Saturday, December 26, 2009

My late Christmas letter...

Over the course of the last week, I’ve managed to catch a cold and many of the things I was intending to do for Christmas have gone by the wayside as I’ve fought off the stupor of Nyquil-induced sleep and coughed so much and so hard that long unused muscles now ache in complaint. This forced inactivity did give me time to reflect on Christmas and even though I’m a day late, I do want to share some of these thoughts with you.

I’ve been thinking lately about our beloved scripture stories and how they, and all scripture, have a dual meaning. One way to look at them is literal, and another is figurative. Looking at them literally it is easier to be entertained by the story but I think that only hints at the potential we can learn. When we look at them figuratively, we can place ourselves in each of the roles in the story and learn a great deal about our beliefs and actions and if they are congruent with each other.

Perhaps most beloved is the story of the first Christmas. As written in the 2nd chapter of Luke, it is engraved on each of our hearts. We know well the opening words, “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.” Caesar was a very powerful man, perhaps the powerful of his time. He could command armies on a whim and cause masses of people to move in a return to their ancestral homelands to be counted and taxed as a measure of his power. Our influence probably doesn’t extend quite that far though I would bet there are many things over which we each exert our will. And that’s okay… this lot was given to man when God commanded Adam to subdue the earth and granted him dominion over the other animals. God gave us this stewardship but also commanded that we bend our wills to match His.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)” In Joseph we find an example of a kind and tender man who agreed to raise a child not his own by going forward in marriage to an already pregnant young woman. He faithfully plays a quiet background role. In him, we glimpse into the heart of men who we might call unsung heroes who do their best to live an acceptable life and give meaningful service to those they love but do not seek the notice and praise of the world.

To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.” And we have the exemplary Mary… a willing instrument in the hands of God. Even while the inexplicable swirled around her, she calmly served while keeping “all these things, and pondered them in her heart”. You have to imagine her fellow villagers counting off the months and clicking their tongues in disapproval. People are not that much different now than those living in her time. Her role was not an easy one. Do we, like Mary, serve and nurture through all tests? Do we do all we are asked even without fully understanding God’s purposes? Do we stand undeterred by the criticisms of our peers?

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 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.” The role of the innkeeper is, I think, one of the most derided and misunderstood of all. Most of assume money is at the heart of Mary and Joseph being turned away. I think it was because Mary was so very pregnant and none of the innkeepers wanted the responsibility of a strange child born in their home. I think it is by design that Christ was born outside of any one man’s home so that He could belong to all of us, but I also find it symbolic that He was rejected and despised here as well as later in His life and in so many hearts now.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy; which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” Here we find simple shepherds greeted by heavenly messengers. The unenlightened brought suddenly into the presence of those who knew with all faculty the central importance of the coming of Christ and rejoiced with all their might. There are so many parallels you could draw from this meeting of shepherds and angels… gaining a testimony of Christ, the endowment, or the joyful meeting with the past generations of our family when they rejoice over us finally being able to see the purpose of our life with perfect clarity.

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which has come to pass, which the Lord has made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told unto them concerning this child.” They acted promptly on the invitation to go and see Him. And they did more than just go… do we, with the shepherds, readily spread the good news with glad hearts?

The central figure in the story, of course, is our Lord and Savior, even Jesus Christ. Are we following the invitation in the scriptures and repeated by modern prophets to turn to Him? To come to really, truly, deeply know Him? To become like Him?

This is my goal and challenge for the new year… to learn of Christ, to speak of Christ, to be more Christlike. I hope you’ll join me on this quest.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

If it only snowed on the grass

Been snowing here in Salt Lake nearly all day. Snowing, I guess, is an overstatement because in all that time we've only managed to accumulate a little more than an inch. And it's more wet slushy glop than real snow. From what I can see (and imagine) I'd bet the mountains are getting pounded. Should make lots of people very happy... those with asthma and such will be thrilled that the storm cleared out the inversion, skiers will be happy with the new snow at the resorts, it's end of month and the ticket quotas are coming due so the cops will be happy with the extra accidents as will the doctors and mechanics from all the extra business that brings in as people need their ouchies fixed. Me? I could live without the slippery gloppy streets and sidewalks... my butt isn't nearly as happy about suddenly meeting up with the ground now as it was when I was 12! Yes, the world would be perfect if it only snowed on the grass!!

Besides it seems like even a single snowflake throws the Utah recessive idiot gene into full gear and people get downright stupid. It's like, "Wow... the whole street is a sheet of black ice. Let's drive extra fast this morning!" Or, "See that car in the far left lane? How about we swerve right into it? 'Cuz you know how I love the crunch of a good crash!" I've marveled at this phenomenon for years. Take a person who seems perfectly normal one day, throw in one tiny little snowflake, and, suddenly he's a dribbling idiot. Kinda fun to watch as long as you can manage to stay out of their way...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Symbolism and the Sacrament

Just found the following in an introduction to a book named "Symbols & Shadows" by Donald W. Parry and Jay A. Parry. Also added, in italics, are some of my own thoughts and observations. The is food for thought...

"Once as I sat pondering during the sacrament, my eyes on the sacrament table, I suddenly realized that I was looking at a shroud! Under that white linen covering, used in some cultures to cover the remains of the dead, were placed the emblems, or symbols, of the body and blood of Christ. As I thought further about it, my understanding rapidly deepened, as I saw the table as an altar of sacrifice—both His and ours—and the hands that gently broke the bread of sacrifice and served the water of sacrifice as representing other hands—both His and ours.” I've had a similar thought over the years and sometimes found myself wondering if the young men breaking the bread and blessing it and the water truly appreciated that they were tending to the body of Christ. I guess that wonder should also extend to those of us partaking of the bread and water... We hear every week that they are symbols of the body and blood of Christ, but how often do we consider the meaning of literally taking Christ inside ourselves? Of making Him a part of our being? Then again, I really can't wonder for all of the congregation... I can only wonder what it means for, and to, me. And then I must act on it.

"Of all the ordinances, the sacrament has the most obvious symbolism of the atonement. When Jesus introduced the sacrament to his apostles at the Last Supper, he said regarding the bread, “Take, eat; this is in remembrance of my body which I give a ransom for you.” And regarding the wine, he said, “This is in remembrance of my blood of the new testament, which is shed for as many as shall believe on my name, for the remission of their sins” (JST Matt. 26:22, 24).

When he visited the Nephites, he said after providing the sacrament to them, “He that eateth this bread eateth of my body to his soul; and he that drinketh of this wine drinketh of my blood to his soul; and his soul shall never hunger nor thirst, but shall be filled” (3 Ne. 20:8).

The emblems (the word emblem means “symbol”) of the sacrament point clearly and directly to the atoning sacrifice of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross. As we partake, we have the remarkable opportunity of taking into ourselves symbolic food and drink that represent the very atonement of Jesus Christ—­and by taking it into ourselves, we signify that we make that atonement part of us."

What does that mean to "make the atonement part of us?" I think we could write volumes and never touch on all the ways that the atonement can, and should, touch our lives, our actions, our thoughts, our beings... We learn in our relgious schooling, and careful observation proves, that all things testify of Christ. ALL THINGS. Notice the details around you and see if you can find the patterns that make up types and shadows of Him.