Christmas is coming, and the geese are getting fat. But life is still going, and for some people, it’s still really hard. For one family in our community, there will be one less place at the table—a place formerly filled by a beautiful 6-year-old girl who died suddenly last month. Another family will celebrate the second Christmas season with their husband and father incarcerated. And another wife will be missing her husband who is also in jail. And the list could go on. Rather than being the worst time of year for these trials, it’s the best.
Not that the trials are lessened, but the entire season is a celebration of the birth of the one perfect person who could deliver us—the Promised Messiah, our Redeemer Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the author and finisher of our hope and our salvation. Through our trials, we gain a deeper appreciation of the life, mission and ministry of Jesus Christ—and a greater understanding of just how powerful His love can be in our lives. And through our understanding of the Lord, Jesus Christ, and His mission and ministry, we find the peace and comfort that we need in our darkest nights. Interestingly, many of the symbols of Christmas—as well as the holiday itself—point us to the true blessing of Christmas—the Savior, Jesus Christ.
The Guiding Star
For centuries, prophets foretold of the coming of the Messiah and the signs and wonders that would precede His birth. Samuel the Lamanite, a prophet on the ancient American continent, prophesied:
And behold, this will I give unto you for a sign at the time of his coming; for behold, there shall be great lights in heaven, insomuch that in the night before he cometh there shall be no darkness, insomuch that it shall appear unto man as if it was day.
Therefore, there shall be one day and a night and a day, as if it were one day and there were no night; and this shall be unto you for a sign; … and it shall be the night before he is born.
And behold, there shall a new star arise, such an one as ye never have beheld; and this also shall be a sign unto you. (Helaman 14:3-5)
President Henry B. Eyring taught:
One of the most beautiful symbols of the birth of Jesus Christ into this world is light. The appearance of the long-promised Messiah brought light to a darkened world.
The late President Gordon B. Hinckley said:
Christ is the light to all mankind. He has “pointed, marked out and lighted the way. ‘Sadly, many individuals and nations have extinguished that light. They have attempted to supplant His gospel with coercion and the sword.’” (Church News, 4 Dec. 1982, p. 10.) But even to those who reject Him, He is “the light [which] shineth in darkness.” (John 1:5.)
Elder Dallin H. Oaks explained:
Jesus Christ is the light of the world because he is the source of the light that quickens our understanding, because his teachings and his example illuminate our path, and because his power persuades us to do good.
Thus, the Christmas lights that illuminate and adorn our trees, lights, homes, neighborhoods and cities all remind us of the Savior and the Light that He brings to the world—just as the Star in Bethlehem guided the shepherds and Wise Men to the Baby Jesus two millennia ago.
The Lowly Stable
It is also significant that Jesus Christ was not born in a palace among the wealthy or noble, but in a stable to a fair virgin and her husband, who was a carpenter. Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught:
We find it remarkable that the very Son of God, the great Jehovah of old, should be born into this mortal world in the humblest of circumstances. An inn would have been lowly enough, but it was not even an inn. Rather it was a stable, and the babe was laid on the hay of a manger where common animals fed.
But the greatest condescension is that Jesus Christ was born into mortality. Elder Christofferson continued:
How is it that He who ruled on high in the heavens, the very Creator of the earth, should consent to be born “after the manner of the flesh” and walk upon His footstool in poverty, despised and abused and, in the end, be crucified? Why this near inconceivable degradation? Jesus explained: “I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. … And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.” Faithfully, Jesus endured all that was necessary in life and in death to atone, redeem, and establish a celestial pattern for the children of God—for us.
It was essential that the Son of God be born in the flesh and descend below all things that He might “redeem all things.”
And President Eyring added, He experienced mortality so that He would know how to succor His people in their times of trial. President Eyring said:
It will comfort us when we must wait in distress for the Savior’s promised relief that He knows, from experience, how to heal and help us. The Book of Mormon gives us the certain assurance of His power to comfort. And faith in that power will give us patience as we pray and work and wait for help. He could have known how to succor us simply by revelation, but He chose to learn by His own personal experience.
And this experience began when the King of Kings was born in a humble stable because there was no room in the inn for his mother.
The scriptures teach that “there were in the same country shepherds … keeping watch over their flock by night” (Luke 2:8). And an angel came to them, announcing the birth of the Baby Jesus:
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. (Luke 2:10-11)
But this is not all that the shepherds saw; they also saw “a multitude of heavenly host praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:13-14)
There is much symbolism in the experience of the shepherds. Elder Russell M. Nelson explained:
At the birth of Him who is called the “good shepherd,” shepherds were the first to receive the announcement of His holy birth. Uniquely, He was the Heavenly Shepherd who later became the lamb.
The late President Ezra Taft Benson explained the significance of Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd:
In Jesus’ time, the Palestinian shepherd was noted for his protection of his sheep. Unlike modern sheepherders, the shepherd always walked ahead of his flock. He led them. The shepherd knew each of the sheep and usually had a name for each. The sheep knew his voice and trusted him and would not follow a stranger. Thus, when called, the sheep would come to him. (See John 10:14, 16.)
At night shepherds would bring their sheep to a corral called a sheepfold. High walls surrounded the sheepfold…. Sometimes, however, a wild animal driven by hunger would leap over the walls into the midst of the sheep, frightening them. Such a situation separated the true shepherd—one who loved his sheep—from the hireling—one who worked only for pay and duty.
