Q&A: Questions and Answers

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    Answers are for help and perspective, not as pronouncements of Church doctrine

    “What should be different about a Mormon Christmas?”

    Answer/Sister Helen K. Richards

    I have been asked to respond to a question that has interested me very much for a long time, “What should be different about a Mormon Christmas?” We might ask first, “Should a Mormon Christmas be different?”

    Taking the last question first, I believe a Mormon Christmas should be different. As Latter-day Saints, we have the responsibility to teach and set an example of the standards, ideals, and values that are pleasing to our Heavenly Father and that will prepare us for an eternal life with him. This should be our goal in all things. Can we then let the values, customs, and practices of the world determine how we observe or commemorate such an important time as Christmas? Or is there a better way? What should be different about a Mormon Christmas?

    This special season has greater importance for the Latter-day Saints than for others because we not only observe the birthday of the Savior but also the birthday of our Prophet, Joseph Smith.

    Joseph Smith, the great Prophet chosen by our Heavenly Father to usher in the last dispensation, was born on December 23, 1805, just two days before December 25, which the world observes as the birthday of Jesus Christ.

    December 23 should be a day of great importance in every Latter-day Saint home, a day of remembering and honoring one of the great prophets of God, a day to pay tribute to a man whose life and mission has had a tremendous influence on the lives of every one of us.

    Yet in most of our homes the day passes almost unnoticed so involved are we in the hectic preparation for Christmas. So why not start our celebration two days early? Can’t we do more to give this day the special observance it should have? Would we not all be strengthened as we set this day aside to review with our families and friends the faith, dedication, and integrity of this great man? His life is filled with experiences and incidents that bear witness of his greatness and his closeness to God. It would strengthen our faith, our dedication, and our desire to live closer to God if we met together as families or wards and reviewed in story or dramatization some of these experiences and incidents and bore testimony of his divine calling and mission.

    Hasn’t Christmas gotten a little out of hand? Haven’t the merchants, advertisers, promoters, and others who profit financially taken over pretty much? Do you feel good about this? I don’t, and I don’t think our Heavenly Father does either.

    What should be a holy day filled with peace and love and goodness has become a mad scramble of presents for everyone, especially those who will be giving presents to you, decorations, Christmas trees, big feasts, parties, all the material and worldly practices that have almost completely eclipsed the real meaning of Christmas and have little or nothing to do with it.

    What can we do? We can do many things. We can simplify and make it more meaningful, but I warn you, it will take tremendous strength to withstand the pressures.

    Suppose at family home evening early in November we talk about having a Christmas that is really pleasing to our Heavenly Father. One mother I know talked to her family about birthdays and how birthday celebrations are held to honor the person whose birthday it is. Since Christmas is the day we celebrate the birth of Christ, everything should be done to please him. We like to give a gift to someone we love on his birthday. How can we give a gift to Jesus? He has said, “Whatsoever ye do unto the least of these, ye do it unto me.”

    Along with gifts for the family and friends, we could give gifts to those in need. Every member of the family could select someone or maybe many others, depending on the circumstances, to give a “gift for Jesus,” to make someone in need especially happy.

    What about gift giving in the family? Instead of going all out to give a big expensive, impressive gift, what about a small token of love—a gift that shows a lot of caring and thought, something you have put a bit of yourself into. I am thinking of a new cutting board made by a grandson; a beautiful pillow with love stitched in from a daughter-in-law; a needlepoint picture, a cherished possession, made by a granddaughter; delicious homemade bread and candies from neighbors and friends. Almost everyone can make something, even the little folks. How these gifts express the caring and loving that is the spirit of Christmas!

    Is the unloading of gifts and toys on those who really don’t need them in keeping with the Spirit of Christ? Think of all the unhappy children who see other children loaded down with gifts when, due to circumstances they often cannot understand, they receive very little. Think of unhappy parents who go into debt or do without necessities while trying to keep up with the neighbors. Think of the selfishness these things cause and the false values they create.

