December 21, 2016

What was the birth of Jesus like?

Ask almost anyone about the setting of the birth of Christ, and you will likely be told about a stable, a wooden manger filled with hay, animals surrounding the baby Jesus, and snow falling outside as the shepherds enter the stable to worship the king of Kings. The problem is that this depiction, though we've heard it many times, is likely far from what actually took place on this night of nights.

To better understand the more probable setting of the Nativity, it's first helpful to understand a little about the natural landscape of Israel, and in particular Bethlehem. The land of Israel is covered with stones, hills and caves. In fact there is so much stone that most ancient homes would have been built almost exclusively of stonework, only using lumber for building aspects like the roof, ceilings, and doors. Trees were a limited, valuable resource, so they choose to build from the more abundant supply of stones. Caves were also commonly used, and it is probable that the "stable" which is not even mentioned in scripture, was located in one of the caves surrounding the hills of Bethlehem. These caves were a perfect place to keep animals, as it was cool during the hot days, and warmer during the cooler nights. [1] It also was a naturally built fortification, so little work would be required to build it, except for adding a fence and gate at the entrance.

Also, that wooden manger filled with hay, well, it actually would be made of stone as well. Many ancient stone mangers have been found in Israel of different sizes, shorter ones for animals like sheep and goats, and taller mangers for animals like horses and donkeys. The mangers were generally block-like in shape, and were only about six to eight inches deep. In addition, mangers were not used for hay, but instead for watering animals, as cutting and storing grass for feed was not necessary because of the warmer climate. Because Israel really only has a rainy season and a dry season, with little to no snow, grass is available all throughout the year. [2]

Stone manger found in Tel Megiddo in Israel
So why do we so often see a wooden stable and a manger filled with hay? Well, because most early Christian artists who depicted the Nativity, lived in Europe, where trees were readily accessible, winters were cold so that you had to store hay, and mangers were made of wood, and used to feed the animals.

Oh, and what about all those animals, especially the sheep, donkey and the ox that are in virtually every Nativity scene? Well, once again, the birth accounts of Jesus never mentions other animals being present, it only mentions that there was a manger, implying that there would be animals. So where do the animals come from? The sheep are there, most likely because of the shepherds. The ox and donkey however, come from, interestingly enough, a prophecy of Isaiah. The verse states: "The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner's manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand" (Isaiah 1:3). In other words, an ox and a donkey can recognize who feeds and waters them, but Israel could not recognize God's hand in their lives. Because this verse refers to a manger, or a crib as translated in the King James Bible, later Christians decided to incorporate an ox and a donkey into the story. [3]

Understanding the setting of the birth of Jesus, not only gives us a more realistic picture of this significant event, but also it seems to foreshadow the mission and death of Christ. At his birth, Jesus was likely born in a stone cave because there was no room in the inn, wrapped in linen swaddling bands, and laid in a stone manger. At his death, Jesus was buried in a borrowed stone tomb, wrapped in white linen, and laid on a slab of limestone. In addition, how appropriate that the great Messiah, the one who provides eternal living water (see John 4:14), was laid as an infant in a watering trough. It seems that even from the very beginning, the events of the life of Christ, were meant to point to and foreshadow the most important part of His life, that of His atonement, death and resurrection.

[1] Stone Manger, by Jeffrey R. Chadwick - location 788 of 2025
[2] Stone Manger, location 189 of 2025
[2] The Origins of Christmas, by Joseph F. Kelly, page 36-37

December 13, 2016

The Annunciations - The Nativity

Luke begins his Nativity narrative with the annunciations of the angel Gabriel to Mary and Zacharias. It seems that Luke purposefully places these two stories next to each other to not only contrast Mary and Zacharias, but also to compare the two miraculous birth stories of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ.

The first annunciation of Gabriel occurs in Jerusalem at the temple to Zacharias, a priest of the course of Abia. The courses of the priests were established during the reign of King David, when there were too many priests to serve in the temple at one given time. Because of their large numbers, King David divided the priests into twenty-four courses, Abia being one of these courses. Each of these courses would serve for one week twice throughout the year, meaning that Zacharias would only have the chance to actually serve in the temple for two weeks during each year.

Temple assignments for the priests, ranging from performing sacrifices to lighting the menorah, were chosen by casting lots. The most honorable assignment was to burn the incense before the veil of the temple. This burning incense was offered every morning and evening in the Holy Place and represented the prayers of Israel ascending to heaven before the veil. This was the closest that Zacharias would ever come to the Holy of Holies, and it appears to be an assignment that he had never previously received.

As part of the ritual, Zacharias, while praying, was to burn a combination of incenses on the golden altar, including interestingly enough, frankincense, one of the gifts of the wise men. Outside, the people would be praying and waiting until Zacharias had finished. After which he would come to the door of the temple to pronounce a blessing upon them. Of course, Zacharias would never be able to pronounce this blessing, because he had been cursed by the angel, adding to the awe and wonder of the people.

