Authenticity and hope are essential pieces of Raising Today's Kids. So in this episode I am opening up my heart to share who I am at my core, and where my foundation of hope comes from. It has everything to do with a baby born in a stable over 2,000 years ago. Merry Christmas!
So sometimes I have guests ask me whether they can talk about their faith on my podcast. My answer has always been that I want them to be as authentic as they can be. If faith is part of their story, then absolutely, share it! I figure that listeners with different faith paradigms will take what they need from each episode and leave the rest.
As you know, I also encourage my guests in every episode to share a message of hope. From everything they have shared, I have learned that hope comes from a lot of different angles.
With those two thoughts in mind, authenticity and sources of hope, I wanted to open up to you today and share what is deepest in my heart and the source in my life that is foundational to every ounce of hope I feel.
What sparked this idea was that I was recently asked to share a message about Christmas with my church congregation. I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where members of the congregation are regularly asked to participate in giving sermons during weekly Sacrament Meetings. The hours I spent pondering in preparation for that message have helped me understand myself better and why I feel about Christmas the way I do.
The words I compiled filled a few pages, but their meaning has given me an insight into my own soul. They are a blueprint of hope in my life and my reason for this podcast. I hope they can be a blessing to you as well.
So here we go, My Christmas Perspective.
Shepherds and Mary
When I was a child, every Christmas Eve we celebrated by eating a candlelight dinner of food Mary and Joseph might have eaten. It was my favorite tradition. We had fish, unleavened bread, olives, goat cheese, dates, and more. I was not a fan of seafood, so normally I would not eat fish, but for some reason, on this special occasion, I actually enjoyed it. As an adult, I’ve carried on that tradition with my own family (even though my kids don’t like fish either) because I just love seeing the evening from Mary and Joseph’s perspectives (in a small way!). I have learned that our perspective determines what we see.
This week my family and I were studying Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus in the Bible and pondering what it would have been like to be there that night. I asked everyone to close their eyes and imagine being a shepherd on Judea’s plains as we talked about what they might have experienced.
We imagined that before the angel came, the shepherds might have been lying on the ground staring at the starry sky, smelling the fresh air, listening to the sheep baaing, maybe a fire crackling, possibly crickets chirping. Then long before the sun was supposed to come up, a light began to fill the darkness. Of course they were struck with great fear. I would have been too! But then an angel calmed their fear and shared a message from God saying, “I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” Then the sky that had been dark only a few minutes before, was filled with angels who sang the first Christmas carol, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
The shepherds fear had turned to joy at this incredible news and they ran to follow the star to the stable to see the baby lying in a manger. After they laid eyes on the precious tiny Son of God, wrapped so carefully in swaddling clothes, they spread the good news. They couldn’t help but tell everybody! Then they went back to their sheep, glorifying and praising God; changed by what they had experienced. The events of the first Christmas night came alive for our family as we focused on the perspectives of the shepherds.
As a mother, I also like to try and relate to Mary. I wonder what it was like for her. Here Mary had in her arms the One who had agreed to take upon Him our sins, weaknesses and pains; the One who had partnered with Heavenly Father to create the earth. The One who loves and knows all of us completely had arrived on the very land He had separated from the water, in the form of a tiny baby. He had created the sun, the moon, and even the new star that shone above Him, and now He condescended to be born in an itchy, stinky, dark, yet sacred stable.
As Mary looked in his eyes and kissed each tiny finger and toe, which I’m sure she did, I wonder how much she comprehended. Did she realize what He had already accomplished in Heavenly Father’s plan? Did she realize how infinitely He loved the crowds of taxpayers who had filled the town all around her, including the innkeepers who had no room for her in their inns? Did she realize He had created her body to stretch and make room for His own first earthly home? Did she know how much was going to be asked of her - how she would have to flee as a refugee with her small family to escape the cruel jealousy of the wicked Herod?
She had surely already suffered from hunger, thirst, fatigue, cold, nausea, swollen ankles, hip pain, heartburn, hormones, difficulty breathing from the cramped space in her womb, and all the other trials that come from pregnancy. But my guess is that in that moment, her trials became a distant memory as, lying in the stillness of the stable, holding her infant in her arms, she stared in wonder at his perfect form. By the light of the star, I imagine she had a hard time taking her eyes off Him.
Some sources say there have been over 100 billion babies born throughout the history of the world. Every one of them comes with a unique mission and incredible potential. Every one of them is precious and beautiful. And every one of them has had an impact on the world. But only One has come with power to heal us all, to make us whole, and to bring us back to our Father in Heaven.
When Christmas Changed for Me
Have you ever had a Christmas you were dreading? Maybe you were mourning the loss of a loved one and knew their absence would be keenly felt that year. Maybe an important relationship of yours felt strained. Maybe you were struggling financially and worried that you would have disappointed children on Christmas morning. Maybe you were sick and knew you wouldn’t be able to participate in all the traditions you were usually so excited about. Or maybe you were just overwhelmed by the stress of it and you wanted to pull your hair out because your long list of to-do’s just seemed completely unmanageable.
