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Since I was a child, on Christmas Eve, I yearned to be in that very stable in Bethlehem and see the Christ-child lying in a manger. I just wanted to be close to that glowing presence and feel the heavenly love and hear the angel chorus. It was a yearning that was soul deep, undeniable, breath-taking and heart-felt, and it seemed that somewhere, some how that event was happening again on that magic night, if I could just go to Bethlehem, and defy time and find the right place. That was the magic of it all. I could talk to the baby, the Christ-child and He would look at me with knowing, smiling eyes and heart would be satisfied. It was more compelling to me than what Santa Claus would bring me or all the lights and festivities of Christmas. I am not alone in that yearning.
Welcome to Meridian Magazine’s Come Follow Me podcast. We’re Scot and Maurine Proctor and this is the last lesson of the Doctrine and Covenants year, focusing on Christmas and the living Christ. Thank you for being with us this year and for telling your friends about our podcast. We’ll start on our Old Testament studies next week. As we are now only a few days until Christmas, we are offering you a great deal on two Christmas presents that your family and friends will want to have. It’s 50% off the original price as we are closing out our inventory. The first is the Old Testament Come Follow Me wall calendar for 2022, which features my photography from the Holy Land about the Old Testament which I have chosen from tens of thousands of photos. We have spent a life time catching the right light play in Israel as we’ve shot holy places. That’s why the calendar is like having a piece of art on your wall that will immerse you in the Old Testament as you study this year, and, of course, has all the Come Follow Me reading assignments week by week. Find this at latterdaysaintmag.com/2022. That’s latterdaysaintmag.com/2022.
Our other product that we’re offering at 50% off is the Kirtland Diary for Thoughts and Personal Revelation. This is a week by week, bound on rings, that allows you daily entry space to write about something for which you are grateful, a thought you’ve had while studying the scriptures, or how you’ve seen the Lord’s hand in your life that day. Get one for yourself, but also think about getting one for your children and grandchildren whom you want to encourage in their spirituality. It’s bound to be a treasure. In the diary are intimate photos of the Kirtland era, so you are writing your thoughts surrounded by stunning photography. The Kirtland Diary can be found at latterdaysaintmag.com/Kirtland. That’s latterdaysaintmag.com/Kirtland. This price is unprecedented from us.
I mentioned that as a child I yearned for the Lord. It was the beginning of a divine homesickness that I’ve felt most of my life. A longing for Someone I knew and who knew me. A longing for the source of my being. A longing for the light that was somehow just out of reach, like I was on the wrong side of a door that opened into my true life.
Israel had spent millennia also longing for the Lord. They rejoiced when Isaiah wrote, as if had already happened, “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 (Isaiah 9:6).
The Old Testament is stamped with that longing for the Lord, but the Book of Mormon, which was born out of that Old Testament world is even more marked. Nephi is very plain.
“Yea, even six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem, a prophet would the Lord God raise up among the Jews—even a Messiah, or in other words, a Savior of the world” ((1 Nephi 10:4).
In a vision he was shown Mary. Nephi wrote, “And he said unto me: Behold the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh…And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms. And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?” (! Nephi 11: 20,21).
Nephi says, “And 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 26:26).
When Nephi speaks in this scripture he uses the word “we” meaning his people. They talk of Christ and rejoice in Him as if He has already come. That is powerful need and yearning.
[Begin under text, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, instrumental only/]
We, after all, are strangers in this world. We are visitors, come from another home and bound back there, so no wonder we miss the Lord and his birth was enough to make all of heaven rejoice.
You can hear that longing in our Christmas carols.
“O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here.”
We are the captive. We are mourning in lonely exile here. What a powerful concept that life on earth without the Lord is lonely exile.
I also love this line from “O Holy Night”—
“Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Again that line speaks to us, “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.” The world is wearying and wounding and harder than we might have thought. That one, true, everlasting source of home and comfort was born and came and knows and sustains and comforts us.
