Friday, December 17, 2010

Day 11 : The Wise Men

Matt. 2:1-23

No doubt there were many back east - where everyone is so much smarter - who thought the wise men were foolish for setting out on their journey on such slim evidence. Piecing together hints from the scriptures, these scientists believed the new star they had found marked the coming of the King and decided to fulfill prophecy by taking Him gifts (Read Isaiah 60: 1- 6, 9-10, 14, 17). They had to cross deserts and mountains and rivers and endure scorching sun by day and cold winds at night. Danger confronted them all the way: wild animals, wild men and robbers, sickness and exhaustion, it was a struggle just to find water to drink. But they knew what they had seen, and they knew what it meant so together they traversed the wasteland and were led to the home of the king.

He probably wasn't what they had expected. After all, they went to the palace first. But they had eyes of faith to see the star and ears to hear the angel's warning voice. So they presented their gifts to the child of the poor couple: gold, frankincense and myrrh.

The gold was a kingly gift. Some of it have been used to pay for the family's flight south to Egypt out of harm's way. Maybe there was enough left to tide them over until Joseph reputation as a good carpenter spread around enough for him to provide income for his growing family. Or maybe they used a lot of the gold to hire a tutor from the college town of Alexandria or to buy some prophetic scrolls so that their very bright son could learn to read. His Father knew what they would need and He provided it through some wise men who listened.

The frankincense was a priestly gift: it was the incense which was burned at the temple every day. The smoke rose toward heaven from the altar in the Holy Place, symbolically carrying with it the prayers of the saints. An appropriate gift for the Lamb, who, upon His death, returned to His Father in Heaven, bearing our pleas for mercy.

And the myrrh was appointed for that death. It is an aromatic resin which, when melted, becomes an amber liquid which gives a lovely scent to olive oil it is blended with. It was used to anoint the bodies of the dead. And the Babe of Bethlehem was born to die. Not that year, in Herod's slaughter, but in the meridian of time, a death without which, life would have no meaning.

Jesus came into the world to die. The painting "Destiny" by an anonymous artist depicts the child Jesus in the carpenter's shop with Joseph. He casts the shadow of a cross.

From the beginning, He came to give us life. And the wise men knew it: gold for a king, frankincense for a priest, and myrrh for the Lamb who must die that we might live. Against all odds they sought Him to offer their all.

Wise men still seek Him.

Ardeth G. Kapp
It was Christmas Eve. The magic of Christmas seemed more real this year, not so much from the lights and tinsel but the feeling of excitement from the inside out. Family members had gathered at our house. After our traditional family dinner, Grandpa gathered us in the living room where he opened the Bible and read once again the Christmas story from Luke.
"And it came to pass in those day, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus" (Luke 2: 1), and the story continued. I noticed his hands trembling as he held the sacred record. Grandpa's voice was weaker now, but strong in the message that he and Grandma knew in their hearts and had taught us through the years. After the stockings were finally hung and treats left for Santa, the children reluctantly, yet eagerly, doubled up in beds trying hard to get to sleep while listening intensely for any sounds from the expected night visitor. Finally, one by one, each family member had slipped off to bed. The fire was burning low. Now if my husband, Heber, would just go to bed, I could finish my gift for him. I needed about three more hours to complete the plan I had been so excited about and working on for months. But in spite of my encouragement for him to leave, he lingered. It was evident he would wait for me. I decided to go to bed and wait until he dropped off to sleep, then slip out and finish my project for him.
With the lights out and the house quiet, I lay in bed looking into the dark. I was too excited to sleep. I waited to hear his heavy breathing announcing that it would be safe to slip away. To my amazement, and after only a little time, he whispered, "Ardie." I didn't respond. A conversation now would only delay the time before I could finish my work. When I didn't answer, he slipped out of bed as cautiously as I had planned to. What was he up to? I would go to sleep, I decided. If I could sleep now and awaken about 3:00 A.M. I could still finish my project before six o'clock in the morning, the time Grandpa Ted had agreed we should all gather around the tree.
I woke up off and on during the short night, glanced at the lighted clock, saw that Heber was still not in bed, and tried to doze off. But I didn't want to fall too soundly asleep and spoil the plan I had been working on so diligently.
Finally, I again woke up, and this time I realized Heber was getting into bed ever so quietly. It was only minutes until his heavy breathing assured me that he was sound asleep. It was 3:00 A.M. If all went well, in three hours I could still complete this special gift on time. I knew he would be pleased. "But what in the world kept him up half the night?" I wondered. In just a few hours, I would know; but for now I must concentrate and work fast.
Months ago we had talked about the forthcoming Christmas and made the traditional gift list that ranged from ridiculous to the sublime. At the top of my list was a wish that we could have more time together for him to teach me of his great understanding of the gospel. But I was driving two hours each day to BYU, and his schedule was very busy. Our time together was precious.
Heber's list of wants was short, as usual; but he did express a concern for the responsibility he had as a stake president to lead the way, and it bothered him that his family history was not compiled. His family group sheets were incomplete. While the information was probably available from aunts and uncles, his own brothers and sisters had little or no information. He felt anxious about this, but wasn't sure it was a Christmas list item, at least not the kind you could get from the mail-order catalog or even ZCMI. That was months ago, and now my prayer was being answered. The hands on my watch seemed to stand still while I worked. Everything was coming together so beautifully.
The gift was finally wrapped. I could hardly believe I had done it, but there it was—the evidence of hours and hours of work. I hurried back and slipped into bed. It was 5:45 A.M. I had made it! It didn't matter now, and it's a good thing, because children's voices were heard from the other room. "Grandpa says it's time we can get up. Hurry, hurry. We can't wait," they said. And neither could I. There were so many gifts for everyone.
Heber handed me a package. What in the world could it be? I opened it. It was a box of cassette tapes. On the top of the box was a message, "My dear Ardie. While you are traveling each day, I will be with you and will teach you. As you know, the Doctrine and Covenants has been a special interest to me over the years. I have enjoyed reading and recording for you the entire book. Reading it with the purpose of sharing it with you, I have endeavored to express my interpretation and feelings so that you might feel what I feel about this sacred book. I finished it only a few hours ago. It has been a most rewarding experience for me. Remember the Lord's promise, "Therefore, if you will ask of me you shall receive; if you will knock it shall be opened unto you. No, as you have asked, behold, I say unto you, keep my commandments, and seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion; Seek not for riches but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that has eternal life is rich.' (D&C 6:5-7.) May these tapes add to you wisdom and help unfold the mysteries of God and prepare us for our eternal life together."
I immediately thought of my friend who had recently lost her husband with cancer and wondered what price she would pay for such a gift, to be able to hear her husband's voce read the scriptures to her and her children over and over again, even in his absence. What a priceless gift! No wonder some of his meetings had seemed to last longer than usual. How could I ever thank him enough?
I handed Heber my gift. He tore off the cover. A book. A book of remembrance—full. Pages and pages with pictures and stories never before recorded, a result of many secret trips to Ogden while he was in his many meetings, interviewing relatives and sorting through records and histories. The first page of the gift began with a letter, "Dear Heber. As I have copied, reviewed, and prepared these sheets and interviewed family members, your ancestors have become very real to me, and I have an increased appreciation and understanding of the greatness and nobility in the man I married. In interviews with those who knew and remembered your parents, I learned that your father always wanted your mother to be with him, in the fields if possible, and even wherever he was in the house. You must have inherited that. Although I never met your father, and your mother only once, when we meet, I know I'll love them and know them better because of this gift I have prepared for you, which really has been a gift for me."
I don't remember any of the other gifts that year, but Heber and I will never forget the spirit of that glorious Christmas celebration.

