Far, Far Away on Judea's Plains
Contributed by Elder Craig C. Christensen of the Presidency of the Seventy
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, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. - 2 Nephi 19:6
One of my favorite Christmas carols was written by John M. Macfarlane, an early convert to the Church who helped settle St. George, Utah. He was a Scottish-born immigrant who arrived in the Salt Lake Valley around 1852. An accomplished choir director, Brother Macfarlane organized a choir in 1861 and began touring the settlements of southern Utah, performing at Church conferences and other gatherings.
During the winter of 1869, Brother Macfarlane wanted a Christmas song for his choir to sing. One cold and rainy night, as he brooded over possible lyrics and tunes, he wrote the bright melody and joyful message of a new hymn, “Far, Far Away on Judea’s Plains.” Since then, his carol has spread so far from its birthplace in southern Utah that many have forgotten its relatively recent origin and connection to the early pioneers.
There are many Christmas carols that relate the story of Jesus’s birth. The Nativity is a beautiful, miraculous story with much to teach us about the Savior’s humility and condescension. I especially love to read the Book of Mormon account—the courage of Samuel the Lamanite, boldly testifying to a hardened audience of the coming of the Messiah (see Helaman 13–15); the undaunted believers who refused to deny their faith in Samuel’s prophecy, even when threatened with death (see 3 Nephi 1:5–15); the marvelous signs and wonders in the heavens (see 3 Nephi 1:15–21); and finally, the glorious moment when the resurrected Savior appears to the multitude gathered at the temple and declares, “Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world” (3 Nephi 11:10).
However, what I love about Brother Macfarlane’s hymn is that it does more than just relate the events surrounding the Savior’s birth. It also bears a simple but powerful testimony of His merciful Atonement and its significance in our lives today. And then it points our minds forward to His triumphant return and millennial reign.
Testimony of the Atonement
The second verse of “Far, Far Away on Judea’s Plains” helps us appreciate the precious gift that came into the world on that first Christmas night:
Sweet are these strains of redeeming love,
Message of mercy from heaven above.
[Hymns, no. 212]
Consider how King Benjamin helped his people both to understand Christ’s mission and to experience its influence in their lives. He said:
Behold, the time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent … shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay, and shall go forth amongst men, working mighty miracles, such as healing the sick, causing the lame to walk, the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and curing all manner of diseases. …
And lo, he shall suffer temptation, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people.
And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, … and his mother shall be called Mary.
… And also his blood atoneth for the sins of those who have fallen. [Mosiah 3:5–10]
After hearing this powerful testimony of the mission of the Savior, King Benjamin’s people felt not only the truthfulness of the account but also its significance in their lives:
They had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, … who shall come down among the children of men.
And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them. [Mosiah 4:1–3]
The stories of Jesus that we hear and retell at Christmas time and throughout the year can have a similar effect on us and our loved ones if we allow Christ’s “message of mercy” to penetrate our hearts.
His Triumphant Return and Millennial Reign
Jesus Christ is our Living Saviour. We feel His influence in our lives daily. And ever since His death and Resurrection, we, with other faithful Christians throughout history, look forward to His promised return.
He is coming. In our day He has told us:
My disciples shall stand in holy places, and shall not be moved. …
And then shall they look for me, and, behold, I will come; and they shall see me in the clouds of heaven, clothed with power and great glory; with all the holy angels. [D&C 45:32, 44]
Those who await the Lord Jesus Christ are never disappointed. They waited for Him for centuries before His birth, and He came, as He had promised. Every word He fulfilled. Now we see that in our day He is:
Hasten[ing] the time when, from every clime,
Men shall unite in the strains sublime: …
Glory to God in the highest;
Peace on earth, goodwill to men!
I testify that Jesus Christ overcame death that we might be resurrected. He took upon Himself our sins, allowing us to be forgiven and to once again stand clean in His presence and the presence of His Father. May we rejoice that Jesus came and that He is coming again. May we await His coming with gladness.