Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Favorite Christmas Stories

The Man Who Missed Christmas
by J. Edgar Park

It was Christmas Eve, and as usual, George Mason was the last to leave the office. He walked over to a massive safe, spun the dials, and swung the heavy door open. Making sure the door would not close behind him, he stepped inside.

A square of white cardboard was taped just above the topmost row of strongboxes. On the card a few words were written. George Mason stared at those words, remembering…

Exactly one year ago he had entered this self-same vault. And then, behind his back, slowly, noiselessly, the ponderous door swung shut. He was trapped–entombed in the sudden and terrifying dark.

He hurled himself at the unyielding door, his hoarse cry sounding like an explosion. Through his mind flashed all the stories he had heard of men found suffocated in time vaults. No time clock controlled this mechanism; the safe would remain locked until it was opened from the outside. Tomorrow morning.

Then realization hit him. No one would come tomorrow–tomorrow was Christmas.

Once more he flung himself at the door, shouting wildly, until he sank on his knees exhausted. Silence came, high-pitched, singing silence that seemed deafening. More than thirty-six hours in a steel box three feet wide, eight feet long, and seven feet high. Would the oxygen last? Panting and breathing heavily, he felt his way around the floor. Then, in the far right-hand corner, just above the floor, he found a small, circular opening. Quickly he thrust his finger into it and felt a faint but unmistakable, cool current of air.

The tension release was so sudden that he burst into tears. But at last he sat up. Surely he would not have to stay trapped for the full thirty-six hours. Somebody would miss him. But who? He was unmarried and lived alone. The maid who cleaned his apartment was just a servant; he had always treated her as such. He had been invited to spend Christmas Eve with his brother’s family, but children got on his nerves and expected presents.

A friend had asked him to go to a home for elderly people on Christmas Day and play the piano–George Mason was a good musician. But he had made some excuse or other; he had intended to sit at home, listening to some new recordings he was giving himself.

George Mason dug his nails into the palms of his hands until the pain balanced the misery in his mind. Nobody would come and let him out, nobody, nobody, nobody…

Miserably the whole of Christmas Day went by, and the succeeding night.

On the morning after Christmas the head clerk came into the office at the usual time, opened the safe, then went on into his private office.

No one saw George Mason stagger out into the corridor, run to the water cooler, and drink great gulps of water. No one paid any attention to him as he left and took a taxi home.

Then he shaved, changed his wrinkled clothes, ate breakfast, and returned to his office where his employees greeted him casually.

That day he met several acquaintances and talked to his own brother. Grimly, the truth closed in on George Mason. He had vanished from human society during the great festival of brotherhood and no one had missed him at all.

Reluctantly, George Mason began to think about the true meaning of Christmas. Was it possible that he had been blind all these years with selfishness, indifference, and pride? Was not giving, after all, the essence of Christmas because it marked the time God gave His Son to the world?

All through the year that followed, with little hesitant deeds of kindness, with small, unnoticed acts of unselfishness, George Mason tried to prepare himself..

Now, once more, it was Christmas Eve.

Slowly he backed out of the safe and closed it. He touched its grim, steel face lightly, almost affectionately, and left the office.

There he goes now in his black overcoat and hat, the same George Mason as a year ago. Or is it? He walks a few blocks, and then flags a taxi, anxious not to be late. His nephews are expecting him to help them trim the tree. Afterwards, he is taking his brother and his sister-in-law to a Christmas play. Why is he so happy? Why does this jostling against others, laden as he is with bundles, exhilarate and delight him?

Perhaps the card has something to do with it, the card he taped inside his office safe last New Year’s Day. On the card is written, in George Mason’s own hand:

“To love people, to be indispensable somewhere, that is the purpose of life. That is the secret of happiness.”

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Ultimate Gifts

     The ultimate gift-giver is our Savior, Jesus Christ. If you were to reflect on your life, you would realize that the majority of your most important gifts have come from the Lord. Or, if you cannot see how the Lord has blessed you, you can pray for the spiritual eyes to comprehend His hand in your life. The miraculous thing to me is that the Savior's gifts most essential to our salvation apply to each and every one of us.

