Monday, December 21, 2015

Wants and Needs -- or how I do Christmas

Saturday night, I spent quite a bit of time wrapping presents for my family. I know everyone does Christmas differently (and, truth be told, sometimes I have felt conflicted about how I've chosen to approach it), but I come from a family where Christmas is a big deal -- fun food, lots of wrapping, lots of time unwrapping.

Lest you think I'm extravagant in my approach, my kids know that I will often hold onto something -- like a bag of socks or lip balm or mechanical pencils for school -- and wrap it up for Christmas. Many of the wrapped gifts are of this ilk, actually. This year, I'm wrapping things like batteries and scissors and other things we just have as part of our supplies around the house. A couple of years ago, they each got a toilet cleaning kit!

I'm a cheap skate by nature and nurture, so my kids get a lot of 'no's during the year. Christmas is a time where I want them to feel some yesses. As I see it, God cares about what we need, and sometimes He also gives us what we want. I like Christmas to feel like a microcosm of how God works -- caring about both our needs and our wants. Not every want will be filled, but they are heard and known.

Over the years. I've come to realize that there is rarely One Right Way to do things like Christmas. Family traditions vary and personal approaches vary and that's ok. As I get older, with extended family, I'm grateful that there is less focus on stuff and more focus on relationships. I hope over time our little family will also transition in that direction. But for now, I will enjoy the fact that I still have kids at home and get to experience some of the childlike wonder of Christmas presents with them.

How do you do Christmas?

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Thoughts on the Christmas Story, Part 1

As part of my gift to my family this year, I wanted to capture some of the thoughts and insights that have come as I am re-reading and pondering the Christmas story. In particular, I want to share what I learn as I ponder different people and elements in the story.

Today, I will share some reflections from Matthew 1. Some of my reflections are more cerebral, some are more personal. (Bullets feel impersonal, but my time is limited, so please forgive the format.)


  • My first thought is one that my son shared a while back. He made a goal this year to read the Old Testament cover to cover (since that is what they are studying in Seminary). He will often share insights from his reading when I tuck him in and we do our scripture share for the night. (When they were little, I did most of the reading/sharing. Now that they are older, almost without exception, I ask them to share. And usually, that sharing happens at night, one-on-one, when I'm tucking them in.) Anyway, when he got through the "begatting" part of the Old Testament, he shared the simple yet profound thought that family records/genealogies matter to God. We see this again in Matthew 1. I also thought about how much Abraham and his lineage means to God. God's promises through the Abrahamic covenant center on the Savior, so it seems fitting to me that the New Testament -- the book of the New Covenant -- begins with a connection to Abraham. I also think that it is interesting that this genealogy is given for Joseph, even though he was not related to Jesus by blood. But that he was a "son of David" (v. 20) is obviously significant to this story.
  • The law of chastity mattered to Joseph. Mary and Joseph did not "come together" until after they were married. And he also "knew her not" until after Jesus was born (which, of course, is not a requirement for pregnancy but I just sense a respect toward Mary and this miracle in their lives). I hope it's not crass to use Joseph as a counter-example to our culture that declares that sex is a need and a right rather than a divinely-given responsibility and marital gift. I know far too many women who have been treated as chattel in their own marriages, and it breaks my heart more than I can say. I desire for my my children to know deep in their core that this is not God's way. I pray that my son will show great respect to girls and women now, and show the deepest respect his future wife. I want my girls to respect themselves enough to expect to be treated with dignity and respect by the boys they befriend and date and by the man they each choose to marry. I want them all to understand the power of the doctrine of chastity, not just in the don'ts before and after marriage, but also in understanding how the power of the law can be harnessed within marriage as the spirit of the law is understood and honored. Lastly, I will just say that I'm struck by the fact that chastity is only mentioned twice in the Book of Mormon. Both times, God is speaking about chastity in light of how men treat women sexually. I believe if women understood the spirit of the law, they would value modesty and sexual boundaries more than they often do.
  • He was a "just man" and obviously cared deeply for Mary. When he discovered that Mary was expecting a child, he wanted to avoid publicly shaming her. He intended to break off their engagement in private -- even though the law would have allowed for the public approach...or, better said, reproach. 
  • "While he thought on these things" -- I'd never noticed this phrase in v. 20 before this week. It's a pattern that we see so often in the scriptures: Pondering leads to revelation. 
  • "Fear not" (also from v. 20) is one of my favorite phrases from the Christmas story. It's the phrase that I'm desiring to put at the center of my life right now. I am prone to anxiety and worry. I love that among the first words uttered when angels first appeared to Joseph, Mary, and the shepherds were the simple words "fear not." I have to believe that were God to send an angel to me, His message would be the same. I believe the message is the same for all of us. Fear is not from Him, and Jesus is the reason we can trust that message. "Fear not."
  • Imagine, still, the kind of faith it took for Joseph to marry Mary. I am moved nearly to tears at his willing obedience and utter trust in God. The public shaming from which he sought to protect Mary surely became a fixture in his life during this time. What courage, humility, and faith he obviously had. I wonder, too, if he held onto prophecies and his understanding of the promises of God through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as Mary did when she was given the news that she would be the mother of the Son of God, the promised Messiah (see Luke 1). 
  • I love the fact that Mary and Joseph each had their personal revelation to face this unusual and challenging situation. Mary didn't need to convince Joseph of the truth, nor did Joseph need to inform Mary of what was to be. I imagine, though, that the anchors that they had because of their personal experiences brought a combined anchor to their relationship as they fulfilled this stewardship for God and for all mankind. [Is our own need for anchors in our lives any less real? God will speak to each of us, too, in His way and time, to help us fulfill our stewardships and missions on earth. And He will give us power and protection to do so. This is a promise of temple ordinances and covenants.]
  • Joseph was given instruction about the naming of Jesus. I'd never noticed before that the prophecy, at least as quoted in v. 23, is that "they" would "call his name Immanuel." (And I find the translation of the name, "God with us" to be breathtaking. Even though Jesus is not now living on the earth, His very name testifies to the reality that He is with us. The great I Am = with all. 


A favorite Christmas song of mine is "Where Shepherds Lately Knelt." When I first sang this song in a ward choir, I fell in love with the following line, spoken as if from the mind of a shepherd who was invited to come see the Christ child.

"How should I not have known Isaiah would be there, his prophecies fulfilled?"

An important part of the Christmas story is that it's an example of how God works with His prophets and actually helps make things happen so that prophecies are fulfilled. The scriptures repeat the notion as found in vs. 22: "Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet..." (v 22). This pattern will show up several more times throughout the Christmas story. 

It's no small thing that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proclaims that there are prophets again on the earth. Should we expect anything less than God working with the continuing unfolding of the story of the plan of salvation -- of which the Christmas story is only a part -- by helping the words of prophets be fulfilled?

...More thoughts to come on that when I write about the Christmas story in the Book of Mormon. :)