Day 10 : Anna and Simeon at the Temple

File:Brooklyn Museum - The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (La présentation de Jésus au Temple) - James Tissot - overall.jpg

Luke 2.-21-39
These two old people are often overlooked or forgotten in the telling of the Christmas story. Old people often are. But not by the Lord.

Simeon was a good man. He had a testimony and had tried to be a good member all his life. He had learned how to recognize the Spirit and had probably often been prompted to go help some widow with her sickly donkey or a broken door hinge. It was because of a life-long habit of listening to and obeying the Spirit that Simeon happened to be at the temple on the day Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to be redeemed.

And his old eyes were opened and he knew who Jesus was. He offered Mary a priesthood blessing: he could see how hard yet rich her life would be. Like Eli of old, he blessed parents who had given their son to God, blessed them with more sons and daughters. And his old mouth was filled with marvelous words. And the service of his whole life was paid in full in that moment in the temple.

He was not alone. Anna (named for Hannah, the mother of Samuel) was also at the temple. Lots of old widows are, serving day and night with fasting and prayer and washing and ushering and folding clothes and welcoming people to the house of the Lord. And in that instant she too rejoiced and, like so many of our sisters, told EVERYONE she met about the marvelous babe.

Please do not forget the Simeons and Annas in your lives and congregations: Invite them into your home as God did into His and let them tell you how they MET Christ in their lives.

According to a tradition in the Eastern Orthodox Church, Simeon had been one of the seventy-two translators of the Septuagint. As he hesitated over the translation of Isaiah 7:14 (LXX: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive..."), an angel appeared to him and told him that he would not die until he had seen the Christ born of a virgin. This would make him well over two hundred years old at the time of the meeting described in Luke, and therefore miraculously long-lived.

The Eastern Orthodox Church considers Anna and Simeon as the last prophets of Old Testament. It observes their feast on February 3 as the synaxis (afterfeast) following the Presentation of Christ (or the Feast of Candlemas ) which occurs 40 days after His birth.  The dual feast is called "The Meeting of Our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ".

This moment of recognition has been set to music many times.  The 'Nunc Dimitus' ('Now let me depart') is sung at evensong, sometimes in English.  Bach's Cantata BWV 125 Mit Fried un Freud ich fahr dahin (With peace and joy I depart) 
is an extended piece on Simeon's words.

And, finally, there is a very old Christian tradition, that the Simeon at the temple was actuallywas the son of Hillel the Elder, and when Hillel died, Shimon took over his place as the chief Rabbi. It is assumed that Shimon did not live long after this, and was quickly succeeded by his son, Gamaliel I (who was Saul/Paul's teacher).

