Our little ward has been hard hit. One of our students was diagnosed with leukemia during the holidays. She has a long, long road ahead of her. The ward has rallied around her but the news is sobering. Some excerpts then, from ld's Sacrament meeting talk, given December 19, 2010 to our BYU 65th ward:
I’m reminded today of that wonderful line in the carol ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’: ‘The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.’
Christmas, especially this Christmas, speaks to our hopes and fears in a way that nothing else can.
Nativity cast of characters
You have no doubt participated in years past in an acting out of the nativity. One of my favorite memories of Christmas Eve is being in the audience for our annual living room Christmas play. You know what I’m speaking of, right? You find the baby Jesus played by a flashlight wrapped in a blanket, Joseph defined by his bathrobe and mop handle staff, Mary looking solemn with a sheet draped head, the angel of the Lord with a tinsel halo and a wiseman with his towel turbaned head bearing oddly wrapped gifts. And depending on how big the family gathering, maybe you were fortunate to have a bleating lamb or a mooing cow.
However thrown together and amateurish the acting, there really is something sweet and special about acting out the nativity story that touches our hearts. It pulls at our heartstrings because it is a tender and deeply profound story. And besides the obvious and most important truth of our Heavenly Father sending his Son to a fallen world, the cast of characters surrounding this story offer some important examples in living life as well. These faithful people in their supporting roles in the Christmas narrative have much to teach us about wisely dealing with ‘hopes and fears’.
For all of us, there are always those times in our lives when fear and worry get the best of us. Our little ward is no exception. To the rest of the world they may seem totally unfounded and even ridiculous, but to those who live in the midst of them, they can be very real and totally overwhelming. Fear of the unknown, loss of health and fear of the outcome, fear of losing a job or in this economy fear of ever finding one. Fear of ever finding a mate. Fear of failure. And on and on. Every one of these powerful fears can send a stab through our hearts.
Thankfully for all of us, we have this wonderful season of Christmas that comes again and again each and every year to remind us and to renew within us the realization of the wonderful gift to us from a loving Father in Heaven—one who sent His son into the world to take those very fears upon himself and replace them with the Christmas message of light and love and hope.
Angels message: Do not be afraid
In the Christmas story we read from Scripture, we hear of the Lord’s messengers, the angels, delivering this very message. Do not be afraid. When the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah to announce that his wife Elizabeth would become the mother of John the Baptist, even in her old age, Gabriel’s first words to him were, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, your prayer has been heard”.
Not long after, Gabriel appeared again, this time to Mary, to announce that she would be the mother of Jesus. And again his first words were, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God”.
And an angel appeared to Joseph, too. He was betrothed to Mary and it would have been understandable in those days if he had sent her away, but the angel said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit”.
And finally, in splendor and light, an angel appeared to the shepherds on a hillside while they were tending their sheep and said to them, “Fear not, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord”.
All of these people were just ordinary folk who, each in their own way, were asked to overcome their fears and, in faith and obedience to a loving God, do improbable and difficult things.
Zechariah and Elizabeth were elderly and I’m sure many of their friends and neighbors had much to say as Elizabeth became obviously pregnant in her old age.
Example of Mary and Joseph
Mary, on the other hand, was just a child, a young teenager. She was unmarried and so a seeming disgrace to her family and to Joseph, her betrothed. Everyone would have understood if Joseph had put her away, but he did not. Because of the angel’s words, (Matthew 1:20) he stood by her and held his head, and Mary’s, high.
This man Joseph, stands out as a real hero, because of the lessons he teaches us about obedience to God and surrender to God. Dealing with the unexpected, or when life throws you a curve ball, this pretty much describes Joseph’s experience.
Like Mary, we too can offer in humble submission our lives to the Lord. He had a plan for Mary and he has a plan for us. As we make our way along our own spiritual journeys, may Mary’s example of willing commitment inspire us to take similar steps of faith, many times over. No matter what God has in store for us, no matter what life throws at us, may we trust our Heavenly Father enough to be willing to say like she did: Be it unto me according to thy word
And like Joseph of old we, too, must cope with unexpected events. When they occur and our faith is tested, may we show the courage, persistence, and valiance of Joseph. With such faith and determination we, too, can do all that God expects of us and conquer the unexpected problems of life.
