Tuesday 26 December 2023

Reflections on Christmas

Here I sit the morning after Christmas wondering how I was unable to find the time to write about the most spectacular day of celebration during the entire year until it had come and gone. Like many of you, my excuses seemed logical at the time -- not in the right mood, too much to do and even such an all-consuming preoccupation with the atrocities that are going on in the world that I seemed incapable of focusing on the truly good and meaningful. Not that I didn't listen to wonderful expressions about seeing Christmas through the innocent and rapturous eyes of children once again, sing the glorious songs that testify of the Savior's miraculous birth and even set aside time to reflect a little more earnestly on what His birth meant to me as an individual daughter of my Heavenly Father. But those activities seemed little more than simply going through the motions and I feel sick at heart about my lack of appreciation for not fully acknowledging the greatest gift ever given to mankind the way I should have. 

I suppose a lot of my disassociation with the season has to do with the unsettling and almost incomprehensibly awful news I received the week before Thanksgiving and wrote about in a previous post. The knowledge of the atrocious behavior of someone who was supposed to love and protect his family has heightened the emotions of most everyone who knows about it and enhanced other deep seated feelings that were bound to come out eventually. It's made talking about even superficial matters more like walking on eggshells than an easy flow of conversation. And has brought to the surface once again the fact that my children were adopted and now have relationships with their biological families who were not present during their formative years. 

I've always been one who stuffed her feelings inside, and like Scarlet O'Hara always figured I would think about troubling matters tomorrow -- that illusive day that never comes. I still do that because it's too painful to reflect on most every part of my life, and there isn't really anyone to share my inner most feelings with anyway. Especially not my children who have enough of their own troubles to deal with. Needless to say, I've done a great deal of crying recently. Recalling what little my mind will allow, without causing an overload that could render me virtually helpless since so many things in my past have not been sufficiently dealt with, is always a difficult task. 

Adding to that is the fact that I'm scheduled for surgery on my right shoulder on January 3. While I understand that it's a relatively common operation I'm astute enough to know that no surgery is ever completely routine. And the fact that I'll be in a sling with my right arm hugging my body for two to three months makes the thought of daily survival challenging to say the least. In anticipation of my not being to use my dominant arm for more time than I want to think about I have been busy baking, cooking and freezing anything I can fit into my freezer so I won't have to rely on others for sustenance. But getting anything into my mouth besides liquid remains a mystery. I've been practicing doing things left-handed and the results are far from being pretty. I'm not even sure I'll be able to get the sling attached after taking it off to shower or change clothes and I have yet to find a bra that hooks in the front.

But back to my rather belated thoughts about the reverence that should attend this season, especially in the Christian and Jewish communities since we're basically the only ones in the world who recognize the life and mission of our Savior. It saddened me greatly when I saw on the news yesterday that the sacred town of Bethlehem had been ordered to abandon all Christmas activities and take down any religious decorations. How sad Christ must be from his vantage point in Heaven to know that the place of His birth has fallen captive to the same woke ideologies that have overtaken the rest of this fallen and corrupt world. My heart goes out to the poor residents of that sacred hamlet whose livelihoods depend on the visitors who come to pay tribute to the Christ child. 

However, I suppose we're not that much better off in this so-called land of plenty. As I've driven the streets where I live I have yet to see any homes displaying religious decorations. I suppose many people have given in to the fear the far left activists have instilled of being ridiculed, vandalized or even brought up on bogus charges for letting religious convictions be known. One just has to look at what is going on at the most exclusive college campuses to see that Jewish students are being persecuted while Hama terrorists are being revered by many of those who preside over classes and those who attend their lectures. In the only country on earth whose constitution provides religious freedom for everyone to worship as they see fit, it seems that Christians are now standing next to their Jewish brothers and sisters in being hated and persecuted because they acknowledge the divinity of the Savior and have reverence for His earthly ministry and the precious doctrine He taught.

If anyone wants to read a truly remarkable book that focuses on the life of the Savior through scripture, personal observations, the writings of scholars like Dr. Alfred Edersheim who wrote a seven-volume work on the Old Testament and the famous Jewish historian Josephus whose mother was a Maccabee, it would be Days of the Living Christ by W. Cleon Skousen. I started reading the first chapter on Sunday and could hardly put it down yesterday since I was alone on Christmas Day. It was dedicated to the Jews who were Christ's own people, the Arabs who are the seed of Abraham whom Jesus has already claimed, the Gentiles who will assist the Jews in returning to their homeland and the Native Americans who represent the royal bloodlines of Ephraim, Manasseh and Judah through Mulek who was direct descendent of King David.

Through my study of the first 100 pages I learned many new things. I will share some of them in a rather random order. After the fall of Jerusalem to Rome Josephus requested permission to gather all of the "holy books" which it is assumed were in the temple library and took them back to Rome to study. Although a Jew himself, he had become a Roman citizen who was a close friend of Vespasian who became the new emperor. He protected and studied those records and made them available to be translated into what we know as the Old Testament -- minus all the prophesies about Christ's birth except one found in Isaiah.