12 Days of Christmas - Day 9: Shepherds

Sally deFord has a lovely SATB arrangement with flute obligato of  "While Shepherds Watched their Flocks by Night."
 Our choir sang it yesterday in church and I think it was lovely.  You can click on the mP3 links on  the lower right of that page to hear this arrangement sung.  If you are not acquainted with Sally deFord's site, she has hundreds of FREE arrangements for musicians to print out and use and there are often Mp3 links for everyone to listen to.  Enjoy yourself listening to the heavenly choir.

YouTube has many different versions of "While Shepherds watched their Flocks."  This one sounds to me like it might be sung by actual shepherds.

Luke 2:8-20

There are a LOT of shepherds in the scriptures.  This commentary on them is taken from the Holman Bible Dictionary, written by Elmer Gray


A keeper of sheep. The first keeper of sheep in the Bible was Adam's son Abel (Genesis 4:2 ). Shepherding was the chief occupation of the Israelites in the early days of the patriarchs: Abraham (Genesis 12:16 ); Rachel (Genesis 29:9 ); Jacob (Genesis 30:31-40 ); Moses (Exodus 3:1).
As cultivation of crops increased, shepherding fell from favor and was assigned to younger sons, hirelings, and slaves (compare David in1 Samuel 16:11-13 ). Farmers such as in Egypt even hated shepherds (Genesis 46:34 ).
The Bible mentions shepherds and shepherding over 200 times. However, the Hebrew word for shepherding is often translated, “feeding.” Shepherds led sheep to pasture and water (Psalm 23:1 ) and protected them from wild animals (1 Samuel 17:34-35 ). Shepherds guarded their flocks at night whether in the open (Luke 2:8 ) or in sheepfolds (Zephaniah 2:6 ) where they counted the sheep as they entered (Jeremiah 33:13 ). They took care of the sheep and even carried weak lambs in their arms (Isaiah 40:11 ).
Shepherd came to designate not only persons who herded sheep but also kings (2 Samuel 5:2 ) and God Himself (Psalm 23:1 ; Isaiah 40:11 ). Later prophets referred to Israel's leaders as shepherds (Jeremiah 23:1 ;Ezekiel 34:1 ).
In Bible times the sheep cared for by shepherds represented wealth. They provided food (1 Samuel 14:32 ), milk to drink (Isaiah 7:21-22 ), wool for clothing (Job 31:20 ), hides for rough clothing (Matthew 7:15 ), and leather for tents (Exodus 26:14 ). Furthermore, sheep were major offerings in the sacrificial system (Exodus 20:24 ). They were offered as burnt offerings (Leviticus 1:10 ), sin offerings (Leviticus 4:32 ), guilt offerings (Leviticus 5:15 ), and peace offerings (Leviticus 22:21 ).
The New Testament mentions shepherds 16 times. They were among the first to visit Jesus at His birth (Luke 2:8-20 ). Some New Testament references used a shepherd and the sheep to illustrate Christ's relationship to His followers who referred to Him as “our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrews 13:20 ). Jesus spoke of Himself as “the good shepherd” who knew His sheep and would lay down His life for them (John 10:7-18 ). Jesus commissioned Peter to feed His sheep (John 21:1 ). Paul likened the church and its leaders to a flock with shepherds (Acts 20:28 ). The Latin word transliterated “pastor” means shepherd.

Now, this is from me: Did you ever wonder why shepherds were given the great opportunity to be the first to go see the baby Jesus?

Why not the bakers in town? This was Bethlehem (Hebrew for "house of bread"). [I once had a rabbi tell me there must have been famous bakery there.] I say/go read John 6, esp. 35.

Or maybe blacksmiths: there would be one or two around the local stables, surely.

But instead God sent the angelic message and choir to the shepherds. They were out on the hills, watching the sheep by night because this was spring, the lambing season, and they would need to witness the births of the lambs in order to separate out and mark - perhaps with a scarlet cord tied around the neck - all the firstborn lambs, which would then all belong to the Lord and His temple (Ex. 13:2).

So, this was their job: to witness the birth of the Lamb of God, His Firstborn who was slain before the foundation of the earth.

Oh, and did you know that ra'ah, the Hebrew word for shepherd, also means friend? Who better than His friends to witness to the rest of the world of the birth and rebirth of the Lamb?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

12 Days of Christmas - Day 8: Baby Jesus

While you read this post, enjoy listening to Kenneth Cope sing "O Holy Night."

We think that this card, printed in The Children's Friend sometime in the 1950's is one that Grandma (my mom, LaFawn Graff Holt) drew. It certainly has the feel of the work she was doing at the time.


Luke 2:7 and 12

I was wondering how swaddling clothes could be a sign to the shepherds. Weren't all babies wrapped up in clean cloths? And even then, what might it mean?

So I looked up the Hebrew and Greek and, of course, there is so much wonderful symbolism drawing on earlier Biblical imagery. It seems the word for "swaddling" (Hebrew chatal) is used only in three places in the Old Testament and each refers to a different "infant."

First, Jeremiah refers to the "swaddled infants" - literal innocent newborn children in Judah - who were killed by order of the King of Babylon in Lamentations 2:22. Some scholars point out that Luke's not mentioning the slaughter of the babies by Herod is a glaringly irreconcilable difference between his record and Matthew's, but this word may have been his way of "getting past the censor's" of the Roman society he lived in. A JEW reading his book would catch this reference and remember Herod's infamous order as copying the slaughter by the King of Babylon.

