Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The True Meaning of Christmas

We all know that on Christmas Day we celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, who is considered to be the ultimate Savior and Redeemer by Christian believers. But there are a myriad of myths and traditions associated with Christmas, many of which trace their origins beyond Christianity. For example there is ample speculation secularly as well as among various Christian denominations, that Christ was not born on December 25th. Instead of a more likely spring birthday, December 25th was likely chosen for celebration as a melding between the expanding old world Christian faith, paganism, Winter Solstice and popular Roman festivals of the time.

We also know of many characters that usher in Christmas festivities. We sometimes hear of Father Christmas, which is a relic of the Germanic Pagan god Odin. The 1930’s movie A Miracle on 34th Street popularized the name of Kris Kringle, which is translated loosely in German to Christ Child. We know of the third century St. Nicholas of Myra who was the son of wealthy parents in what is now modern day Turkey. His parents died while he was still young and Nicholas used his entire inheritance to serve the poor and needy, secretly giving gifts and often hiding coins in the shoes of the downtrodden. Later, while still young, he was named as Bishop of Myra and his image is often depicted in long Ecclesiastical robes, perhaps a similar look to another crimson suit. Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian who ruthlessly persecuted Christians, Nicholas was exiled and imprisoned. We also have the most popular version of Santa Claus, a kind of amalgam of all these other characters from history and myth.

The historical root of much of our cultural Christmas celebration is confused and rooted in non-Christian traditions. We often yearn for the good ole days when the celebration of Christmas was really centered on the birth of Christ but ironically even the oldest of the good ole days were not really Christ centered either. It is also interesting to note that the original Puritan settlers in America made the celebration of Christmas illegal precisely because it did not represent the true worship of the Christ child.

While there is much confusion about the history, myth and traditions surrounding Christmas there should be no confusion regarding the Biblical account of Christ’s birth as accounted in Luke 2. It is not a bedtime story or a myth. It is truth. It really happened as miraculously as portrayed in the Bible. As we go throughout the Christmas season it is fun to think of Santa or even revere good men of history like St. Nicholas of Myra, but it is crucial that we maintain our focus on the worship of Jesus the Christ. His birth was certainly a miracle of our Heavenly Father’s love in blessing the world with a Savior, and Christ’s atoning mission is a further miracle of love and compassion. Perhaps we should attempt to find ways to express our love and compassion to the Christ by serving our family, friends and neighbors, as well as the needy around us and not pay as much attention to the cultural traditions surrounding us.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Christmas is the warmth of Love
A bright and shining star
The shepherds on a hillside
And wise men from afar

Christmas is a heavenly Child
Lighting the lost sheep’s way
A time to share the joy we know
A time to kneel and pray

Christmas is an angel’s song
Of joy and peace on earth
Now all the world will know God’s love
Because of Jesus’ birth

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Book of Mormon Christmas

Approximately six years before the birth of the Savior Jesus Christ, on the American continent, a Lamanite prophet foretold the coming of Christ and the signs that would accompany his birth. As found near the end of the book of Helaman in the Book of Mormon, Samuel went to the Nephite nation to prophesy and share the good news of the Saviors impending birth. Unfortunately, this good news was met with ridicule and anger by a majority of the Nephite population and he was forced to flee.

By command of the Holy Spirit, Samuel returned and preached again, climbing high upon a wall, prophesying of the birth that was to come just five years later. Again he was reviled, maybe partly because of his Lamanite heritage, but more likely because of his prophetic message and calls to repentance for the people of Nephi. The Nephites attempted to slay him by throwing rocks and shooting arrows, but nothing could hit the mark. The wicked attempted to lay their hands on him, but were unable. To many watching, this was a miracle that inspired them to look more closely at Samuel’s message of repentance and the upcoming birth of Jesus Christ. Many were converted, or maybe reactivated, as they looked eagerly to the birth of the Son of God.

Samuel fled and was never seen again among the Nephites, but the message he was sent to share lived on within the church of God. The people of God’s church, led by Nephi, waited in anticipation of the great event. They looked forward to the time when the signs, of light in the sky after the sunset and the new star, would be revealed, indicating the birth of Christ. But as they waited, the wicked designed to destroy the people of the church of God because of their faith. After five years passed, the wicked claimed the time Samuel had prophesied of had come and gone with no miraculous signs and they appointed a day wherein the believers would be put to death if they refused to denounce their belief, or the sign did not appear.

3 Nephi 1:9 Now it came to pass that there was a day set apart by the unbelievers, that all those who believed in those traditions should be put to death except the sign should come to pass, which had been given by Samuel the prophet.