The true shepherd was willing to give his life for the sheep. He would go in amongst the sheep and fight for their welfare. The hireling, on the other hand, valued his own personal safety above the sheep and would usually flee from the danger.
Jesus used this common illustration of his day to declare that He was the Good Shepherd, the True Shepherd. Because of His love for His brothers and sisters, He would willingly and voluntarily lay down His life for them. (See John 10:17–18.)
The shepherds are symbolic of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, who loved His sheep so much that He died for them.
O Little Town of Bethlehem
The little town of Bethlehem is also symbolic of the life and ministry of the Savior. In Hebrew, beit lehem means “house of bread.” Jesus Christ himself said, “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger” (John 6:35). Elder Christofferson said:
Jesus teaches us, His disciples, that we should look to God each day for the bread—the help and sustenance—we require in that particular day. The Lord’s invitation … speaks of a loving God, aware of even the small, daily needs of His children and eager to assist them, one by one.
Elder Nelson explained:
How significant it is that He, the “bread of life” would come from the “house of bread.”
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said:
… The gospel of Jesus Christ is the only way to satisfy ultimate spiritual hunger and slake definitive spiritual thirst. Only He who was so mortally wounded knows how to heal our modern wounds. …
Now, if you feel too spiritually maimed to come to the feast, please realize that the Church is not a monastery for perfect people, though all of us ought to be striving on the road to godliness. No, at least one aspect of the Church is more like a hospital or an aid station, provided for those who are ill and want to get well, where one can get an infusion of spiritual nutrition and a supply of sustaining water in order to keep on climbing.
In spite of life’s tribulations and as fearful as some of our prospects are, I testify that there is help for the journey. There is the Bread of Eternal Life and the Well of Living Water. Christ has overcome the world—our world—and His gift to us is peace now and exaltation in the world to come. Our fundamental requirement is to have faith in Him and follow Him—always.
The Greatest Christmas Gift
Jesus Christ Himself was the greatest Christmas gift in the history of the world. His birth, life and ministry are all signs that God loves us. President Eyring said:
This little child, born in a stable and cradled in a manger, was a gift from our loving Heavenly Father. He was the promised Redeemer of the world, the Savior of mankind, the Son of the living God….
He worked as a boy and a youth in the carpenter’s shop of Joseph in Nazareth. In His mortal ministry He walked the dusty roads of Palestine, healed the sick, raised the dead, taught His gospel to people who rejected Him, gave His life on Calvary’s hill, and rose on the third day in what began the Resurrection to break the bands of death for us all and so became “the firstfruits of them that slept.”
Above all, the Savior whose birth we remember this season of the year paid the price of all of our sins.
The simplicity of that first Christmas foreshadowed the life of the Savior. Though He had created the earth, walked in realms of majesty and glory, and stood at the right hand of the Father, He came to earth as a helpless child. His life was a model of modest nobility, and He walked among the poor, the sick, the downcast, and the heavy laden. …
Jesus the Christ, who knew perfectly how to give, set for us the pattern for giving. To those whose hearts are heavy with loneliness and sorrow, He brings compassion and comfort. To those whose bodies and minds are afflicted with illness and suffering, He brings love and healing. To those whose souls are burdened with sin, He offers hope, forgiveness, and redemption.
He is the gift of Christmas. And emulating Him is the greatest gift that we can give to others.
Finding Hope in Tragedy
It’s often easier to counsel others to find hope in the midst of tragedy than to do so in the midst of your own. Even at Christmastime. But my mother taught us by example how to do just that. When I was 10, our family—my parents and their 7 kids—moved from Kentucky to Virginia the week before Christmas. My aunt, uncle and infant cousin came to celebrate the holidays with us.
It was to be their first Christmas with their first child, a 2-month-old baby boy. But all of a sudden, everything changed. My cousin stopped breathing while he was taking a nap.
I only remember bits and pieces of the chaos. My mom sent a group of us kids running down the street to find our LDS bishop, who lived nearby—the first house on the left out of the cul-de-sac. Instead, we went to the first house on the right and knocked on the door. The girl who answered said her dad wasn’t a bishop, but he was a doctor. He grabbed his bag and ran down the road to help. Neighbors, who had not yet met our family, came over and asked if they could help. So they took all seven of us kids to their house to play. They even fed us fried chicken.
Unfortunately, my cousin could not be revived. And on Christmas Eve, he was buried. I don’t remember much about that Christmas, except how sad we all were.
My mother, however, was so touched that every December after that she would remind us that these strangers taught her what Christmas is all about. It’s not about the tinsel or the tree, but the love and kindness that we show to others. Sister Bonnie Oscarson, Young Women general president, said:
As we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ this season, let us also celebrate all that His birth symbolizes, especially the love. When we see shepherds, may we remember to be humble. When we see wise men, may we remember to be generous. When we see the star, may we remember the Light of Christ, which gives life and light to all things. When we see a tiny baby, may we remember to love unconditionally, with tenderness and compassion. May we open the doors of our hearts and reach out to those around us who are lonely, forgotten, or poor in spirit. As we contemplate the example and infinite sacrifice of the Savior, may we also consider how we can be more Christlike in our associations with family and friends, not just during this season but throughout the year.
Whether we are the poor in heart being helped—or the ones serving those in need—both are symbolic of the Savior’s pattern of love and service. And both experiences help us to gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of the real meaning of Christmas.