Next, Ezekiel (16:1-14) records the Lord speaking of the birth and nativity of the whole House of Israel. He reminds them that they were an unwanted newborn girl, left unwashed, unanointed, and unswaddled, left to die in an open field. But then the Lord passed by and, in spite of all the blood and pollution, He caused Israel to live. He swaddled her, nourished and carried her all the way to Sinai where Israel (now the grownup bride) was again washed, anointed and clothed, this time in marriage (Hebrew chatan) garments, to make covenants with the bridegroom on the mountain temple there.

Finally, in Job 38, the Lord reminds Job of the birth of the earth, when the sea broke forth as if it [the earth]issued out of the womb. Then the Lord swaddled the newborn pure and innocent earth with clouds and soft darkness. Recall that in the Old Testament, clouds are a common symbol indicating the presence of the Lord. Later He would send the Dayspring (see Luke 1:78) to bring light and, after shaking the wicked off the earth, He would press His name into the soft clay of the earth, sealing (Hebrew chatam) it His.

Birth and death, marriage and sealing, washing, anointing and clothing, real and restored innocence: it's all there in the sign of the swaddling clothes.

What an awesome opportunity for Mary and Joseph, to wash and anoint and clothe, to nourish and carry and teach the very LORD of heaven and earth. But is not every child born in His image and through His tokens of blood and water and spirit (see Moses 6:59)? Every parent can swaddle and cuddle and sing lullabies with the angels to their own divine children, for each comes 'trailing clouds of glory from heaven, which is their home.' (Wordsworth)

This next activity is from Jeni Brinton Gouchnour's book, "24 Days 'Till Christmas." Please do not use it for any commercial purpose.

This fold-up manger is a good one to use with the family service activity where you put a piece of hay on the manger for each act of service you do, making His bed soft.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

12 Days of Christmas - Day 7: Innkeeper


Luke 2:1-7

Many poems and songs have been written of the lost opportunity of the innkeeper who turned away Mary and Joseph, of how his perspective may have changed once he knew who the Babe was. But have you ever thought that he was not alone in his rejection; surely there was more than one inn so close to the Holy City. Was there no one else who noticed that Mary needed a place to rest? No residents or shopkeepers or fellow travellers with friends in the city? And ignorance is no excuse: his ignorance did not spare the innkeeper the loss of welcoming and hosting Jesus.

Nor will ignorance spare us the blessings awaiting us if we but make room in our lives for those who need help, space to rest, a listening ear, a hot meal in a warm home. "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these ... ye have done it unto Me."

I've included this activity here because it has the stable provided by the final innkeeper. I personally like to focus on the one who came up with a creative solution to give them a private space even though it seemed impossible at first glance.

This activity comes from a Ross and Guyman "Primary Partners" book.

12 Days of Christmas - Day 6: Joseph


Matt 1:18-24

Joseph must have struggled with God, asked Him some tough questions. "Dear God, the woman I am engaged to is with child and it is not mine. Now what?" Typical of life to toss some tough questions with no easy answers.

Then the angel arrives, a message is received. "Joseph, it's OK. Be at peace. My Son is in the middle of this. Everything will be fine." Then the pieces began to fall into place: Elizabeth's son, shepherds who saw angels, foreigners bringing the money to pay for schooling. Joseph himself was a key piece in the plan: a faithful and loving foster father to protect, instruct and wonder at God's Son.

When Jesus is at the center of our lives we can forgive and be at peace, we can move ahead in faith even on dark nights.

His Father's Eyes

by Christy Riches Hinkson

A manger cradle, a brighter light.
Light of the world is here tonight.
Angels singing praises of joy.
Welcoming the newborn boy.
Mother sings lullabies.
Look, he's got his Father's eyes.
Those eyes see blessings in the pain.
They see sunshine in the rain.
They see love behind the lies.
Yes, he's got his Father's eyes.

I've been noticing how well-named Joseph was.  Notice the similarities between Joseph of Egypt and Joseph of Nazareth / Bethlehem.
Leaders: Joseph of Egypt was the birthright son, head of the 12 tribes and 2nd only to Pharaoh in Egypt.  Joseph of Nazareth would have been the King of the Jews had the land not been under Roman rule.
Both Josephs were honorable in their dealings with women.
Both went down to Egypt, humbled for God's purposes.
And, most pointedly, both were visionary men, dreamers.  This is a biblical description of a man of God. Both had learned to pay attention to how God spoke to them and believeing that He did.
Both were JUST (or righteous) men.
In Hebrew, KING is מֶלֶךְ or Melek and JUST is צַדִּיק or Tseddek.
Thus, Joseph was a Melek-Tseddek.  Are you surprised that God would appoint an amazing Melchizedek priesthood holder to raise His Son?

12 Days of Christmas - Day 5: Mary

Luke 1:26-36, 46-55. 2:19

How far ahead did Mary look the night the angel came? How to tell her parents and Joseph, how to survive the next nine months probably filled her thoughts. But when her Son was visited by shepherds and worshipped by kings, she pondered many things in her heart. All too soon she would need to share Him with - no, give Him to - the lame and blind, the priests and scribes, the garden and the cross. But for one night sheltered, in a barn, for the moment, He was hers.

