed my tongue so that I may testify of his greatness, and because I have prayed with a sincere heart having faith, and the Lord not only loosed my tongue but he also blessed me with the desires of my heart.”
 
22. And so it was that as Sharaneck was about to tell the people what the Lord had blessed him with, the heavens opened
 
23. And out of the heavens there came a man unlike any man they had seen before behold he was clothed in white and shone with great brightness.
 
24. And he stood in the midst of them and said:-
 
25“I am he who will bleed for you at my first coming.
 
26. I am he who will be born of a virgin pure, and clean.
 
27. I am he who is the only begotten of the Father.
 
28. I am he whom the Prophets testify of.
 
29. I am the Saviour the very Christ.
 
30. My servant Sharaneck, I bless you with the desires of your heart, for I know those desires and I bless you that you will never taste death, but more than this you shall come to me two times in the flesh, once at my birth you shall bring gold to my bedside and second when you shall meet me at the mount of Olives when I shall come the second and final time.
 
As we look forward to this Christmas season let us remember that the gifts given at the birth of or saviour Jesus Christ were given for reasons far beyond the reason for just giving a gift. As we look to the birth of Christ and to the gifts given we also look to the men who brought those gifts, and because we are led by a living Prophet and we are living in a time of revelation upon the earth we have been given a knowledge of one of those men who visited the Christ child, Sharaneck brought gold and we are privileged to know this for ourselves today. As we look forward to the celebration of the birth of Christ we also look forward to the holy event of the Saviour’s appearance at the Mount of Olives and when we shall all be united in our love for him. In closing let me say that I am glad that I have the opportunity to chare my love for the Saviour on this day and that I have the opportunity of celebrating the birth of Christ with my family on the 25th of December with so many across the world.
 
I hope you have a very merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. God bless to you wherever you may be. Amen

Apostle Elder Philip A. Gill's Sermon

Christmas in old Nauvoo was less commercial, yet the celebration was just as happy as it is today. Can you imagine school on Christmas day? What about having Christmas without trees, lights, Christmas cards, or  presents?  Christmas without these things seems hard to imagine, this describes Christmas Day for the early members of the Church living in Nauvoo. Joseph  was born December 23, 1805, just two days before Christmas is celebrated. There is no record of any specific ways the Prophet celebrated his birthday, but in 1843, on the Prophet’s 38th birthday, he recorded that he spent the day preparing for a celebration, but not his own. Rather he spent the day preparing for Christmas, the observed birthday of  Jesus Christ "At home on 23rd December 1843 guiding the brethren who called on me, and attending to my domestic duties, making preparations for a Christmas party" ( History of Joseph Smith.)
 
When America was first settled in the 1600s, most of the early settlers did not believe that Christmas should be a time of festivity. They avoided the “impure” Christmas traditions of England. For Joseph and his family and many of the other Saints with links to England, puritan thoughts still permeated Christmas celebrations. However during the lifetime of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Christmas Day gradually became recognised as a day of celebration as well as a sacred day. Christmas was still much less festive in those days than it is today. Records show us that the Mormon children in Nauvoo even attended school on December 25th because Christmas was not a legal holiday in the state of Illinois. Christmas trees were not common, and very few of the Saints gave Christmas gifts or cards. Rather than focusing on giving and receiving gifts, the Saints in the 1840s spent Christmas evening with family and friends enjoying good food and sometimes festive music and dancing. Although there is no record of what the Saints in Nauvoo served at these dinner parties, the dishes likely contained ingredients used throughout the rest of the winter, flour, sugar, beans, corn, salt, dried meat, and dried fruit, certainly no Turkey dinners. Christmas celebrations also probably included some of the Saints favourite sweets such as ice cream made from snow, sugar, and flavouring, candy made from molasses and cookies made with dates or figs.
 
In the History of the Prophet, Joseph did record some memorable Christmas celebrations. These records show how much the Prophet enjoyed the Christmases that he could spend with family and friends. One such entry is on Christmas Day of 1835 in which he writes:- “Friday, December 25, 1835. Enjoyed myself at home with my family all day, it being Christmas, the only time I have had this privilege so satisfactorily for a long period” Eight years later, on Christmas Day of 1843, the Prophet recorded another memorable Christmas. Christmas day began quite early in the morning when carollers serenaded the Prophet’s home around 1:00 A.M. This surprise visit made the Prophet very happy; he recorded that the singing “caused a thrill of pleasure to run through his soul". The day continued with a large party. That afternoon Joseph and Emma presided at a dinner  party for  about 50 couples , and Joseph recorded the following in his journal about the gathering:- “Monday, December 25, A large party supped at my house, and spent the evening in music, dancing, , in a most cheerful and friendly manner”
 
Even though Christmas for the Saints in Nauvoo seems to have been very different from Christmas today, the purpose was the same, to celebrate the birth of the Saviour, very few men understand the glory of that birth as did Joseph himself. For Joseph had seen the Saviour, “even on the right hand of God,” and had borne witness through personal knowledge “that he lives The Christ child was born of meagre wealth and circumstance". In their comprehension of poverty and its solutions, most Mormons moved little beyond Ebenezer Scrooge's personally fulfilling but ultimately narrow patronage. Their sentimentalisation of worthy paupers at Christmas time, especially virtuous but destitute women and vagabond children, did not question the essential goodness of the market economy that had, directly and indirectly, produced the poverty. As in Dickens evocation of charity, the rich man escaped condemnation if he recognised that his money meant little compared to his responsibility to humanity. Mormons were a prime moving force in recognising welfare issues especially at Christmas, and tried to eradicate these issues.
 
And so my brothers and sisters we sit here today hundreds of years latter as the progeny of those first Mormons in Nauvoo and we hold with us the sacred flame that is Christmas and it is up to us to guard that flam and see that the winds of change and of worldly want do not shut out the flame that the birth of the Christ child caused to be lit. We as brother Joseph know the truth of our Saviour and we should remember that on the day we celebrate Christmas we are not just celebrating a national holiday but indeed are celebrating the birth of our own Saviour, Jesus Christ. I hope and pray that you all have a very Merry Christmas and that the light of Christ is with you and your families over this festive period. Amen
 

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