Gateway: Living

Remembering the first Christmas with hymns of joy

Christmas carols and hymns turn our thoughts to the wonderful story of the first Christmas, when Jesus, the son of Mary, was born “away in a manger,” in an obscure village, the “little town of Bethlehem.”

In the words of a child’s lullaby, “The stars in the heavens looked down where he lay, The little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.” That hymn ends with a prayer that recognizes what would be this special child’s incomparable mission: “And fit us for heaven to live with thee there.”

“Fear not” the angel said to the shepherds in announcing Christ’s birth, “for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Luke 2:10).

Who was this child of whom the angels sang, whose parents would soon flee to Egypt to save his life? He was the Lamb of God, the Son of the Eternal Father, the promised Messiah, who condescended to come to earth, to be born in a stable, in a conquered nation, under the humblest of circumstances.

Ancient prophets spoke of Him centuries before His birth. Today we sing Isaiah’s prophetic words, “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; Handel’s Messiah).

Jesus never enjoyed peace, as we think of it, during his short mortal ministry. The world was not at peace then and is not at peace today. He faced the temptations and frailties common to any man born of a mortal mother. But because of who his Father was, and because of his love for us, he overcame the world and can still bring peace to our hearts, for “Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.”

I am encouraged by the sight of young families sitting together at church, mother and father, and children alongside. By their example, in church attendance and in family prayer and scripture reading at home, these parents teach their children to “receive him still.”

A modern Apostle, the late Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, expressed the appreciation of many when he said, “To think that the Son of God would come into the world so humbly, live His life so perfectly, teach His gospel so completely, atone for our sins so graciously and do it all so willingly!”

“The story of the birth of Jesus is a wondrous story,” said former LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley. “It is matchless in its simplicity and beauty — it is the wellspring of Christian faith. More acts of kindness have been done in his name and more words of forgiveness spoken with his love than any other in the entire history of mankind. He is the author of our salvation. He is the source of the good news of the gospel. He is our hope in our season of desperation, our guide in the wilderness of life through which we walk, our source of comfort and consolation in seasons of distress, and our assurance of the eternity of the soul of man.”

We need not travel half a world away and walk the streets of Bethlehem to envision that first nativity scene. We can come to church and join in singing, “Oh, come, all ye faithful, Joyful and triumphant! Oh, come ye, oh come ye to Bethlehem. Come and behold him, Born the King of angels; Oh, come, let us adore him . . . Christ, the Lord.”

His wondrous birth, his sinless life, his voluntary death as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind, his glorious resurrection with its promise of life eternal, should claim our reverent attention this holy season and throughout the New Year.

“Oh, come, let us adore him . . . Christ, the Lord.”

On Faith columnist Alfred Gunn, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at Gig Harbor, can be reached by e-mail at alf.gunn@gmail.com. For more information leading up to Christmas, visit christmas.mormon.org.

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