Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Best Is Yet To Come!

I was once told that in the 1830s a bill was put before the United States Congress to close the patent office because everything that could be discovered had surely been discovered by then. Therefore, there was no more need for a patent office. I don’t know if that is urban myth or if it actually happened, but even if it didn’t happen I’m sure there were people in the 1830s that thought there would be no more inventions.

In hindsight and knowing all that has been discovered since then, you and I can laugh at how absurd that thought was. But if we had been living in the 1830s we may have been among the naysayers. Naysayers only believe what they can see and what they have experienced and even then they are jaundiced by negative perceptions.

On this last day of 2011, I think there is something to learn from this. A new year brings with it new beginnings and who knows what wonders await us? We can be naysayers and think that the future will be exactly like the past—nothing new, nothing better. Or we can be excited about the possibilities of what is to come—new things to learn, new friends to make, new experiences, new growth, new tender mercies and miracles. As Mr. J's mission president tells us every time we see him, "The best is yet to come!"

So as the clock begins to strike to take us into 2012, I hope you begin the year by thinking, “The best is about to begin,” and then expect it.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Thank You!

I’ve been at my computer all day for the last two days working on the finishing touches of my book Living in Truth and Avoiding the Pit of Illusion. I hope to send it off to the editor next week. Wish me luck.

As I’ve been rewriting and polishing the manuscript, I’ve been reminded of how much all of you have helped me. Many of the stories come from readers of Good News! and the stories are what make the book.

Stories are so much more powerful than lecture! I think that’s why the Savior taught in parables. The parables capture our attention, teach deep in the heart not just in the mind, and they are easy to remember. So many thanks to all of you who have emailed me your experiences with Living in Truth. Now just pray that the book gets published!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

I'm Anchored

I’ve finally decided on my “Word of the Year.” One of the most empowering parts of Living in Truth is to live in the present moment, and I want to get better at doing that. I’ve been trying, but with so many years of Pit of Illusion type habits to overcome I’ve made slow progress. So my Word of the Year is anchor—the verb anchor. I am going to concentrate on experiencing every single moment. I’m going to anchor myself to the present and not let myself carry around baggage from the past or worry about the future. I’m going to take what comes and love it.


Every moment of life offers something wonderful, but I’ve missed so much of it because I haven't been present. Not anymore! I’m going to create (even though I’m not very artistic) some clever signs to remind myself and put them where I can see them often. I’m going to start my day by anchoring to the morning, end my day by anchoring to the evening, and anchor myself to everything in between.

I’m going to start 2012 anchored to the present and I’m going to stay there. After all, the present moment is the only one I have any control over.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Reminders

                                       

Over the last few years as I’ve been learning to Live in Truth I’ve discovered that I need reminders. Old, long-ingrained habits and ways of life are difficult to overcome, and I need all the help I can get in order to grow and change. That’s why I have a copy of My Charge on the mirror so that I see it often every day. I also have assigned meanings that remind me of what it means to Live in Truth to things I see every day. I have words that encourage me on the inside of every kitchen cupboard so that every time I get a dish out or put one back in, I see the word and am reminded to Live in Truth. I also had engraved on my ipad the words, “Take what comes and love it.”  And as soon as I decide on my Word for the Year, I'll put it in places where I'll see it often. 

          
           "Surrender" by Brighton Jewelry

 That’s why one of the Christmas presents Mr. J gave me is so fantastic. He totally surprised me with a necklace that opens up and inside on one half it says, “Trust and enjoy” and on the other it says, “Everything is exactly as it should be.” The necklace itself is beautiful with stones of purple and blue setting off a heart made of clear stones, but knowing what it says inside means the most to me. It encourages and empowers me when I wear it. I hate taking it off! 

I’m not selling necklaces, but I am selling the idea that we need all the help we can get in order to overcome telestial influences and grow into celestial beings. It isn’t going to happen unless we make it happen, and part of the help we need to make it happen comes from surrounding ourselves with things that remind us to trust in God and to take what comes and enjoy it.







Tuesday, December 27, 2011

It's "Word of the Year" Time

The new year is fast approaching and the time has come when people choose their New Year's Resolutions. But I've found that a list of goals becomes overwhelming and by the end of January I'm discouraged and done with resolutions so I don't set goals instead I pick a Word of the Year. Two years ago my word was rejuvenate and this year my word was grateful.

To make the Word of the Year work best choose a verb—an action word—and then constantly remind yourself of your Word of the Year. For example, when I chose rejuvenate, I let the word underscore everything I did. If I was cleaning house, I’d think about rejuvenating it—doing it better and/or more effectively than ever before. If I was studying, I’d think about rejuvenating my studies—having more enthusiasm and excitement in my study. If I was with friends, I’d think about rejuvenating my friendship—not taking friendship for granted but cherishing it and giving more to it. Instead of feeling like something extra or burdensome to do (like a goal often seems), my word resolution simply enhances and invigorates everything I am already doing. In this way I help the natural process of letting the Spirit renew and guide me day by day without getting discouraged or being tempted to give up. I love it!

