I bear witness to you that this is the work of the Lord. This and every other season ought to involve us in a kind of special celebration, for he is the Savior. Through his divine love and power he lifts us, and will lift us. His religion is relevant. It means us. I bear witness of that.
Hear these sweet beautiful words: Peter and John were at the gates of the temple, listening to the man begging for alms. Peter said, “Look on us.” And he, expecting some generous gifts, heard Peter say:
“And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up.” (Acts 3:7.)
Will you read the two scriptures that mean as much to me at Christmas as Luke 2, and will you read them as if for the first time, as if you had no real acquaintance with them? I am asking you to meet, face on, someone who is all of the things we said he was, and who at the summation of his instruction about relationships with fellowman, self, and God, taught this story.
There will be a time when there will be a gathering together of the children of the King, some on one hand, some on the other.
“Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
“For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
“Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.” (Matt. 25:34–36.)
Then shall the righteous say (Could I interpolate? What would they say, these honest souls who want, who desperately want, to be worthy of him?):
“Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?” (Matt. 25:37.)
[“Lord, we’d do anything for you. Honestly, that’s how we feel in our hearts. But we don’t remember ever seeing you sick or in prison and visiting you.”]
“And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25:40.)
I love that affirmation, but I think the opposite as he told it is even more incisive.
“For I was hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
“I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.” (Matt. 25:42–43.)
And what shall be the answer then? Indignation. [“Lord, this is not fair. When saw we thee hungry and fed thee not, etc.?”] And then shall the King answer saying:
“Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.” (Matt. 25:45.)
What is important about him? What does he ask of us? Is he relevant? Does it really mean something to me?
The last question—how does all this relate to us and Christmas? Last night a dear friend repeated a story he had told me a long time ago. it may be enough of illustration. The windows of a great department store in New York City are used to express a special idea each year at Christmastime. In these windows there are pictured the affluent, the happy homes at Christmas, and the bridge abutment under which the hobos are gathered to cook a meal in a tin can. There are pictured the joyous, happy children, and there is the sick person in bed, and the woman with a baby, her face pressed to the window. And there is one message, “If Christ came tonight, to whom would he come?”
Do you love sensitivity? I read again last night with great joy the story of the woman who couldn’t reach him. She needed help—if she could only touch his garments as he passed by! He, knowing that something important had happened, turned to her in all that multitude and knew of her need. Oh, to me that is so relevant that I can’t be too emphatic.
I mention just one other of these marvelous stories. There were two men, one of whom, the 100-percent type, congratulated himself in prayer to God on his great record:
“The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
“I fast twice in the week. I give tithes of all that I possess.” (Luke 18:11–12.)
The other man, a publican, would not so much as lift up his eyes unto heaven, but smote himself on the breast and said, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” And Jesus Christ said:
“I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” (Luke 18:14.)
A little later we read in the book about a son who took his father’s substance and wasted it, and the book is pretty explicit about his riotous living, about his sinking to the depths of an animal—that is how he felt about himself. That is how Christ pictured him. He actually was living with the swine, eating swine food; and then somehow he had the sense and the deep response to who he really was to look homeward. He thought it over again. The servants in his father’s house were better off than he. We don’t read about the big battle, but I am positive there was one, the big battle within him that caused him, I think, hesitantly, and I believe not selfishly but humbly, to take a faltering step toward home. I think I’ll never love anything more than I love the story’s next simple truth that teaches us that his father, seeing him afar off, coming home, ran to meet him, kissed him, and wept with him, and took him home. Oh, there was, to be sure, in the story that element we spend too much time worrying about—the son who had been doing well and who now was critical of this kindness shown his faltering brother. The father’s answer was sufficient, “You have lost nothing, son. Everything I have is yours, but your brother who was dead is alive again. He was lost and he has come home.”
Do you really think we’ll discover anything more relevant, more important than that? If you haven’t yet needed to know that, you will. And I promise you that if you know it, you will be able to meet the tests of life with much more strength and faith and responsiveness to the Lord.
There was a man injured and left at the roadside, needing help, said Christ. Along came a Levite, one of the temple workers, on his way to perform important ordinances, no doubt—so busy, though, that he had no time for the wounded man. Along came a priest, a meeting-holder, an administrator, a teacher of the word, no doubt, who was so pressed that he had no time to spend with the man at the roadside. And then came the unloved Samaritan who stopped and gave him aid. Then the question to the hearers of the parable, “Which of these three do you think was brother to the man, neighbor to the man?” And, of course, the answer was obvious, “He who stopped and helped him.” Is that relevant? Have you heard anybody talking about anything that improves on the lesson of that story?
What about his concern for mercy and for his fellowman? We live in a time when it is appropriately fashionable to care about somebody else—even if we are only joining in the periphery of the clamoring crowd. We are going to start thinking about somebody else now who is different from us. If you want a real experience for Christmas, begin reading at Luke 10 and spend 30 minutes or less, through ten chapters or so. May I recall highlights?
Do you dislike hypocrisy? Do you appreciate integrity? Do you rejoice in somebody who has the backbone, in spite of pressure, to stand up and say it as it is? Do you like somebody who responds to pressure with vitality and honor?
Think just a moment about the kind of religion he taught and practiced. You may recall a time when someone asked him what is really important and he answered, to love God with everything you have, and to love your neighbor as yourself. And the man to whom he spoke said, “Yea, Lord, that’s true,” and repeated the words. He knew about loving God and loving brother. Since I have first read these words, I have been deeply moved by the Savior’s response, “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:34.)
Jesus had the capacity to respond to those things that matter most. I often think of what he said to the Pharisees, whom he called hypocrites. Do you remember?
“For ye pay tithe of mint and anise, and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law [and he named them], judgment, mercy, and faith: These ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” (Matt. 23:23.)
He had breadth and scope; he had integrity and honesty. He had a great vision of the really weightier things—to treat each other with justice, with mercy, and to have this “faith unfeigned” of which Paul spoke. But these were not to be at the expense of obedience, for in this he believed also.
I loved and have long loved his respect for honesty. Do you remember the day when a wonderful man, who didn’t know all the answers, came to the Savior—having tried to get help from the apostles, who could not help him—to ask directly from this great godly one, the succor that he needed? He had a little boy who was sick. Do you know how that feels? This was an honest man who wanted desperately to get some help for his little boy, and who tried with the apostles who couldn’t help him. I am interested in his response to that. He didn’t curse God or them and die, or go some other way. He somehow had a basic responsiveness and intuitive faith that made him seek the Savior and ask for help. You remember that conversation, I hope. Christ asked him if he believed all things are possible for him who believes, and then the direct question, “Do you believe?” His answer? “Yea, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” (Mark 9:24 Italics added.)
Have you ever really thought how it would be to face the Savior and confess that there were lots of problems you didn’t really understand—a lot of questions? This man’s son’s life and well-being were at stake, and he had the integrity to ask the Savior for help, professing and acknowledging that he did believe in his divinity, in his power, but asking, “Help thou my unbelief.” In the light of this incident, it has never seemed to me necessary to pretend to know everything.
Well, how was he? Was he relevant? That is a great word in our time. Was his religion relevant?
We are talking only in headlines today, but I would like to make a few for you. Will you ask yourself, in this season when we are repeatedly assured that there is great meaning in celebrating because our celebrations relate to him and revolve around him, was he relevant?
Have you been tempted lately? Think again, as if you had never heard it, of the story of one who went into a wilderness and there had temptations of such great and difficult nature that our temptations, pressing and strong and emotionally involved as they are, might not seem quite so tough to bear? What were his temptations? Rehearse them again, not for detail but for application, for relevancy.
He was invited to use his miraculous powers for his own benefit. He was invited to abuse them, and he refused. It occurred to me the other day as I thought of this that I don’t know of a single instance where he used his powers for his own advantage. Not once. He had a great chance in another temptation to prove his Messianic claims—a short and easy road to recognition: “You are on this high prominence; cast yourself down; the crowd will respond.” And his answer was, “No.” He wasn’t really after this quick and easy recognition. He had something else to do. The other temptation is more usual with us perhaps. Of wealth and power and the things of this world, he was offered much—to just capitulate, just give in.
“For in that he hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.” (Heb. 2:18.)
He met the test of proffered popularity like a man, like a godly man, like a Son of God. From that time many of his disciples went back and walked no more with him. They couldn’t take it; the pressures were too great. Was he relevant?
What does he ask of us? In the 27th chapter of the third book of Nephi is a magnificent statement of what he did for us, will do for us, and asks of us. I refer to only an extract, but will you read it as if you had not read it before?
“Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you—that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me.
“And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father …
“And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works.” (3 Ne. 27:13–15.)
And then after teaching what we know as the first principles, he said to them:
“Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am.” (3 Ne. 27:27.)
He suffered in both body and spirit. Three times Pilate found no fault in him; he washed his hands of him and turned him over to the mob. Christ went to the cross and did what he did and had to do, willingly and alone. Even though he had said, “Don’t you know that I could call more than twelve legions of angels?” he did what he did willingly and alone.
Behold the man.
He was the servant of all. Sometimes when the ego prompts arrogance in our minds and our little thoughts, the spirit and the power and the picture of a Savior kneeling and washing the feet of his disciples may come into view.
