As we end of our Book of Mormon study with Christmas, and the advent of Christ’s birth, we are reminded of the center of all things prophesied and written in the Gospel.
As Nephi noted early on regarding the purpose and focus of these sacred texts:
“We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” (2 Nephi 25:26).
The Long Wait is Over
Christ’s Nativity was the single most anticipated event since the foundation of the world. For millenia prophets inspired of God had spoken and written of this event upon which all creation would pivot.
Although written in a land far distant from Bethlehem, the Book of Mormon bears powerful testimony of this event and the many prophesies leading up to it. Indeed, reading less than a dozen chapters into The Book of Mormon, we know that the time given concerning Christ’s birth was provided six centuries before his coming. We know that Nephi saw, in vision, the Virgin mother bearing the Christ child in her arms.
Nephi’s brother Jacob explained these prophesies further:
“For, for this intent have we written these things, that they may know that we knew of Christ, and we had a hope of his glory many hundred years before his coming; and not only we ourselves had a hope of his glory, but also all the holy prophets which were before us.” (Jacob 4:4)
What was it these faithful men and women anticipated with such fervor and hope? What did they see as they looked to that great day?
For many it was the prospect of deliverance.
For any who have felt the crushing weight of sin and the world’s pull, for all who have grieved sorely at the severing of physical connection that follows the death of a loved one, the promise of a Messiah who would overcome such sorrows and wipe away the tears of His people was their supreme hope in life.
For the believers in this land, at the time of His coming, this promise of deliverance was particularly poignant. Indeed, their very lives hung in the balance based upon whether the prophesied sign would appear on time.
We know the prophet Nephi spent that day on his knees pleading with our Heavenly Father on behalf of his people who were condemned.
One can almost hear the prayer of a young child at the time asking if would be alright for God to send His Son on that particular night so that they might live to see the light of another day.
One can imagine then the voices of overjoyed parents running to awake their children as the night set in, yet the son’s light rose in place of the setting sun, a miracle of miracles, confirming that the long wait was finally over confirming the promise made by Isaiah.
“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)
A God of Wonderful Surprises
As a kid I remember finding it ever so difficult to fall asleep on Christmas Eve. There was so much excitement, so much magic in the air and that wonderful light of the tree glowing through the night. The expectations and hopes of what Christmas day might bring, stirred the imagination to the point where it was all we could do to patiently wait until 5 a.m. to pull our parents out of bed and begin the festivities.
I remember one Christmas in particular around age 9 where what I wanted most in the world was a rare baseball rookie card for my collection.
There were many wonderful gifts, but it wasn’t one of them. Then at the very end of the morning’s celebration my parents handed me this huge wrapped box that seemed bigger than I was.
I wondered, a sleigh perhaps, for what else would you need such a large box to hold. Curious, I unwrapped and opened it only to find another wrapped box inside it, smaller than the first. I think I went through six or seven boxes each smaller than the last til I at last pulled out a small, card size box and opening it let out a whoop and holler and probably danced a small jig as I found what I had been hoping for all along.
My parents, I’m sure had a lot of fun putting that surprise together and seeing the reaction on my face, I hope made it worth the effort.
While I treasured that gift immensely, in the ensuing years I’ve grown out of baseball cards and the things I long for most are no longer things.
Still I’ve come to see that in all each of these childhood Christmas memories we experienced a small type of that centuries long wait for the Messiah’s promised arrival.
Our young yearnings and imaginings about the possibilities of Christmas morning’s gifts, would in time become the deeper understanding of those gifts that surpass all understanding.
In the light of the tree, we would be learn to see the true light that shineth in the darkness and which can never be darkened and remember the Lord of Light with whose coming light filled all the earth.
Finding ourselves wonderfully surprised, and our parents terribly pleased, as we unwrapped a particular package, we would learn of how dearly our Heavenly parents long to bless and surprise us with their love.
I believe God loves to surprise us. He delights in that moment when we come to realize how much His love for us surpasses our every expectation.
As Paul wrote:
“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)
And the Savior himself testified of the surprises in store through the restoration:
“And when that day shall come, it shall come to pass that kings shall shut their mouths; for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider. For in that day, for my sake shall the Father work a work which shall be a great and a marvelous work among them;” (3 Nephi 21:8)
He loves when we feel how deeply and profoundly His grace can reach to lift our hearts and overcome our weaknesses in ways we could never hope to have deserved.
He loves to give gifts that bring joy to our every sense and through which we can bless the world.
Indeed, in the final chapter of the Book of Mormon, Moroni spends a good portion of these last words expounding on a number of these spiritual gifts through which the world is blessed and brightened. Wisdom, knowledge, healing, connection, understanding, miracles, prophesies, revelations, faith, hope and Christ’s pure love: charity.
God loves to see us partake, learn, study, grow and expand our souls through the wondrous gifts he provides. For every one of these are gifts that come by the Spirit of Christ and His grace.
So like the nested boxes of my childhood, we find that every wonderful thing in this Gospel: every law, every commandment, covenant, doctrine, blessing, ordinance, sealing and promise ultimately lead us to the center, that great gift that is God’s own son.
God Is Not Surprised
While God loves to surprise us with joy, love, hope and salvation, He himself is not surprised.
He knows the end from the beginning, the calamities and difficulties we face leading up the Christ’s second coming have been prophesied of for as long as those promises leading up to His Birth.
So while we, like the disciples in the wave tossed ship, may be taken aback by some of the opposition and challenges we encounter, Christ is not worried about us or His work as His voice still holds sway over the storms of the eternities.
Interestingly, as the Lord approached the disciples “toiling in rowing”
during at the fourth watch of the night, the first thing He said wasn’t a comment about their progress or a warning concerning imminent danger.
It was simply “Be of Good Cheer: it is I; be not afraid.” (Mark 6:48-50)
As we celebrate the Lord’s birth at the end of a year of much toil, may we find the faith to Be of Good Cheer, trusting ever in Him for whom we waited so long and who now stands by guiding and leading our lives, His church and His work upon the earth.
Christmas bonus: Some decades ago as a missionary, I felt moved to pen these words about the way God’s love infuses and connects The Book of Mormon, the Savior’s mission, the restoration and the sealing of families and to put them to music. We felt inspired to share this at the end of our study of this wonderful book of scripture and we hope the spirit is felt in the message.
The Heart of God
Looking back cross sun-sped hills
In the memory of his fathers
Cross a land which God had blessed above them all
Held clutched tight with war-worn hands
Is a record of his people
That would bring all men to Christ who’d heed its call
He writes, soon I go down to my rest
In the paradise above
Having hope in my redeemer Christ
I’m encircled in His love
As he lay those plates into the earth
An ensign was unfurled
That the God of Heaven and Earth still loves this world
Men of Galilee they stand
Stare wondering into heaven
As redemption’s light on joyful wing ascends
And the son restored to Father’s arms
An embrace that moves creation
Of a love that all transforms and all transcends
Kneeling, pleading in most humble prayer
There a young boy seeks his God
When pure light surrounds enwraps the lad
Stand two beings glory shod
And the Father reaching over
Puts his arms around His son
Saying, This is My Beloved, be ye one.
In a mountain finely hewn
By mortal hands in homage
As a House of Holiness to the Most High
Generations there eternal bound
The turning of the hearts of men
The children to their parents to each child
For I know the heart of God is love
This the truth that shapes them all
In vermillion beads that love ran down
To save us from our fall
And the Father’s arms stretched mercy wide
Encircling we who roam
That as wanderers from all nations
Brought to feast upon salvation
For I know God’s love will bring His children home