This year I’m still trying to decide between two words. It has been so difficult that I was tempted to use both, but I know from experience that part of the power of choosing a Word of the Year is the focus and when I pick more than one word the effort becomes diluted and is much less effective.

As soon as I decide which word, I'll let you know. In the meantime, what words are you thinking about? And what experiences did you have last year with your Word of the Year?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas is Good News

I hope your Christmas celebration filled you with joy, love, and hope. That's what it is meant to do, but if we get too caught up in the materialism of gift giving and getting, that doesn't happen. Instead we pass through Christmas stressed, fatigued, disappointed, and weary. But if we take time to remember what Christmas is all about, the joy overshadows any of the stressful things. That's why I thank all of you for celebrating Christmas with me here on Good News! It gave me the opportunity to spend time thinking about the Good News. After all, the birth of Jesus Christ is the best news that ever was. He is The Good News--the very best news that has ever been given.

I've loved researching more about the events that were the original Christmas, and sharing what I know and what I've learned with you has made my Christmas very meaningful. I hope in some small way it has contributed to your Christmas celebration also.

So thank you for stopping by, and I hope you will continue to visit Good News! all year long. I love having company!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Fear not;
for, behold, I bring you good tidings
of great joy,
which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day
in the city of David a Saviour,
which is Christ the Lord.

Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace,
good will toward men.
Luke 2:10 and 14

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve



It is Christmas Eve! Years ago that meant magic, wonder, excitement, anticipation, and joy knowing Santa Clause was about to come. Now it means magic, wonder, excitement, anticipation, and especially joy knowing that my Savior came.

The other day I had one of those everything-goes-wrong days that tend to push me into the Pit of Illusion. I was fighting against the feelings and trying to get back into the Realm of Truth as I went to bed. I usually fall asleep listening to something and that night I put on Susan Boyle’s Christmas album. As I lay in the dark fighting the negative feelings within me I suddenly became aware of the words being sung, “Bless all the dear children in thy tender care, And fit us for heaven to live with thee there.” And with those words came the feeling that the negative thoughts I was plagued with were temporary because of Jesus Christ. What a gift! These bad dayswill have an end. All I need to do is hang on and He will do the rest. He was born to conquer all negative, bad, evil, horrible things. He will set all things right and that means make all things good. Because of Him we are being “fit for heaven” where none of that negative things will exist. I went to sleep firmly planted in the Realm of Truth, and rejoicing in that First Noel.

I love the fact that this Christmas comes on a Sunday. Besides the normal celebrating, we can go to His house and worship Him. Tomorrow I’ll sing songs of praise to Himwith neighbors and friends and people I love, and with them I'm I'll partake of His holiness. Tomorrow I'll have a few moments to think about all the things I've written about this month, but most importantly on His birthday I'll partake of the sacrament and remember how Mary in the House of Bread, placed that Bread of Life on the feeding trough--a symbolic offering, a feast for me.

My heart is full to overflowing with the magic, wonder, excitement, anticipation, and especially joy that is Christ.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas in the Book of Mormon


The Jews in the Old World were not the only people awaiting the Messiah. On the American continent many of the Nephites eagerly anticipated the day. But there were also many people who didn’t believe, and they began to scorn and persecute the believers. The persecution became so bad the wicked people proclaimed that if the sign of the coming of the Lord did not occur by a certain day, they would kill all the believers.

Samuel the Lamanite prophesies
of the birth of Jesus Christ.
The prophet at the time, Nephi, was filled with sorrow at the wickedness around him. For years he had tried to help the people but so many of them refused to believe and repent. Now as they issued their mandate, he prayed mightily all day long in behalf of his people asking that the Lord would be born so that the righteous who awaited the Messiah would not be killed. After hours of prayer he heard a voice saying, “Lift up your head and be of good cheer; for behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world, to show unto the world that I will fulfil all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets” (3 Nephi 1:13).

As promised that night the sun went down, but there was no darkness. It must have been a strange experience to watch the sun disappear beyond the horizon and yet the sky remain as light as if it were noontime. The believers rejoiced as they recognized the sign given them by Samuel the Lamanite. But those who had threatened to kill the believers were frightened and many of them fell to the ground as if they were dead. Fear filled them for they knew that they had been wrong, and they worried about what would now happen to them. That entire night the light continued and the next morning the people watched as the sun rose on an already bright sky.

I love to think about this story and reflect on what it teaches me not only about the bitrh of Jesus Christ but about me being born again in Him. When Christ has been born again within us there is no longer darkness. When we have experienced the mighty change of heart, even a situation thatthe world says should bring great darkness into our lives such as the death of a loved one or any other tragedy is mitigated by the light of Christ within us. When a person loves and trusts in Jesus Christ, there is always light shining brightly.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Celebrating Christmas--The Mother and Child



I’ve always felt our Christmas celebrations pay too little attention to the mother, Mary. She played a magnificent role in the coming forth of the Son of Holiness and my own celebrating and worshiping is enhanced when I think of her. Two of my most meaningful Christmases werethe ones when I had a baby in December. I remember wrapping my babies and thinking of Mary swaddling hers and imagining what she did and thought.