He suffered in body and spirit in a way we cannot really imagine.
Have you read these words recently, from the Doctrine and Covenants, section 19?
“Therefore I command you to repent—repent, least I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite [that is, how keen and intense] you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.
“For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;
“But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;
“Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—
“Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.” (D&C 19:15–19.)
He was alone without blemish. He was perfect. And yet we are taught in the record that “though he were a son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.” And in the 93rd section of the Doctrine and Covenants, these words:
“And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace;
“And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness.” (D&C 93:12–13.)
Though he was without blemish, yet he learned and grew.
He was, we are taught, the Only Begotten in the flesh. That is, only he, in the manner and under the circumstances of his birth, came into this world begotten of the Father.
Elsewhere also in the record the message is clearly delivered. God through his holy Son created the world we live in. He was the Firstborn in the Spirit. Of all the spirit children of God, he was Firstborn, our elder brother in fact; much else also, but in the spirit, the Firstborn. His mission was prophesied long before he came. To some of us who have taught the Book of Mormon story and its great prophetic vision of Christ written long before he came, and have heard people or read the response of people who seem to feel there is something suspect about the book because they who wrote in it knew of him long before his coming, it has seemed reassuring and sweet to be able to read in the Bible, which I am just leafing, such interesting thoughts as this, written 700 years, at least, before he came:
“Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Isa. 7:7.)
That was from the seventh chapter of the Book of Isaiah. Thumbing through it, another verse or two:
“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, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isa. 9:6.)
And all through this marvelous record is the detail of his coming.
When Pilate presented the Savior to the howling mob, he said, “Behold the man!” (John 19:5.) Would you be willing to try to do that for just a few minutes? What do you see? What do you hear? How do you feel? What do you know? Well, there are these things true about him. His story is a redemptive story. He was in the beginning with God. He was a member of God’s family, himself a god.
“And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;
“And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.” (Abr. 3:24–25.)
He was a god, an authority in the presence of his Father, a member of that divine group of godly persons. He was the Creator of this world and all that in it is. Quite familiar to most of you is the testimony frequently referred to in the 76th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, and I read not for the ordinary connotation but to emphasize this great role he played, the responsibility he filled as Creator.
“And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!
“For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—
“That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.” (D&C 76:22–24.)
This Christmas story occurred in the middle of the summer some years ago at a naval training center.
The man opposite me in the room had the many stripes on his uniform that signified long and distinguished service; I was an apprentice seaman in boot camp. Nonetheless, Commander Hamilton, as he had greeted me at the door, had been most gracious—he called me “Mr. Hanks,” seated me with cordiality, and we talked as equals.
The commander, senior chaplain at the great training center, had invited me into his office to discuss the possibility of my becoming a chaplain. I was quick to explain that because I had interrupted my university training to serve as a missionary, I had not finished an academic degree and didn’t qualify for the chaplaincy under the navy’s standards. He replied that he felt he might be able to do something about getting a waiver of that requirement, all other things being favorable.
Commander Hamilton was a rangy, strong-looking man for whom I had immediately formed a feeling of respect and admiration. I had learned that he was one of the survivors of the aircraft carrier Yorktown when she was sunk by enemy action in the war and that he had been in the water for many hours before rescue. I was complimented and humbled that such a man would be considering his proposed action after having visited our group of LDS servicemen at the base.
“Before I recommend you to the Chief of Chaplains, Mr. Hanks, do me a favor, please. Talk to me about your experience in your Church, about what you think may help me in my recommendation of you as qualified to represent the Lord in the military chaplaincy.”
I began to explain to him the lifelong experience of a young man in the Church that had helped me prepare for such a significant opportunity. We went back to the beginning—the early participation, the 2 1/2-minute talks, the service as deacon, teacher, priest, elder, seventy; Scouting, seminary, institute, Sunday School teaching, leadership opportunities, missionary service.
As I talked, he who had been so courteous and kind and interested began to fidget, to lose interest, and I realized, as we do when we are seeking to communicate person-to-person, that I was not connecting, that l was losing the battle, and I became more anxious. Earnestly I tried to tell him what there is in the stage-by-stage opportunity in the Church for a young person to develop the quality to be a servant of God.
After a time his demeanor completely changed, and he interrupted me, saying very brusquely, “Say, Hanks, do you believe in Jesus Christ?”
“Yes, sir!” I said, “Everything I believe relates to Jesus Christ. My faith, my life, center in him as my Savior. The Church I belong to is founded on him and follows him as its living head. It is named in his name.”
He said, looking at his watch, “Well, you have been talking for seven minutes, and you haven’t said so.”
I think I have not made that mistake again.