The second annunciation of Gabriel occurs in the small village of Nazareth, to an obscure young girl named Mary, who was probably around 12 or 13 at the time. The contrasts between these two annunciation stories is remarkable, and it seems that Luke hopes that we will notice the differences. One occurs to a notable and respected elderly man and temple priest, the other to an unknown young girl. One occurs in Jerusalem, and at the temple, the most holy place in Israel, the other in an obscure village of Galilee, likely in a meager and simple home.

Luke also contrasts the very words of the vision of Gabriel, perhaps to teach us of how we should respond to inspiration from God. Both Zacharias and Mary are visited by the angel Gabriel. Both are told to fear not, and that they would be blessed with a child. Both Zacharias and Mary ask for a sign or for understanding. The angel then gives both of them a sign; in the case of Zacharias he is made dumb and possibly even deaf, and Mary is given the sign that her relative Elizabeth, who has been without child, will conceive a son.

It is interesting to note that while these two visions are very similar, there are also some striking differences, that perhaps help teach us why Zacharias was cursed, while Mary was blessed. One of the differences seems to be in one simple word. When responding to Gabriel, Zacharias asks, "Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years." Yet, Mary responds, "How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?" Zacharias is seeking for a sign to know if the angel is really speaking the truth, while Mary simple believes, and only asks how this miracle will actually happen. One other difference is how Mary responds when she says with faith: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word." Mary not only believed without doubting, she immediately was willing to follow.

It is remarkable to think of the consequences of these annunciations for both Zacharias and Mary. For Zacharias, having a son would be one of the greatest blessing he could receive. Yet for Mary, being unmarried, and pregnant, would likely mean that she would tried before the local synagogue, and be mocked and scorned for years possibly her entire life. Yet Zacharias, a man, a priest, and a respected individual, is the one who seeks a sign, and waivers in believing. While Mary, a young girl, and really a nobody in society, simply believed and trusted that she would be blessed for following God. What remarkable faith and determination Mary had. No wonder, the Father of us all, chose her to be the mother of the Son of God.

November 27, 2016

Advent - A Time of Preparation

Today marks the first day of the Christian Advent season. Advent means "coming" and is a time of preparation for the coming of Christ. Three "comings" are celebrated at Advent; first the birth of Christ, second the coming of Christ into our lives through the communion or sacrament (the bread and wine representing his body and blood), and third the final coming of Christ at his second coming.

Advent season begins four Sundays before Christmas. During these four weeks, families attend special Masses or church services, light the four (or sometimes five) candles in their advent calendar, and study and prepare for the "comings" of Christ.

Advent is a wonderful time to reflect on our own acceptance of the Savior. It is a time when we can each ask if we have truly accepted and allowed the Savior to "come" into our life. One of my favorite things to do is to study one chapter each week from the four chapters of the Nativity (Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2). As I study these chapters, I ask how I would have accepted Jesus at his birth; would I be like the wise men bringing gifts, or like Mary who humbly accepted her difficult yet important role, or Zacharias who at first doubted the angel, or even like Herod who sought to destroy the Christ child.

Below are just a few of the many Advent traditions that can be incorporated during the four weeks prior to Christmas to help prepare for the "coming" of Christ:

Lighting Candles: One of the main traditions of Advent is the lighting of the Advent wreath. The wreath includes four (or sometimes five) candles at the center of a wreath. One candle is lit on the first Sunday, two the second, three the third, and all four on the last Sunday. If the wreath has five candles, the last candle is lit on Christmas Eve or day. The colors of the candles vary between cultures and sects, but most often will have three purple, one pink, and one white (the white being the fifth candle). Because you use the same candles each night, the candles create a nice stepped effect as you progress through the four weeks. These candles represent many things, but my favorite is the symbol of light, for truly light came forth because of the birth of Christ (the light increasing until the actual night of Christmas). The color purple also represents royalty, symbolizing the "coming" of Jesus in glory as King of kings, and Lord of lords.

Advent Calendar: Many families will celebrate Advent by purchasing an Advent calendar. The calendars have 24 pockets or doors that hide a different object or piece of candy that is revealed each night. Many calendars will include a person or animal that can be added to a Christmas nativity, with the Christ child being added to the nativity on Christmas Eve.

Christmas Nativity: Another tradition is to place the nativity set out little by little throughout the month, placing a new piece (such as a shepherd, wise man or lamb) out each week as the month progresses. Some families will even place the wise men in a different room and move them closer to the manger until they arrive on Christmas Eve. Others will let children place a single piece of straw on the empty manger for each good act they perform each day. In this way, they are helping to prepare a more comfortable bed for baby Jesus.

However you may chose to celebrate Advent, my hope is that this season may be a season of rejoicing. "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6).

September 25, 2016

Architectural details of the Philadelphia Temple

The design of the new Philadelphia temple, built by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, pays homage to traditional architecture, and American and LDS Church history. Together, these elements combine to create a beautiful building for the house of the Lord, and a fitting contribution to this historic city.

Historical Design
Much of the interior and exterior design of the Philadelphia temple was influenced by other historical American Revolutionary era buildings.

