December 25, 2012

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Everyone knows the Christmas song "The Twelve Days of Christmas." It can be a fun song, but sadly most of the times it is just one of those songs that just seems to drag on forever. Even though the song is so well know, few people realize why we sing it, or even when the 12 days are. Most assume it relates to 12 days of gifts leading up to Christmas day. I remember as a youth when our youth program took gifts to a struggling family of our congregation, one gift each night for 12 days until Christmas. I don't even remember the family we shared the gifts with, but I do remember the good feeling I had for helping someone else in need. Though this is a wonderful tradition of many families, the actual meaning of the 12 days of Christmas is quite different.

The 12 days of Christmas actually starts Christmas day and goes until January 5th (the day before the day of Epiphany, or the day of the Wise Men). The 12 days are days to remember Christ's birth, each day representing a specific feast, like the feast of the Holy Innocents, or the feast of the Holy Family. The days, or feasts, are designed to help the Christmas spirit last into the New Year, not just for one day. In a way the 12 days of Christmas are actually gifts for us, 12 days that we can continue to remember the birth of Christ, even after Christmas.

In the middle ages the 12 nights were filled with feasts, merriment, and celebration. William Shakespeare even titled one of his famous plays the Twelfth Night, after the last, and most anticipated of the 12 days. Today, some Christians will give gifts each of the 12 days, some will only give gifts on Christmas and the day of Epiphany, or the day of the Wise Men (January 6th, the 13th day). It is also tradition to leave your Christmas decorations up for the full 12 days (taking them down on the twelfth night). In short, Christmas, if celebrated properly, is not to end on Christmas day, it is to last for 12 days.

In an effort to make Christmas last into the New Year and beyond, I created this calendar of the 12 Days of Christmas. I invite you to study the story of each of these individuals, or groups of people found in the Nativity story. As you study their story, look for how they responded to learning about the birth of Christ. How did they worship the Lord? How did they honor the Savior?  Most importantly ask, what can I learn from how they reacted? How can I better come and worship the Savior this year and into the New Year?

Day 1 (December 25) - Gabriel (Luke 1:11-20, 28-38)
Day 2 (December 26) - Zacharias (Luke 1:5-23, 62-79
Day 3 (December 27) - Elisabeth (Luke 1:24-25, 41-45, 57-61)
Day 4 (December 28) - Shepherds (Luke 2:8-20)
Day 5 (December 29) - Heavenly Angels (Luke 2:9-14)
Day 6 (December 30) - Mary (Luke 1:26-40, 46-56; 2:6-7, 19, 22-24, 33, 39)
Day 7 (December 31) - Joseph (Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 2:1-5; Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23)
Day 8 (January 1) - Jesus (Matthew 1:21; Luke 1:31; 2:21 - Jesus is named on the 8th day)
Day 9 (January 2) - Simeon (Luke 2:25-35)
Day 10 (January 3) - Anna the prophetess (Luke 2:36-38)
Day 11 (January 4) - Herod the Great (Matthew 2:1-8, 12-13, 16-18)
Day 12 (January 5) - The Wise Men (Matthew 2:1-12)

December 20, 2012

A Christmas Gift of Service

For the past five years I have been working on a book about my grandmother's artwork. It was a huge project, and is now finally finished! The book contains over 600 of her drawings and around 100 of her poems. One of the things she loved to draw was artwork about the birth of the Savior. Her work is fairly simple, yet beautiful. This video includes most of her artwork about the nativity and Christ. I hope you enjoy.

May the light of Christ rest upon each of you this Christmas Season, and may each of us reflect His light and life to others by living as He did. May each of you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

December 16, 2012

Oh Holy Night

The script I wrote for our Christmas Program today in church.

One of the powerful messages of the Nativity story is the importance of making difficult decisions, and doing challenging things. Each of the characters of the story of the birth of Christ had a choice. They could choose the easy way by living a normal life, or they could choose the more challenging road by following and honoring the Lord. These stories of Elizabeth, Zacharias, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and others are not only recorded in scripture so that we can learn of the birth of the Lord, but they are written so that we might ponder and internalize these important stories.

How would we have acted had we been there on that joyous night over 2000 years ago? Would we be like Mary, submissive and humble; would we be like Joseph, obedient yet merciful; would we be like the wise men who made great sacrifices to know the Christ child; or would we even be like King Herod, who was more concerned about his own power and glory, instead of knowing the true King of kings.

As we study the stories of these faithful witnesses of the birth of Christ, let us remember the sacrifices and the decisions they made to worship and bring honor to the infant Savior. But more importantly, let us remember that we too must be willing to make these same sacrifices and choices if we truly want to honor and worship Him during this Christmas season and throughout the year.

