Viewpoint: Sacrament on Christmas Sunday a Poignant Event
Contributed By the Church News
December 25 is predominantly recognized across the globe as Christmas Day, a holiday of religious observances and cultural celebrations.
Sunday is symbolic throughout the Western world as a day of rest; for most Christians, it is also considered a day of worship.
And in the year 2016, the “date” and the “day” merge, as the Gregorian calendar—the world’s most-accepted civil calendar—shows December 25 falling on a Sunday. Happening on regular intervals, the Sunday Christmas will occur again in 2022, 2033, and 2039 over the next quarter-century, accounting for leap years.
For Latter-day Saints, both the date and the day carry reverential significance—December 25, or Christmas Day, is the date we as individuals, families, and a church join many worldwide in commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ. Sunday is the day designated by the Church in nearly all nations where members gather to worship and to partake of the sacrament.
That sacrament ordinance—the bread, the water, the prayers, and the reminders of covenants previously made—are representative of the Savior’s Atonement, including the suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection.
Date and day lead to “birth” and “body.” A necessary overlapping—each is required of the other.
Christ’s birth marked the first moment in mortality for the Savior’s unique mission on earth—the Firstborn Son of the Father, coming to earth, to gain a mortal body, to lead a perfect life, to atone for man’s sins, and to be resurrected to give everlasting life to all. In fine, to overcome both deaths having encapsulated man—physical death, being the separation of body and spirit, and spiritual death, being the separation of man from God.
The Book of Mormon father-son prophet tandem of Lehi and Nephi saw the Savior’s birth and life in vision, the Book of Mormon recording coming 600 years prior to the event (see 1 Nephi 11). In those visions, they learn—as do we—of the condescension of God in connection with the birth of Christ.
Wrote Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: “We discover in [the] text that he shall be the Father of a Son born ‘after the manner of the flesh’; that is, he condescends, in his infinite wisdom, to be the Father of a holy being who shall be born into mortality. He determines to fulfill what he decreed and announced in the plan of salvation in the premortal life when, having explained the plan, he asked for a redeemer and a savior and said, ‘Whom shall I send to be my Son?’ Thus the condescension of God is that he is the Father literally of a Son born in mortality, in the language here, a Son born ‘after the manner of flesh’” (“Behold the Condescension of God,” New Era, Dec. 1984).
Actually, it could be phrased “the condescensions of Gods,” since it is also the loving allowance of God the Father for His Son to be slain for the sins of the world as well as the willing acceptance of God the Son to leave His Father’s presence and come to earth as a mortal to die for mankind.
Similar to phrases and refrains of other Christmas hymns, the second verse of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” underscores the role of Christ’s birth—and life—in His Father’s plan of happiness.
Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Ris’n with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Participating in the sacrament ordinance, we think of the Savior’s atoning physical sacrifice as we sing the sacred hymns and partake of the emblems of the bread and water. We understand the water to represent His blood spilt—His all-redeeming suffering in Gethsemane and His selfless sacrifice on the cross. The sacrament prayer given on the water underscores such—“in remembrance of the blood of thy Son, which was shed for them” (D&C 20:79).
As for the bread broken and blessed in the ordinance, we’re mindful of the role of the Savior’s body in those same excruciating acts performed both in the garden and on the cross, emphasized by the lyrics of our LDS sacrament hymns.
But we can and should expand our focus on the totality of the Savior’s body and life—as evidenced by the sacrament prayer given on the bread. The phrase “in remembrance of the body of thy Son” (D&C 20:77) is simple and yet all-encompassing. It’s not just the body “bruised, broken, torn for us” (“Jesus of Nazareth, Savior and King,” Hymns, no. 181) but much, much more.
It certainly includes His Resurrection, the concluding act of the Atonement of His spirit reuniting with His lifeless, after-crucifixion body and representative of His gift to all mankind. It also includes the totality of His mortal life—in addition to the Atonement, the teachings, the miracles, the compassion, and the example of perfection.
Consider it all to be the Savior’s “body” of mortal work, so to speak. And it all started with a birth in Bethlehem.
Which makes a sacrament service on Christmas Sunday poignant.