On the exterior, the two towers were inspired at least in part by Christ Church in Philadelphia and Independence Hall. However, instead of following the traditional one tower design of early Colonial churches, the temple uses two towers, to point back to the early LDS temples of Salt Lake, Manti and Logan. The top oval shape windows also hearken back to similar shaped windows of the Salt Lake Temple.

Broken pediment above recommend desk (left) and original millwork in Independence Hall (right)
As you enter the temple, one of the first things you will see is the beautiful millwork above the recommend desk, with a two quill pen motif between a broken pediment. This element was inspired by a similar broken pediment in the assembly room of Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence and Constitute were both signed. The colors of the entry, as well as in other parts of the temple, use a muted color scheme including red, white, and blue. The interior doorways and millwork found throughout the temple, including the intricate friezes, fluted columns, paneled walls, and staircase woodwork, were likewise inspired by Independence Hall. The hand railing around the baptistry was influenced by the stair railing of the Franklin Institute, which is only a few buildings down the street from the temple. [1] The lower floors and first ordinance rooms are more similar to Independence Hall, while the upper floors, and in particular the Celestial room is more closely related to design aspects found within historical churches, including Christ Church, with its beautiful arches, cornice work, and egg and dart molding.

Light Fixtures and Vases
The Philadelphia temple includes various examples of elegant historic light fixtures and vases. The baptistry incorporates a beautiful huge brass fixture above the font, with similarly designed brass fixtures throughout the temple. The chandeliers in the second instruction room, were designed to replicate the "crystal fixture hanging in the Assembly Room of Independence Hall." [2] There is also an enormous breath taking crystal chandelier in the Celestial room. Several examples of beautiful lamps and vases with traditional designs can also be seen, including some with scenes of early American harbors.

Light fixture in second instruction room (left) with original fixture from Independence Hall (right)
The flooring throughout the temple was designed to replicate the floors of early American buildings, with wood floors, rugs, and tile, instead of the more modern wall to wall carpets. The first floor uses checkered dark and light shaded stone tiles, reminiscent of colonial buildings, while the upper floors use solid wood flooring overlaid with beautifully crafted rugs. The Celestial room, with its elegant wooden floor and embossed rug, is uncommon among LDS temples, as almost all other Celestial rooms are covered with only carpet, creating a truly unique experience.

Paintings and Murals
Many of the paintings and murals of the temple were chosen to highlight several important historical events that took place in Pennsylvania. One very unique painting for an LDS temple is found in the lobby and depicts the signing of the Constitution of the United States. The mural in the baptisty depicts the baptism of Joseph Smith by Oliver Cowdery, which took place in Pennsylvania in the Susquehanna river in 1829.

Beautiful mural in the first Instruction room of the Philadelphia temple
The beautiful murals in the first instruction room are also full of significant historical details and symbols. The front of the room depicts the rising sun, hinting to the President's chair in Independence Hall with its carved rising sun. These rays of light also allude to both the first vision of Joseph Smith in the sacred grove, and also of the restoration of the Aaronic priesthood by John the Baptist in Harmony Pennsylvania. Next to this beautiful grove of trees is a depiction of the Susquehanna river, again pointing to the baptism of Joseph and Oliver. On the other side of the room, the mural depicts significant American events with the rolling hills of Pennsylvania, the Delaware river, and Valley Forge. A bald eagle majestically soars above this valley where so many patriots gave the ultimate price for liberty. Towards the back of the room is a small waterfall, alluding to Ezekiel 47 which mentions that waters will issue forth from the temple and heal the land. Jesus Christ calls himself the "living waters" of which He says that if we will partake, we will never thirst. On the back of the room, a large tree, reminiscent of the tree of life, another symbol of Christ, our own family tree, and the Liberty tree, arches its branches over the doorway, symbolizing that all who enter into this room, enter because of the Savior, for their families, and at least in part because of religious freedoms. [3]

Patterns and Motifs
Perhaps one of the most significant motifs in the temple is the double quill pen motif. This design comes from the original quill and ink well used for the signing of the Declaration of Independence found in Independence Hall. A two quill pen motif is also found in the woodwork of the table in the Celestial room.

Double quill pen motif (left) and original ink well used for signing of the Declaration of Independence (right)
Because stained glass windows were rarely used in colonially American architecture, the temple instead includes muted stylized stained glassed windows divided by leaded and wooden lites. The windows throughout the temple uses a vase-like motif, common in some earlier Philadelphia buildings. This same design is also found in the woodwork of the recommend desk. The two large arched windows on both sides of the temple use a Federal style fanlight, and include a rising sun, or sunburst, at the center of the window, pointing to the iconic depiction of the rising sun carved into the chair at Independence Hall. [4] This motif is also significant in that this sunburst is only located in the Celestial room and in the sealing room, both rooms that relate to the Celestial kingdom, which is symbolized by the glory of the sun.