I once had a Christmas that was really hard for me. Every day closer to December 25th was a reminder of a deep sadness I was carrying. But God is always ready to bless us. Christmas happened to be on a Sunday that year, and sitting in church was where my miracle happened. Before partaking of the Sacrament we sang the hymn Reverently and Meekly Now, which is one of my favorite hymns because it’s written from the perspective of the Savior so it’s like you see things through His eyes. In verse three there is a line where Christ says, “Cast upon me all thy care.” He is asking us to give Him our pain and sorrow. In that moment it hit me that the painful burden I was carrying (something I would never choose and would gladly get rid of!) was something He wanted to take from me and feel Himself. And that is what I celebrate on Christmas Day. That was the year I learned that Christmas is the answer to our sorrows! Christmas is what heals us! What a blessing. What love.
Symbols of Christmas
The Christmas season is filled with reminders of that love IF I’m looking at it from a Christ-centered perspective.
If I’m focused on how stressed out I am at Christmastime, then I’ll see long lines, lots of traffic, and a never-ending to do list. But if I’m focused on the Savior at Christmas I see reminders of Him everywhere I look.
I can see Him every time I look at a Christmas tree, which represents eternal life, since they always stay green, even in the dead of winter. Also, they point toward heaven.
I can see Him as I admire poinsettias, which also thrive during winter, symbolizing new life. Their shape resembles a star – which reminds us of the new star, and their red color reminds us of the blood Christ spilt for us.
The circle of the wreath symbolizes Jesus’s never-ending love.
Candy canes represent the shepherds crook. Shepherds use their crooks to bring sheep back into the fold, just as Jesus Christ brings us back. The peppermint represents the regal gift of spice the wise men offered, and peppermint is also known for its healing properties. The white of the candy cane represents Jesus’s purity and the red reminds us of His sacrifice.
Christmas lights represent the new star which guided the shepherds and the wise men to Jesus. They also remind us that Jesus Christ is the light of the world, and that we can follow Him by being a light to others and helping others come unto Christ.
Santa Claus – a humble servant of Jesus Christ, gives gifts to remind us of the gifts of the wise men, but most of all, his gifts, and the gifts we all give each other, remind us of the greatest gift of God’s only Begotten Son.
Christmas carols remind us of the choir of angels singing to the shepherds, calling out peace on earth good will to men. Bells remind us of the bell a shepherd would ring to find lost sheep, guiding them to return to the fold.
Four Gifts of Christ
All these Christmas symbols make this a beautiful, magical time of year, when the world around us seems completely overcome by reminders of Jesus Christ if we let it. That is exactly how it should be, because nothing matters more.
So what was Jesus’s perspective when He chose to come to earth and complete the divine mission He had volunteered for? A cherished religious leader of mine, Russell M. Nelson, taught that Jesus came to give us four gifts: an unlimited capacity to love, the ability to forgive, repentance with its resultant joy, and a promise of life with our families and with God forever.
So how do we receive those gifts? Again, it comes back to our focus.
What do you want for Christmas?
Just like what we see depends on what we’re looking for, what we receive often depends on what we ask for. Have you ever asked for something for Christmas, and then received it? It may have always been available, but if you hadn’t asked for it, you might not have received it.
To receive the gifts Jesus Christ sacrificed to give us, we must choose them. They are available to all of us. Again, Russell M. Nelson said that to “receive these gifts, offered to us so willingly by Jesus Christ [unlimited capacity to love, the ability to forgive, the joy of repentance, and a promise of life with our families and with God forever]...The key is to make and keep sacred covenants....”
Making covenants with Him starts by committing to follow Him – by choosing to walk with Him and do what He would do.
So to truly celebrate Christmas, I must truly be a Christian – in name, in word, and in deed. I can start by following the example of the shepherds, by bearing witness of Jesus Christ. They spread the news of His birth and glorified and praised God. By welcoming Him they allowed themselves to be changed by Him.
Reason for Hope
Like any new mother, Mary’s life was drastically changed when she had her first child. There were diaper changes, nighttime feedings, and painful teething. There were shoes to be tied, stories to be read, and so much love to give. Mary’s firstborn Child definitely changed her life, but He infinitely changed all of ours as well. On that first Christmas night, in a humble stable, heralded by angels, He brought me a reason for hope, and a purpose to my life.
At the same time, looking down from on High, Christ has an immortal Father who with immeasurable love, was putting into motion these grand events of His Great Plan of Happiness. What was His perspective that night? John the Beloved gave us a sense of that when he wrote, “For God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
My mortal mind cannot begin to comprehend the kind of love our Heavenly Father has for us. What I do know is that there’s nothing more He wants than for us to return to be with Him. He sent us here to earth so we could prove ourselves worthy of being in His presence for eternity. He knew mortality had the potential to break us so He gave us the greatest gift this world has ever known. My prayer is that I will embrace that gift, and that I will keep my eyes open and focused on the Savior of the World.
Thank you so much for listening. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas.