Of Family Reunions and Families Forever

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Every couple of years our family gets together for a reunion.  To maximize the association of cousins—and to some degree to test patience—we all pile into a single house.  It has to be a big house, to accommodate the families of our five children and my wife and me.  Our population breached 20 several years ago.

Finding a rental house large enough to accommodate us is not easy.  It usually involves, along with “big,” such criteria as spacious kitchens, with twice the number of stoves, ovens, and refrigerators.  Large dining areas are needed so that we can enjoy the sociality of eating together.  Also essential for us is a spacious place where we all gather for devotionals, entertainment, singing, and games.  And, of course, there must be lots of sleeping places.

Fortunately, houses that have all these features offer a lot more, including rec facilities, porches with a peacefully grand view, game rooms, barbecues, occasionally a pool, and always a pool table.  To my pleasant surprise, while nearly all have offered movie theaters, these have been generally little used.  As we hoped, the cousins, aunts and uncles, and brothers and sisters prefer to spend time with one another—including as much time with Grandma and Grandpa as we could wish.

My daughter sent me a beautiful e-mail a few days ago.  She and her family had been watching a video about Temples, like the one where she and her husband had been married.  She wrote about one of her boys, I will call him “Jackson” for anonymity.  Jackson was much impressed by the Temples and remarked, “Wow, these are the best family reunion houses, ever.”

Maybe Jackson spoke more than he knew, for he was completely correct.  The Temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are entirely focused on families, with the explicit intention of uniting families forever.  Such Temples are, in every sense, family reunion houses.  Marriages there are performed not just for this life, but for time and all eternity.  Our Heavenly Father intended that family association be eternal and sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to make it so.  I personally believe that Jackson was inspired.  As the scripture says, “little children do have words given unto them many times, which confound the wise and the learned.” (Alma 32:23)

The Temple where my wife and I were married, just outside of Washington, D.C., has been closed for some two years for renovation.  It will be reopened soon, preceding which there will be a public open house.  I invite you to come inside and see it and experience the feelings that inspired my young grandson to declare that it is one “of the best family reunion houses, ever.”

Of Life and Creativity

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Our Heavenly Father gave us life, and He intends for us to be creative with it.  In so doing we find joy.  God wants us to have joy.  Facilitating our joy is what He does with His life.  It is His creativity.  In the process He gains a fulness of joy.

Let me illustrate from ancient scripture.  When Jesus Christ, shortly after His resurrection, visited His disciples in the ancient Americas, He bid the multitude to kneel.  Then Jesus knelt, and He prayed to God the Father for them.  This is from their record of that prayer:  “no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls at the time we heard him pray for us unto the Father.”  (3 Nephi 17:17)  How would you feel if you heard Jesus Christ pray to Heavenly Father for you?  Could you find words to express your joy?  Neither could these disciples.

How did Jesus feel?  The account relates, Jesus said, “And now behold, my joy is full.”  What does it take to fill the capacity for joy of the Creator and Savior of the world?

Some days later, meeting with those whom Jesus had chosen to lead the ancient church in the Americas, the Savior promised them that because of their faithful service their “joy shall be full, even as the Father hath given me fulness of joy; and ye shall be even as I am, and I am even as the Father” (3 Nephi 28:10).

This was in keeping with what the Lord revealed through the prophet Lehi, some 600 years before, “men are that they might have joy.” (2 Nephi 2:25).

How does it happen?  Consider the difference between life and non-life, the difference between animate creatures and inanimate objects.  The distinctions are many, but for this discussion I would focus on the fact that those that have life are movers, actors.  They act upon the inanimate things around them.  I recall once complaining in frustration about my computer, when I was reminded that computers are stupid; they can only do what they are told to do.  Even the much vaunted “artificial intelligence” of computer programs is for all its sophistication still artificial; there is an artist behind it.

Every thing in the universe moves only as it is forced to.  The children of God are different.  In giving us life God gave to each of us the power to move, to initiate action, to create.  We can give (an endless power if used properly, whereas taking is always limited and has an end).