The mountain laurel, the state flower of Pennsylvania, is also found within the temple, in particular in the bronze metal work of the main exterior doors, in the railing around the baptistry, and in the stylized cast plaster work of the Celestial room. [5] A beautiful lily flower motif is also found in this same cast plaster at the top of the Corinthian capitals. The three petal lily in early Christianity often represented the Godhead, and at times was also associated with the three virtues: faith, hope, and charity. [6]

Eight sided star motif (including the seal of Melchizedek)
An eight sided star, created by two interlocking squares, commonly called the "seal of Melchizedek," can also be found in the millwork of the first instruction room. "The number eight is associated with the concepts of resurrection, new beginnings, rebirth, and baptism." [7] This motif also uniquely creates a circle within the center of the eight sided star, the circle representing heaven, and the square the earth, or the four corners of the earth. Thus these motifs symbolically represent how heaven and earth combine within the walls of the temple through priesthood power. Of similar design is the eternal looping circle pattern, found on the door and wall moldings of the sealing rooms, and in the ceiling of the Celestial room.

Temples are designed to symbolically show how one moves from a worldly existence, to that of heaven. Elements of architectural design were used to help show this progression within the temple.

Three styles of columns in the Philadelphia temple (Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian)
Three orders of capitals were used in the temple, the Doric, which is the least elaborate, the Ionic, and the Corinthian, the most elaborate. The placement of capitals in certain rooms was used to reflect the significance of the function of that space. For example, the first floor entry, waiting area and baptistry use the Doric column, the simplest of the three orders. As you progress through the temple, starting in the first instruction room, you again see the use of the Doric capital. When you move to the second instruction room, the molding work becomes more elaborate and now uses the Ionic capital, which is more beautiful and ornate. Finally, as you move into the Celestial room, you find the combined use of the Ionic and the Corinthian capital, which is the most elaborate and intricate of the three styles. In addition, the ceiling height, incredible detail wood work, and amount of light increases, again representing your symbolic progress back to the presence of God.

The exterior stonework also point to this symbolic progression within the temple. The first floor is marked by a large strong base-like foundation where the administration rooms, and the baptistry is located. This base symbolically reflects how baptism is the foundational ordinance of the gospel, and how the other ordinances are lifted up on this foundation. As you climb the stairs of the building, you come to the second floor changing rooms, then up to the third floor with its more significant rooms where the higher ordinance of the endowment occurs. Finally, as you come to the fourth floor, you enter the sealing rooms where the culminating ordinance of the sealing of families takes place. The placement of columns on the exterior is also significant, in that instead of having columns surrounding the entire building, the pillars are instead only placed on the central portion of the building. In this way, the exterior stonework reflects the importance of the central ordinance space, where the most essential work of the temple occurs.

The new Philadelphia temple is one of the most stunning and beautiful temples of the church. This new house of the Lord stands as a monument, not only to the Savior who has given us all things, but to the founding fathers and mothers, who gave so much, that we might have the freedoms we enjoy today.

[1] Temple Fact sheet from
[2] Temple Fact sheet
[3] Mural information from Linda Christensen
[4] Temple Fact sheet
[5] New Mormon Temple opens in Philadelphia, Washington Post
[6] Lily Meaning and Symbolism
[7] The Lost Language of Symbolism, Alonzo Gaskill, page 129

Special thanks to Brian Olson who shared his plan elevation of the temple, and for his many insights about the the new temple.

August 31, 2016

Tabernacle of Moses Youth Camp and Open House

During the first two weeks of August 2016, a historic Tabernacle Youth camp and public open house were held by members of the Huntington Beach and Murrieta Stakes of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The two stakes collaborated on the project, building one of the most accurate and beautiful replicas of the ancient Tabernacle of Moses. The replica was used to teach youth and adults about this significant, first portable temple.

The first week of events was devoted to helping the youth of the two stakes learn about the importance of the ancient Tabernacle. Youth from the Huntington Beach Stake, as part of their Youth Conference, first were divided into twelve tribes, and then marched into camp, with their tribe leaders and banners leading the way. For the next several days, they then camped as tribes around the Tabernacle, and took a variety of classes to help them learn about the Tabernacle of Moses, ancient sacrifices, and in particular, how these Old Testament ordinances and practices pointed to the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. The classes included teachings about the symbolism of water, the tree of life, olive oil, incense, sacred clothing, and bread in ancient times. Perhaps the two most meaningful classes were on the process of making olive oil. During the class the youth first crushed olives by hand, and then placed the crushed olive mash beneath a replica ancient press, harvesting the olive oil as it oozed out into a container. Youth then learned that the word Gethsemane in Hebrew means olive press, and of how the symbolism of the olive press typify the suffering of the Savior in Gethsemane.

Altar of Sacrifice
For lunch on the first day of the camp, the youth gathered together and broke bread and ate a meal the way it might have been like in ancient times. They took turns washing hands, ate with their hands while seated on the ground, and learned of the importance of communal meals in ancient times. During the camp, the youth also enjoyed swimming, diving, boating, and sliding down the slides at the huge pool. They also participated in various activities and relay races to help create teamwork and establish unity and friendships among the youth. At night the Tabernacle was lit up, with a huge pillar of light, representing the pillar of fire by night as found in scripture. Interestingly, on several mornings the Tabernacle was also covered with a beautiful layer of fog, reminiscent of the cloud by day.

