Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Friday, December 23, 2011

God's Gift to the World

                    "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" (John 3:16).

                    God so loved His children that He made a plan for all of us to achieve our greatest potential as children of God.  He planned the creation of this earth.  He anticipated the Fall of Adam and Eve, and He made arrangements for a Savior to provide a way for the salvation of all His children.  The birth of this Savior, even Jesus Christ, is the first gift of Christmas.  The willingness and obedience of the Savior in atoning for the sins of all mankind is the second gift of Christmas.

                    Father in Heaven, through His Son, Jesus Christ, let ancient prophets know that the Savior would be coming to earth as a Baby.  Isaiah was a "prophet in Jerusalem during forty years (740-701 B.C.).  He had great religious and political influence during the reign of Hezekiah, whose chief advisor he was."  (See Bible Dictionary, p 707.)  Isaiah wrote, "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14).

                    Isaiah also wrote, "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).

                    Micah was another ancient prophet during the reign of Hezekiah, and he prophesied that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem.  In fact, "Micah is the only book of the prophets to name Bethlehem as the place of the anticipated Messiah's birth."  (See Bible Dictionary, p 732.)  Micah wrote, "But thou, Bethlehem Ephrata, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting" (Micah 5:2).

                    An ancient prophet named Lehi lived in Jerusalem where he received a vision.  He was one of many prophets who told the people to repent or the great city of Jerusalem would be destroyed.  In the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, Lehi left Jerusalem with his family and traveled to the American continents.  His son, Nephi wrote [between 600 and 591 B.C.], "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). 

Concerning the time of the birth of Christ, Nephi also wrote [between 588 and 570 B.C.], "And behold he cometh, according to the words of the angel, in six hundred years from the time my father left Jerusalem" (1 Nephi 19:8).

Nephi wrote of the event a third time [between 559 and 545 B.C.], "For according to the words of the prophets, the Messiah cometh in six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem; and according to the words of the prophets, and also the word of the angel of God, his name shall be Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (2 Nephi 25:19).

                    Lehi received a vision of the tree of life, and Nephi, his son, wanted to see what his father had seen.  As he pondered upon the words of his father, he received his own vision - a "tour" through the life of the Savior.  "And it came to pass that he said unto me:  Look! …
                    "And it came to pass that I looked and beheld the great city of Jerusalem, and also other cities.  And I beheld the city of Nazareth; and in the city of Nazareth I beheld a virgin, and she was exceedingly fair and white.
                    "And it came to pass that I saw the heavens open; and an angel came down and stood before me; and he said unto me:  Nephi, what beholdest thou?
                    "And I said unto him:  A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins.
                    "And he said unto me:  Knowest thou the condescension of God?
                    "And I said unto him:  I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.
                    "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 it came to pass that I beheld that she was carried away in the Spirit; and after she had been carried away in the Spirit for the space of a time the angel spake unto me, saying:  Look!
                    "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!  …. (1 Nephi 11:12-21).
                    Nephi was a great prophet who taught his people about Jesus Christ.  "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 25:26).

                    Nephi taught his people what he learned in his "tour" of the life of Christ:  "And after the Messiah shall come there shall be signs given unto my people of his birth, and also of his death and resurrection; …." (2 Nephi 26:3).  Nephi also told his people that after Christ was resurrected, "he shall show himself unto you, my children, and my beloved brethren; and the words which he shall speak unto you shall be the law which ye shall do" (2 Nephi 26:1).

                    Alma was another prophet on the American continent who prophesied of the birth of Christ:  "And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God" (Alma 7:10).

                    Still another prophet, Samuel the Lamanite, prophesied of the birth of the Savior:  "… and behold, he said unto them:  Behold, I give unto you a sign; for five years more cometh, and behold, then cometh the Son of God to redeem all those who shall believe on his name.
                    "And behold, this will I give unto you for a sign at the time of his coming; for behold, there shall be great lights in heaven, insomuch that in the night before he cometh there shall be no darkness, insomuch that it shall appear unto man as if it was day.
                    "Therefore, there shall be one day and a night and a day, as if it were one day and there were no night; and this shall be unto you for a sign; for ye shall know of the rising of the sun and also of its setting; therefore they shall know of a surety that there shall be two days and a night; nevertheless the night shall not be darkened; and it shall be the night before he is born.
                    "And behold, there shall a new star arise, such an one as ye never have beheld; and this also shall be a sign unto you.
                    "And behold this is not all, there shall be many signs and wonders in heaven.
                    "And it shall come to pass that ye shall all be amazed, and wonder, insomuch that ye shall fall to the earth" (Helaman 14:2-7).