Most scholars believe she was young, perhaps fourteen or fifteen years old, because it was the custom of the day to betroth a daughter when she began to menstruate. Other scholars argue that menstruation happened later at that time, but even sixteen or seventeen is young.

Some have interpreted the verse, “But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19), to mean that Mary was bewildered and didn’t know what was going on. To me that is absurd. All of Mary’s life people had talked about the prophesied Messiah. She couldn’t have been unaware of the teachings and longing for a Messiah. But more than that, an angel appeared to tell her that she was going to bear the child, and then she found herself with child when she had never known a man. How could she not have known?

Of all people, Mary was the one who knew—not just believed but knew—that the Savior of the world had come. She knew the baby she had suffered to bring into the world was the long awaited Messiah. To me the fact that she kept the things in her heart indicates that she knew how sacred the events and happenings were and therefore she didn’t speak openly about them. Instead she kept the details to herself and pondered on them often.

Of all the women in the world, Mary was the one worthy and willing and ready to mother the Son of God. We are told she was a virgin. The word originally meant simply a young woman.

But the definitions now include, “an unmarried woman devoted to religion,” “a woman who has not had sexual intercourse,” and “a person who is inexperienced in a usually specified sphere of activity.” Mary fits all the definitions. The birth we celebrate was to a virgin who had never known a man, a virgin innocent and pure.

Perhaps that is the most important symbol of the Christmas season, for it is only in a pure and innocent heart that Christ can be born again.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Flight Into Egypt

Throughout the Bible we repeatedly find metaphors in which the lands of Babylon and Egypt are symbols of a corrupt and immoral world and the area of Palestine is a Promised Land. In the metaphor God directs people to leave the worldly place and flee to the Promised Land. Thus the Children of Israel left Egypt and made their way to Israel. Abraham left Babylon and made his way to Palestine.

But we find the reverse in the story of the Savior. Jesus was born in the Promised Land, but Joseph and Mary took him into Egypt. And thus a new metaphor is introduced.

"Flight into Egypt" by Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337)
This time we have Jesus Christ, who is a God and the inheritor of the Promised Land, fleeing that land and traveling into the corrupt and immoral world for a time then returning to the Promised Land when the angel calls them back to the Promised Land.

Likewise, Jesus Christ, left his heavenly home with God the Father, but will return to it as soon as His mission is complete.

The Flight into Egypt, then, is symbolic of the fact that Jesus Christ condescended to come into the world and save us from sin (the immoral world) and corruption (death). Because of His birth and His death, angels, prophets, and teachers call us out of the world and lead us into our Promised Land. Just as in all other things, Jesus Christ set the example. You and I can flee this world and obtain a better one. It is the greatest gift anyone has ever given us and it is Jesus Christ that made such a journey possible.




Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Baby Jesus Is Welcomed

Usually when we tell the Christmas story we include the shepherds and wise men, but there are other important characters in the story that we too often forget about. But the gospel writers must have thought they were important because unlike the shepherds and wise men we know these people by name; Simeon and Anna.


Simeon was “just and devout” and had been “waiting for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Ghost was upon him” (Luke 2:25). The Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die before he had seen the Messiah and on the day that Joseph and Mary came to present Jesus, Simeon was led by the Spirit to go to the temple. As he beheld the child, he took him into his arms and joyfully cried, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32).

Luke tells us that these words caused Mary and Joseph to marvel. We can imagine how much joy and comfort this must have given them after all the gossip and persecution they had experienced to encounter someone who believed and shared in their secret.

But the comfort was short lived as Simeon turned to Mary and prophesied, “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).

Also in the temple that day was the prophetess Anna who had been a widow for eighty-four years and who lived at the temple serving “God with fastings and prayers night and day”(Luke 2:37). When she heard Simeon proclaim the Messiah, the Spirit also bore witness to her of the divinity of the child and she gave thanks to the Lord that at last the long awaited Redeemer of Israel had been born.

Both Simeon and Anna were ready and waiting so that they recognized their Messiah when he came into their lives. Likewise the promise to all of us is that if we are ready and waiting, Jesus Christ will come into our lives and we will know Him.


Monday, December 19, 2011

The Baby Jesus Presented at the Temple


When Jesus was eight days old He was circumcised and given the name Jesus (Luke 2:21). But that name which we know so well is not the name Mary and Joseph would have called him by. Jesus is actually the Greek form of his Hebrew name which was Yeshua and fittingly means “salvation.” Linguistically it is related to the Hebrew name Yehoshua (rendered Joshua in our Bible) which means “Jehovah saves.” Luke also reminds us that Yeshua is not a name Mary or Joseph decided upon, but the name the angel Gabriel pronounced upon him at the time of his conception.

Ritual naming and circumcising took place when a male child was eight days old. A separate ritual occurred after the purification time for the mother. If a mother gave birth to a male child the purification time was forty days and for a female child it was eighty days. Thus forty days after the birth, Joseph and Mary traveled the five miles from Bethlehem to the temple in Jerusalem to attend to the purification ritual. The fact that both rituals were performed tells us that Mary and Joseph were strict observers of the law of Moses.

