December 22, 2008

"What Christmas Suggests to a Latter-day Saint" (1908)

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Christmas, to the Latter-day Saint, is both reminiscent and prophetic—a reminder of two great and solemn events, which will yet be regarded universally as the mightiest and the most wonderful happenings in the history of the human race. These events were predestined to take place upon this planet before it was created. One of them was the coming of the Savior in the meridian of time to die for the sins of the world; and the other is the prospective advent of the risen and glorified Redeemer, to reign upon the earth as King of kings.

Something of a parallel is suggested by events leading up to the two mighty epochs in question.

A work of preparation was necessary before the Son of God came in the flesh, to give His life as a vicarious offering to atone for original sin—the transgression of Adam and Eve—and to make it possible for man to secure the remission of his own sins, through obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel. Even so, a preparatory work is necessary, and is now being performed, before the second advent of the Lord. Otherwise the earth would be consumed at His coming.

Preliminary to the first advent, a Prophet was raised up to herald the Savior's approach, and to administer ordinances of a preparatory nature—such as water baptism for the remission of sins—unto all who were willing to repent, that they might be worthy to meet the Lamb of God, the "mightier One" who would "baptize them with fire and with the Holy Ghost." A Prophet also came forth at the beginning of the nineteenth century, to proclaim the ancient gospel, to call men to repentance, to lift an ensign for the gathering of Israel, and to lay the foundations of a work designed to prepare the world for the glorious advent of the Messiah, and the ushering in of the Millennial reign of peace.

The mission of John the Forerunner paved the way for the greater ministry of Christ, whose name, through the preaching of the Apostles and their associates, was heralded throughout the then known world, and has been perpetuated and revered all down the centuries by millions of sincere and honest worshipers. And this, too, in spite of the malign influences of Paganism, which early corrupted the Christian Church, and rendered necessary the restoration of the gospel, with the powers of the priesthood, and the re-establishment of the Church of Christ on earth. The mission of Joseph the Seer, who stands at the head of this dispensation, is destined to spread the fame of the Redeemer still wider, and eventuate in the founding of a kingdom that shall stand forever, whose King will sanctify the earth and prepare it for celestial glory.

John suffered martyrdom for what he did in preparing the way of the Lord—and Joseph laid down his life in the same great cause. Foriit is all God's work—the things accomplished in the meridian dispensation and in the dispensations preceding it, as well as the great achievements reserved for the dispensation of the fulness of times, when the Lord will complete the salvation of man, and consummate the work begun by Him when He placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Adam fell that a world of waiting spirits who had kept their first estate, and were therefore worthy of promotion, might be "added upon" by being given mortal bodies in this their second estate, through which, if found faithful, .they were to have "glory added upon their heads for ever and ever." The fall of Adam, while it brought death into the world, also gave opportunities for experience and development, by which perfection might be attained, while the atonement of Christ, in bursting the bands of death, made effectual man's strivings for that infinite perfection, giving the spirit, through the resurrection, a glorified body, as a means of endless increase, eternal progress and everlasting exaltation.

As already intimated, there have been various dispensations of the gospel, which was first revealed to Adam out of heaven, where it was instituted as the means—the only means—of man’s salvation. But the greatest dispensations are, without doubt, the two immediately connected with the resurrection, namely the one in which Christ Himself rose from the dead, and the one in which He will come in the clouds of heaven, simultaneously with the resurrection of the just, who are to reign with Him a thousand years. The final dispensation will witness the restitution of all things, the welding together of all the dispensations, the gathering unto one of all things in Christ, things in heaven as well as upon the earth.

Such in brief is the divine program, as revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith, that latter-day restorer of the religion of Jesus Christ, the pre-ordained plan of salvation. This also is the significance of Christmas, or it is what Christmas suggests to the mind of any thoughtful Latter-day Saint.

It is in honor of our Lord that we observe this day, one celebrated throughout Christendom as the birth day of the world’s Redeemer. Christ is God, even Jehovah, the God of Israel and as such we worship Him. And we also honor the memory of His faithful servants John and Joseph, who in missions involving their martyrdom, went before His face, opening and preparing the way.

In the light of these solemn facts, and in the spirit of charity and goodwill exemplified and enjoined by our blessed Redeemer, we send forth to the Latter-day Saints and to all the world, a hearty and kindly Christmas greeting!

Let no one suppose that "Mormonism," so-called, is here to make war upon men, or upon creeds, governments, and institutions that men revere. It sustains law, order, liberty and truth, the world over. The Latter-day Saints are friends, not enemies, to mankind. That we have a message to deliver we know; and, God being our helper, we will deliver it, come life or death, come weal or woe! But we purpose doing this in the spirit of peace, in the spirit.of patience and brotherly love, forgiving our enemies, and returning good for evil; oppressing no man for refusing to listen to our testimony, nor ridiculing what he holds sacred, however false or foolish it may appear to us. The liberty of conscience is inviolable, and we stand ready to defend all men in the exercise of this sacred, God-given right. We may be abused and slandered for exercising this right ourselves, but heaven forbid that we should deny it to others! Despite the human weakness that all men possess, and which prompts them to retaliate when they feel themselves wronged, we will endeavor, with the help of the Lord, to follow His divine injunction: "When men revile you, revile not again." Our plain and simple duty is the preaching of the gospel, the gathering of scattered Israel, the redemption of Zion, and the salvation of the living and the dead. We have no warfare to wage against our fellow-men, no wrongs that we wish to avenge. We leave that to Him who said, "Vengeance is mine; I will repay." May He be merciful to those who misrepresent and bring trouble upon His people!

This gospel of the Kingdom was preached aforetimes as a witness unto all nations; and it is now being preached 'again for the last time and for a similar purpose. The "end" foreseen and predicted by the Savior, that was to follow its promulgation in ancient times, came in the downfall of wickedness, represented by the Jewish Commonwealth which had rejected the Son of God, and the message of salvation. The greater "end," also foreseen and predicted by Him, that will inevitably follow the rejection of the gospel in modern times, will come in the destruction of wickedness throughout the world.

But these issues are all in the hands of the Lord. He will do His own work in His own time and way. Our mission is not to curse, but to bless; not to punish or threaten, but to persuade men to do right. We preach salvation, not damnation; and in this spirit we send forth this greeting, echoing, and, if possible, emphasizing the salutation of the angels to the shepherds, on the first great Christmas night: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

Joseph F. Smith,
John R. Winder,
Anthon H. Lund,
First Presidency.

"What Christmas Suggests to a Latter-day Saint," Millennial Star 70, January 1908, pp. 1-4. For an interesting holiday read see "Remembering Christmas Past: Presidents of the Church Celebrate the Birth of the Son of Man and Remember His Servant Joseph Smith," Larry C. Porter, BYU Studies 40.3, pp. 49-119. Image: "The First Presidency 1901-1910," Charles Savage, ca. 1901-1910, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.