Real meaning of season comes in lending helping hand
I have always had a desire to be dose to the Savior, but often in December — the month we celebrate His birth — was a time when I felt the least close to Him. I was too busy doing things getting ready to celebrate His birih. There simply were not enough hours in the day left to reflect upon His life, His example and what I should be doing to follow Him. That would have to come after Christmas.

However, Christmas 1985 was different. More accidentally than particularly planned for, I had my Christmas shopping completed and wrapped, packages to distant relatives mailed: baking and decorating all under control by the first week of December. It just sort of happened. Because of that, I had the time to give some meaningful service to someone truly in need. It ended up being a wonderful way for me to draw close to my Savior that December. I was able to babysit for a family of four little children, one of them a tiny 3-month old baby, while a frantic, distraught and overwhelmed mother attended to a hospitalized child. The family emergency had come up 10 days before Christmas. I was in a position to be able to help the mother, and I felt so good tending those children. I rocked for hours that fussy nursing baby, and I felt so close to my Savior. The scripture in Mosiah 2:17 in the Book of Mormon came to my mind: "When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God."

I knew that as I was rocking that child I was in the service of my God. I felt enveloped in His warm spirit. How grateful I was that I was organized and prepared for Christmas that year. If I had been my usual disorganized December self I would have panicked if I had been asked to tend four little ones, and one of them a new baby, so close to Christmas.

I might have done it, but I know I would not have felt spiritually strengthened from the experience. I would have felt only overburdened, maybe even resentful. Oh, but I did not feel that way at all! I felt so in tune with my Heavenly Father's spirit. I remember when the mother came to pick up her little ones she commented on how peaceful and calm I looked. I looked that way because I felt that way.

I could only thank the mother for the wonderful, wonderful opportunity she had given me to serve her, and by so doing to draw closer to my Savior. I tried to explain that because of her I felt so "Christ-masy." I felt filled with the genuine spirit of Christmas, which is loving and caring as the Savior has commanded us to do. I knew that this was the right way, the Savior's way, to be spending my December

Since that experience I have tried — not always successfully — to be organized for Christmas before the month of December. My intent is to not be so overwhelmed and burdened with the shopping, baking, programs, parties, etc., of Christmas, but do I have energy and time left to meet those unexpected service needs that others may have during December. I know that by meeting those needs we can really feel the true spirit of Christmas and emulate Him whose birthday we are celebrating.

Terri Fletcher, her husband Don and their five children are members of the Ft Myers 1st Ward, Ft Myers Florida Stake. She is on the ward activities committee and teaches the family relations class in Sunday School.

Keeping Baby Warm

by Lynda H. Laughlin

It was an inexpensive dime-store Nativity set, and he was only three years old. His back was toward me, but I could see that his chubby little hands were busily working on something at the old table.

"What are you doing?" I asked him impatiently, annoyed at him for touching the decorations after he had been told not to.

As I started toward the scene of his latest mischief, he turned toward me with wide blue eyes filling and a single tear starting down his cherubic cheek. Then I saw it. a carefully folded tissue had been tenderly placed over the small ceramic infant.

"Baby Jesus was cold. Mommy," he whispered.

Ten years have passed, and the tiny Nativity has been replaced by a much larger one. But this year, as every year, I found a carefully folded tissue covering the baby Jesus. I think I know who did it, and I hope he never stops.


Tonight He is yours, Mary.
For this is the hour of His birth.
Count His little toes one by one -
A million mothers have counted newborn baby toes,
A million times before.
Marvel at His baby feet.
Tomorrow He will walk the shores of Galilee,
And there's a long hard hill ahead to climb called Calvary
But tonight He is yours.
See Him curl His tiny fingers around your own.
Out in the darkness of the night.
The deaf, the sick and blind await his touch -
But tonight His little hands are yours, alone.
Tenderly trace the outline of His lips.
Tomorrow flow the words of Life Eternal.
The world awaits the story of the lillies -
But baby lips were made to be caressed.
Touch His birth-wet hair and,
Kiss His soft, warm baby cheek.
Tomorrow the crushing multitudes will
Press and push and reach to
Touch the hem of His garment -
But tonight He is yours.
Hold Him, oh so close, to your heart.
Tomorrow He must be about His Father's business,
And all the world is waiting for salvation.
But tonight He is —
Listen! Can you hear the angels singing?
And look! The star's already shining.
Wrap Him in swadling clothes, Mary,
And lay Him in the manger
For shepherd will be knocking at your door.

-Leotha Wade Slagowski-

Saturday, December 11, 2010

12 Days of Christmas - Day 4: John

Richard Hook

Here is a lovely blogpost about "Singing John the Baptist's Song,"

Go to this LINK  (  to hear "Comfort Ye" from Handel's "Messiah" , Ensemble Chouerisma 2010, Montreal,  Tenor Solo by - Cody Growe while you read this blogpost which is taken from a  CES SYMPOSIUM HANDOUT, dated 1996


Robert J. Matthews

Prepared for the CES Symposium on The New Testament, Brigham Young University

[an Ensign article on this subject can be found here ]


"Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist" (Luke 1:28).

"John . . . bare witness unto the truth. . . .

"He was a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light" (John 5:33, 35). With these words the Lord Jesus Christ praised the work of his friend, John the Baptist.

This lecture focuses on qualities that made John great. His privileges exceeded those of any other prophet. His was the one-time-only honor of preparing the way before the Lord himself, of baptizing the Son of God, of announcing to the Jewish nation that their Messiah was at that very moment among them, and of identifying the Lord in person to the people. He was also the tutor of several future Apostles.