But there is something very interesting going on here. In addition to the circumcising and purification rituals, a firstborn son was taken to the temple when forty days old to be presented to the Lord and according to the law redeemed at the price of five temple shekels (Numbers 18:16). The baby would be given to the priest and the priest would lift the baby up before the altar to dedicate him to the Lord. This  reminded the people that thousands of years before God had saved the firstborn sons of the Israelites during the first Passover.

All of the laws of Moses were intended to teach the people and help them look forward with hope to the time when their Messiah would come to redeem His people. Circumcision and purification ceremonies reminded the people that their hope was not in generation but in regeneration, and on that ritual day the Infant being circumcised was not in token of regeneration or salvation; He was Salvation. He was not only the firstborn son of Mary being presented to God; He was the Son of God being present to His Father.

The Infant the priest held in his arms that day was not in token of the Messiah but He was the Messiah that hundreds of thousands of rituals had been performed to celebrate. He was the baby that would be our Salvation.



Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sabbath Scripture - Spread the Good News

And the shepherds returned,
glorifying and praising God
 for all the things that they had heard and seen,
 as it was told unto them.
Luke 2:18

Today is the day for us to do the same!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Wise Men's Gift of Gold


The symbolism in the Wise Men’s gift of gold is obvious. Since the beginning of time, gold has been the most sought after of all precious metals. It is the metal of kings. But even more important it is a symbol of the celestial kingdom with silver being a symbol of the terrestrial kingdom and brass or bronze of the telestial kingdom. Therefore, it was only natural that to celebrate the birth of the King of Kings, the Wise Men would bring a gift of gold.


But there are other things about gold that make this gift especially fitting for our Savior. The chemical symbol for gold is Au derived from the Latin word aurum which is related in several languages to words that refer to dawn an example being the Latin word aurora.

Gold is dense, soft, shiny, and the most malleable and ductile pure metal known. In addition, gold maintains its color without oxidizing in air or water which means it is non-corrodible. Chemically gold is known as a transition metal and of all the metals, pure gold is the least reactive and is able to resist most acids. Gold is an excellent conductor of electricity and has also provided the basis for monetary standards for many countries throughout history.

So there was much more meaning in the gift of gold than the fact that this infant was King. The Baby presented the gold would grow to be the Savior of the world. He was the “dawn” of salvation for all mankind. Through His atoning sacrifice we would be empowered to “transition” or make the mighty change from the carnal, sensual and devilish life to the spiritual and righteous life. He would be the only One to ever live a life “non-corroded” by sin, the One who would set the “standard” of righteousness for all who wished to return to God to follow. He was and is the “conductor” of the Light of Life. Yes, gold was a fitting gift for a King who would be much more than a King. He is our Savior.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Gift of Myrrh

Another royal gift given to the baby Jesus by the Wise Men was myrrh. Like frankincense, myrrh is harvested by cutting into the trunk of the myrrh bush and letting the wound bleed. The sap that oozes out hardens and is then picked from the tree and used for perfumes, incense, and embalming. The principle species is Commiphora myrrha, but a related species Commiphora gileadensis is referred to in the Bible as the “balm of Gilead.”


The word myrrh comes from the Aramaic word murr which means “bitter.”

Hundreds of years before Christ, myrrh was used and valued for its powerful fragrance. It was also used to heal wounds, but the most famous of its uses was that it was the principal ingredient in ointments used in embalming mummies in Egypt. At the time of the Savior it was used in Palestine to anoint dead bodies in preparation for burial. Because of all these uses, myrrh was often as valuable ounce per ounce as gold. As a matter of fact, sometimes the price of myrrh rose higher than that of gold.

The most interesting thing to me, however, is that the myrrh bush has long, spiky thorns. Thus the myrrh branch foreshadows the crown of thorns placed upon the Savior at the time of His death. The gift at his birth was a symbol of His royalty—The King of Kings. But at the same time it reminds us that at His death the soldiers would reject their King. Instead of crowning Him with gold and jewels they would crown Him with thorns.

Thus myrrh is a symbolic reminder that this Royal Baby would suffer and die for us.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Gift of Frankincense


Frankincense

We don’t actually know how many Wise Men came to worship the baby Jesus. Tradition maintains that there were three but that is because there were three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. All three are significant in that they are gifts befitting a king. But in addition, all three have symbolic significance.

Frankincense is found in the scraggly, but hardy, Boswellia tree, and is harvested by slashing the bark and allowing the resins to bleed out and harden. The hardened resins are called tears. Frankincense trees grow in very difficult environments where most plant life could never exist such as out of solid rock. How it attaches to the stone is unknown, but a bulbous disk-like swelling of the trunk at the base of the tree allows it to adhere and grow. This growth prevents it from being ripped from the rock during violent storms that frequent the places the trees grow in. The bulbous swelling is slight or absent in trees grown in rocky soil or gravel.