The Holy Place of the Tabernacle of Moses
On the second and last day of the camp, the youth from both stakes toured the Tabernacle. They started in the outer court, learning about the beautifully colored outer gate, the bronze altar of sacrifice with its four horns, the laver for ritual washing, and about the various outer layers of the tabernacle structure. They also learned about the garments of the high priest, and how the clothing pointed to and symbolized Jesus Christ, the Great high priest. They then entered the Holy Place and learned about the golden seven branched menorah, the table of showbread with its 12 loaves of bread, and the altar of incense that was placed before the veil of the temple, repressing the prayers of the saints ascending to heaven. As the last part of their tour, they entered the Holy of Holies and looked into the ark of the covenant. They learned of how the high priest entered this room only once a year on the day of atonement, and how this symbolized Christ entering the presence of God and interceding on our behalf.

The ark of the covenant in the Tabernacle replica
On the Sunday after the last day of the youth camps, the Murrieta stake held there Stake Priesthood training meeting in the outer court of the Tabernacle. From Monday through Thursday of the second week, a public open house was held with over 3,000 attendees touring the Tabernacle. Guests were taken on a 45 minute tour where they learned of how the Tabernacle pointed to Christ, and of how learning about these ancient practices, can better help us understand the atonement of Jesus Christ. Over the two week period, over 3,500 people were able to experience the Tabernacle and witness with their own eyes this unique and sacred structure!

The pillar of fire at night

August 1, 2016

Architectural details of the Sapporo Japan Temple

The new Sapporo Japan temple is one of the more culturally unique temples built by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The temple beautifully incorporates Japanese architecture with numerous motifs and symbols that not only convey Japanese history and culture, but help connote a sacred setting.

To give the exterior a uniquely Japanese feel, the architects used a very similar design to the Tokyo capital building, called the Diet building. Both buildings have a single large stepped tower in the center, with four smaller towers, one on each corner of the larger tower. Both buildings include in the center tower three rows of five windows, the top row being the smallest set of windows. The temple also includes roof eve corners that are slightly turned up, typical of Japanese traditional architecture.

Japanese Design
Before taking a look at the inside of the temple, it will be helpful to learn a little bit about traditional Japanese interior design. First, unlike western design, Japanese "inner space divisions are fluid, and [the] room size can be modified through the use of screens or movable paper walls." [1] These partitions generally are made of wooden frames in a lattice pattern covered with opaque paper. Wooden transoms above the doors are also typically added to increase airflow and light in between rooms. In more important rooms, ceilings are not flat, but instead decorated with wooden beams, paintings, or coffered ceilings. [2]

A traditional Japanese interior design
The interior of the new Sapporo Japan temple has incorporated, to at least some degree, all of these design aspects throughout the entire temple.

One of the first, uniquely Japanese design features is the use of latticework, transoms, and coffered ceilings. Though most of the walls in the temple are stationary, the woodwork seeks to replicate the feel of the traditional movable paper walls and sliding doors. For example, in the first instruction room, the doorways are designed with intricate latticework, to imitate the feel of the traditional shoji sliding doors. Above the doorways are included beautifully carved wooden transoms, again typical of Japanese design. In most other temples of the church, the doorway leading from the Terrestrial room to the Celestial room is separated by a large curtain. However, in the Sapporo Japan temple, this doorway instead uses a unique sliding latticework door covered with an opaque material, reminiscent of the paper doors so common to Japan. This doorway also includes metal transoms around the opening, giving this movable wall, a uniquely Japanese feel.

Door leading from the Terrestrial to the Celestial room
In addition to the doorways, the chairs, recommend desk, chapel woodwork, altars, and stained-glass windows seek to replicate similar latticework motifs. The baptistry also uses these same designs on the stonework on the font and within the woodwork of the walls and doors. As an interesting side note, the design of the latticework on the altar in both instruction rooms, is partially replicated within the sides of the chairs, perhaps suggesting to those sitting, that they are at least symbolically at the altar.

The temple also integrates the Japanese design of coffered and wood beam ceilings, including in the large dome above the baptistry, in the ceiling of both the first and second instruction rooms, in the sealing rooms, and in the beautiful woodwork of the celestial room dome.

Patterns and Motifs
Several traditional Japanese patterns or motifs are used throughout the temple. [3] One of the most popular Japanese symbols, the seigaiha or wave pattern, is used on the exterior stonework. Another wave pattern depicts a central circle with emanating waves, and can be located on the exterior stonework as well as on the ceilings of the celestial and sealing rooms. The wave, in Japanese culture, symbolizes power and resilience, [4] both attributes that can be obtained through making and keeping temple covenants. In addition, a cloud pattern can be found as part of the wallpaper design in the instruction room, and in the Celestial room ceiling dome.