     The gifts that I found to be most meaningful include the following:

1. The Gift of a Mortal Body and World
     The Apostle Russell M. Nelson said,
I testify that the earth and all life upon it are of divine origin. The Creation did not happen by chance. It did not come ex nihilo (out of nothing). And human minds and hands able to build buildings or create computers are not accidental. It is God who made us and not we ourselves. We are His people!    The Creation itself testifies of a Creator. We cannot disregard the divine in the Creation. Without our grateful awareness of God’s hand in the Creation, we would be just as oblivious to our provider as are goldfish swimming in a bowl. With deep gratitude, we echo the words of the Psalmist, who said, “O Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches.”1

2. The Gift of Power over Death
     Church Apostle Dallin H. Oaks stated,
The possibility that a mortal who has died will be brought forth and live again in a resurrected body has awakened hope and stirred controversy through much of recorded history. Relying on clear scriptural teachings, Latter-day Saints join in affirming that Christ has “broken the bands of death” (Mosiah 16:7) and that “death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54; see also Morm. 7:5). Because we believe the Bible and Book of Mormon descriptions of the literal Resurrection of Jesus Christ, we also readily accept the numerous scriptural teachings that a similar resurrection will come to all mortals who have ever lived upon this earth.2 As Jesus taught, “Because I live, ye shall live also” (John 14:19).3 
 3. The Gift of Power over Sin
     Perhaps the most touching gift the Savior has given us is the gift of His Atonement. Through that prayer in Gethsemane, Jesus was able to understand, experience, and suffer all of our afflictions. Our wrongs, our pains, sicknesses, and worries. He understood what was required and deliberately chose to see it through. Because of His sacrifice, He can literally empathize with each individual person; and He became infinitely qualified to act as our advocate with the Father. After we have given all that we can, and have repented of our sins, it is still not enough. We must rely on the Savior's mercy and love to redeem ourselves. He will fill in all the gaps that we cannot! If we come unto Him and do our part, He has promised us that He will do His.

4. The Gift of Scripture, Revelation, and Prophets
     These gifts are to promote our return to a loving Heavenly Father. In His love for us, Jesus has provided a way for us to receive instruction from heaven. We have a record of God's laws for His children in the time before Christ and during his mortality in the scriptures. And now, through the restored gospel, we have a prophet and apostles with the proper authority to speak with and on behalf of the Lord once again. In addition to spiritual direction, within scripture and prophecies are also things we can do in this life to bring us happiness.

     Then, we have all of the personalized gifts that we can recognize in our own lives. These are the ones that have been tailor-fit to our own circumstances and needs. I have had so many of these through the years that it is hard to comprehend Jesus Christ's love for my family and me. Most recently, we have been given the gift of life, health and recovery for my dear mother.

     Several weeks ago, my parents went down to help with funeral arrangements for my Grandmother's death. While there, on Thanksgiving morning, my Mom (in her early 50's) had a paralyzing stroke. She was in the Neuro-ICU for over a week, and we weren't sure if she would survive- or if she did, to what extent she would recover. For a number of weeks, things were slow and uncertain. She received priesthood blessings from my father and others in the church for quick recovery and healing. Against many odds, a month later, Mom is regaining nearly all that has been lost! Though still with limited motion, she can move her left side, which had been still for weeks. She has even started to feel tinglings in her limbs as well. Her mind is strong, and her faith is pure. She was able to be home for Christmas- which we acknowledge as no small miracle. Many may say that she is just one of the lucky ones who recovers quickly, but since we are blessed with the gospel we can see her situation for what it truly is: a God-given miracle. (I am sure I will revisit this event in future posts.)

     I would encourage you to take a few moments to ponder what the Lord has given to you. Once you take the time to consider it, you will come up with more things than you could have imagined. And, if you are like me, you will be able to see more clearly where our gifts are coming from- and that more often than not, they are from Christ.

Published by Jen
1. Nelson, Russell M.. "The Creation". The Ensign. May 2000.
2. 1 Cor. 15:22; 2 Ne. 9:22; Hel. 14:17; Morm. 9:13; D&C 29:26; D&C 76:39, 42–44
3. Oaks, Dallin H.. "Resurrection". The Ensign. May 2000.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Good Tidings of Great Joy!

