(Don’t miss my last year’s prequel titled Praise to the Man.)
I come back to this subject again. Most of the Christian world celebrates Christmas, and at the center is supposedly the Baby Jesus (made of cheapest possible plastic in China or Bangladesh or wherever kids will do it for a nickel a day). Let me stress this differently: the Baby Jesus. As far as the majority interest goes, he’s left in the Manger with the cattle lowing, and the miraculous baby not crying.
While I’m sure that there’s nothing wrong with celebrating Christmas (or Xmas?) — on the contrary, it’s a good way to remind the people about Jesus, and the miracle of his incarnation — to me, most Xmas traditions are just more of the false traditions of our fathers.
To repeat myself; consider the worship of evergreens as symbols of fertility; consider the ritual slaughtering of animals amidst expressions of lusty overindulgence; consider the Saint Nicholas legend as a way to draw attention away from the major miracle and to reward calculated hypocritical “niceness” versus honest naughtiness in order to get more presents. Calvin & Hobbes cartoons made this into an art.
Is that how we see the gospel? Making nice so we get more “blessings”? The more we suck up to whatever it is we believe in, the more gratis stuff rains down our chimney? Not how I see it.
I always come back to the realization, that it was not the Baby Jesus, who suffered in Gethsemane and let himself be nailed to the cross for us. That one was the Adult Jesus.
The one with appetites, with potential temptations — with lots of women around, too. Was he ever tempted to be just a John Doe? One, who could indulge a little and skip the unpleasantness of suffering, hurting, being “sore amazed” because he was experiencing the full burden of his mission?
He likely was tempted, as a mortal, to stop the torture. He said (to paraphrase a bit), “Daddy, if it’s possible, take this pain away, but not as I will, but as thou wilt.” As Elder Maxwell said, “that was no theater!”(See Elder Maxwell’s conference talk in Ensign, May 1985)
In this extremity, did He, perchance, hope for a rescuing ram in the thicket? I do not know. His suffering—as it were, enormity multiplied by infinity—evoked His later soul-cry on the cross, and it was a cry of forsakenness. (See Matt. 27:46.)
The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper reminds us every Sunday, that he did not abandon his mission, but he fulfilled it, to bring to pass an Infinite Atonement. (See, for example, these passages in Alma 34)
If we realize that the Atonement really is infinite, we must also realize that we do not fully understand it. We may accept it, and feel real forgiveness and healing in our lives. We may ponder and get spiritual insights into what it means to us. But we can not, with our very finite minds, fully comprehend something infinite, practically by definition.
The miracle of Christmas to me is inseparable with the miracle of the empty tomb; it is nice to have a Nativity scene displayed for the Holidays, however, repentance and forgiveness, resurrection and eternal life were achieved in Gethsemane and on Golgotha.
But it is also good to remember that it took some humility to submit to be born a son of a carpenter in a disputed remote corner of an occupied territory. To hear the familiar taunt, “if thou be the Son of God” (emphasis added) and to not react with a barrage of shock and awe. To forgo the comforts that the life had to offer then — which is much less than we have — and be an itinerant preacher of repentance to a people that needed no repentance; finding some outcasts, people who didn’t belong, willing to follow him; including many women (people with no rights and of little value at the time and place). He did not let pride get the best of him, but was willing to submit.
Can I be anything but awestruck that he should do all this for me? The hymn I Stand All Amazed is becoming dearer year by year:
I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me,
Confused at the grace that so fully he proffers me.
I tremble to know that for me he was crucified,
That for me, a sinner, he suffered, he bled and died.
(LDS Hymns, #193)
Who knows, maybe all this bickering is my childhood traumas revisiting me in this form? Yet I am in charge of the branch Xmas party with my wife; this despite the fact that people know that I’m quite Grinchy. Not that I don’t like Christmas; it’s Xmas that I don’t like, and the consumerist frenzy it brings. But I also want to serve, even if I don’t exactly feel agreeable about it all the time.
I hope you’ll find peace this season. I know I do. The peace is a gift from the carpenter’s son. I testify of the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth — and that of Bethlehem, too. He came to the world to give a perfect example, and to do the impossible. His Atonement erases my sins. He has promised not to remember them after I have repented. And he helps with the repentance. He is the great Healer, the greatest of all time. He carries my burdens, and his yoke is indeed easy and his burden light. I can’t fully understand how he does it, but he does.
He is the Son of God, the Messiah, the Christ, the Redeemer. It is him I praise, revere and love.