We celebrate the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ at this season of the year. Some years ago, Sister Kimball and I were in the Holy Land with Elder and Sister Howard W. Hunter, and one Christmas Eve we were mingling with thousands of religionists and curious people from around the world. We bent over to get through the small aperture into the Church of the Nativity and gradually made our way in turn to the crypt where some churches claim are the sacred spots of the manger and the birth of the Savior.
As we stood looking at the metal star in the concrete floor, it seemed to fade and we seemed to see a crude manger in a cave and sitting by it a lovely lady with a beautiful face and sweet spirit watching a little infant wrapped like other Hebrew babes in swaddling clothes. He had likely already been washed and rubbed with salt and laid on a square cloth, his little head on one corner and his tiny feet on the corner diagonally opposite. The cloth had been folded over his sides and up over his feet and the swaddling bands tied around the precious little bundle. His hands would be fastened to his sides, but he would be loosened occasionally and rubbed with olive oil and possibly dusted with powdered myrtle leaves. If still in swaddling bands, he could be handled easily on the trip to Egypt, and he could even be strapped to his mother’s back.
How grateful we are that the baby Jesus was born, but do we place more emphasis on his birth than upon other phases of his experiences? Is birth the major event in any of our lives? We might ask the reason why we are born. For what purpose is our birth?
We remember that billions have been born.
Cain was born, but terminated his life in obscurity. What of his life?
Nero was born, but his life did not seem to justify it.
Adolph Hitler was born. What of his life? Millions starved and died in Dachau and in other torture chambers.
Yes, men die—all men die. Millions have died unheard, never praised and unknown. The question is, when they die have they fulfilled the measure of their mortal creation? (See D&C 88:25) Certainly it is not so significant that men die, or when they die, but that they do not die in their sins. Many people who lived before the flood died shamefully in their sins in the flood.
Christ died. Ah! Here is the great death that is significant. He made an atonement for our sins to open the way for our resurrection to point the way to our perfection of life, to show the way to exaltation. He died purposefully, voluntarily. His birth was humble, his life was perfect, his example was compelling; his death opened doors for us, and every one was offered every good gift and blessing.
Perhaps he could have died many years earlier and accomplished the first of the requirements: resurrection and immortality. But it seemed that he must live a longer—even danger-filled—life so he could establish firmly the way to perfection.
For more than three decades he lived a life of danger. From Herod’s horrible murder of Bethlehem’s infants to Pilate’s merciless giving him to the bloodthirsty mob, Jesus was in constant danger. Perilously he lived with a reward offered for his capture, the final price paid being thirty pieces of silver. It seemed that not only human enemies would complicate his life, but even his friends would desert him; and Satan and his cohorts would pursue him ceaselessly. Yet, even after his early death, it seemed that he could not leave the earth until he had further trained his leaders. For forty days he remained on earth to prepare the Apostles in leadership and the people in becoming Saints.
As we look on his life, we see fulfillment of prophecy. As predicted, he was a “man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3). How could he effectively lead his people—how could he show us the way to keep his commandments—unless he experienced sorrow as well as joy? How could it ever be known if individual perfection is possible, or how could one be persuaded to reach for it, if someone did not prove it could be done? So he lived through trials, day and night, all his life.
But his daily life confirmed his power, his ability, his strength. From birth, his life was a rugged one. Born in a manger without the conveniences even of the average Israelite home, he was an unwelcome guest. (See Luke 2:7).
When still young, he must be taken away to a far country to save his precious life, a perilous journey in great haste and fear, a trip which was rugged for the new infant, perhaps still being nursed by his mother. On the trip he would suffer hardships, sand storms, fatigue, new food, new customs, a new and strange world. The trip to Nazareth was an even longer and more arduous journey, this to avoid again a heartless ruler.
His trials were continuous. Perhaps his brother, Lucifer, had heard him say when he was still but a lad of twelve: “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49). Then came the time when Satan sought to cause him to make a mistake. Their encounter in the previous world had been on more equal terms, but now Jesus was young and Satan was experienced. By subtlety and challenges he thought to destroy this developing Savior.
But to all of his appeals came the firm refusal, “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and him only shalt thou serve” (Matt. 4:10).
What a lonely life he must have lived! No more could he live a private existence. At nearly every miracle he asked the healed one, “Go thy way and tell no man.” (Mark 1:44). But the recipient of his power and goodness went abroad and spread the matter and published it, “insomuch that Jesus could no more openly enter into the city, but was without in desert places” (Mark 1:45).
His every statement was challenged. He must defend every principle. “Why don’t you fast?” “Why do your disciples eat with unwashed hands?” “Why do you break the Sabbath by healing on that day?” The leaders sought to kill him for healing on the Sabbath!
It was bad enough to have his enemies try to trap him, but then even his friends “went out to lay hold on him. For they said, he is beside himself.” (Mark 3:21).
To whom could he go for sympathy? Was this the reason for his frequent climbing of the mountains for privacy and comfort from his Father? Lonely, alone, no one to confide in, no place to go. As he said: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). So he climbs the hills, but is followed. He sails across the sea, and there is the multitude. He lies down to rest in the ship, and is rudely awakened with criticism: “Carest thou not that we perish?” (Mark 4:38).
And even as he walked toward his death, he had to say to his chosen Twelve, “I have chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil” (John 6:70). He walked daily thereafter with a traitor.
How lonely! How disquieting! To escape and wait, knowing that death was but a short time away! “He would walk no more in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him” (See John 7:1).
He sough to go incognito, “but he could not be hid” (Mark 7:24).
One of his greatest disappointments was his homecoming. No celebrations for him, only curiosity and rejection. “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?” (Mark 6:3). The common boy from their common streets, they said.
A reward was offered for his capture. Physical violence confronted him always. People were enjoined to reveal his whereabouts so he could be put to death. The specter of death preceded him, sat with him, walked with him, followed him.
How difficult it must have been for him who could wither a fig tree (See Matt. 21:19) with a single command to restrain himself from cursing his enemies. Instead, he prayed for them. To retaliate and fight back is human, but to accept indignities as did the Lord, is divine. He was tested continually: when he permitted himself to be kissed by the known traitor he did not resist; when he was captured by a vicious mob, he did not permit his loyal Apostle Peter to defend him, though that worthy man was willing to die fighting for him.
With twelve legions of angels at his command, he yielded himself and indicated to his courageous Apostles at his side not to defend him. He accepted this manhandling and the indignities without retaliation. Had he not said, “Love your enemies?” (Matt. 5:44)
In quiet, restrained, divine dignity he stood when they east their spittle in his face (See Matt. 27:30). He remained composed. They pushed him around. Not an angry word escaped his lips. They slapped his face and beat his body. Yet he stood resolute, unintimidated.
Literally did he follow his own admonition when he turned his other cheek to be also slapped and smitten (See Matt. 5:39). And yet, he showed no cringing, gave no denials, offered no rebuttals. When false mercenary witnesses were paid to lie about him, he seemed to condemn them not. They twisted his words and misinterpreted his meanings, yet he was calm and unflustered. Had he not taught, “Pray for them which despitefully use you?” (Matt. 5:44).
He who alone on the earth created the world and all that is in it, he who made the silver from which the pieces were stamped which bought him, he who could command defenders on both sides of the veil—stood and suffered.
Neither did he say anything to the people who called for Barrabas, crying “Release unto us Barrabas” (Luke 23:18). Even when they cried for his blood, saying, “Crucify him, crucify him” (Luke 23:21)—yet he showed no bitterness nor venom nor condemnation. Only tranquility. This is divine dignity, power, control, restraint. Barrabas for Christ! Barrabas released, Christ crucified. The worst and the best; the just and the unjust; the Holy One crucified, the degenerate evil doer (See Luke 23:32 and John 18:30) released. Yet he did not seek revenge, or call them evil names, or condemn them.
Yet still further tests came. Though pronounced innocent, he was scourged. Unworthy men lashed him, the pure and the Holy One, the Son of God. One word from his lips and all his enemies would have fallen to the earth, helpless. All would have perished, all could have been dust and ashes. Yet, in calmness, he suffered.
Then, the crown of thorns (See Matt. 27:24). How painful and excruciating! And yet he had, such great equanimity! He had great strength! He had such great control! It is beyond imagination.
Blood from the thorns seemed to be what they wanted. For had they not just said, “His blood be on us and on our children?” (Matt. 27:25). Now nothing could stop them. They hungered to satisfy their blood lust, to satiate it. The crucifixion would do that, but first they must satisfy their beastly appetites for sadism; first they must cast their diseased spittle in his holy face, with inhuman cruelty.
They would have his sore and bruised and bloody body carry the heavy cross of his own death. Their strong backs unburdened, they watched him sweat and heave and strain and pull, a helpless victim. Or was he helpless? Were not the twelve legions of angels still at his command? Did they not still have their swords unsheathed? Were they not still agonizing, yet restrained from giving help or coming to the rescue?
He goes his way alone. The nails are hammered into his hands and feet, through soft and quivering flesh. The agony increases. The cross is dropped in the hole; the flesh tears. What excruciating pain! Then, new nails are placed in the wrist to make sure that the body will not fall to the ground and recover.
The mockery grows as the rabble walk alongside and look up, leering and blaspheming and mocking. “He saved others; himself he cannot save” (Mark 15:31).