John filled every responsibility of his mission. He alerted and aroused the nation to an awareness of their Messiah and introduced the New Testament dispensation. His short life bridged two dispensations; he was (1) the living embodiment and representative of the Aaronic Priesthood and law of Moses and (2) the first prophet of the dispensation of the meridian of time.

John's public ministry occupied less than a year and was followed by months of imprisonment and probable torture in the dreariness of a dungeon cell. His violent death in his early thirties was due to a weak and lustful king being manipulated by an infuriated, scheming queen and a charming dancing girl. In 1829, as a resurrected being and still holding the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood, this same John ordained Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, thus helping to establish the dispensation of the fulness of times. The full significance of John's restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood in this dispensation has yet to be unfolded.


John's mission was so important that it was made known to prophets and seers hundreds of years beforehand. His forthcoming birth was announced by the angel Gabriel and was attended by miraculous circumstances.

John's work is spoken of by Isaiah (see Isaiah 40:3-5; compare Matthew 3:1-3); Malachi (see Malachi 3:1; compare Luke 7:27); Lehi (see 1 Nephi 10:7-10), and Nephi (see 1 Nephi 11:27; 2 Nephi 31:4, 8). Although these prophecies do not mention him by name, there can be no mistaking that John and his mission is the topic.

John had unusual privileges. He alone was selected to baptize Jesus, see the Holy Ghost descend, and hear the voice of the Father (see Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 275-76). Because John was entrusted with such a great mission, Satan was on hand to destroy him if possible. John was born to trouble. No average man could have succeeded in fulfilling his assignment. His life was almost immediately threatened when King Herod issued the edict to destroy the babies in and around Bethlehem (see Matthew 2; Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 261). Thirty years later, Herod's son was successful in slaying John.


The Prophet Joseph Smith explained: "The spirit of Elias was a going before to prepare the way for the greater, which was the case with John the Baptist. . . .

"The spirit of Elias is to prepare the way for a greater revelation of God, which is the Priesthood of Elias, or the Priesthood that Aaron was ordained unto" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 335).

For John to fulfill his divinely designated role as the Elias— forerunner and witness of the Messiah—some careful selections had to be made. First, the mortal lineage through which John's foreordained spirit would come to earth was governed by ancient law and procedure in order for him to be legally entitled to the priesthood of Aaron. Only direct descendants of Aaron could be priests in the Aaronic priesthood (see Exodus 40:15). The Prophet Joseph Smith explained, "The Levitical Priesthood is forever hereditary—fixed on the head of Aaron and his sons forever" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 319). Second, to hold the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood John had to be of the firstborn lineage among the sons of Aaron (see D&.C 68:16-18). Third, to be the one designated to use that priesthood to prepare the way for and to baptize the Messiah required a premortal appointment. Fourth, John was to be the living embodiment of the law of Moses—which was the "preparatory gospel" functioning under the Aaronic Priesthood (see D&.C 84:26-27). John was to do as a man, literally, what the law of Moses was to do as a statute, which was to prepare the way for the presence of the Lord by teaching the first principles of the gospel and performing baptisms as called for in the law of Moses.

Under the law of Moses, heavy penalties were affixed if sacred rites, sacrifices, and duties were performed without the proper authority (see Numbers 16:1-40; 1 Chronicles 13:7-10; 2 Chronicles 26:16-21). Since it was necessary for a man to be a priest of the lineage of Aaron in order to offer the sacrificial symbols of the Messiah, how much greater the necessity that John, the actual forerunner of the Messiah in person, be of the proper priestly lineage and authority!

The Lord therefore chose Zacharias, a priest of the family of Aaron, and Elisabeth, his wife, of the "daughters of Aaron" (Luke 1:5), to be the mortal parents who would provide the right lineage to complete the inheritance—to bring about the proper combination of body and spirit.

John's birth into this world was accompanied by signs and wonders. When Zacharias was visited by the angel Gabriel nearly a year before John's birth, he was struck dumb and maybe also deaf (see Luke 1:62-63). The people in the temple and Zacharias' family and friends knew he had seen an angel, and they knew he had become dumb, and then after the birth of John they knew Zacharias could speak. These miracles caused the people to say in their hearts, "What manner of child shall this be!" (Luke 1:66).

John was the designated final representative of the law of Moses in its capacity as a schoolmaster to bring men to Christ. He bridged two dispensations by being the last legal representative of the law of Moses and at the same time being the preappointed one to specifically prepare a people for the coming of the Lord.

The law of Moses specified that a priest should begin his ministry at age thirty (see Numbers 4:3; 1 Chronicles 23:3). Therefore, when John was about that age the word of God came to him in the wilderness, authorizing him to begin his work (see Luke 3:1-3; John 1:29-34). Through the years the Holy Ghost had prepared John's mind for his ministry. He had the Holy Ghost from the time of his mother's womb (see Luke 1:15; D&.C 84:27), and no one can receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelation (see Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 328). John was "baptized while he was yet in his childhood" (D&.C 84:28) and received a setting apart to his mission from an angel when only eight days old. He later would receive the full powers of the Aaronic Priesthood, which include the keys of the ministering of angels (see D&C 13). Having such keys, it follows that John would receive the visitation of angels during these preparatory years.