God created the earth (among an infinity of other works).  He organized the chaotic elements around Him and made something marvelously beautiful.  God “saw every thing that he had made” and He saw that “it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).  And then He gave it to us.  He did so that we might have something to work with as we learned to create.  God did not build the farms and the cities.  He left those for us, allowing us to participate in creation, and experience the joy of creation.

His creation is our example.  It is creation with a purpose, it is organizing the resources around us for greater joy.  The most meaningful form of creation is creation-giving, creating what we then pass on to others.  If you consider the commandments of God, they all have as their purpose to enhance our ability to create and then bless others with our creations, to receive more from God and each other that we might create more and share more, and in the process that we might learn so that we might go on creating forever.  Sin is what limits our creativity.

What we create and keep to ourselves has a way of becoming unsatisfying.  It has an end in us, and in that end the joy is lost; it might just as well have not been created at all.  When we give, when we create-give—and in return receive and give—this creation moves forward.  When the creation and the joy are passed on, as they are passed on, they have no end.  The creative work lasts forever and becomes more.  Man, by engaging in such creation experiences joy and creates joy.  That is what our Father sent us here to learn to do.  By so doing, we learn to become like Him, creatively joyful in turn.  We gain more life, we become more lively, until the Lord gives us all that He has, eternal life.

Of Religion and Liberty

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In recent days the Supreme Court of the United States, in two related decisions, gave a welcome reaffirmation of the constitutional protection of the free exercise of religion.  The cases involved practical application of the principle First Amendment right.  One case, Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania, involved the Obamacare Act and contraceptive insurance coverage.  The other, Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, concerned religious schools and their employment policies.  Both cases were decided by strong 7-2 votes. 

Readers will look to other forums and formats for the specifics of these interesting decisions.  I raise them as noteworthy inasmuch as governments in the last few months have acted unkindly toward religion and its exercise, much to the harm of people and the  jeopardy of their other rights protected in the First Amendment.

Not only is freedom of religion and the exercise thereof found in the First Amendment to the Constitution, it is the first freedom mentioned.  Free speech, freedom of the press, freedom peaceably to assemble, and the right to petition the government follow next, in that order.  This is not necessarily a ranking of importance of these five freedoms.  All are essential, but I would suggest that the latter four are strengthened by freedom of religion and will be put at risk without a vigorous regard for that freedom.

This is not hypothetical.  As an experiment to deal with the unknown effects of the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) many state governments (and the federal government to a lesser degree) engaged in an abrupt and progressive impairment of the constitutional rights of nearly all within their jurisdiction.  Of the five freedoms of the First Amendment, governments applied or tolerated the harshest limitations on religion and its practice.  Churches were closed, its members forbidden to meet together, even in small groups.  Administrations of religious rites considered sacred were blocked, even in application to the dying as well as the living.

In my congregation, in my church, we gather, we fellowship with one another, we sing together, we pray together, we teach each other, we provide service to one another, we follow the pattern of what Jesus Christ did and calls upon us to do in the practice of becoming kinder, more loving people.  Government restrictions have made that very hard to do, and are unable to replace it with anything.

One of the leaders of the church, David A. Bednar, an Apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, lately said this in remarks on the importance of religious practice:

Latter-day Saints are hardly alone in this need to gather. . . Our Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, and Evangelical friends gather for mass, baptisms, confirmations, sermons, and myriad other religious purposes.  Our Jewish friends gather for worship in their synagogues.  Our Muslim friends gather in their mosques.  Our friends in the Buddhist, Sikh, and other faith traditions likewise have sacred places to gather and worship together. And because gathering lies at the very heart of religion, the right to gather lies at the very heart of religious freedom.

In the United States and elsewhere, in this experiment into which we were rapidly immersed, people “throughout the free world,” as David Bednar reminded, “learned firsthand what it means for government to directly prohibit the free exercise of religion.”

Science, including the science of self government, requires us to learn from our experiments.  What have we seen in the social laboratory within which we have been living?  While freedom of religion has been curtailed, other liberties have eroded.  Freedom of speech has been restricted; people have become very careful about speaking their minds, avoiding certain words, even limiting their associations with neighbors, and they do not like it.  Communication even on social media has been censored. 