Two, very popular Japanese traditional patterns used in the temple are the asanoha and shippo pattern. Both patterns are used in the beautiful frosted stained-glass windows of the temple. The shippo pattern is also incorporated into the wood paneling on and around the doors, on the recommend desk, the chapel pulpit, within the carpet design in both instruction rooms, and in the stencil work in various rooms.

The lilac in a square and circle motif
The lilac flower, also found throughout the temple, is very popular in Sapporo, in part because of the highly anticipated annual lilac festival. The lilac flower can be located everywhere from the baptistry font railing, to the instruction room woodwork. The lilac is also incorporated within a circle and square motif, as seen in the sealing rooms and in the celestial room woodwork. This motif is reminiscent of Japanese family crests, or mon, which were "used to decorate and identify an individual or family." [5]

The chandeliers of the sealing rooms and of the Celestial room, and the center table of the Celestial room also incorporate a merged circle and square design. The circle can represent eternity, and the square the earth, or the four corners of the earth, thus symbolically representing how heaven and earth combine within the walls of the temple.

The temple also includes several traditional plants within the carpet and interior design, including bamboo leafs in the entry and waiting area carpet, and beautiful blossoms in the bride's dressing room. The first instruction room also incorporates the common gingko leaf in the fabric of the seats.

Japanese Gardens
Perhaps, one of the most unique aspects of the Sapporo Japan temple is the use of the very traditional Japanese raked stone garden. These stone gardens can be found outside the temple in the beautiful gardens, and also in the main waiting area beneath the grand staircase. These gardens are designed to "imitate the intimate essence of nature" through the placement of large protruding rocks in a bed of raked white gravel. The large rocks generally represent islands or mountains, while the sand, raked in wavelike patterns emanating from the larger stones, represent the ocean waves. Japanese styled gardens were first incorporated into ancient Japanese Buddhist temples, for the purpose of helping the temple monks to receive enlightenment through contemplation, and through the delicate time consuming work of raking the gardens.

Japanese stone garden below the grand staircase
As part of the endowment ceremony, participants learn about the plan of salvation, and how to return back to the presence of God through the atonement of Jesus Christ. Much of the design in the instruction rooms symbolically convey the concept of moving from an earthly existence to that of heaven. When you begin the endowment, you start in the first instruction room, which depicts creation through several beautiful murals around the room. These murals are very reminiscent of plants and traditional gardens common in the Sapporo area. The front corner mural interestingly includes a depiction of the well known Ezo no Fuji mountain.

As you move from this first instruction room, to the second, and on into the Celestial room, the ceiling height, size of the room, amount of light, and ornate woodwork increases with each new room. Again, this design aspect is to show our symbolic progress moving back into the presence of God. Of particular interest, in the Celestial room, is the two murals of pine trees. In Japan, the pine tree is one of the most popular trees, and represents steadfastness, long life, and happiness, [8] an appropriate image found within the Celestial room. In addition, the design of the temple, as seen from above, with the Celestial room under the center tower, also conveys the concept of the sacred center between the four corners of the earth, a common design among Asian temples.

First instruction room of the Sapporo Japan temple
Traditional Vases
As a final note, several beautiful traditional style vases can be found throughout the temple, including two particularly elegant vases in the Celestial room, a vase style popular in Japan originating from the Tang dynasty in China.

The new Sapporo Japan temple is a beautiful edifice, that elegantly reflects the culture and history of the nation of Japan. This sacred house of the Lord, will be a place where the saints will be able to come closer to their Lord and Master, even Jesus Christ, on their journey heavenward, back to the presence of God.

[1] Japanese Architecture, Wikipedia
[2] Traditional Japanese style rooms
[3] Japanese Patterns and Motifs
[4] Japanese Art and Design Themes
[5] Mon (emblem), Wikipedia
[6] Zen Rock Garden - History, Philosophy and How-To Guide
[7] Symbology in Japanese Culture, see "Pine Tree"

July 17, 2016

Faith: Korihor and Alma; Part I

In Alma 32 in the Book of Mormon we learn of how we can gain true faith in Christ. Yet, if we read just chapter 32 by itself we lose a valuable part of the message that is being taught by Mormon, the abridger of the record. Allow me to explain.

When we teach of faith we almost always use this powerful chapter about how faith is like a seed and that we must allow it to grow; yet it seems very clear that Mormon was specific in placing the teachings of Korihor, the antichrist, and Alma, the prophet next to each other so as to teach a powerful message to the reader. In fact in the original 1830 Book of Mormon, chapters 30 through 36 are one chapter (see page 304). These original breaks were done according to the golden plates; the new chapter breaks are a later addition. When we read Alma 32 alone we learn what faith is. When we read Alma 30 we learn what faith is not. Combined, the two teach of what true faith is. Let us look at these two chapters to better learn of this key; in particular pay attention to the following words: know, knowledge, see, sign, word, faith, true, Christ, and atonement.