There must have been great fear and trepidation as the appointed day for their execution drew closer, but the people of God’s church continued to wait for the signs of the Savior’s birth. In the first chapter of 3 Nephi, we learn that Nephi’s heart was “exceedingly sorrowful” and he cried unto the Lord “mightily” all that day, and the voice of the Lord came to him…

3 Nephi 1:13 Lift up your head and be of good cheer; for behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world, to show unto the world that I will fulfill all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets.

3 Nephi 1:14 Behold, I come unto my own, to fulfill all things which I have made known unto the children of men from the foundation of the world, and to do the will, both of the Father and of the Son—of the Father because of me, and of the Son because of my flesh. And behold, the time is at hand, and this night shall the sign be given.

As promised the signs of Jesus Christ’s birth were given and the people of God rejoiced, not only for the sustaining of their own lives, but more importantly because, as prophesied, the Son of God, who would redeem them from eternal destruction, was born. The wicked sorrowed because their destructive plan was frustrated. The greatness and glory of Jesus Christ, even in birth, overpowered their wicked designs and foreshadowed the ultimate victory of Christ over all forces of evil.

Jesus Christ came into the world to save all mankind, and in this instance, on the American continent, even the signs of his birth saved the righteous people of Nephi. Christ saved them, just as he will save us from the eternal destruction that threatens us. Just as the people of Nephi, we must have faith in Jesus Christ, endure to the end, and follow His words and the words of His servants, and we too will taste of the same joy and salvation.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Source of Governmental Power

Leaving aside, for a moment, the question of the divine origin of rights, it is obvious that a government is nothing more or less than a relatively small group of citizens who have been hired, in a sense, by the rest of us to perform certain functions and discharge certain responsibilities which have been authorized. It stands to reason that the government itself has no innate power or privilege to do anything. Its only source of authority and power is from the people who have created it. This is made clear in the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States, which reads: "WE THE PEOPLE... do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

The important thing to keep in mind is that the people who have created their government can give to that government only such powers as they, themselves, have in the first place. Obviously, they cannot give that which they do not possess. So, the question boils down to this. What powers properly belong to each and every person in the absence of and prior to the establishment of any organized governmental form? A hypothetical question? Yes, indeed! But, it is a question which is vital to an understanding of the principles which underlie the proper function of government. Of course, as James Madison, sometimes called the Father of the Constitution, said, "If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary." (The Federalist, No. 51)

In a primitive state, there is no doubt that each man would be justified in using force, if necessary, to defend himself against physical harm, against theft of the fruits of his labor, and against enslavement of another. This principle was clearly explained by Bastiat:

"Each of us has a natural right - from God - to defend his person, his liberty, and his property. These are the three basic requirements of life, and the preservation of any one of them is completely dependent upon the preservation of the other two. For what are our faculties but the extension of our individuality? And what is property but and extension of our faculties?" (The Law, p.6)

Indeed, the early pioneers found that a great deal of their time and energy was being spent doing all three - defending themselves, their property and their liberty - in what properly was called the "Lawless West." In order for man to prosper, he cannot afford to spend his time constantly guarding his family, his fields, and his property against attack and theft, so he joins together with his neighbors and hires a sheriff. At this precise moment, government is born. The individual citizens delegate to the sheriff their unquestionable right to protect themselves. The sheriff now does for them only what they had a right to do for themselves - nothing more. Quoting again from Bastiat:

"If every person has the right to defend - even by force - his person, his liberty, and his property, then it follows that a group of men have the right to organize and support a common force to protect these rights constantly. Thus the principle of collective right --its reason for existing, its lawfulness -- is based on individual right." (The Law, p. 6)

So far so good. But now we come to the moment of truth. Suppose pioneer "A" wants another horse for his wagon. He doesn't have the money to buy one, but since pioneer "B" has an extra horse, he decides that he is entitled to share in his neighbor's good fortune. Is he entitled to take his neighbor's horse? Obviously not! If his neighbor wishes to give it or lend it, that is another question. But so long as pioneer "B" wishes to keep his property, pioneer "A" has no just claim to it.

If "A" has no proper power to take "B's" property, can he delegate any such power to the sheriff? No. Even if everyone in the community desires that "B" give his extra horse to "A", they have no right individually or collectively to force him to do it. They cannot delegate a power they themselves do not have. This important principle was clearly understood and explained by John Locke nearly 300 years ago:

"For nobody can transfer to another more power than he has in himself, and nobody has an absolute arbitrary power over himself, or over any other, to destroy his own life, or take away the life or property of another." (Two Treatises of Civil Government, II, 135; P.P.N.S. p. 93)

Ezra Taft Benson (1968)