Press freedom is no longer robust.  Media broadcasters are careful to avoid use of newly minted proscriptions of this or that phrase or word, with correspondents and announcers disappearing from their jobs almost overnight for violation of some new taboo.  People have become increasingly mistrustful of “the news.”

Many assemblies are prohibited.  Where allowed, numerical limits have been imposed on how many people can assemble in the same place.  More nettlesome, as is the usual case with the violation of rights, restrictions are applied and enforced unevenly, some favored and others not.

Governments, especially local governments, turn deaf ears to constituents raising concerns with the application of restrictions.  Arrangements for schools run by local governments are in confusion. 

Overall, people feel isolated, alone, helpless, and, for too many, hopeless.  They look for and find temporary relief in acts of rebellion, minor or otherwise.

This is where freedom of religion can be seen as important to the other freedoms.  Churches have often in western societies been a counterweight to government tyranny, which is why the governments of Europe tried for centuries to control them.  As the Red Army imposed its Iron Curtain across Eastern Europe, persecution and control of religion were a priority. 

The first amendment prohibits government control of religion, specifically to preserve freedom of the churches, which in America has also worked to accommodate variety of religious practice.  All of the churches, together, need the first amendment to thrive, as do their members.  No other human organizations are as organized, enduring, and meaningful to people.  Without vigorous, free religions, people are left alone to defend their other rights, with alternative organizations that at best are anemic by comparison.

In the words of David Bednar, “With goodwill and a little creativity, ways can almost always be found to fulfill both society’s needs and the imperative to protect religious freedom. . . . Never again can we allow government officials to treat the exercise of religion as simply nonessential.”

Of Material and Spiritual

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Selfishness or selflessness?  Hard to find many defending selfishness or saying a word against selflessness.  Yet these two concepts are intertwined in thousands of years of philosophical debate over materialism and immaterialism.  While those two philosophical ideas appear as opposites, they each are, at most, half of reality.  Indulged in, each can lean toward a self-centered view of the world, the materialist surrounding himself with all that he can grasp, the immaterialist indulging in a cocoon of isolation from which he never emerges.

As most of us go about our daily lives, it may seem hard to conceive of the libraries of books filled with one side arguing that all that our senses constantly perceive is all that there is, while another school of thought just as vehemently asserts that it is all illusion, that the material is a false cloak covering spiritual reality.  Which is right, and which is wrong, and does it matter?  Can we bring the ideas together?

To shorten a very lengthy debate, materialists contend that the history of the progress of mankind is the story of overcoming physical obstacles and learning how to make the elements yield to our control, resulting in longer, healthier, more productive lives.  In similarly abbreviated fashion, the contention of immaterialists—sometimes referred to as spiritualists—is that at the end of the day all that physical “progress” means nothing, that its focus makes no one happy, that it chains people to an aggressive pursuit and struggle against one another that fails to bring lasting joy, instead feeding greed, covetousness, and hostility.  There is much more to the arguments, but that is their flavor.

To engage the debate on more practical terms, the materialist might argue that the spiritualist, by rejecting a very material world, is starving while living in a garden, dwelling in poverty amidst plenty.  The spiritualist might reply that the materialist may satisfy his appetites by feasting, but in the end he will still die, and by failing to transcend his surroundings he will die unhappy, having accomplished nothing lasting.

You may consider yourself partial to neither approach.  That would be understandable and proper, for man is by nature physical and spiritual.  The scholarly division is contrived, unnatural, isolating indivisible halves of existence.  The gospel of Jesus Christ, however, embraces the complete man.  When Jesus, as Creator, “saw every thing that he had made” of a very physical earth that included man and woman, He pronounced it all “very good” (Genesis 1:31).  Later, in our times, Jesus declared, “And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used . . .” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:20)  Furthermore, the scriptures teach, “there is a spirit in man” (Job 32:8).