Read of the "good tidings of great joy", the reason for the season, and cause which brought "joy to the world" in the New Testament,(Luke 2:1-20Matthew 2:1-2; 7-11).

 1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.
  3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
  4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
  5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
  6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
  7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn...

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Book of Mormon Prophecies of Christ

How the Book of Mormon prophecies of Christ changed my life
By Guest Blogger: Walter Lenel

I grew up without much in the way of Christian teachings.  I was not impressed with the conduct of many people I knew who professed Christianity and went to church regularly.  In my view, there was no strong reason to believe in God, so by the time I was into my teens, I was confident that agnosticism or atheism were the appropriate choices for a person of integrity and intellectual honesty.  Organized religion was a complete turn-off.

I knew that the Bible prophesied of Christ and testified of His earthly ministry in the Old World, but because of my negative feelings about religion, I did not allow it to influence me or touch my heart.  When I began to investigate the teachings of Mormonism as a teenager, however, my heart began to soften and my mind started to open.  I really wanted to know not only whether He lived on the earth and did the things the scriptures said He did, but whether He was alive now.

In addition to really reading the Bible for the first time, I began to study the Book of Mormon in earnest.  I was absolutely amazed at how often this book talked about Jesus Christ and His teachings, and at how it spoke of Him.

One of the most powerful things to me about the Book of Mormon is the absolute clarity and surety with which it prophesies of Jesus Christ, before His coming.  From Nephi, the first prophet to write in the book, to another Nephi who lived centuries later, the message about Christ is unmistakable: He would be the literal Son of God; be born of Mary in Bethlehem; set a sinless example of love, service, and righteousness; and perform the Atonement which allows all people to be resurrected (without condition) and saved (if they choose) through His power.

In the very first book, 1 Nephi, the prophet Nephi testifies, “And behold he cometh, according to the words of the angel, in six hundred years from the time my father left Jerusalem.”  (1 Nephi 19:8)  Later Nephi was shown a vision that included Jesus being born of Mary, healing the sick, being judged and crucified. (1 Nephi 11:31-33

In one of the most amazing sermons ever recorded, the prophet and king named Benjamin prophesied of Christ also.  He spoke of His name and His mother’s name, His works of love and miracles, the nature of His incomprehensible physical and spiritual suffering to atone for our sins, His resurrection, etc.  See Mosiah 3: 5-11.

As the birth of the Savior drew much closer, other prophecies of Christ were recorded in the Book of Mormon—one was only 5 years before His birth (and the prophet specified that – see Helaman 14:2-8), and the other was the day before His birth (3 Nephi 1:13)!

The great detail and specificity, and therefore the great power in these recorded prophecies, have always impressed me deeply.  As I have pondered these things, along with the testimony of biblical prophets, it has been obvious to me that either Jesus Christ and His atonement (and the scriptures which testify of Him) are either an elaborate fairy tale and hoax, or else they are the truth.  I knew I could not depend just on logic, reason, or other people in making up my mind.  I would need for God to tell me personally, through his Spirit.  Then it wouldn’t matter what anyone else said or thought, or what happened to me.

I am more grateful than I can express that I have asked for and received the spiritual witness that the scriptures are true.  Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.  He lived on the earth and wrought the Atonement.  He lives now, and loves me and all of us unconditionally.  It is worth every effort to draw close to Him.  This knowledge has brought indescribable peace and joy into my life, and continues to inspire me to never give up trying to follow Christ’s perfect example.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Old Testament Prophecies of Christ

Guest Blogger Melanie shares insights on Christ through Old Testament prophecies.

If you look for the name “Jesus Christ” in the Old Testament, you will not find it.  He is called by many other names, The Good Shepherd, the King of Glory, Jehovah, the Messiah to name a few. But by whatever name, Jesus is the center of the Old Testament.  Indeed, the purpose of the Old Testament was to prophesy of Christ:  to teach of Him and His mission; to prophesy of His coming, to prepare the people for Him.  And yet for the most part, the people missed this.  There are literally dozens of prophecies declaring the coming of the Messiah, and Jesus fulfilled them all.  Some of them were fulfilled very publicly, others very quietly.
The prophet Amos said, “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” (Amos 3:7)  So Prophets have always taught that Jesus would come, that He would deliver His people.