Frankincense is used as a perfume, but more significantly it was used as incense and burned on the altar of the Jewish temple. Think about the last time you saw smoke rising and how it forms a “ribbon,” that connects heaven to earth. This is why incense became a symbol of prayers which when uttered rise to God.

Frankincense is also a symbol of another connection between heaven and earth, priesthood, which is the power of God shared with mankind.

What a fitting gift, then, frankincense was for the King of Kings, the great High Priest, who is our mediator, connection to heaven.



Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wise Men

Of all the stories associated with the birth of Jesus Christ, the story of the Wise Men raises the most questions and intrigues me most. How did they know about the King of the Jews? How did they recognize the star? What made them come so far? Who were they? Did it take them weeks, or months, or years to arrive in Bethlehem?

I once heard a scholar speak about them and his assumption was that since they were from the East they were non Jewish. But there were many Jewish communities in the East as well as in Egypt. Therefore, my guess is that the Wise Men were Jewish people of the Diaspora whose families had been taken from Palestine during the Assyrian or Babylonian conquests or at least men influenced by Jewish people of the Diaspora.

But there are still more questions. Did angels announce the birth to the Wise Men as they did to the shepherds? Or did the Wise Men learn from scriptures or an oral tradition that a star would announce Christ’s birth? The wording in Matthew makes me think they had scriptures or an oral tradition that they recognized as fulfilled when they saw the new star. All we are told is that they saw the sign in the East and then traveled west to Judea—symbolically they followed the path of the sun. It was a long journey, and once in Jerusalem they began to inquire, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2).

News of their inquiries concerning a king reached Herod, and he sent for them under the guise of wanting to worship this new king. But in fact, Herod was troubled by prophecies that a child would be born who would rule Israel–after all, he was the king of this land. And being a ruthless king he would not let such a thing happen.

After consulting with his priests, he told the Wise Men of the prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem and sent them on their way after instructing them to return to tell him when they had found the new king. But being warned by an angel that Herod’s intent wasn’t to worship the king, but to kill Him, they refused the order and after worshiping the Infant King returned to the east without telling Herod.

As the prophecy foretold the Wise Men found Mary, Joseph, and Jesus in Bethlehem, but not in the stable. By then Mary and Joseph had moved out of the stable and into a house. I often wonder what these intelligent, wealthy men thought as they beheld the helpless infant born to such humble parents. They’d had a lot of time to build up expectations as they traveled to Bethlehem. Did they go away confirmed and elated or disappointed and wondering? The decision was theirs to make, but I tend to think they were jubilant. They knew they had found the King of Kings.

Tradition always tells the story of the Wise Men following a star, but really they were following their own hearts. Thousands saw the sign, the star in the sky, but few had studied enough to be able to recognize it and fewer still cared enough to see where it led. No, it wasn’t the star they followed, it was their own hearts that guided them to travel west, to find their Savior, and to refuse to tell Herod. Thus we have a beautiful definition of what it means to be wise; to follow the righteous promptings of your heart.

That is one question the story does answer; the wise men and women of the world are those who follow the path of light to find their King.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Christmas Star


Picture by
 ©Debbie Yarra  www.yarraimages.com

I’ve always thought it very fitting that the Light of the World was introduced by a bright, new star.

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine being in a dark, dark room when suddenly a speck of light appears. Slowly the light grows until the room is illuminated as if by noon-day sun. Even in your imagination you can feel the light bringing with it hope and love. It is amazing how much positive feeling light introduces to a dark place, and all we have to do to get rid of the dark is to let in the light.

On that first Christmas night, far above and untouched by anything worldly, the new star pierced the darkness testifying to all nations that hope had come.

But this symbol is more than metaphor. Christ is the Light of the World. His light, the Light of Christ, still shines to guide wise men and wise women to find Him and live forever in a place where there is no darkness but only light and the love and joy that accompany that Light.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Tending Their Flocks By Night

On the outskirts of Bethlehem, shepherds were watching their flocks the night the Savior was born. The fact that there were shepherds rather than a single shepherd leads some to believe that the birth of Christ took place in the springtime when the new lambs were being born. Usually only one shepherd was required to stay the night with the sheep. But lambing season meant every available shepherd would be needed to help in the birthing process.

In the social structure of Jewish life, shepherds were on the bottom. Deemed by the upper classes as men of no consequence and as unclean under the law of Moses, the shepherds were nevertheless saviors to the sheep. Besides assisting in the births, they nourished, gathered, comforted, and protected their flocks, sometimes risking their own lives to defend the sheep. Thus Jesus became known as The Good Shepherd. But besides being a beautiful metaphor it points out the deep irony that the Good Shepherd was considered by the Pharisees and Sadducees less than a man of no consequence while in the very act of protecting and saving them.

Gerard (Gerrit) van Honthorst (1590�1656), Adoration of the Shepherds
 (Die Anbetung der Hirten, Adorazione dei Pastori, 1622). 164 x 190 cm, 
 Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne.
But there is more to this symbolism of shepherd and sheep. One scholar notes that a tower called Migdal Eder–the watchtower of the flock–was situated on the road between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. The sheep gathered at Migdal Eder were raised to be sacrificed at the temple during the Passover and other ritual celebrations. It was tradition among some of the Jews, that the Savior would be born in Bethlehem and revealed at Migdal Eder (Marvin R. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, 1:269). In addition the shepherds were protecting and nurturing the sheep through the night waiting for the dawn and new light.