After countless invasions and dispersals, the Jews were not concentrated in Palestine when Jesus came to minister among them. They had been sifted across the face of the earth and had become some of the richest and most powerful "behind-the-scene" leaders in trade, ship-building, banking and politics. Many them had natural capacities required for leadership like being aggressive, resourceful, intelligent and willing to take risks. But they were dislikes and resented as a people because they also resisted assimilation into a new culture and refused to worship pagan idols.

The second piece of knowledge gleaned involves King Herod. I always saw him as being nothing more than a very evil man who murdered his wife, children, mother-in-law and anyone else who got in the way of his attaining and keeping power. Today we would call such an atrocious and horrible affliction homicidal mania, and he was only one of many rulers in history who fell victim to it. The good things I didn't know were that during his times of lucidity he stripped the palace of all its gold, silver and any other precious things to buy grain from Egypt when his country fell into famine. He spent a fortune of his own wealth providing shelter for the homeless and even convinced the Roman Ruler to protect the Jewish lifestyle throughout the entire empire and not just in Palestine. He completely reconstructed Jerusalem with paved roads, marble palaces, aqueducts, stadiums, theaters, a hippodrome for horse racing, sumptuous baths, and all the other embellishments Romans considered essential for a higher quality of life. In 22 B.C. he offered to tear down the old Jewish temple and erect a new one. The Jews were suspicious of his motives until he he employed 10,000 workers and spent two years gathering and preparing the needed materials.

For me, the story of Christ's birth always brings with it a quiet spirit of reverence and awe. However, I have always thought how uncomfortable it must have been for Mary to ride that donkey for all the miles to Bethlehem when she was nine months pregnant. But I learned that if one is sitting far enough back on the donkey's hips, his feet go clipping along while his hips scarcely move. Such a ride has been compared to sitting in a comfortable rocker at home. Another insight was that Jewish women would never have permitted Joseph to handle the birth of a baby alone. 

Skousen believes that when the women in the village heard a baby was soon to be delivered, their maternal instincts likely took over and they relieved Jospeh of the whole process. And when Jewish women take over a birth there is an unimaginable amount of happy hustle, bustle and excited chatter. This special baby must have been greeted with great warmth and joy regardless of the fact that none of them knew who He really was and his birth took place in a stable.

After seeing the new star in the nighttime sky, hearing the heavenly choir and hurrying to see the Christ child where they stood in joyous silence, the shepherds ran from house to house among their neighbors and family to tell of the blessed occasion, but the people didn't get up to look for themselves. They merely wondered and went on about their lives while the shepherds returned to their flocks knowing that no one would ever believe what they had experienced.

As for the Wise Men, they appear to have belonged to one of the Priesthood colonies that seem to have survived in various places from ancient times. They were excited to have seen the new star but upon their arrival in Jerusalem, quite possibly months after Christ's birth, must have been amazed to discover that the Jews didn't seem to know anything about the birth of the Savior. It was the same with King Herod, who through his paranoid delusions wanted to know where the child was the minute the Wise Men found out.

The star that most people believe guided the Wise Men didn't remain in the sky for the masses to really consider. What led them was more like a satellite that moved directly in front and showed them the way. These noble men came from the unknown and departed the same way. Their nationality, their names or even their exact number has never been revealed, but their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh gave Mary and Joseph the chance to provide a home for the Christ Child and protect him when Herod had all the babies under the age of two killed. This massacre became known as the "slaughter of the innocents."

While wrecking havoc everywhere, that horrible edict caused the aged Elizabeth to take her infant son, John, into the mountains where he was raised on locusts and honey. Zacharias, his father, remained behind and was slain by Herod's order when he would not disclose where his family had gone. Elizabeth died when John was a small child and he was adopted by one of the desert communities who were largely dissident protesters who were disgusted with the corruption of the religious leaders in Jerusalem. They practiced a very conservative and fundamentalist version of the Mosaic code. 

The last piece of information I will share is that locusts, or grasshoppers, were a legitimate form of food under the law of Moses. They are still the principle diet of the poor in many parts of the world. They were gathered in nets, plunged into boiling salted water, dried in the sun and eaten with butter made from goat's milk. John the Baptist and his cousin, Jesus Christ, never met each other until the day Christ asked to be baptized. This was another fulfillment of prophecy since John was just an infant when he was ordained to the priesthood and was the only living person who had the authority to administer that sacred ordinance. 

Despite my lack of attention to this amazing holiday this year, along with the fact that we didn't get any snow to cover the dismal landscape, I will be eternally grateful for the life, teachings and Atonement of our eldest brother, Jesus Christ. I eagerly anticipate the day when I will see Him again and fall at His feet as tears of gratitude cascade down my cheeks. Without Him, my body would never rise from the grave, nor would I be be allowed the opportunity to receive forgiveness and take advantage of His merciful grace. All that I am or will ever be, I owe to a wise Heavenly Father who created such a beautiful plan for the salvation and eternal life of every child born on this earth. 

My knowledge is still in the infant stage when it comes to so many things, but I know without a doubt that God lives and so does our Savior, Jesus Christ. And to help us in this journey we have been given the gift of the Holy Ghost to guide our way if we choose to use it. My plan for the coming year is to come to know Christ better as I try to more fully live the precepts He taught. May your holiday season be beautiful, regardless of the circumstances you may find yourself in. Hope does spring eternal, and because of Christ that hope need never fail us.

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