Christmas 2020

Sacrament Meeting talk given on 12/20/2020

In March of 1863, 18-year-old Charles Longfellow left his family’s house in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Unbeknownst to his family, he boarded a train bound for Washington, D.C., traveling over 400 miles to join President Lincoln’s Union army to fight in the Civil War. Less than two years earlier, Charles’s mother Fannie had tragically died after her dress caught on fire. Her husband, Henry, awakened from a nap, tried to extinguish the flames as best he could, first with a rug and then his own body, but she had already suffered severe burns. She died the next morning, and Henry Longfellow’s own burns were severe enough that he was unable to attend his wife’s funeral. On the first day of that December in 1863, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was dining alone at his home when a telegram arrived with the news that his son had been severely wounded. On November 27, while involved in a skirmish during a battle of the Mine Run Campaign, Charley had been shot through the left shoulder, with the bullet exiting under his right shoulder blade. It had traveled across his back and nicked his spine. On Friday, December 25, Christmas Day, Longfellow—as a 57-year-old widowed father of six children, the oldest of which had been nearly paralyzed as his country fought a war against itself—wrote a poem seeking to capture the feelings in his own heart and the world he observes around him that Christmas Day.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Other dark times continue throughout men’s time on Earth. From it’s beginning in 1914, President Joseph F. Smith watched WWI from afar with concern and sadness. In a Christmas message in December 1914, the First Presidency wrote, “While rejoicing over the birth of the Incomparable One, the light of our gladness is overshadowed with the war clouds that have darkened the skies of Europe, and our songs and salutations of joy and good will are rendered sadly discordant by the thunders of artillery and the groans of the wounded and dying, echoing from afar, but harrowing to our souls as the awful tidings come sounding o’er the sea.”

The first world war, went on for 4 years. Armistice was declared on November 11, 1918 ending the war. Now, the Spanish flu was burning through America as the soldiers were coming home from war. Imagine being at war for the last 4 years, loosing sons, neighbors, and ward members then finding your self in a world wide pandemic. On November 19, just after his 80th birthday, President Joseph F. Smith died. Because of the pandemic, no public funeral services were held. A month later, with the flu still raging, Church leaders designated December 22 as a day of fasting “for the arrest and speedy suppression by Divine Power of the desolating scourge that is passing over the earth.”  Shortly thereafter the pandemic seemed to have passed its crest, and the decision was made to resume church services on January 5. But a further wave of the epidemic in the spring caused the April general conference to be postponed until June.

A vision that opened before President Joseph F. Smith, a week before his death, is now known as section 138 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Coming at a time of great worldwide and personal suffering, it testifies of Heavenly Father’s love, compassion, and comfort offered by the Atonement for the living and the dead. Such widespread death; such universal and unresolved grief, particularly where loved ones had vanished without a trace because of the war, the pandemic, starvation….all these things give a special resonance to section138, the Vision of the Redemption of the Dead. Section 138 is another sign of how God gives us just what we need in a trial.  138 gives great assurance of divine love and comfort of the Atonement, the blessings of which extend to all mankind, both the living and the dead.

History is filled with times when the world isn’t always feeling it’s most peaceful at Christmas time.  Civil War, Spanish flu of 1918, WWI, the great depression, WWII,  Korean war, Vietnam… the list can continue on and on.

Now, we find ourselves at the end of 2020 deep into another world wide pandemic. We haven’t been at war, but the civil unrest is concerning for all of us. A trying year causes us to reflect on the year. What is most important? What is an essential worker? What is an essential activity for the family? We reflect on what traditions of our fathers are most bringing us to Christ and which were unnecessary. We are finally at Christmas time, and now I reflect about what does Christmas mean to me after a year like this? Christmas means hope and faith in our Heavenly Fathers plan. Elder Uchtdorf said in the last general conference: “this virus did not catch Heavenly Father by surprise. He did not have to muster additional battalions of angels, call emergency meetings, or divert resources from the world-creation division to handle an unexpected need.”

This is all part of the plan. Before Covid, things were put into place so we could function as a church and continue to spiritually progress. It is all part of the plan. Once again, God has shown his love during a very trying time for the entire world. We know Heavenly Father has a plan for each of us, individually. He also has a plan for all of his children on Earth. 

The central focus….the event that this entire plan hangs on, is the Atonement made by our Savior, Jesus Christ. The Atonement couldn’t have happened if the Savior had not been born. Because he was willing to take upon himself a mortal body and suffer as a mortal does, the Atonement can be personal for each one of us. We know the Saviors life was a miracle from His conception to His death and it was all done for each one of us and we feel that this time of year.

Christmas give us hope that things will work out. Because of the Savior, we know the bad things that happen either in our personal lives or more globally will not stay bad forever. The Atonement takes all things into consideration. This week, we found out Tuesday afternoon that our dog was very sick. Her kidneys were shutting down and she had cancer. We had a couple of hours to decide if we were going to put her to sleep or not. After consulting with the vet, it was decided this was the best thing for the dog. Because of the atonement, our Savior felt the deep despair an 8 year old Kate felt as she held her dog while it passed away. Because that baby Jesus came to Bethlehem, those that are grieving over the death of a loved one, will not grieve forever.

Because I have been taught about the plan, I felt peace when my mom was diagnosed with  cancer about 8 months ago. Because of the Atonement, we have the gift of eternal life. We have been given the gift of eternal families, if we accept that gift. My mom has said she has felt incredible peace while going through her treatments. She has felt the peace that only the Savior can bring, the peace that comes from thinking about our Savior at Christmas.

President Hinckley said “Of all things of heaven and earth of which we bear testimony, none is so important as our witness that Jesus, the Christmas child, condescended to come to earth from the realms of His Eternal Father, here to work among men as healer and teacher, our Great Exemplar. …At this time of Christmas, this season when gifts are given, let us not forget that God gave His Son, and His Son gave His life, that each of us might have the gift of eternal life.”

The atonement will make all things right. It compensates for others agency. Sometimes, life can be very bad. Sometimes it is bad because others we love have agency. The atonement makes agency work in our Heavenly Fathers plan. The atonement given to us by Christ softens the heartache of a parent praying for a wayward child. The atonement helps us love those that have hurt us or wronged us and then increased our ability to love. President Monson said this: “Christmas is peace because we have found peace in the Savior’s teachings. It is the time we realize most deeply that the more love is expended, the more there is of it for others.”

Elder Stevenson said “Without Christ, there would be no Christmas. Without Christ, there can be no fullness of joy. Without His birth and His Atonement, we would have no Intercessor, no Advocate with the Father, and no Mediator who makes it possible for us to return to the presence of our loving Heavenly Father and live together as eternal families.”

Christmas means hope. Christmas means having faith in the plan. The plan means nothing that is bad right now will stay bad forever. Christmas is celebrating the baby that came and the miracle He is. Christmas is knowing we will be reunited with loved ones. Christmas is forgiveness. Christmas is faith in the plan.  Christmas IS the plan.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

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