How fitting that the angelic announcement, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11), was made that natal night to humble men serving the needs of sheep that would be sacrificed in similitude of the Lamb of God.

But that has not changed. It is still to those who are feeding His sheep that He reveals Himself. It is to those who serve his flock that the testimony is revealed—the testimony that all who are unclean have a Savior and can come forth from the darkness of their tombs into the Light of Life.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sabbath Scripture--Mary's Psalm

And Mary said:
My soul doth magnify the Lord,
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden:
for, behold, from henceforth all generations
shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath done to me great things;
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him
from generation to generation.
He hath shewed strength with his arm;
 he hath scattered the proud
in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seats,
 and exalted them of low degree.
He hath filled the hungry with good things;
 and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He hath holpen his servant Israel,
 in remembrance of his mercy;
As he spake to our fathers,
to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.
Luke 1:46-55



Saturday, December 10, 2011

Christmas Angels


"Heavenly Hands" by Greg Olsen (click here)

There is one thread that weaves through the entire Nativity story—the angels. The English word angel comes from the Greek word angelos which means “messenger.” A messenger is someone who carries a message from one person to another and these messengers carried the Glad Tidings or Good News from God to man.


First the angel Gabriel delivered the message to Mary that she would be the mother of the long awaited child. Next Joseph received a visit from Gabriel and was told to “fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife; for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 1:20).

But when we think of angels at Christmas time, we usually think of the angel who appeared to the shepherds tending their sheep in fields near Bethlehem. He delivers his message, “Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12).

As soon as he made the announcement the heavens opened—as if the joy was more than heaven could contain any longer—and suddenly a great multitude of angels burst forth in song.

For a moment imagine with me that you were one of those angels—a messenger. You knew that your Savior had been born. You knew that because of that birth the misery, depravity, abuse, and horrors of a mortal world now had a cure. The Light of the world had been born to put all things right and the joy of that knowledge filled you until like an erupting volcano the joy spewed forth. Imagine how you felt. This wasn’t just good news; this was the greatest news of all time. And you couldn’t contain the happiness you felt. As the heavens opened you sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14). 

What a choir that must have been—the sound of heaven rejoicing!

But you don’t have to imagine. The same thread that ties the Nativity story together, ties you to the story. You are the angel--the messenger! Christmas is the opportunity for you to sing, or pray, or shout your praises or in any way you can to convey the Good News to all those around you that a Savior has come to save the world. 


Friday, December 9, 2011

The Stable Cave

We all know that Jesus was born in a stable, but the facts about that stable, about how they got there and what it is, are not so well understood. The word the King James translators choose to translate as inn, kataluma, is the same word that Mark and Luke later use for the Upper Room in which the Last Supper is held.
In both Luke 22:11 and Mark 14:14 the same Greek word, katalum, is translated as guestchamber, and in the story of the Good Samaritan the word translated as inn is not kataluma, but pandeion.

What most scholars now believe is that Mary and Joseph went to stay with relatives in Bethlemem (which makes sense also because Bethlehem was such a small town it would be unlikely to have enough business to support an inn), but by the time they arrived their relatives' guestroom was already taken and so they stayed in the stable. This makes sense because many homes in that day were built in front of a cave and used the cave to stable animals and supplies.

But where the stable is isn’t the important thing. The stable is still a stable filled with animals and the filth and stink that go along with a stable. I can imagine how Joseph and the relatives worked to make the cave as comfortable as possible as Mary stove against the pains that would bring our Savior into the world.

Again the symbolism is astonishing. Caves are under ground. They are below the earth's surface and from this underground stable-cave Mary brought Jesus forth and gave Him mortal life. This foreshadows the event three decades later when, from an underground sepulcher-cave, Jesus would come forth to give Mary and all of us immortal life.

Both caves remind us that Jesus descended “below all things” (see 1 Nephi 11:16; D & C 88:6). Theologians call this the condescension of God, and Paul describes it like this: He was God “but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7). The King James translators chose to translate the Greek word used in this verse as reputation, but a more accurate translation is that Jesus “emptied himself.” He was God, yet He emptied himself of power to begin anew, growing from grace to grace.

He is the Word, and yet He came as a wordless infant.

He is the Almighty One, and yet helplessly
He took nourishment at Mary’s breast.

He is King of kings,
and yet He came as the servant of man.

He, the great I Am, condescended
below all things
to be the beast upon which all burdens would fall.

 








Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Swaddling


During New Testament times babies, especially male babies, were considered a great blessing, the very “salt of the earth.” Therefore when a baby was born into a family it was washed with water, rubbed with finely pulverized salt, then rubbed with oil, and lastly swaddled. An illegitimate baby could not be salted or swaddled.

