Well, yours truly has been extremely busy lately due to certain things I’m not going to enumerate. Let’s just say, that I have felt somewhat harassed at times. But those have mostly been things I’ve wanted to do, and have enjoyed doing them–I’ve only been unhappy, when I’ve been unable to do them.
This year Christmas has come so quickly, because of what I mentioned above. If I had known as a kid how soon Christmas comes after school starts, I would have not been so anxious about it. Well, I waited for it mainly for the long vacation we used to have from school. Then came five day weeks and things changed, but then I wasn’t that little, anymore. But anyhow, then I realized, that summer goes faster, too! (But quite honestly, summers always went past too fast–never did I feel to rush the time during summers.)
In thinking about that I came to think more deeply about how the meaning of things changes, when we change. When we are toddlers, we think our parents and other adults are practically all-powerful–and from our point of view they are, too. Then one day we realize that perhaps our own parents faked it, too. I mean, as a grandfather of a couple of children, I still don’t feel that I’m an adult. So what does “adult” mean to me? The answer to that question has clearly changed since early childhood.
And so what “Christmas” means has naturally changed, too. From candy and candles and Christmas food and stuff like that, we’ve moved to a more mature understanding, hopefully. Of course, a drastic change came in 1979, when I found the gospel of Jesus Christ. I always knew that Jesus Christ was the guy that the New Testament (check also Wikipedia’s entry about New Testament) is about, but it didn’t mean much more to me than that The Blue Train by Agatha Christie was about this guy called Hercule Poirot. Sure, in school I was taught in class that he was our Savior, and because of him, I’d be forgiven of my sins–not that I’d get any more lenient treatment from my mom, but because I’d had the incredible luck to be born into a “Christian” family, I was “saved”.
And yes, I heard some Priests speak about it in funerals and stuff. But any of those people didn’t have much conviction in what they said; it was just all in a day’s work. If anything, they felt strongly about knowing that everyone else was going to Hell. Apparently in their minds, Heaven was a very small place, since God could only have very few people in there. Naturally, some of those thoughts really were quite sarcastic. Well, I grew up a bit cynical and sarcastic. I did also read books that explained a little bit more what they meant when they said that I was “saved” and why that was so. It didn’t make any sense to me, and still doesn’t in that I can’t believe that Heaven is only a place for a few people lucky enough to have been born to the right parents (mind you, they did allow conversion to Christianity, but we all know that’s still a relatively small minority of all of the people in all the world through all time).
I also read books about a prophet called Muhammed (or Mohammad, it’s difficult to transliterate Arabic), who had a little bit different message than that we’re automatically saved by a happy accident. Also, apparently under the Caliphate there was less oppression, and it appears that as long as the Caliph was elected by the shura (a council of tribal elders, and later parliaments in Muslim countries have been called that), there was much less repression than there had been before, and especially nobody was forcefully converted to Christianity (which may be one reason why Islam is still going strong in the old Caliphate area, while Christianity in Western Europe–where most people were given choice between baptism and execution; in the Roman Empire, at first, Christianity was declared State religion, which created a kind of a pressure towards the Christian congregations, but apparently people weren’t converted forcefully–is in steep decline since the mid 19th century). And, eventually, practically every other book that our library had about religions, including Hinduism, Confucianism (which is not really a religion, but it’s definitely an ethical and philosophical system), Buddhism, Eastern Orthodox religions, Coptic Christianity (there’s much more to it than I knew before I checked Wikipedia) etc.
All of those books had some good ideas. Not all of the books had only good ideas–especially I wasn’t very happy about the decree in the Old Testament that disobedient sons were to be stoned (I later discovered they meant something worse than just occasionally playing hooky to read a book). Seriously, the point I’m making that all of those religions seemed to have good in them, which was different than what I had been told. Then, enter the Restoration of the gospel, the Book of Mormon, and I started to understand what Repentance, forgiveness and Salvation mean. I’m convinced that it was the Spirit of the Lord that gave me understanding, but I still don’t understand how people can believe some of the stories I was told. I guess we’re quite a diverse bunch of individuals.
And I’m coming to the punch line: I started to understand what Christmas means, when I had the testimony from the Holy Spirit, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Word of the Father become Flesh, the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God (Isaiah 9:6). Christmas itself is a pagan festival (Saturnalia, Yule, Kekri etc.), which has been given a somewhat Christian meaning by deciding that Jesus was born on Dec 25th (not probable; some say that the winters are cold enough in the uplands of that area that on a December night the shepherds would have corralled their sheep for the night and sought shelter), and shifting the pagan Yule extortion of gifts (what wassailing is) to the giving of Christmas gifts in memory of the greatest of all the gifts, which is Christ’s Atonement.
It’s interesting enough to note, by the way, that the time of Easter follows the time of the Jewish festival of Passover, while Christmas follows the time of pagan winter solstice festivals (Christianity replaced a pagan fertility rite in almost all of Europe). The reason seems to be, that while the time of the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ is easy to place on the calendar (and it would have to follow the time of Passover, because it’s intrinsically linked to it), because that was a special time for the disciples of Christ from the beginning, as they got together to re-enact the Last Supper (I’m not sure how closely they re-enacted it, but they did have the Passover meal and broke bread and blessed the bread and wine the meal being left out of it when the congregation was too big to make it logistically possible). Celebration of Christmas began only after the majority of Saints were non-Jewish (gentile) Roman citizens, and it became important to give their fertility cults a Christian meaning, because it was difficult to get them to forget the traditions. In all honesty, Easter was originally a pagan festival, too, a celebration of Spring, and the return of verdant earth and rich growth, but at least what replaced it was something originally practiced by the disciples of Jesus.
I can celebrate Christmas quite wholeheartedly despite knowing what I explained in the preceding chapter. That is, I rejoice that God let Jesus come on Earth to give us a perfect example, and to give his life for us, and to overcome the power of death and get the power to bring us forth in the Resurrection. That is the greatest gift ever given. Because he did that, I can be cleansed from my sins, I can be made perfect by the power of Christ, and I can be brought forth clean before the Father, and Jesus will be my advocate; I can enter the Kingdom of Heaven. I praise him, and thank him from all my heart.
I know by the power of the Holy Ghost, that Jesus of Nazareth, of the New Testament, is the “Anointed One” and the only begotten Son of the Father, the Immanuel, whom Old Testament prophets prophesied of, and that Joseph Smith was called of God to restore the Priesthood Keys to the Earth. Jesus was the Perfect Man, Joseph Smith was an ordinary mortal, just like the Apostles of the New Testament. Although Joseph Smith was an ordinary man, he was called and the Priesthood Keys were given to him, and he gave them to the Apostles as a Quorum, so that after his death the Apostles were to lead the Church.
Jesus said, “peace I give unto you,” and I have that peace, and joy, and it is no mere fleeting sensation, but a state of mind that I can have all the time, if I remember Christ, and do my best.
Happy Christmas, everyone, and let the Savior in your heart this year, if he’s been a stranger to you before.