                    Five years passed away, and the wicked people were issuing death threats to all the believers.  Another prophet by the name of Nephi saw the great wickedness and bowed himself in mighty prayer.  "And it came to pass that he cried mightily unto the Lord all that day; and behold, the voice of the Lord came unto him, saying:
                    "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 fulfil all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets….
                    "And it came to pass that there was no darkness in all that night, but it was as light as though it was mid-day.  And it came to pass that the sun did rise in the morning again, according to its proper order; and they knew that it was the day that the Lord should be born, because of the sign which had been given.
                    "And it had come to pass, yea, all things, every whit, according to the words of the prophets.
                    "And it came to pass also that a new star did appear, according to the word" (3 Nephi 1:10-13, 19-21).

                    While the Nephites and the Lamanites upon the American continent experienced the day and night and day with no darkness and saw the new star in the sky, the actual birth of the Savior took place in the Old World.

                    Luke, Chapter 1, tells us that the Angel Gabriel delivered two very important messages.  Gabriel told Zacharias, while he was executing his duties in the office of priest, that his wife, Elizabeth, would conceive a baby in her old age and the baby would be called John.  John grew up to be John the Baptist. 

Six months after his visit to Zacharias, Gabriel visited Mary, a young engaged women living in Nazareth.  Gabriel greeted Mary with "Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee:  blessed art thou among women."  Mary was frightened at the appearance of an angel, but she listened to his message.  She replied, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word."  [We can just imagine what Joseph thought when he recognized that Mary was with child.  He loved Mary but was hesitant to marry her; he decided to "put her away" "privily."  Before he could do this, Gabriel visited him in a dream and told him that it was okay to marry Mary.]

Luke, Chapter 2, tells us that Caesar Augustus had issued a decree that "all the world" or at least all his subjects should return to his own city to be taxed.  "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:)
"To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child."  While Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem paying their taxes, the time came for the birth of her child.  Joseph could not find room in any inn and took Mary into a stable:  "And she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; …"

About the same time, an angel of the Lord appeared to some shepherds who were "keeping watch over their flock by night."  The angel said to them, "Fear not: for, behold, 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.
"And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
"And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

The shepherds went with haste into Bethlehem "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 them concerning this child."  The shepherds returned to their flocks "glorifying and praising God" for the wonderful tidings they had both seen and heard. 

Meanwhile wise men in the east saw the new star in the sky and followed the star into Jerusalem where they visited with King Herod.  They asked Herod, "Where is he that is born King of the Jews?  For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him" (Matthew 2:1-2).

King Herod had no knowledge of the new King and questioned his chief priests and scribes who told him of the prophecies that the Messiah should be born in Bethlehem.  Herod returned to the wise men, asked them when the star appeared, and sent them out to find the Christ Child.  The star "went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.
"When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
"And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him:  and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.
"And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
"And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.
"When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt:
"And was there until the death of Herod:…..
"But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt,
"Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child's life.
"And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel….

Joseph was still concerned because Archelaus reigned in place of his father Herod:  "notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee:
"And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth:  that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene" (Matthew, chapter 2, italics added).

I love the story of the Nativity - the story of the birth of the Son of God to a mortal woman named Mary.  It shows in so many ways that our Father in Heaven is mindful of each of us.  God knew Zacharias, Elizabeth, Mary, and Joseph well enough to call them by name and to guide them through their special missions.  He sent an angel to the shepherds in order that they could be witnesses of the birth of Christ.  He placed the new star in the sky, which led the wise men to the house where the young child lived with Mary and Joseph.  They not only became witnesses of the Christ Child, but they also provided the financial means for Joseph to care for Mary and the Baby until he could return to Israel.  God then warned both the wise men and Joseph that Herod would cause trouble and led them away from Bethlehem.

                    From the time my oldest children were very young, our family has acted out the Nativity on Christmas Eve.  When we don't have enough family members to act the various roles, we invite other families with children to come and share the evening with us.  I encourage you to read the Nativity story in Luke 1-2 and Matthew 2 and/or use those scriptures (or my post) to act out the story.  I also encourage you to watch the following video about the birth of Jesus Christ - "A Gift to the World."  

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