What a temptation it must have been for the Lord who could have stepped down whole and well without scars or bruises! What a challenge it must have been, yet he had made his decision and had sweat great drops of blood in his anguish as he faced his mission—to move forward and go through all gross indignities and meet death at the end, to bring life to these very men and their children, if they would heed.
Now, with his mortal life fast ending, he restrained himself, controlling the temptation to “show them” his power. Surely Lucifer, who had tempted him in the wilderness, on the mountain, and on the pinnacle of the temple—surely, he had done an efficient work in prompting his underlings. They now used the same tactics, the same words: “If thou be the King of the Jews, save thyself” (Luke 23:37). The thief on the cross taunted him, “If thou be Christ, save thyself and us” (Luke 23:39). All around were others only little less criminal in their persecution. The arrogant clergy in their long embroidered robes, the leaders of the people—cheap, low, degraded humans—they also were to rave and rant and mock and jeer.
His final hour had come. He was alone, yet among crowds of people. Alone he was with eager angels waiting to comfort him. Alone with his Father in deepest sympathy, but knowing that his Son must walk alone the bloody, tortuous path. Alone, drained, feverish, dying, he called out: “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). Alone he had been in the garden—praying for strength to drink the bitter cup.
He had said, “Love your enemies.” (Matt. 5:44) Now he showed how much one can love his enemies. He was dying on the cross for those who had nailed him there. As he died, he experienced such agonies that no man had ever before or has since experienced. Yet he cried out, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Was this not the last word—the supreme act? How divine to forgive those who were killing him—those who said, pray for them which despitefully use (Matt. 5:44) and here he was praying for them. His life was a perfect example of his teachings. “Be ye therefore perfect” (Matt. 5:48) was his command to us. With his life, his death, and his resurrection, Jesus truly has shown us the way.
And so, as resurrection and death and life are important to achieving perfection, so also is birth. And with the thought, my mind comes back again to Bethlehem, the Bethlehem of today. My wife and our group move about with the surging crowds, we are jostled and pushed. We are nearly drowned in the ocean of innumerable bodies and faces. It is hard to concentrate upon the sacred reason for our coming. There is little on the hill which can stir our reverence or satisfy our longing to be alone with our thoughts.
We have our taxi take us to the hill overlooking the shepherds’ field. Below us in the little valley is the field of Boaz and Ruth. Before us is the undulating area where shepherds once watched their sheep. On the brow of the hill is a cave opening out over the little valley. There, tradition says, the shepherds slept and watched on that eventful night. An open cave could protect them from the night’s coolness, yet still they could watch their flocks. There, gazing into the valley, the only place near Bethlehem where we could find privacy, we stood in the dark, looking out into the starry sky as did the shepherds.
Did not the angels sing that night? We, too, seemed to hear faint music, not loud, but in symphonic harmony it deeply penetrated our hearts. We seemed to hear singing in unison, the unforgettable melody, the cry of the ages: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14).
As the strains of the heavenly words merged with our hearts, we four sang. After singing “Far, far away on Judea’s plains, shepherds of old hear the joyous strains,” (Hymns No. 33) we stood close together in the starlighted night with our wraps pulled tightly about us—physically close, mentally close, spiritually close, emotionally close; and we communed. No lights but the twinkling lanterns in the heavens, no sound but the whispering of our subdued voices. Our Father seemed to be very near. His Son seemed close. We prayed. More in unison than a single voice, our four hearts poured out love and gratitude that rose to mingle with the prayers of all mankind that night.
We prayed our gratitude. We prayed our love. Like the raising of the flood gate releasing the long confined pent up waters behind a dam, voices almost inaudible, mellowed with reverence, softened by the intangible forces of the heavenly world, we sincerely gave a prayer of thanksgiving: grateful, Father, that we know so positively that thou dost live; that we know the babe born here was in reality thy Son; grateful that thy Church program is real, workable and exalting. We told him we knew him, we loved him, we would follow him. We repledged to his cause our lives, our all.
The years have come and gone since then, but always at this beautiful season, we repledge ourselves to his work—and invite all people everywhere to join us in our prayers of joy and love and gratitude for the life and teachings of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
1. Relate a personal experience that has helped you better understand the role the Savior plays in your life, or tell one of the many beautiful stories from the scriptures that give an example of the Savior’s love and concern.
2. Ask family members if they have a personal experience that has helped them better appreciate the Savior’s life and mission.
3. Encourage family members to make a daily habit of studying the life of the Savior that they may come to know him better and live as he would want us to live.
4. Are there quotations or scriptural verses in this article that the family might read aloud, or some supplemental scripture you desire to read with them?
5. Would this discussion be better after talking with the head of the house before the visit?