Example of Shepherds (Luke 2:8-14)
There are more great examples found in the Christmas story.
As for the shepherds, they were the lowliest of the low. Humble folk who lived simple lives and cared for sheep. Possibly smelly and dirty from herding their sheep, they lived apart from the other townspeople. They were not high on the social ladder. However, social status has never been a requirement for revelation. They were the first to hear the news of Jesus’ birth, and they went quickly to see the babe in the manger.
These shepherds would become sincere, life long witnesses of Christ. They would eagerly proclaim what they had heard, and seen, and felt that night. In fact, they would do so with such simplicity and power and conviction, that the scriptures record that, “all that heard them would wonder at those things that were told them.”
The shepherd’s experience and testimony is still as relevant today as over 2000 years ago. It is now our opportunity to hear the shepherds story, and follow...
Examples of Courage
In all these characters of Christmas we find people of courage.
All of these people were asked to do difficult things, in some cases things that might have been totally out of character for them, and things we can be sure they never would have chosen for themselves. It is obvious that they were afraid. But Scripture tells us, too, that they were faithful people. Not only did they believe in God, but they trusted in Him. They knew deep down in their hearts that if the Lord asked something of them, He would also provide the strength and the courage and everything they needed to get the job done.
Now, not only do we laud the contributions of Joseph and Mary, the Shepherds and Angels in the Christmas story and their great examples of courage in overcoming fear but we also remember the example of the Wise men, who came of course, later in the narrative. Because it takes wisdom, brothers and sisters to overcome our fears.
And as we think about the Wisemen, we have to ask the question: What did they know that made them so wise? And the question for us all: What do truly wise people know that other people don’t? I want to suggest two things, if I may.
1) First Anciently, the wise men knew and Wise people today know that this life doesn’t last.
This life is temporary. We would be very wise to embrace this truth ourselves-especially in this season of the year when we are smothered in materialism. If we are not very careful all the things of this world will make us love the things of the world too much. Earthly pleasures can tempt us to forget why we are here. Wise people know that fancy cars and clothes, a life that constantly seeks for entertainment, ease and popularity, these are not the things that count. Riches and fame, the things of this world will not help us on judgment day. Only righteousness counts then. ( see Proverbs 11:4)
And this leads us to the second thing wise people know, just as the wise men knew.
2) They know they need a Savior. They know that their fallen state separates them from our Heavenly Father, and that the only way home is through His Son, Jesus Christ.
Wise people know that after all we have done we still can't be good enough or smart enough to earn our way to heaven when this life ends. They know they need a Savior. They know the only One qualified to save them was born that first Christmas night.
The fact is, the wisest decision anyone can make is to repent of their sins and follow and rely on the Savior. This decision gives you and I a peace that passes understanding, a life of fulfillment and meaning, and the knowledge from the plan of salvation that when this life ends, we have hope of a resurrection and eternal life.
President Hinckley taught:
And now, my beloved brothers and sisters, what must we do this Christmas season and always? Why, we must do the same as the Wise Men of old. They sought out the Christ and found Him. And so must we. Those who are wise still seek him today.
Now Christmas is here again for each and every one of us. Soon most of you will be going home to celebrate with your families.
May you remember that the hopes and fears of all the years are met in Savior Jesus Christ. For as we have talked a bit today about facing life’s fears let’s remember the hope the Savior brings to this life. It’s really that hope that makes the season so festive and joyous.
Because in spite of all the suffering or adversity you and I may experience, in spite of the bad and somewhat scary economic times we live in, in spite of some giving into despair and fears, the Savior says to have hope, please have hope, to hang on. The real message of that first Christmas is that Heavenly Father loves us –so much that He sent us His son. The Savior came to walk with us, to show us a better way, to redeem us if we will let Him. He never leaves us alone. We don’t have to be afraid.