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Saturday, January 5, 2013

Cleansing Power of the Atonement

                We celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ because of who He is and the mission He performed.  If He had not performed His atoning sacrifice, He would have been just one of many little babies born into the world.  His mission on earth was to provide a way for you and me and all mankind to return to the presence of our Heavenly Father and to be with Him and our loved ones for all eternity.  The Atonement of Jesus Christ is the reason why we celebrate His birth at Christmas.

                I have been pondering the cleansing power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.  People often lose hope because they feel that they are beyond the point of repentance and that they can never be forgiven.  These people do not understand the meaning of why Jesus Christ suffered in Gethsemane and on the cross.  When we lose hope, it is as though we are disavowing the power of the Savior and His suffering in behalf of all of us.  He suffered for all of us, but He also suffered for me and you as individuals.

                President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a master teacher and story teller.  He wrote and illustrated a small book entitled A Christmas Parable [1993] which is one of my favorite Christmas stories.  It is the story of a farmer and his wife and their own Christmas miracle.  As you may know, a parable is “a brief, simple story told to illustrate or teach a moral or spiritual truth,” and this Christmas parable fulfills that description.

                It was Christmastime and money was short.  The farmer had experienced three bad years on his farm, and he realized that he would lose his farm if there was another bad year.  He usually enjoyed Christmas, but this year “Christmas bothered him.  And it bothered him that Christmas bothered him.  Christmas was home and family and fireplaces and happy times with presents and good meals and memories of better times. Christmas symbolized things that mattered most to him.”

                The farmer and his wife tried to encourage each other even though they were both worried and losing hope.  The farmer fell into bed exhausted and was soon in deep sleep.  He dreamed that he was working on some of his equipment when his wife called him to supper.  He stopped at the sink to wash but the dirt would not come off of him.  He scrubbed harder but more dirt appeared.  He noticed that dirt and stains from years past were on his hands and arms and even on his face, and he also noticed faint odors from his work on the farm.  He looked at the stains and remembered when each one was put there.  He wondered why the stains were there and why he could not wash them off.  The farmer was grateful to awaken and find that he had only been dreaming, but he could not forget the dream.

                The farmer was a good man who loved his wife and children, but he went to Church only on special occasions even though he was a baptized member.  His wife insisted that he had to go to Church this day because he needed it.  He could not resist his wife’s counsel and went with his family.  “He sat uncomfortably with [his wife] in the Gospel Doctrine class.  The struggling teacher had only modest teaching ability.  The lesson was on baptism, but he was not interested in that.  His mind was on the disturbing dream of the night before.”

                The teacher read a scripture, and two of the words “hit him with great force.”  Those two words were “washed clean.”  “And after they have paid the penalty of their transgressions, and are washed clean, [they] shall receive a reward according to their works, for they are heirs of salvation” (Doctrine and Covenants 138:59).

                The unskilled teacher defined baptism as “an ordinance to wash away our sins.”  Then another scripture was read:  Now I say unto you that ye must repent, and be born again; for the Spirit saith if ye are not born again ye cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye may be washed from your sins, that ye may have faith on the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, who is mighty to save and to cleanse from all unrighteousness” (Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ, Alma 7:14).

                Another scripture was read:  “Then Peter said …, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38).

                Some of the words in the scriptures – washed, sins, baptism, cleanse from all unrighteousness, and gift – made the farmer feel that the lesson was about Christmas.  He felt something that day, the same feeling that he felt at Christmas.

As he went about his week, he kept thinking about his dream and the lesson.  A few days later he read the message on a Christmas card:  “Behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife:  for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.  And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus:  for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21).

                “For the first time he understood!  He knew what that meant.
                “He was a man with little-boy feelings about Christmas.  The birth of the Christ had always been more or less present for him in that season.  But now the symbols of Christmas which he loved had real meaning.  Gifts form the wise men now represented something, as did the tree and the star.  But now, the promise of redemption had entered the scene.  He had lost nothing from the appealing traditions of Christmas; in fact, they now had greater meaning.
                “He understood!  For the first time he understood what the gift was!
                “The problems of life were not lessened by his new understanding, but there was a new power working within him.  The problems remained, but the troubled heart did not.  He had new kinds of conversations with his wife….
                “After the reunion, for the first time he told his wife of the dream.  They talked into the night of what it meant.  Now he understood that, just as he could wash up for supper, there was a way to become spiritually clean.  Because of the first Christmas and what followed it, he could get clean and he could stay clean.
                “They talked of another reunion awaiting them beyond the veil. To enter there one must be clean, spiritually clean.  He listened as his wife explained the Atonement and the Resurrection.  He understood!  For the first time, he understood!  Because of that first Christmas, they would live eternally.  They could enter in and be together there – a family.  This was the gift!”

                This is a wonderful story, which I read every year at Christmas time.  It is fiction, but it comes true in the lives of many different people in many different places and many different times. 

Bishop Richard C. Edgley, First Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, related an experience where he saw the same miracle take place in the life of a young man.  He explained that he was on assignment to speak in a stake conference and to interview a prospective missionary while he was there.  He read some of the background as to why this young man needed to be interviewed by a General Authority, and his heart ached with the realization that the young man had committed serious transgressions.

                Bishop Edgley went into the stake president’s office for the interview and was approached by a “handsome young man with a wonderful countenance” when he was expecting “a very troubled young man.”  He asked the young man in private, “Why am I interviewing you?”

                “He recounted his past.  When he was through, he began to explain the steps and the personal suffering he had gone through.  He talked about the Atonement – the infinite power of the Atonement.  He bore his testimony and expressed his love for the Savior. And then he said, `I believe the Savior’s personal suffering in Gethsemane and His sacrifice upon the cross were powerful enough to rescue even a man like me.’” 

Bishop Edgley approved the young man to serve as a missionary.  He understood “the young man’s hope was based not only upon a knowledge and testimony of the Atonement but also upon a personalization of this gift.  He understood that it was for him personally!  He knew the power of the Atonement and the hope it gives when all might seem lost or hopeless.”   (See Ensign, April 2012, p 80.)

I know that the Atonement of Jesus Christ was performed for each of us as individuals.  I know that it was broad enough and deep enough to encompass all of us.  I also know that it will be inactive until we activate it in our individual lives by turning to our Lord and Savior, even Jesus Christ and living as He would have us live.  I know that He loves us and stands with outstretched arms waiting for us to come to Him.  I love Him and have hope that I will be worthy return to His presence with my family.

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