When John went forth to preach, he was ready. He knew precisely what his mission was and what he must do, and he had the authority to go about it.
Baptism by J Kirk Richards


The term forerunner is descriptive. Anciently, forerunners would run before the king's chariot, clear the path of rocks or other obstacles, and loudly proclaim the coming of the ruler. As the divinely appointed herald, John was both a preparer of the path and a proclaimer of the majesty of Jesus.

Being the forerunner was not simply an honorary title. Difficult and dangerous work needed to be done. Priestcrafts and iniquities at Jerusalem made that generation the worst in the world (see 2 Nephi 10:3-5). Into this maelstrom John, a mere mortal—armed with the Aaronic Priesthood, a divine commission, personal righteousness, the truth of God, and a huge amount of courage—was launched on his ministry to prepare the way for the Son of God.


John's ministry consisted of three parts: (1) to testify that the Messiah would soon come, (2) to testify that he had indeed come, and (3) to identify Jesus as the Messiah and to persuade the people to follow him. The books of Matthew (see chapter 3), Mark (see chapter 1), and Luke (see chapter 3) contain John's vigorous preaching to prepare the way, saying that the Messiah would soon come. These records present John's teaching before he baptized Jesus. The book of John, however, contains the Baptist's testimony after he had baptized Jesus, had seen the dove, and heard the voice of the Father. Thus, in John (see chapter 1) he proclaims that the Messiah has already come, and he identifies Jesus as that Messiah.

Having first aroused the nation and, second, having publicly proclaimed and identified the Messiah among the people, John then began the third phase of his ministry: to persuade his converts to follow Jesus. John was very popular with the people, yet his humility and loyalty to Jesus were dramatically illustrated when some of his disciples brought the news that Jesus was even more popular than he Oonn) na^ been and that many of his converts were following Jesus (see John 3:25-26). John's response was to the point; "Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. . . .

"He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:28-30).

Among those who learned about Jesus from John the Baptist were several future Apostles (see John 1:35—41; Acts 1:21-26).

Having magnificently completed the fundamental purposes of his earthly appointment, John's public ministry would diminish, while Jesus' would rise and enlarge. John would soon be cast into prison, be executed, go into the world of spirits, be resurrected, and await the fulness of times, when he would again participate in the Restoration of the gospel upon the earth.


Herod Antipas recognized John as a holy man, but when John criticized Herod's clandestine marriage to his niece Herodias, Herod was offended and imprisoned him at Machaerus, near the northeast shore of the Dead Sea (see William Whiston, trans., The Works ofjosephus [1980], 540). Herodias' hatred even exceeded Herod's anger and she plotted to have John killed. This she accomplished by appealing to Herod's sensuous lusts, aroused by a provocative dancing girl named Salome, who was her own daughter by former husband, Philip (see Josephus, 541; see also Mark 6:14-29). After nearly a year in the dungeon and probable torture (see Matthew 17:12-13), John was beheaded. His disciples buried him (see Mark 6:29), and he rose from the grave after Jesus' resurrection (see D&.C 133:55)


As a necessary part of the restoration of all things in the fulness of times, John the Baptist came to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery on 15 May 1829 near Harmony, Pennsylvania, and ordained them to the Aaronic Priesthood. This holy priesthood will continue in the Church as a permanent function, not only as at present, but also among future literal descendants of Aaron (see D&C 13; 58:17-19; 68:14-21; 84:18)


Bible Dictionary, s.v. "John the Baptist." Ludlow, Daniel H., ed. Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 5 vols. 1992. 2:755-57.

Matthews, Robert J. Behold the Messiah. 1994. 41-67.

12 Days of Christmas - Day 3: Elizabeth and Zacharias

Elizabeth and Zacharias

Luke 1:8-17, Luke 1:39-45

Elizabeth must have been the envy of many women of her day. Her life promised to be a good one. Even her name meant "God keeps His promises." She had a good marriage with Zacharias, a temple priest. Both of them were 'upright in the sight of God,” so they were 'temple recommend holders' trying to choose the right. Elizabeth came from a priesthood family, the right lineage being so important socially. She was a cousin of Mary, the future mother of the Lord. Right family, right marriage, right character and moral fiber. What more could she want?

Well, a child, actually. The Bible says Elizabeth was well 'along in years’ and had had no children in a culture where childless women were disparaged.

And old Zacharias, her husband, had also been praying for years for a son. All day at the temple, a son was on his mind - and it probably wasn' t always GOD' s son he was hoping would come soon.

So is it just coincidence that he was chosen to offer the incense that midwinter day* when all looked so bleak? With God, there is no coincidence.

God did send a Son. To everyone in this story. A son for Elizabeth and Zacharias, to be sure, who would prepare a way for God's own Son. But it is Jesus who is at the center of the story. Without Him, there is no story. He needs to be at the center of our stories as well... at the center of our sweet Christmas season.

*Since John was 6 months older than Jesus, he would have been born in early October, thus conceived around the end of December.

This is a carol our family loves. Try singing it together this year, but be sure you sing thru to the last verse.
You can sing along with the Gloucester Cathedral choir

They even show the words on the screen. Enjoy.