In Alma 30 we learn of a man named Korihor who begins to go about teaching among the Nephites that there will be no Christ. We learn that he taught many things (30:17) yet Mormon records very little of his actual words. It seems that the reason Mormon does this is to focus on a few particular parts of what Korihor taught which would help to expand the teachings of Alma in chapter 32. Mormon points out two parts of Korihor’s teachings that are of significance; first that he teaches that there would be no Christ or atonement, and second that there is no way to know of something you cannot see. Thus, his reasoning for not believing in Christ is because you cannot see Him. Korihor in his own words states: “Behold, ye cannot know of things which ye do not see; therefore ye cannot know that there shall be a Christ” (30:15). This argument of not being able to know something because you cannot see is mentioned five times in Korihor’s teachings, again to emphasize the important contrast of his words with Alma’s (see 30:13, 15, 24, 26 and 28).

The story then continues with Korihor seeking a sign so that he can know that Christ lives (for if he can see something to prove it he will believe). He states to Alma that: “If thou wilt show me a sign, that I may be convinced that there is a God, yea show unto me that he hath power, and then will I be convinced of the truth of thy words” (Alma 30:43, also see 45 and 48). As we know, the Lord does give a sign to Korihor, in that he is struck dumb. Korihor now knows that God lives and that Christ will come. This all prepares the ground perfectly for chapter 32 in which Alma teaches us how to have true faith (unlike that of Korihor’s).

Chapter 31 is a transition chapter that tells us of the people of Antionum who had perverted the way of the Lord by not properly understanding the gospel correctly and changing it to fit their own prideful desires. Though I won’t mention much about this chapter, I would invite you to compare the prayers of the Zoramites to that of Alma and in particular the responses from both of their prayers, or in other words what they both do because of their prayers to the Lord.

Chapter 32 is then the key to unlocking the understanding of faith. Again, note the emphasis of the words faith, sign, see, know, knowledge, true, and believe (the word know or knowledge for example is mentioned 15 times). To begin we will first start with how Alma begins his teachings on faith (verses 1-16 are all a prelude to his actual message on faith which begins in verse 17 when he truly starts to teach about how to believe or have faith). This Alma does by, interestingly enough, quoting Korihor (or at least so close that it is hard to believe that he is not quoting him). He states: “Yea, there are many who do say: If thou wilt show unto us a sign from heaven, then we shall know of a surety; then we shall believe” (32:17). Again, it seems too coincidental that this is almost verbatim what Korihor said only two chapters before (see 30:43). With his introduction to faith by stating that some seek for a sign (which does not produce true faith), Alma then teaches us how to actually know that God exists (the very thing Korihor was asking for).

April 22, 2016

The Last Supper and the Passover Feast

Each year, Christians throughout the world celebrate Holy Week, the most significant period in the Christian calendar. Holy Week commemorates the last week of the life of Jesus Christ, his crucifixion and his resurrection from the tomb.

During this same time each year, Jews around the world celebrate Passover, the most significant festival in the Jewish calendar. The Jewish holiday of Passover commemorates the redemption of the ancient Israelites from bondage in Egypt after being slaves for 300 years.

The Bible records the Lord’s command to celebrate the first Passover: "And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb...without blemish, a male of the first year…and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening. And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it. And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it....For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt." (see Exodus 12:1-13)

For 3,500 years Jews have celebrated Passover, and have used the symbolism of the meal to remember the captivity and redemption of their fathers, and to look forward to the Messianic age and their own final redemption.

The Betrayal by Marilyn Todd-Daniels
Jesus, himself a Jew, likewise used the symbolism of the Passover meal to teach His disciples about His mission, as He prepared them to understand the spiritual redemption that would come from his suffering and death. Just as the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorposts of the homes of faithful Israelites had saved them from the power of the destroying angel, so the blood of the lamb of God, shed for all on Calvary’s cross, would save all who would come unto Christ from the power of sin and death.

Though it is difficult to know exactly how the Last Supper took place, the gospel writers refer to several Passover symbols during the meal and discourse that followed. Understanding this sacred holiday in its Jewish context will help us appreciate the Last Supper and the Savior's redemption on this Passover night.

Tradition tells us that the day was Thursday, the first day of the Passover feast. As the evening approached, Jesus and His disciples gathered in a large upper room on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. His disciples had made preparations beforehand and the table was set with all of the necessary elements for the Passover.

According to Jewish tradition, a roasted lamb would be served as the main dish, in remembrance of the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of the homes, which protected their ancestors from the destroying angel. Alongside it, bitter herbs, representing the bitterness of slavery, and a mixture of chopped apples and nuts, called haroset, representing the mortar used by slaves to build the wonders of Egypt. Salt water was used to recall the salty tears shed by the Israelites in slavery. Into the salt water they dipped greens, such as parsley, representing springtime, the season of Passover, the season of hope.

Passover symbols: haroset, salt water, parsley, wine, and bitter herbs
Central to the Passover feast was the unleavened bread, or matza, which reminded the disciples of the haste with which Israel left Egypt--their ancestors not having even enough time to allow their bread to rise. This was the bread which Christ blessed and broke and gave to his disciples, saying, “Take, eat, this is my body which is broken for you, this do in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24).