Human beings, because we are not of this earth, have what some have called a God-shaped hole inside of us that nothing can satisfy or fill or soothe except the Lord, Himself. This is true, even when we don’t recognize it.
Pascal said it this way, “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”
– Blaise Pascal, Pensées VII(425)
St. Augustine said it this way, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
I like C.S. Lewis’s take on this in Mere Christianity. “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
Yet, since for now, we are not in this other world, the Lord was born in Bethlehem to be with us. In Gethsemane, when he gave us the most magnificent gift, the most generous offering, the most selfless suffering, the gift of all gifts in the atonement, He experienced our life with us. We sometimes might think that He took upon Himself our sins, as if those are individual, discrete, specific acts, but it is deeper than that. Since our very existence is one of weakness, vulnerability, fragility, and pain, He took upon Himself our entire being, our entire life, minute by minute. He knows us, every part of us, not just because He is Omniscient alone, but because He experienced our life in every shredding and wounding detail with us.
We have a God who would die to know us—and did.
There was a woman, who found herself with child, alone in the desert heat and blinding sun, as vulnerable, quivering, unloved, marginalized and alone as a woman can be. She was there, in part, from her own folly, for this is Hagar who mocked the barren Sarah, when she, herself, became pregnant. When the tension became too much, she fled alone into the desert, and found she was not alone at all. God was there. An angel of the Lord gave her a message directly for her, promising her a son.
She exclaimed, “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me” (Genesis 16:13 NIV). She gave God a name. El Roi, which means the one who sees me.
Two millennia later, this one who sees you was the babe born, vulnerable, quivering and bloody into this world. He would be marginalized, unloved, disdained and He would perfectly see you and those moments when you feel the same way, just as He did with Hagar.
Why does this matter so much?
Because we hunger to be seen, truly seen, and are wandering without it.
This is in part, the great source of our yearning. We love the One who sees us. In this world we are lost, not just from God, but from ourselves. We cannot remember who we were and who we are. We are in the dark behind enemy lines, picking our way across land mines. But wait, there is the Lord who sees you. To Him the hairs on your head are numbered. He knows who you really are and what you can be. He has a vision of you, that is currently hidden from your sight. He knows your context. He sees how hard you tried, how much you hoped, with what courage you fought the great battles of your life. He knows your circumstances, past, present, and future. He sees your unexpected wounds. He sees the pain you did not mean to inflict upon yourself. He understands your worries and your limitations in a fallen world. He knows and that is why you can utterly trust Him.
Most watchful parents sleep, but the scriptures are clear that God never slumbers.
“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
“My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.
“He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.
“Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalms 121: 1-4).
What power and peace there is to know that you are known, right now with all the swirl of events and emotions around you. You are seen.
Our daughter Julie Ann, who was divorced a year and a half ago and has been feeling both pangs of loneliness and overwork recently wrote this on a Facebook post.
“A change in the Joseph Smith translation of a familiar verse in Luke alters the meaning and instead of ‘no room for them at the inn’ it is ‘there was none to give room for them’ and I have been pondering on it lately.
She said, “Most of my friends know that when I was growing up my mom (and her mother before her) always said ‘where there’s love, there’s room’ usually when we were fighting over space in the car, or on the couch because I have a billion siblings. And it is true. What we love, we create space for…who we love, we create space for. I have thought about it because I don’t have the space in my life that I used to have, even for the things and the people I love. If I was in Bethlehem on that holy night, would I have made space for him?
“What if the innkeepers were not unkind or unfeeling but extremely busy and distracted? What if their children were screaming and fighting, their guests hungry, their chores only half done? What if the knock came at the least opportune time? If I was there, would I have been still enough when I heard the knock on my door to hear the spirit whisper and to respond with love? Would I have created space in my heart and head?
“Am I still enough to hear it now? Do I let the distractions, obligations and burdens of my life dictate how I treat and respond to others? Do I put those things above listening to God and following His promptings?