The swaddling was done by first placing the washed baby diagonally on a swaddle cloth. The infant was then rubbed with finely powdered salt and oil. The cloth was then brought up and over the baby’s arms, legs, and torso. Next the end of the swaddle band, made by tying together strips of linen cloth about four or five inches wide and up to six yards long, was held under the baby’s chin, then wrapped up over the forehead and then around and around the infant all the way down to the feet. Swaddling kept the child warm, restricted movement, and it was also thought that it ensured the baby would grow strong without deformity.

Because of this a swaddled baby is a metaphor for a legitimate child that is loved and properly cared for. Thus Ezekiel says when chastising Israel, “Thy birth and thy nativity is of the land of Canaan; thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother an Hittite. And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast born thy navel was not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to supple thee: thou was not salted at all, nor swaddled at all” (Ezekiel 16:4). 

In other words, Israel is so wicked they have become illegitimate children. They have chosen to be children of the Hittites and the Amorites (children of the world) rather than be legitimate children of their Heavenly Father who would have swaddled and loved and cared for them.

 I love this small detail about Mary swaddling her baby because it tells us so much. First of all it gives us a glimpse into the heart of Mary who cared for her child in the best possible way. To us Jesus Christ is our Master, our Savior, our Protector, but for a time to Mary He was a dependent child. That is a relationship no one else will ever share with Him.

But there is something else. Of all people, Mary knew the significance of this child and the circumstances concerning His conception. She knew that despite the rumors and hatemongers this child was legitimate and so by swaddling Him she proclaims to the entire world that her baby is God’s legitimate Son.

One can only imagine what Mary thought as she wrapped Him. From the moment of the miraculous conception, if not before, Mary must have sought for any information about the fate of this child. There were many prophecies, and Mary must have hung on every word the rabbis and others said about the coming Messiah. She must have asked questions and in the answers would have discovered the terrible fate that awaited her little boy.

Therefore, did wrapping Him in swaddling clothes make her think about the fact that one day He would be wrapped in similar looking grave clothes? Did seeing him wrapped tightly in the bands of birth make her think of the bands of death that would surely come to Him? 

Whether she thought about any of these things or not, the bands Mary swaddled her Son in remind us of the day He was wrapped in burial linens and placed in a tomb. He was born to die for us, and by so doing He “swaddled” us, proclaiming us His legitimate children and providing a way to take away our “deformity.” But most important, Jesus Christ has changed our burial linens into the swaddling bands of new birth.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

"Away in a Manger"


When I was a child my favorite Christmas carol was “Away in A Manger.” We sang a version in which the chorus divided into two parts and half of us would sing “asleep” and then the other half would echo “asleep” in lower tones. Then all together we’d sing, “Asleep the Lord of all.” I loved hearing the volley of voices, but I especially loved thinking about that new born baby in his straw bed, the animals looking on, his mother tenderly swaddling him.

Being a city girl, for me the word manger was synonymous with bed or cradle. No one ever explained to me that a manger is a box used to feed animals. In other words, it is a feeding tough. Our word manger comes from the French word manger which means “to eat.” In Bethlehem the manger in which Mary placed her Son would most probably have been carved out of stone.
stone manger

As I learned these facts about the manger my earlier imaginings began to grow. I now picture Joseph carefully cleaning out the feeding trough worrying about his young wife and the responsibility he had to protect her and the child. I see him gathering the best straw to make a soft nesting place for the baby. I wonder if Mary swaddled the baby herself or if someone was there to help her. According to the law of Moses it was unlawful for a man to witness child birth, but if no one else was available perhaps Joseph had to serve as midwife and nurse. Perhaps he first swaddled the baby and placed Him in the manger.

Whoever did it, I doubt that at the moment the significance of what they did registered with them. Here they were in the House of Bread placing The Bread of Life not in a cradle, but on a feeding trough, a symbolic offering that invites you and I to partake of the Eternal Bread.

I can’t think of that manger cradling the Bread of Life now without being reminded of the weekly feeding tough—the Sacrament table—I visit to partake of the Bread of Life. As I ponder on it, I can hear the words, "He that cometh to me shall never hunger" (John 6:35). "He that eatheth of this bread shall live for ever" (John 6:58), and I am remind that the Bethlehem manger offers Eternal sustenance to all mankind.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Celebrating Christmas - Bethlehem


"Journey to Bethlehm" by Joseph Brickey (click here)

The Nativity begins with the decree that the people of Palestine must participate in an enrollment or census to facilitate the assessing and collecting of taxes. For Joseph and his young bride that meant they must travel about ninety miles south to the town of Bethlehem which would have been at least a five day journey—especially for a pregnant woman. If they traveled the most likely route this meant they went through Jericho (the lowest point on the earth) and then up the hill country to Bethlehem, a hike of 3,500 feet. Having given birth to ten children, the thought of Mary making such a journey shortly before giving birth amazes me.
Bethlehem, years ago

But it was important that she go to Bethlehem. It was well known at the time of the Savior’s birth that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. When the wise men traveled to Jerusalem and inquired of Herod about the new king, Herod assembled his wise men and leaders and “demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel” (Matthew 2:4-6). 