The material is real; we are immersed in it.  As spirit children of a Heavenly Father, our challenge is to put our spirits in charge of the physical things, to control our environment as the Father does.  The physical is not here to slow us down or to bind our spirits.  Neither is it an instrument of penance for us to overcome and then be done with.  The material exists to facilitate our development and enhance our being.  We became more when our spirits united with our bodies.  The material is here to be used, first for learning and then for doing.  Joy comes in discovering how to use the physical well.  We are to subdue the earth, to become masters over the physical, not masters from the physical or to escape from the material.

The evil is when we shorten our vision, no longer employing the material for our growth and progression but becoming slaves to wanton appetites, food and drink devolving into our gods of gluttony and drunkenness, material things becoming objects of avarice instead of instruments of service.  We come to worship our tools, betraying our divine heritage as makers and wielders of tools.

The truth of the whole matter is found in the union of the spiritual with the material.  As children of God, it is our heritage to become like our Father.  Growing in the love of God, we govern our appetites and enlist our tools in the cause of ennobling one another.

The Master, Jesus Christ, explained it this way:

For man is spirit.  The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected receive a fulness of joy.  And when separated, man cannot receive a fulness of joy.  (Doctrine and Covenants 93:33, 34)

God created this very material world out of available elements, placed our spirits into physical bodies to learn how to control material things.  Christ was Himself born into a physical body that He also might enjoy the union of spirit and element.  Then He  willingly surrendered that union in death so that He might be resurrected from the dead, inseparably united as spirit and body, ensuring that for all of us the separation of spirit from body would be merely temporary while the unity of spirit with body, and the joy of that union, could last forever.

In so doing, Christ, and each of us, may receive the fulness of eternal joy that only our combined nature can achieve.

Of Defending Freedom and Divine Aid

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The story is told in The Book of Mormon of a kingdom rich in freedom, freedom from want, freedom from oppression, with much freedom of opportunity.  What could go wrong?

The generation that participated in building that freedom—it did not come free—yielded to a generation led by a dissolute king.  Under his leadership the society neglected the defense of that freedom.  That was a great danger.  The kingdom was encompassed and its people greatly outnumbered by enemies who nursed a centuries-deep hatred reinforced by an ideology of grievances of perceived victimhood.

Alluringly prosperous, the kingdom was a tempting honeypot to its much poorer neighbors, and yet for more than a generation it kept its enemies at bay.  That success stemmed from the intertwined combination of strenuous exertion and divine help from their faith in Christ.  Each time attacked—by overwhelming numbers—the people drew all of their might into the muster, on one occasion placing young and old into the ranks.  Appealing to and blessed by God, who strengthened their arms and demoralized their foes, the people of the kingdom repelled the invaders.

Their new king followed a different formula.  Governed by his appetites and the mirage of perpetual security, he taxed the people and he taxed his army, diverting resources to feed the wanton consumption of his court.  The people came to tolerate and then ape this corruption.  The generation that had deep faith in Christ and reliance upon that faith, passed on to one that at first kept up the forms of religious observance but without the spirituality in worship or soul.  Their focus shifted from heaven to the transient things of mortality.  They had plenty of reason to be unhappy with the king, from the escalation in taxes, to the perversion of the religious leadership, to the degradation in public morals, including the whoredoms and drunkenness.  Yet while there may have been dissatisfaction at first, the lavish public spending and the example of undisciplined revelry became popular, as it so often can.

The situation fit the pattern mentioned by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations, “What Dercyllidas said of the court of Persia may be applied to that of several European princes, that he saw there much splendour but little strength, and many servants but few soldiers.” (Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Vol. I, p.392)

The enemies began to notice, too.  Overcoming years of intimidation from their inexplicable defeats, the very proximate hordes commenced a series of minor raids.  As the scripture record relates,

And it came to pass that [they] began to come in upon his people, upon small numbers, and to slay them in their fields, and while they were tending their flocks.  And [the] king . . . sent guards round about the land to keep them off; but he did not send a sufficient number, and [their enemies] came upon them and killed them, and . . . began to destroy them, and to exercise their hatred upon them.  (Mosiah 11:16, 17)

The king responded to the raiders by sending his army, which “drove them back for a time; therefore, they returned rejoicing . . . saying that their fifty could stand against thousands” (Mosiah 11:18, 19).  Their enemies took them up on the boast.  “And now behold, the forces of the king were small, having been reduced . . .” (Mosiah 19:2)  Their enemies, though, came with their thousands, and the fifty, indeed the king’s entire army, fled at his command; the people exchanged freedom for bondage and poverty.