Mary is, and always will be the first and one of the greatest disciples of Jesus Christ. She is also perhaps one of the most powerful witnesses of the Savior, because she knew Him like no other person on earth. She was there at His birth; she was there as He grew to a man; and she was there at His death and resurrection. She was always faithful to her Son, and she always believed in His divine mission. As a young girl of about 12 or 13 Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel and was told that she would bear a son who would be the literal Son of God. She had a choice. She could accept, which most likely would mean ridicule, estrangement from friends, and embarrassment, or she could choose not to accept the will of God, which would mean she would be able to live a normal life, a life like any other girl her age.

Yet Mary chose the more difficult path; she chose to be the mother of the Son of God. Because of her decision, she most likely lost many friends who assumed she had broken the law of chastity; she also lost the chance of having a normal wedding, but instead was quickly married to Joseph in a small private setting. For the rest of her life she had to face the scorns of those who did not understand, of those who would not believe. Mary was a young girl, yet she chose to do the right. She chose to believe! And because of her choice, she is called blessed among all women!

Each of us should ask ourselves, if I were Mary, how would I have acted? Would I have chosen the easier way, or would I, like Mary, be willing to do whatever it took to follow and serve God.

Joseph was a man who of strict obedience, yet slow to judge, and quick to offer mercy towards others. According to the Law of Moses, Joseph had two choices when he found that his betrothed wife, Mary, was with child. First, he could have had Mary publicly judged for her supposed crime, where if she was found guilty she could likely be stoned. Second, Joseph could divorce her in private, not requiring a public trial. By choosing the second option, Joseph would not only preserve the life of Mary and the unborn baby, but he would also save Mary from public humiliation and judgment by the town's people. Joseph obeyed the law, yet he was merciful by caring more about Mary than his own feelings of hurt and pain.

If I had been Joseph, would I have sought retribution for supposed wrongs committed against me, or would I seek mercy while still fulfilling the law? Would I be more interested in my own feelings of hurt and pain, or would I care more about being merciful to someone who had hurt me?

We often depict shepherds as humble servants of the Lord. We glorify them as gentle and kind, willing to give their life for the flock. Though this often was true, at the time of Jesus shepherds were not seen in such positive light. The people saw shepherds as poor, nomadic and uneducated. Many even despised shepherds because they allowed their sheep to graze on land that did not belong to them. Yet, we learn that when these simple shepherds were tending their flocks at night, and heard the glorious message of the angels, they "came with haste" to find the promised Messiah. We also learn that once "they had seen [Him], they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child." They may have thought that no one would listen to a shepherd. No one would believe their words because of who they were. Yet it is as if they did not care. They were not afraid or ashamed to testify of the Messiah.

If I were a shepherd, poor and despised, would I be willing to be a witness of the truth of Christ’s birth, even though people may not believe me?

In Matthew we learn of wise men, who traveled far, to come give gifts to the child who had been foretold. These wise men traveled from the East, and apparently took up to two years to find the promised King of kings. When they arrived, they bestowed gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, all gifts fit for a king. We know they arrived when Jesus was around one or two, meaning that they had traveled for many months, even years, after seeing the sign of the star. This teaches us that not only were they watching for the coming of the Savior, but they were also willing to go the distance to make him a part of their life.

Are we preparing and watching for the Savior's Second Coming? Are we ready, and willing to go the distance to make the Lord a part of our life? Are we willing to give great gifts of service, love, and devotion to the King of kings, or do we bring our store-bought gifts to the child with the hope that he will not notice?

This Christmas season, let our gift to the Savior be a willing heart and a keen desire to obey, honor and worship the Lord. Let us learn from these great women and men of the Nativity story by not only admiring their courage, but by following their example. No greater gift can be given to the Lord than to commit ourselves to following him and to serve others. Let us, like the wise men, bring gifts fit for a king, gifts of service, love and devotion to our fellow being. Let us like the shepherds be willing to go in haste to find Jesus, and when we know him, let us be willing to testify of him to others. Let us, like Joseph, be quick to obey, yet merciful in all our actions towards others. And let us, like Mary, be willing to accept the will of the Lord, even if the consequences may be difficult to bear. May this Christmas not only be a time of gifts given on one single day, but may our gifts towards God and towards others last the entire season and year! And most importantly, may we never forget the greatest gift, the gift the Savior gave to us in Gethsemane, on Calvary, and in the Garden Tomb.

As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland explains, "You can't separate Bethlehem from Gethsemane or the hasty flight into Egypt from the slow journey to the summit of Calvary. It's of one piece. It is a single plan.... Christmas is joyful not because it is a season or decade or lifetime without pain and privation, but precisely because life does hold those moments for us. And that baby, [the] beloved and Only Begotten Son in the flesh, born 'away in a manger, [with] no crib for his bed,' makes all the difference in the world, all the difference in time and eternity, all the difference everywhere, worlds without number, a lot farther than your eye can see."

Truly, we have great reason to exclaim, joy to the world!