But it is not just prophecy that makes the place significant. The word bethlehem means “house of bread.” I will never forget the amazing feelings that surged through me the first time it struck me that the Bread of Life was born in the House of Bread. Ever since then I can’t think about those words or hear the hymn “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem” without feeling the swelling warmth within me once again especially when I hear the last phrase of the hymn, “The dear Christ enters in.”
The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem today

Physically the Bread of Life was born in the House of Bread. Spiritually the Bread of Life is born again in everyone who chooses to partake of Him.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Date of the First Christmas


The exact day of Jesus’ birth is highly debated. If you search it out, you can find theories that propose almost every month of the year. The truth is no one knows for sure when Jesus was born. Celebrating His birth on December 25th began in the fourth century, but earliest Christians celebrated it on Epiphany (the day many believe to be the baptismals date of Jesus Christ) which is January 6th.

I have no clue as to when the exact day was, but some people think that Jesus Christ not only died during Passover, but that He was born during Passover. If that were true it seems the gospels writers would have mentioned it, but whether it is true or not, I like to think about the possibility because the symbolism is so beautiful and thinking about it is the perfect way to begin the Christmas season.

Called by the Jews Pesach, Passover commemorates the Exodus, which delivered the Children of Israel out of the bondage they suffered for so many years in Egypt.

In the book of Exodus we are told how God helped the Israelites escape slavery in Egypt by inflicting ten plagues upon the Egyptians. Enduring the plagues which included water turned to blood, an infestation of frogs and flies, suffering with boils on the skin, and enduring deep darkness Pharaoh stubbornly refused to release the Israelites until the final plague in which all the firstborn children of the Egyptians were killed by a destroying angel.

The Israelites, however, escaped this plague because the Lord had instructed them to mark the doorposts of their homes with blood from a sacrificial lamb. When the destroying angel passed through Egypt he passed over any home with blood on the doorposts, thus the name Pesakh which means Passover.

Every year Jews celebrate Pesach by preparing a meal of lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs—symbols of that first miraculous Passover. The meaning of the lamb is obvious—it is about the Lamb of God, the Messiah, who would come to free us from death and the bondage of sin. Because the Israelites left in haste there was no time for bread to rise, thus the unleavened bread which is also a symbol of not being puffed up with sin. And the bitter herbs were to remind them of the long bitter years they were enslaved in Egypt.

Thus if the birth did occur during Passover, on that first Christmas night families throughout the land may have prepared and eaten their the bitter herbs, while the Son of God came into the world to offer a sacrifice that would set right all the bitter experiences of life. They may have eaten unleavened bread while the Messiah was born to save us from sin, and they may have tasted the Passover lamb, at the very moment The Lamb of God was being born.

Whether the first Christmas occured during Passover or not,the symbolism is beautiful. Because He was born, the nullifying effects of death will pass over all of us. He was born to save us, and we will live because He died.



Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sabbath Scripture-The Messiah Will Be the Son of God

I will declare the decree: 
the Lord hath said unto me,
Thou art my Son;
 this day have I begotten thee.
Psalm 2: 7

Saturday, December 3, 2011

More on the Truth Test

I discovered after yesterday’s post that I had written about the Truth Test before. I just couldn’t find it. But repetition is good.


Like I said yesterday, the Truth Test is especially good for long-term vexation and especially powerful if you write out your feelings and answers. But once you’ve used the Truth Test and learned the questions, it does work for daily vexation to ask yourself the questions in the order they come and ponder the answers. Usually I find myself laughing at myself as I realize that I am out of truth and into illusion. Other times I do get all the way to the last question and then am able to change.

The most important thing about the Truth Test is to use it. I know it sounds like a simple solution to a big problem, but it really works. Try it and then email me and let me know your story.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Truth Test

I don’t know how I have missed explaining the Truth Test all this time, but a kind reader who had heard me speak about Living in Truth e-mailed me the other day to say she couldn’t find the Truth Test in past posts. The Truth Test is crucial to Living in Truth, but somehow I guess I’ve never talked about it on Good News! So today I’m going to rectify that.

The Truth Test is a powerful Truth Tool that works on daily frustrations but is extra powerful in healing deep seated pain such as what comes from abuse and traumatic experiences. It works best if you actually write out all that you feel (explain all the pain) and then also write the answers to the questions. Just thinking through the answers can be helpful for daily vexation, but the power for healing long existing pain comes from getting the thoughts out of your head and onto paper. If you don’t want anyone to read what you write, burn it after you write it. But WRITE it. I’ll explain more tomorrow, but for today here is the Truth Test.

THE TRUTH TEST
(c) 2011 Sherrie Mills Johnson

I feel _____________________________________________(i.e. sad, angry, jealous, hurt, resentful, offended, fearful, etc.) because __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

1. What is my expectation? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

2. Is this expectation the truth and nothing but the truth in a mortal world? What is the truth? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

3. Is this necessary or unnecessary pain? ______________________________________________________________________________

4. How would I feel if I stopped expecting this? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

5. What is my heart (conscience, divine spirit, God) telling me to do right now? ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________