The message is clear, as intended.  Freedom for the people and for the nation, any nation, resides in the people doing all that they can and should for their defense, and a reliance upon God to reinforce their efforts.  That has been the formula for the United States, from the Revolution to now.  It is the duty of each generation to take the handoff of the responsibility from the previous one and pass it on secure to the next.  Hubris for accomplishments in the past will little overcome provocative weakness.  Maintaining freedom is a gift from God, who will help us to the extent we seek His help and demonstrate that we will do what we can to help ourselves.

Of Fasting and Relief

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To a physically empty room, but to a crowd of millions gathered electronically around the world, a prophet of God spoke reassuringly about times of turmoil.  Russell M. Nelson, Prophet and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was conducting a worldwide conference with the more than 16 million members of the Church.  Fewer than 10 people, presumably including the cameraman, were in the room, and all were practicing social distancing as urged by government officials.

President Nelson has refused, however, to engage in spiritual distancing.  Quite the contrary, his work is aimed at bringing the hearts of people together.  In keeping with the great commandments to love God and love our neighbor, President Nelson called for a worldwide fast this coming Friday, Good Friday.  “Good Friday would be the perfect day to have our Heavenly Father and His Son hear us!”  As part of the fast, he counseled that we pray “that the present pandemic may be controlled, caregivers protected, the economy strengthened, and life normalized.”

This call was extended not just to members of the Church.  President Nelson invited all to join in.  Who would not be in accord with the focus of these petitions?

This fast is well timed and well targeted.  Well timed, because during the Easter season, Christians from around the world are focused on the most important miracles that Jesus Christ performed on our behalf, His suffering and atonement for our sins—which no one else could do—and His resurrection from the grave, which no one had done before and because of which all of us will experience.  A worldwide devotional petition to the God of miracles for His help will at this Easter time give many, shut out from their houses of worship, a way to focus their faith on a very traditional Christian act, temporary self-denial of physical nourishment to emphasize spiritual nourishment and commitment to God and His work.  People may wish to do as latter-day saints normally do when fasting, take the money that would have been spent on the skipped meals and donate it to those in need, of which there are a lot more than there were a few weeks ago.

The fast is well targeted, because the call highlights the four most urgent areas in which we need divine help:  controlling the virus, blessing the caregivers, strengthening the economy, and returning life to normal.  I know of no one not acutely in need of one or more of these petitions.

The New Testament tells of when Jesus Christ was asked by a lawyer which commandment was greatest.  The ancient lawyer was hoping for an argument.  Instead, he received inspired teaching.  The Savior replied, love of God and love of our neighbors, explaining that from these two commandments come all of the others (Matthew 22:35-39).  In essence, all of the rest are commentary on these two.  This fast is all about those two commandments.

Consider joining us in this fast this Good Friday, to the extent that you can.  Let God our Father, who reminded us that He acts in accordance with the faith of His children, hear our prayers and witness our devotion.  He will surely welcome such a global expression on behalf of His children and their welfare.

Of Rest and Relaxation

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The Lord has a distinctive idea of “rest.”  We may see rest as a pause, a respite, a separation from work and activity.  Rest and relaxation are often closely associated.  In music, a rest is when the musician is not making sound—but as my musician wife likes to remind those whom she conducts, when you are not playing or singing, you are still performing.  The rest is part of the music, often a vital, important part.

That brings me closer to my point.  Rest is part of the music of God.  He is not casual about the importance of rest.  God rested.

It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever:  for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed. (Exodus 31:17)

God commands us to rest.

Six days thou shalt do thy work, and on the seventh day thou shalt rest:  that thine ox and thine ass may rest, and the son of thy handmaid, and the stranger, may be refreshed. (Exodus 23:12)

He also offers rest as a reward.