Julie continued, “But I don’t have a choice! The things I am busy with are necessary for survival. They are not only good things, they are vital. What do I put down when I have stripped my life of the extraneous already the last year and a half?
“It is so easy for me to justify that I do the best I can and continue on in the manner that I am accustomed to. It is familiar. It is known. Even in pain or distress, the familiar has a comfort about it. A certainty that the unknown does not.
As I have reflected on things that matter and things that don’t, for the first time in my life, I am not 100% certain that I would have been one that made space as an innkeeper, and it is a humbling realization. I can now appreciate how it could be that someone was too frazzled and stretched too thin to see and hear and know that they were turning away their Savior.”
She said, “I do not want to turn away my Savior. I am overwhelmed by His love, sacrifice and grace for me. I also realize that when I turn away my fellow men, I am also turning away Him.
I know this season is a hard and lonely one for so many. Loneliness is an overwhelming burden to carry. It is one I am intimately acquainted with. I testify to you that the greatest gift we ever will have is that of The Atonement. You are known. You are seen. He weeps with you. Part of that loneliness is the separation from our Heavenly Father. Life was always going to be painful because we can’t be with him while we are here. That pain is part of mortality but also, temporary.
“I have been praying this season for the peace that the spirit brings and for the joy and hope that only the gospel and plan of salvation bring.
“Merry Christmas to each of you. If I could give you each a hug I would. I am trying to stay still inside. To create space and let Him in.”
I love the tenderness of this entry and her knowledge that only the Lord truly sees her and that is why she must stay still and let Him in, even when it is hard.
The Lord’s life is filled with moments that make it clear that He sees the people around Him. He sees directly into their soul and beyond to their eternal existence. He remembers them. He anticipates them. He knows their inclinations and their tenderness. And it is of great interest to me that it is His personal knowledge of them that opens their eyes to Who He is.
In the first chapter of John, when John the Baptist’s followers are beginning to recognize that Jesus is the Messiah, Philip finds Nathanel and says, “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.
“46 And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.
“47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!
“48 Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.
“49 Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.
Nathanael can see He is the Lord, because the Lord saw Him first.
It is the same with the woman of Samaria described in John 4. To understand this story best, we must see the context. This woman came to the well at noon, and that is not the hour that the women of the village would come to the well. They came first thing in the morning in the cool of the day, and they enjoy each other’s company as they draw the heavy water from the well. That this woman came in the heat of the day at noon tells us volumes about her. She is the marginalized woman, the lonely, forsaken woman, the woman with a past. Her life has failed her and her choices haunt her, and though things have not worked well for her, the Lord sees her perfectly and with sympathy.
She is surprised that he talks to her, as in that world men don’t speak to women and Jews don’t speak to the Samaritans who are a hated and disdained group. Yet, the Lord, breaking all the conventions of his day, asks her for water.
“9 Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.
“10 Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.
Before he will explain what that means, Jesus continues:
“16 …Go, call thy husband, and come hither.
“17 The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband:
“18 For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.
“19 The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet.”
It was when Jesus knew so clearly who she was, that she can perceive who He is. When we see that he sees us, we have new power to see who He is. It’s that personal.
She is given the rare privilege of being the first in the scriptural account of knowing that Jesus is the Messiah and she has new courage, for she leaves her pot behind and runs away to tell all others. Jesus didn’t just know that she had had five husbands, he knew her heartache and he saw something in her that no one in her village had surely seen for He told her who He was.
We love the Lord because He loved us first. We yearn to know the Lord because He is the only one who sees us.
We ran an article on Meridian one Christmas by Kim White called Celebrating a Season of Joy When You’re Miserable https://latterdaysaintmag.com/celebrating-a-season-of-joy-when-youre-miserable/ that moved me.
She wrote: “In December 2012, everything fell apart.
