“God loved us, so he sent his Son. Christ Jesus, the atoning One. To show us by the path he trod. The one and only way to God.” – “God Loved Us, So He Sent His Son,” Hymn No. 187, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Every man, woman, and child on planet earth is a literal spirit child of Heavenly Father. We once knew Him far better than we do now. He raised us in our spiritual infancy and tutored us. From the beginning, He has bestowed countless gifts upon us. Since Christmas is a time for gift-giving, it is fitting that we remember some of the superlative gifts our Father has so graciously given us.
The first gift we were each given by Father was life. In a way that has not been fully revealed, He begat us as spirits in the distant eons of the past. We existed as intelligences prior to that, but we became spirits – cognitive beings with spirit bodies – because of Him. We lived, grew, and learned in a place we call the pre-earth, or pre-mortal, realm. It was there that the Gospel Plan was taught to us and where we learned our possibilities; specifically, our possibility, through the intervening power of a divine Mediator, of becoming like our Father.
One of the things that set our Father apart from the rest of us was that He had a perfected, immortal body of flesh and bone. Some people consider flesh and bone inferior to spirit. The reverse is true. This is why the Savior resurrected Himself with a body of flesh and bone as recorded in Luke 24:36-43. Therefore, the second great gift the Eternal Father bestowed upon us was a physical body and a chance to live in a mortal state of testing wherein we could, if we faithfully followed His “way of holiness” (Isaiah 35:8) outlined by the Savior, we could return to Him and receive exaltation.
Our bodies are not trivial, unimportant, temporary things; they are holy temples! (1 Corinthians 3:16-17) As gifts of God, they must not be defiled with promiscuity and whoredoms, tattooed with graffiti, pierced in strange ways, polluted with drugs and alcohol or harmful foods and chemicals, and so forth. They must be honored, cultivated, and fortified, though not worshiped unduly. Proper health as part of true religion is not a superstition of past ages, but a verity and requirement for all who have been gifted bodies by their All-Wise Father. All of us, like our Lord Jesus and because of Him, will be resurrected with physical bodies and possess them for eternity.
The next gift our Father in Heaven bestowed upon us is free will. We may call it moral agency or, simply, Freedom. Whatever we call it, it stands only next to life itself in the hierarchy of blessings. In the Father’s Gospel Plan, agency is paramount. We may even say that Jesus Christ’s supreme purpose is to ensure, protect, and extend our agency. The Apostle Paul told us to: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1).
What Christ offers each of us through His atoning blood is Freedom – Freedom from the damnation of sin, Freedom from the Devil, Freedom from hell, Freedom from the fallen world and natural man, and Freedom from death. The Father’s Gospel, which may rightfully be called the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is a Gospel of Liberty. Agency is so crucial that the Lord has intervened throughout history, and notably in modern times in the creation of the United States and the crafting of its inspired Constitution, to create a situation wherein man might be free and accountable for his own sins (Doctrine and Covenants 101:77-80).
The next gift we can mention is prophets. From Adam, who was a holy prophet, down through Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Malachi, John, Peter, and others, the Lord has revealed His and the Father’s will through authorized representatives. These prophets give us the essential understanding we need to know about our relationship to God and His Son in every age. They are also the necessary legal administrators of the Gospel and its beautiful saving ordinances.
Without exception, every time the Gospel has been on the earth, a prophet has stood its head. At no time has the Church of Jesus Christ ever existed without a prophet. Such is a contradiction in terms, for the Church must be headed by a called and authorized prophet (Ephesians 4:11; Amos 3:7; Numbers 12:6). It is through duly-called and ordained prophets that Gospel light and salvation are administered, because of the grace and will of Christ the Lord.
In modern days, the Father has given a wonderful gift – the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For centuries after the martyrdom of the Apostles, apostasy and confusion were rampant. There were no prophets or legal administrators to perform saving ordinances like baptism. In 1820, Gospel light burst forth again as the Eternal Father and His resurrected Son Jesus Christ appeared from Heaven to the young man Joseph Smith in modern New York state, initiating the fulfillment of numerous ancient prophecies. Joseph Smith had prayed to know which of all the conflicting churches was true. In response, the Lord told him that though professed His name, they had all gone astray and denied His power (Joseph Smith History 1:19).
Through the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord’s Church was restored to earth as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. John the Baptist and, later, Peter, James, and John, appeared to confer Priesthood authority on Joseph Smith and a man named Oliver Cowdery. On the sacred date of April 6, 1830, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was formally restored. It was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy that the Lord would do a “marvellous work and a wonder” (Isaiah 29:10-14). The coming forth of The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, which was foretold by Isaiah in the same passage cited and also by Ezekiel and others (Ezekiel 38), joined the Bible in testifying boldly of the divinity of Jesus Christ and of His mission to atone for and redeem all mankind.