“After the same manner also he took the cup...saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:25). In instituting this sacramental emblem, Jesus used one of the four cups of wine which was consumed during each Passover meal, each cup representing a unique aspect of God’s promise to redeem Israel.

During the meal, the question was asked by the youngest member: “Why is this night different from all other nights?” Whereupon, the story of the redemption of Israel from captivity was told. Passover is different from all other nights, but this Passover night was truly different, for on this night, Christ would redeem all His children from the slavery of sin, and the bondage of death.

After completing this symbolic meal “And when they had sung a hymn, [Jesus and his disciples] went out into the mount of Olives” into a garden called Gethsemane (Matthew 26:30). Jesus’ atoning journey had begun. The true Passover Lamb had come.

The text of this script comes from a  youtube video I produced back in 2011 with the help of Amy Grigg. With over 8,000 views I decided to update the video to HD and widescreen.

March 30, 2016

Triclinium Passover Feast 2016

This year we celebrated Passover (a month early) the Saturday before Palm Sunday to commemorate the Last Supper of Jesus Christ. As part of our Passover Sedar we sit on the floor around triclinium tables (the most likely setting for the Last Supper), eat with our hands, eat lamb as part of the feast, and enjoy typical dishes from the time of Christ. This year we had a great turn out and it seemed like everyone had a great time! Here are a few pictures from the evening.

Our Haggadah with the unleavened bread and a basket of food
Holding up the bread during the blessing
Even the youngest member wanted to help with the blessing on the bread
A servant helps with the washing of the hands
Guests enjoying the Passover feast
We always have a "normal" table for those who don't want to sit on the floor
Guests enjoying the meal

March 26, 2016

Holy Week: Day of Agony

As the large stone was slowly rolled forward, Mary, the mother of Jesus, wept beyond control. She sat on the ground, with her shoulders down and tears in her eyes. Joseph of Arimathea held her hand as he tried to comfort her in this time of great remorse. Peter stood in quite disbelief. How could Jesus die? How could he die the way he did? He was to be the promised Messiah. Yet, not only had his life been ended, but he had suffered one of the most agonizing deaths imaginable. As the crowd began to disperse from the cold dark tomb, a somber feeling was left by each of the witnesses. This day would truly be a day of agony and remorse; a day of dashed hopes and of losses beyond compare.

The day was Saturday, the Sabbath of the Jews. Jesus’ body had been wrapped and placed in a tomb. The despair that the disciples of Jesus must have felt is beyond description. Less than a week before they had witnessed the great entry of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem, hailed as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He had cast out the money changers of the temple and had called the temple His own. He had spoken with power to the Pharisees and had usurped their power on every hand. He had spoken words of comfort and peace to the disciples in the upper room. He had spoken of kingdoms and greatness; He had spoken of overcoming all things. Yet now He lay in a tomb. His life of teachings and influence had ended literally overnight. From the time of His arrest to the time of His death would not have been more than about 12 hours. He had been tortured and executed. He had died and had been buried. How could He raise a man from the dead, yet He could not prevent His own death. How could He heal the blind and deaf, yet not be able to heal Himself.

How ironic the disciples must have thought, that on this Sabbath day, on which Jehovah had rested from his labors after creating the earth, their Lord and Master would rest and lie in a tomb. The Sabbath was to be a day of delight and joy (see Isaiah 58:13); it was to be a day of rest and rebirth. On the Sabbath Jesus had healed many, yet He could not bring this same power unto Himself (see Luke 13:10-16). This day that was to be a delight, was anything but a delight.

Discipleship by Liz Lemon Swindle
Each of us is faced with moments of despair and depression; moments when we feel lost, alone, and forsaken. At these times of agony we often ask how the Lord could permit such an event to occur. How could the Lord let the righteous suffer so? We may feel that because of our loss the Lord does not love us, or we have in some way displeased the Master. Yet, these moments of despair and loss are given to us that we may learn. It is only after sorrow that we can feel joy; it is only after loss that we can feel restoration; it is only after death that we can know life. Had the disciples witnessed Jesus die of old, they would still have reason to mourn. However, because He died in such an appalling and agonizing way the disciples were given the chance to experience complete loss and total despair. Because of this, when Jesus was raised from the dead the next day, the light, glory, joy, and happiness that must have filled their hearts is beyond description. By His death and suffering He literally helped them to learn what true joy was like. [1]

Though we often may find ourselves in despair, let us look to Christ and put our faith in Him completely and totally. Let us never question what He has told us. Let us never doubt the promises that He has given. He had told His disciples that He would be killed and rise again [2]; yet, the agony of the moment overshadowed their hope. In our times of trial, let us never allow our faith to be overshadowed by fear and sadness. Let our hope be a beacon to the world. Let us always place our faith in the Lord who is mighty to save. For after great trials comes great blessings; after great sadness comes great joy; after death comes life and resurrection.

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).

[1] See Sunday will Come, by Joseph B. Wirthlin
[2] See Matthew 16:21, 17:22-23, 20:17-19