“Our oldest child, who struggled with mental illness, left our home almost immediately after she turned 18, and went to live with a friend’s family claiming, falsely, that she was being abused at home. I had been ill for many weeks and was devastated. We were left trying to help our younger children, who were confused and upset by her departure, try to cope with their own emotions and feelings of loss. My husband, a student at the time, was divided between end-of-semester schoolwork and the upheaval at home, and ended up feeling like he had failed on both fronts. Meanwhile Christmas crept ever closer, and I was too sick and overwhelmed to do anything about it. I would find out I was (unexpectedly) pregnant not long before we received a phone call from our daughter’s school reporting a significant psychological event that required emergency intervention. I ended up, two weeks before Christmas, leaving my beloved firstborn at a psychiatric hospital. We had no presents, no tree, and no emotional energy left to cope with an unexpected and ill-timed pregnancy. We lived far away from any family and faced the prospect of a Christmas day that we would be spending as visitors in a psych hospital.”
Kim continued, “At some point in all this, our ward was having a Christmas party at a ward member’s home. My husband didn’t have the heart for parties, but I decided I needed something fun and celebratory, so I went to the party to lift my spirits. As soon as I walked in, I realized I had made a terrible mistake. The darling decorations, the superb table of Christmas treats, the festive music in the background, the hum of happy voices—they all made me feel like a foreign interloper. These light, fun trappings had no relation to my life. I couldn’t enjoy them. They just made me feel worse.
“I walked over to the table of treats to grab a distraction. But it was too cute; it was such a contrast to the dreary institutional food my child was eating on plastic trays with a soft plastic spoon, it sent me into a flood of tears. So there I was, standing alone at the edge of a room full of happy people, just crying and unable to stop.”
Kim wrote, “It’s worth asking, what is the Christmas spirit, really? We always talk about it as a spirit of festivity and cheer, a feeling of upbeat service and devotion, a time to enjoy family gatherings and think about all we are grateful for.
“But I’m not convinced that’s the real Christmas spirit, so much as a cultural invention. Think about it this way: the first Christmas wasn’t about a joyous gathering. Mary and Joseph were forced to travel at the whim of the Roman political leader who had usurped power over their nation—no exceptions for pregnant women or infants. And although they weren’t alone, and were certainly traveling with other family members who had the same reason for the journey, they were highly-religious Jews about to have a full-term baby far less than nine months into their marriage. They had no wealth or social status to do any better for their baby than to share a stable with beasts of burden. The only people (we know of) who joined them in celebrating the birth of the Savior were strangers to them, unskilled laborers, with no wealth or power to bring anything to the gathering other than their own joy.
Kim said, “In the Americas, the first Christmas was celebrated by a small handful of believers who had been—men, women and children—sentenced to death by their apostate society.
“Early Christians on both continents were persecuted, hunted, and killed. Celebrating the birth of Christ has been, for many of our Christian forebears, a tremendous risk.
“The idea that Christmas ‘should’ be a time of celebration and gathering and gift-giving and carol-singing and lights displays and musical extravaganzas and Broadway shows and parties full of themed treats, is unique to a wealthy, modern Christian culture. It’s not part of our religion. Rejoicing is part of our religion, but having the ‘perfect Christmas’ is not.”
So, Kim said, “As I was standing there by the treats table, tears streaming down my face, trying not to be noticed, a kind voice said, ‘Hey, how are you?’
“I turned around, cringing with embarrassment at my wet, swollen face, to see a friend’s husband, a man I knew as an acquaintance but not much more, standing there—but it happened to also be the man who plays Jesus in the Church’s Bible videos. He was looking at me like it was the most normal thing in the world to be crying at a Christmas party, like: some people drink hot chocolate, some people drink hot cider, some people stand in a corner and cry, some people portray Jesus on TV, it’s all the same. Just having him talk to me, not with concern or embarrassment but in this perfectly natural, casual way, made me suddenly feel like I was ok to be where I was.
“Let me be clear: the good man who plays the Lord as an actor is not actually the Lord (just ask his wife!). But his face in that moment, his willingness to engage me, felt symbolic. It seemed to me that Christ himself, He whose birth we celebrate, was letting me know I was not out of place at Christmas just because I was sad instead of rejoicing, alone instead of gathering. It was like He was telling me, ‘Christmas is for you too.’”