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

Rest may be an eternal principle.  As Enos said, approaching the end of his life,

And I soon go to the place of my rest, which is with my Redeemer; for I know that in him I shall rest. (Enos 1:27)

What does the Lord identify as rest?  It can seem very busy.  For example, referring to those who follow Him, the Lord said, “If they live here let them live unto me; and if they die let them die unto me; for they shall rest from all their labors here, and shall continue their works.” (Doctrine and Covenants 124:86, emphasis added)  Brigham Young taught that after people who have been laboring in Christ’s work die they “are just as busy in the spirit world as you and I are here.” (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 3, p.370)

The Sabbath day is so closely identified with rest that it is often called the day of rest.  In the Sabbath the Lord has hallowed the way that He views rest.  Consider how He asks us to keep the Sabbath day holy.  In April 2015, one of the Apostles of Jesus Christ, and today the Lord’s Prophet to the world, Russell M. Nelson, spoke of the Sabbath as a delight, and discussed how we can make it so.  Focusing on the principles involved, he offered broad categories of activity, including worshiping God, serving His children, teaching our own children, studying the scriptures and inspired instructions of the prophets, working to gather and share family history, visiting the lonely, caring for the sick and afflicted.  That sounds like a lot of doing.  I recall that when I was a missionary, my Sabbath days were more filled with activity than any other day, working for the Savior.  There was a lot of doing, and there still is, and it still delivers rest to the soul.

Notice the words that the Lord employed, through the prophet Isaiah, to describe rest:

And it shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall give thee rest, from thy sorrow, and from thy fear, and from the hard bondage wherein thou was made to serve. (2 Nephi 24:3)

The Lord offers us real rest, deep, profound rest.  It is more than the shallow substitutes and (too frequently) even counterfeits that the world calls rest—substitutes that can leave us worn out, stressed, and still seeking for something deeper.  The rest that God offers is surcease from anxiety, from mental conflict, from routine and activities that provide little lasting meaning, from all that places us in bondage, replacing all of these with peace, with accomplishment that lasts and stays with us now and through the eternities.  It is a gathering of and tending to the riches of relationships built with God, with our families, with our friends that are all intended to last forever.  It is rising above the trials and turbulence of the world, and ending any turbulence within our own hearts.  This is the rest that Christ offers to us.

On the night before His crucifixion, Christ said to His Apostles,

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. (John 16:33)

And then Christ took upon Him our sins and sorrows and troubles that we might know and have true rest, in this life and forever in the life to come.  This is all very real—and refreshing.

Of Discovered Music and Enthroning the Savior

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Many people are introduced to the melody, “Greensleeves,” via the well-known Christmas carol, “What Child Is This?”  There could hardly be a better introduction.

I have a theory that all truly great music—simple or complex—is not created but rather discovered by the composer.  Such music is, I envision, part of a body of music already known and celebrated in heaven.  I could be wrong, but some music is so sublime that it seems to me impossible that heaven could not already be aware of it.  It is my thought that “Greensleeves” belongs to such a class of discovered music.  Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Pachelbel’s Canon in D, the folk tune “Shenandoah,” among many others, are part of that divine play list, along with beauties yet to be discovered.  So it seems to me.

The words to the carol of which I write are fit for the melody.  They are a soul deep meditation on why the birth of this Baby is so important.  The musings lead to an answer found in what this Child would later do.  The mortal mission of Christ the King is incomparably important to you and me.

I fear that many modern renditions miss—or perhaps even avoid—the point. Among the some two dozen recordings of the carol in my possession, I recently discovered to my surprise that all but maybe four leave out the second of three verses, the one that holds a central place in the poem penned by the author, William C. Dix.  Some repeat, again and again, the true declaration of the first verse that this Child is “Christ the King.”  Recognition of that reality is important, but how far does it get you?  Even Herod believed and feared that prophecy, a belief that goaded him to destroy all of the babes of Bethlehem that his soldiers could find.