The Book of Mormon contains a prophecy from the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, after His Ascencion, as He ministered among the ancient inhabitants of America – Israelites descended from Joseph who had been led away from Israel around 600 B.C. just prior to the Babylonian captivity. He told them that their sacred records would be revealed to future generations and that it would be delivered to their posterity by the Gentiles. Said He:
“And when these things come to pass that thy seed shall begin to know these things—it shall be a sign unto them, that they may know that the work of the Father hath already commenced unto the fulfilling of the covenant which he hath made unto the people who are of the house of Israel. . . .
“For in that day, for my sake shall the Father work a work, which shall be a great and a marvelous work among them; and there shall be among them those who will not believe it, although a man shall declare it unto them. . . .
“Therefore it shall come to pass that whosoever will not believe in my words, who am Jesus Christ, which the Father shall cause him to bring forth unto the Gentiles, and shall give unto him power that he shall bring them forth unto the Gentiles, (it shall be done even as Moses said) they shall be cut off from among my people who are of the covenant” (3 Nephi 21: 7, 9, 11).
The Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its original purity had been foreseen by ancient seers and dreamed of by Reformers and pious men for centuries. It was made reality through the Prophet Joseph Smith, whose birthday we commemorate today on December 23. The Restoration is one of the greatest gifts God has given mankind. With the Restoration came the “restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:21). As John foresaw, this “everlasting Gospel” was revealed by an angel from Heaven (Revelation 14:6).
This “marvelous work” that the Father performed was for us, His children. He restored the Gospel with its Priesthood authority and powerfully simple doctrines because He wants us to come to His Son Jesus Christ and be enabled by our faithful obedience and His atoning grace to return to Him.
This brings us to the most phenomenal of all our Father’s beautiful gifts – the Savior Jesus Christ. In the divine record, we read this testimony of the mortal Messiah:
“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.
“For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:16-17).
The Father loves us and so He sent His Son. All the prophets past and present have and do testify of Jesus Christ. The entire Gospel Plan points us to Him. Isaiah prophesied of the Savior’s redeeming mission in these words:
“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
“But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4-6).
Speaking Messianically, Isaiah foresaw even more about the Lord’s ministry:
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;
“To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn;
“To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified” (Isaiah 61:1-3).
A third prophecy from Isaiah foretold of the Lord’s miraculous birth and appearance in the flesh:
“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).
Immanuel means “God with us.” What better promise could the Father, through Isaiah, have offered than that the Divine Son should come to earth and dwell among His people? He would be among them, heal them, teach them, and show them the path back to Heaven. If the Jews had recognized it, they could have truly enjoyed the presence of God among them, for He was literally among them in the flesh showing His power, miracles, mercy, wisdom, and love.
Another ancient prophet in the Americas named Alma prophesied of the Savior’s mission, giving this eloquent description that complements Isaiah’s prophecies perfectly:
“For behold, I say unto you there be many things to come; and behold, there is one thing which is of more importance than they all—for behold, the time is not far distant that the Redeemer liveth and cometh among his people. . . .
“. . . behold, the Spirit hath said this much unto me, saying: Cry unto this people, saying—Repent ye, and prepare the way of the Lord, and walk in his paths, which are straight; for behold, the kingdom of heaven is at hand, and the Son of God cometh upon the face of the earth.
“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.
“And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
“And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.
“Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me.
“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” (Alma 7:7, 9-14).
Yes, the Savior is mighty, majestic, and merciful. He can cleanse us every whit and save us from all unrighteousness! He not only figuratively or intellectually suffered our afflictions, but they were literally placed upon Him in the flesh and He bore them. The unimaginable burden caused Him to bleed from every pore of His body (Luke 22:44; Doctrine and Covenants 19:16-24). God was with us, He suffered what we have suffered, and He understands us, our trials, and our heartaches more perfectly than we do. Truly, with His stripes we are healed!
As His ultimate gift to His children, our loving Father in Heaven gave us His Firstborn Son as the final sacrifice to redeem and liberate the rest of us – to free us from our sins, our sicknesses, and our fallen natures. He sent the Christ to take away our pain, comfort us when we mourn, strengthen us in hard times, and succor us with pure love unsurpassed. He “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38) and fulfilling the will of the Father – to heal, help, serve, lift, and love – in all things. Through Him, and His Atonement, we may receive the highest and holiest of all that God has to offer – eternal life in the Father’s Celestial Kingdom.
This Christmas season we need more of the light and spirit of Christmas in our lives, which is the light and spirit of Christ. Two thousand years ago, the innkeepers refused to let their Messiah in; they rejected the Light of the world. Do we also refuse Him? Do we turn Him away? He said:
“I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.
“To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne” (Revelation 3:20-21).
We have the power to open the door and let the Savior in. We can, if we will, let the Light and Life of the world fill our hearts and homes. Is this not a marvelous gift? It is a gift freely given that all can accept, enjoy, and benefit from. We can show our appreciation and love to our Father by accepting His gift. The Lord taught:
“If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John 14:23).
What more could we want this Christmas, and every day, than for the love of our Heavenly Father and our Savior to fill our lives and for Them to come in unto us? Open the inn doors of your heart this Christmas and see if the Lord won’t verify His promise to come in and stay with you and, with the Father, fill your life with light and love. Merry Christmas!
December 23, 2022