Kim said, “Feeling better after our chat, I joined a group singing Christmas carols. When we got to O Holy Night, the words we were given included a verse I had never heard before. I tried to sing but could not, as those tears filled my eyes once again.
“’The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger,
‘n all our trials born to be our Friend;
He knows our need,
To our weakness is no stranger.’
“The Spirit filled my heart. Christ was born to be my friend in trials! He wasn’t born so we could have cute treats and big shows. He wasn’t born so we could feast together, or fly on airplanes to gather on December 25th, or eat ham, or have big happy perfect families. He was born because we are weak and imperfect and our lives are difficult and messy and we need Him. He was born to comfort us and assure us that all our tears will be dried in the end, not because there’s something wrong with having tears along the way.”
Kim said, “That year, my little family spent December 25th as visitors to a locked psychiatric facility. We brought in some food that ward members had provided because they suspected (correctly) that we didn’t have Christmas dinner. We ate ham and potatoes and green beans off foam plates with flexible spoons. A ward family brought us a tree, and others donated presents to the children. We decided not to open them on Christmas day, but left them untouched until early in January when our daughter returned home to join with us. It was the worst Christmas we ever had.
“But also the best. Because that was the year I learned that Christmas as an event doesn’t matter. The Lord knows a thing or two about difficult days, and is no stranger to our weakness. But He was our Friend that year. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
I am so grateful that we celebrate the Lord who sees us at Christmas time and that we remember His magnificent life on earth, beginning with that humble birth.
We are grateful that the stories of Jesus are not just a memory from another time, but that He is the living Christ. We are grateful for the testimony of the apostles given in this day of The Living Christ.
“We solemnly testify that His life, which is central to all human history, neither began in Bethlehem nor concluded on Calvary. He was the Firstborn of the Father, the Only Begotten Son in the flesh, the Redeemer of the world.
“He rose from the grave to ‘become the firstfruits of them that slept’ (1 Corinthians 15:20). As Risen Lord, He visited among those He had loved in life. He also ministered among His ‘other sheep’ (John 10:16) in ancient America. In the modern world, He and His Father appeared to the boy Joseph Smith, ushering in the long-promised ‘dispensation of the fulness of times’ (Ephesians 1:10).
“Of the Living Christ, the Prophet Joseph wrote: ‘His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun; and his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters, even the voice of Jehovah, saying:
I am the first and the last; I am he who liveth, I am he who was slain; I am your advocate with the Father’ (D&C 110:3–4).
“Of Him the Prophet also declared: ‘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).”
Signed with the 15 strong signatures of the apostles we read:
“We bear testimony, as His duly ordained Apostles—that Jesus is the Living Christ, the immortal Son of God. He is the great King Immanuel, who stands today on the right hand of His Father. He is the light, the life, and the hope of the world. His way is the path that leads to happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come. God be thanked for the matchless gift of His divine Son.”
He lives. He sees each of us stumbling, aging, hopeful souls as something bigger than we can imagine. Because He sees us clearly, He comforts us, soothes our wounds with His heavenly balm. I started this podcast by saying that starting when I was a child, I longed to be in that stable to see that child who was born to us. “Unto us a child is born. Unto us a son is given.” But my yearnings have expanded. I want to be there as a shepherd with a charge to spread the word to every wounded, hurting soul. The Lord is come. He is come for you, with healing in His wings. He is come and will enter right into your messy circumstances to be with you. I have known this love so often in my life. It is the sweetest thing imaginable, beyond our words, beyond language, beyond any Christmas treat we can devise. I so testify in His holy name.
That’s all for today. May you be blessed with the Spirit during this Christmas season and in all the seasons of your life. We send our love and gratitude to every one of you who listen to this podcast. Thanks to Paul Cardall for the music and to Michaela Proctor Hutchins our producer.
See you next week.