Why did Christ the King find it necessary to lower Himself to be born among men?  That is the central question, understanding the answer to which converts our attitude toward Christ from more than reverence for a Divine Monarch into humble love born of joy and boundless gratitude.  The second verse explains what is at the heart of Christmas.  But listen to your recording and see whether these words are included:

Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The babe, the Son of Mary.

This little Child would be pierced by nails and spear when He was older but no less innocent.  Why would He submit to that?  Why would the King submit to that?  We worship Christ not just because He is the King, but because of what this King has done for us.

I conceive of a day, a moment, when those very men who pounded the nails into the Savior’s hands and feet come personally to realize, come face-to-face with, what they have done.  What depth of grief that this knowledge will cause to the minds of those men—of those moments in that day—I can imagine in only the smallest degree.  They will be the only men, among the billions who have trod the earth, who with hammers in their fists drove nails into the hands and feet of the Creator and their Savior.  What will that recognition mean to them?

Perhaps the Savior’s plea from the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do,” will be the beginning of some healing solace when they do know what they personally did.  I suspect that this is not the limit of the mercy that the Savior will extend to these, His brothers, who were so close to the Son of God in this horrible way.

Then I am drawn to consider, how will we feel when our day comes, and it surely will, when we stand face-to-face and see those wounds in His hands and feet?  How will we feel when we come to understand perfectly, as we will, that our own, personal sins made those wounds necessary, that because of what we knowingly have done there was no other way, that we helped to make those nails unavoidable?  More, how will we feel, looking in the Savior’s eyes, when we fully understand that depending on our repentance the suffering that we personally caused was entirely and eternally worth it, or in absence of our repentance all for naught?  At that moment our joy and our love or our grief and pain will be without measure.

Let us decide now, for we may, to let our loving hearts enthrone Him.

Of the Songs of Angels and Our Part in their Story

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There are many beautiful carols sung, performed on instruments, whistled, and even hummed to celebrate Christmas. They are among the more significant and important ways of remembering and worshiping the Savior as we commemorate His birth—the most important is to do His works, as He showed us.

A beautiful American carol—not heard nearly enough today—is “It Came upon the Midnight Clear,” words by Edmund Hamilton Sears, music by Richard Storrs Willis. Part of this carol’s power, much like “Joy to the World,” is that it unites the certain news of the Savior’s birth with the prophecies of Christ’s return. Just as surely as Christ’s birth happened in complete fulfillment of thousands of years of prophecy and prayer, so may we trust that the prophecies of the Savior’s return will be fulfilled in every particular.

The night before His birth, the Savior declared to the prophet Nephi, “on the morrow come I into the world, to show unto the world that I will fulfill all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets.” (3 Nephi 1:13) That declaration applied to all of the prophecies, those of His birth, His ministry, His atoning sacrifice, His resurrection, and His return in the latter days.

That is the message of the carol by Sears and Willis:

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth
To touch their harps of gold:
“Peace on the earth, good will to men
From heav’n’s all-gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing.

The carol begins with reflections on the ancient story, proclaimed by unimpeachable messengers from heaven, of the birth of the Prince of Peace, tidings sent from His Father, the King. The carol does not stop there. It moves forward to remind us what that song of old means for us today. In short, the story did not end on that midnight clear; the story continues. We are in the story.

Still thru the cloven skies they come
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heav’nly music floats
O’er all the weary world.
Above its sad and lowly plains
They bend on hov’ring wing,
And ever o’er its babel sounds
The blessed angels sing.

The angels’ work has not ended, their song continues, the messengers of heaven yet minister to us in modern times to our weary world. As today’s leaders say more and lead less, and the “babel” of voices increases, the need for the message of the angels grows. The angels still have much work to do. They are needed now ever as much as they were two thousand years ago. What is their message? That the days proclaimed by prophets throughout the ages are arriving. Ours, too, is a momentous age. We are part of the story spoken and begun anciently, still extending toward a conclusion yet ahead.

For lo! the days are hast’ning on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever circling years
Shall come the time foretold,
When the new heav’n and earth shall own
The Prince of Peace their King,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.