12 days of Christmas - Day 2: Angels

The Angel's Announcements

Luke 1:19, Luke 1:26-38, Luke 2:9

Everyone in heaven knew that Jesus was about to be born, but I wonder if Gabriel wasn't a bit let down by the plan of announcing His birth. To only tell an old, unknown priest, an aged, barren woman, a young woman, a poor carpenter and a hillside of shepherds of the coming of the Messiah, the King of Kings? Surely it should be more majestic than this. Get the media involved, inform the political figures of the day. But no, these few unknowns were the right ones for God's plan... just as you and I are the right ones to carry out God's plan today. He picks ordinary people like you and me to send forth and make the Savior known to the world.

The angel was Gabriel – his name geber-el means mighty man, or warrior, of God – thus it may be more appropriate to think of him not with wings and a halo, but dressed in the whole armor of God.

Joseph Smith taught that Gabriel was the prophet Noah in mortality. Why Noah? My brother Doug Holt suggests that since Noah was the prophet who presided over the baptism of the earth, it was appropriate that he announce the birth of John the Baptist to Zacharias in the temple. Noah and John, in mortality, each act in the role of forerunner to the Lord, Him who was anointed to preside over the earth's baptism by fire. Perhaps Noah/Gabriel came because he had presided over a judgment, when everyone on earth was judged. The righteous were taken up with Zion, the city of Enoch; the wicked died in the flood. Noah then led the earth through a re-birth, as it came forth from the water a new creation. Christ will preside over the judgment of the earth when all will be judged at the end of time. The wicked will then die in a world-wide judgment of fire, the righteous will be taken up to meet the Lord. The earth will be born again and come forth in her millennial, paradisiacal glory.

Angel Christmas Ornament

For more on Angels, you might want to read :

Temple Themes in Luke’s Account of the Angels and the ShepherdsJeffrey Bradshaw
Meridian Magazine, 17 December 2009.

12 Days of Christmas - Day 1: The Prophets

The Twelve Days of Christmas are the festive days beginning Christmas Day (25 December). This period is also known as Christmastide and Twelvetide. The Twelfth Night of Christmas is always on the evening of 5 January, but the Twelfth Day can either precede or follow the Twelfth Night according to which Christian tradition is followed. Twelfth Night is followed by the Feast of the Epiphany on 6 January. [Wikipedia]

Among most Utah Mormons, the Twelve Days of Christmas are from the 12 days before Christmas, beginning on the 12th or 13th of December and going until Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.  Often small gifts are secretly given to a lucky recipient on each of the days.

I am posting these 12 Days early enough that you could follow either tradition, or make up one of your own.

Karen here: A few years ago, Mom (Rebecca) put together a set of readings and activities for the 12 days before Christmas. I think it must have been for Mike and Doug on their missions, because I remember reading these by candle light with my college roommate Jenny in about 1996 or 1997. Mom spent all day today scanning and typing, so she asked me to post what she did here on the blog. In hard copy, there are a few separate pages each day, without much introduction or explanation. I'll try to add a little context (in italics), and possibly a few more pictures for sparse days, but otherwise, it'll just be as she presented it. I started to link all the scriptures to, but then it got too late, so I quit (sorry).

Rebecca here: when I first put this together, I was inspired by a pamphlet I picked up in an airport chapel. Each day of December focused a devotional on some one person or group of people from the Christmas story. I have used some paragraphs from that pamphlet, but have lost the original so I cannot credit it properly. I apologize for that.

Day one is about Prophets. [Karen speaking:]If you've spent any time around Mom, you'll know that a major focus of her study and teaching is finding Christ in the Old Testament.

[This coloring page is pg 211 of the Primary OT manual, with a few alterations to make it Old Testament specific]

Isaiah 11:1 - A governing Rod would arise from Jesse, the father of King David and
ancestor of Jesus

Jeremiah 23:15 - from David would come a righteous Branch, a King who would reign and prosper.

Isaiah 7:14,9:6 - A virgin shall conceive and the Child will be called the Prince of Peace

Micah 5:2 - out of little Bethlehem would come forth one who would be ruler In Israel.

Numbers 24:17 - a Star would arise in Jacob.

Hosea 11:1 (see also Exodus 4:22-3) - God's Son would come out of Egypt [Matt. 2:15]

Genesis 49:10 - Jacob prophesied that Shilo, the lawgiver bearing the scepter (sign of kingship) would be a descendant of Judah.

Job 38:7 - Job prophesied that all the morning stars would sing and all the sons of God would shout for Joy at the 'laying of the Cornerstone' and at the birth of the earth

The Baby Jesus Story

In 1957, Lafawn was working as an artist for the Children's Friend magazine, published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. She was trying to come up with an activity to tell the Christmas story. She had ideas for pictures of Mary and Joseph, the Shepherds, the Manger and the Wise Men, but spent days thinking and thinking about how to turn it into an activity. Then, she woke up in the middle of the night with an idea of making four windows to show the pictures and story through. She sketched out where the windows should go, and by the end of the day had most of the work done.

She often told me that the idea for and mechanics of the window sheet was an inspiration given to her from God. "I'm not mathematical," she said, "I never would have figured it out."

The activity was printed in the Children's Friend in December 1957, and was later reprinted, with new art, in a large (about 2 feet square) format, on heavy cardboard, for use in the Merry Miss (or some other iteration of the older girls' class) in Primary.