Jeremiah foretold His lineage, that he would be of David’s line. (Jeremiah 23:5)  The scriptures tell us both Mary and Joseph were of the lineage of David.

Isaiah told the people of the Old Testament that a virgin would conceive and bear a son. (Isaiah 7:14)
Micah prophesied that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem, a small village of no importance in the Jewish society of Jesus’s time.  (Micah 5:2)  Hosea prophesied that the Messiah would be called out of Egypt.   (Hosea11:1)  This might have sounded like the Prophets didn’t agree,  but Luke tells us of his birth in a stable in Bethlehem, the City of David. And Matthew tells of Herod’s evil decree that all boy children should be killed and Joseph taking his little family to Egypt for safety.

The Prophets didn’t stop at Jesus’s birth.  They talked of His ministry: that it would begin in Galilee (Isaiah 9:1-2), that he would teach in parables (Psalms 78:2), that it would be marked by miracles (Isaiah 35: 5 – 6.) They talked of his crucifixion:  that He would be sold for 30 pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12), be betrayed by His friend (Psalms 41:9), deserted by his associates (Zechariah 13:7), have His hands and feet pierced (Psalms22:16).  They talked of His resurrection:  that he would rise from death (Psalms 2:7), and of His mission: that He was wounded for our transgressions (Isaiah 53:5) and that He made it possible for all the dead to rise (Daniel 12:2).

We are preparing to celebrate Christmas.  We have two ways to approach this.  We can celebrate like the world does, which if you watch TV apparently means buying expensive cars with big red bows and going to parties.  Or we can focus on Jesus Christ.

I hope we all recognize our Savior.  I hope we celebrate not just the Baby, but the life and ministry and sacrifice of the Man.  I hope we all worry less about the world and more about the Savior of the World. Each day, we have the opportunity to celebrate His divinity.  He will come again; the prophets have been telling us that for thousands of years.  It is our responsibility and privilege to seek diligently with pure hearts in order to recognize the signs, in order to know our Savior.  He came, He atoned for our sins, He died and rose from the dead, and He will come again.  May we all be ready to welcome Him. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Favorite Christmas Stories

Pattern of Love
By Jack Smith

I didn’t question Timmy, age nine, or his seven-year old brother Billy about the brown wrapping paper they passed back and forth between them as we visited each store.

Every year at Christmas time, our Service Club takes the children from poor families in our town on a personally conducted shopping store. I was assigned Timmy and Billy, whose father was out of work. After giving them the allotted $4 each, we began our trip. At different stores I mad suggestions, but always their answer was a solemn shake of the head, no. Finally, I asked, “Where would you suggest we look?”

“Could we go to a shoe store, Sir?” answered Timmy. “We’d like a pair of shoes for our Daddy so he can go to work.”

In the shoe store the clerk asked what the boys wanted. Out came the brown paper. “We want a pair of work shoes to fit this foot,” they said.

Billy explained that it was a pattern of their Daddy’s foot. They had drawn it while he was asleep in a chair.

The clerk held the paper against a measuring stick, then walked away. Soon he came with an open box. “Will these do?” he asked.

Timmy and Billy handled the shoes with great eagerness. “How much do they cost?” said Billy.

Then Timmy saw the price on the box. They’re $16.95,” he said in dismay, “We only have $8.”

I looked at the clerk and he cleared his throat. “That’s the regular price,” he said, “but they’re on sale; $3.98 today only.”

Then with shoes happily in hand the boys bought gifts for their mother and two little sisters. Not once did they think of themselves.

The day after Christmas the boy’s father stopped me on the street. The new shoes were on his feet, gratitude was in his eyes. “I just thank Jesus for people who care,” he said.

“And I thank Jesus for your two sons,” I replied. “They taught me more about Christmas in one evening than I had learned in a lifetime.”