As we worship each Christmas time, and throughout the year, let the message of this song, and the words of the prophets—ancient and modern—remind us that the time is hastening on as foretold. As we live and move through the weary world, we need not be weary. We can listen to the messages from heaven and rejoice. We can own the Prince of Peace our King and send back the song that the angels in our day are still singing.

Of Jesus Christ and Life

Life. Jesus said, “I am the life” (Doctrine & Covenants 11:28).

Jesus said, “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” (Matthew 22:32)

Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself” (John 5:25, 26).

I will tell you the story of a German woman, whom for this relation I will name Hertha Lux Bullerman. Hertha was the mother of 5 children, three boys and two girls. She lived in far eastern Germany.

Her first child was a daughter, Ursula. Her second was her first son. He was named Fritz. Ursula and Fritz were close, as first and second born children can be.

Next was born another son, named Hubertus. Hubertus died a day short of four weeks after he was born. Hertha’s next child was a third son, to whom was given a name similar to his brother’s, perhaps in memory of his brother who lived such a short time. This third son was named Hubert. Hubert died from typhus, a few days short of his third birthday. Last born of the children was Hertha’s second daughter, named Christa.

Hertha Lux Bullerman outlived all of her children except her oldest, Ursula. She also outlived her husband, Alfred, who died in 1938 of an incurable disease, just a few short years before that disease, tuberculosis, became very curable.

The family was religious. Alfred was a Lutheran minister, and they all lived in the parsonage, along with Hertha’s father for a time, who was an organist for the church. It was Ursula’s job to work the pump that gave the air that gave the sound to the pipes of the organ. For Ursula, as a child, that was hard work. You could get tired long before the music was through.

Ursula’s grandfather, Theodor Bruno Waldemar, was proud of her. They would often walk in the town, old grandfather and young granddaughter. When other children saw them walking together, they would sometimes call out, “There comes the old musician, with his daughter, the clarinet.” Grandfather would beam with pride, while Ursula thought altogether differently about the peer recognition.

I speak of these things and these people, because this is life, and they lived it. And they are all children of God, the God of the living.

Yet so much of it happened before my mortal life, before I arrived on earth and my mortal reality began. Did it really happen? How could it be real? Are the people of the past, of long ago and not so long ago, real? I am quite sure that it was and that they are.

One year and a month after the death of Hertha’s husband, Alfred, Germany was at war with nearly all of its neighbors.

Hertha’s remaining son, Fritz, was 16 when the war began. Before the war was over he would serve in a tank on the Russian front. Fritz never returned home. He died, in late autumn of 1943, in Ukraine, not far from where there is war again today.

A year later, in November 1944, the old musician, Hertha’s father, died. Of Hertha’s family, she and her two daughters remained. In not many weeks all three would flee for their lives from the Red Army.

The three women, barely fitting on the overcrowded refugee train, could take very little with them. Why did Hertha bring with her the folder containing her family history? With her world crashing down around her, with so many of her family and friends gone, with her homeland behind her and a merciless enemy at her back, why would those records of the dead have any value? Were these people who had gone, children, husband, father, family, real anymore?

Jesus said, “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”

Jesus said, “I am the life”.

Hertha and her daughters, Ursula and Christa, found refuge in southern Germany. Though her new home would soon be occupied by another enemy, it was a more merciful one than the communists.

Hertha and both daughters survived the war. The younger one, Christa, married and had children of her own, though she died from an illness in the mid-1960s. The older sister, Ursula, married an American soldier and came to the United States. She brought with her that treasured folder of family history, preserved by Hertha through fire and flame, through tragedy and chaos.

Ursula herself died just 10 years ago, from Alzheimer’s disease. She had forgotten much of what I have remembered for you today. While my mother’s memory of these people faded away the people did not. She regained them and her memory of them all just as she joined them in the world of spirits.

We all have such stories. I am glad for those that I have saved. I wish that I had saved more. That folder of family history mattered very much. Why did my grandmother entrust that folder to my mother? My grandmother rescued more than her daughters in the cold winter of 1945.

Because the atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ extend life to all, I have confidence in the day when we shall be united.

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