    The clothes and other practical gifts so often given can be spread along the way. Given when most needed, they bring a lot of surprises and joy throughout the year. Even toys would bring more happiness and make many days special if they were given for several occasions rather than all at once.

    Families are so important to Christ. Family gatherings that help solidify and reinforce our family relationships and our relationship as a family to Christ would be a most appropriate way to observe this holy day. Let this be the spirit of the occasion, and let’s not make the feasting the most important thing. We can have other occasions for that.

    Last year the neighbors on our block had an open house during the holidays. Several were strangers to each other, and some others knew one another slightly. By getting together and sharing refreshments, everyone contributed. Visiting together, we came to know what delightful and interesting people we live near. There has been a closer, more friendly feeling ever since.

    Let’s remember “the stranger within our gates,” the “poor and needy,” not just those with material needs, but those who have other needs as well—the lonely, the sick, the troubled—caring and showing that we care, sharing not only our goods, but our love and friendship as well. This is the true Christmas spirit.

    More music has been written to celebrate Christmas than for any other day or season. Let us use it with discrimination to add meaning to this beautiful season. Let us enjoy music that will enrich our lives and help us to be more mindful of the real beauty and purpose of Christmas. Let’s go as a family and perhaps take a lonely friend to hear the Messiah or other beautiful musical performances.

    Let this be a truly happy season, being mindful in all we do of the true meaning of Christmas, observing it in a way that would be pleasing to Jesus Christ, whose birthday the whole thing is all about. Let us draw strength through this celebration to make us better men, women, and children and draw us closer to our Savior.

    I believe that by keeping these things in mind and letting them direct our feelings, our attitudes and our observance of Christmas can set an example to the world that will justify the love and trust our Heavenly Father has placed in us.

    Wife of Elder Franklin D. Richards and mother of four children

    “I have had problems in the past but have worked, with the help and encouragement of my former bishop, to overcome them. When I go for my temple recommend interview with my new bishop, must I discuss with him these past problems?”

    Answer/Bishop Victor L. Brown

    A bishop has been entrusted by the Lord with the weighty responsibility of being a common judge. “And also to be a judge in Israel, to do the business of the church, to sit in judgment upon transgressors upon testimony as it shall be laid before him according to the laws, by the assistance of his counselors, whom he has chosen or will choose among the elders of the church.

    “This is the duty of a bishop …

    “Thus shall he be a judge, even a common judge among the inhabitants of Zion.” (D&C 107:72–74.)

    As a common judge the bishop conducts judgment interviews, including those for temple recommends. He is to ask specific questions necessary to determine worthiness. “Generally it is unwise and quite unnecessary to confess the same sin over and over again.” (Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, Bookcraft, 1970, p. 187.)

    In principle the bishop’s questions will follow this pattern: “Has the member been involved in any transgression that has not been confessed to the proper priesthood authority and resolved?” This type of questioning is in keeping with the instructions recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants 58:42 [D&C 58:42], “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.”

    Resolving a major transgression and receiving clearance by the proper priesthood authority includes confession, forsaking the transgression, wherever possible making restitution, accepting Church discipline if necessary, and living God’s commandments.

    If for some reason further questioning is necessary, one can use the following instructions from President Spencer W. Kimball as guidance in giving an answer:

    “If a major transgression has been fully confessed to and cleared by the proper authority, the person may usually clear himself in any future interview by explaining that this is so and giving the authority’s name. Providing there has been no repetition of the offense, nor a commission of any other serious transgression, usually the matter may be considered settled.” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 187.)

    A bishop will use good judgment when interviewing so that he does not place a member in the position of confessing a transgression again; and members of the Church are under strict obligation to be honest when interviewed by their bishop.

    “Those who lie to Church leaders forget or ignore an important rule and truth the Lord has set down: that when he has called men to high places in his kingdom and has placed on them the mantle of authority, a lie to them is tantamount to a lie to the Lord.” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 183.)

    Thus when a member who has previously confessed and resolved a problem goes for a temple recommend interview with a new bishop, there is a dual responsibility. The member should be honest with the bishop, and the bishop will not reopen matters that have been appropriately closed.

    Presiding Bishop