Sunday, December 16, 2012

Receive Your King

The following is adapted from the devotional I gave at my Relief Society's Christmas party.

“At Christmastime we talk a lot about giving, and we know—we all know—that it is more blessed to give than to receive. But I wonder if sometimes we disregard or disparate the importance of being a good receiver,” said President Uchtdorf at the First Presidency Christmas Devotional.

He continued, “I hope that this Christmas and every day of the year we will consider in particular the many gifts we have been given by our loving Heavenly Father.”

At Christmastime, we celebrate God’s greatest gift He has given us: His Son. “Joy to the world, the Lord is come; Let earth receive her King!” exclaims the joyous hymn.

But what does it mean to receive Him? 

To receive something requires action: we must accept the gift being given to us. First we “prepare [our] hearts” (Alma 16:16). In fact, the next line in “Joy to the World” is “Let every heart prepare Him room.” We do that by making sure we have “good ground” for the gospel of Jesus Christ to take root in our hearts (Luke 8:5–15). Next, we must become as a little child (Luke 18:17). President Uchtdorf noted how children receive gifts with excitement and gratitude and advised us to have the same attitude toward the gifts Heavenly Father gives us. Once we receive Christ into our hearts, we must follow Him, stay rooted and established in the gospel, and abound in thanksgiving (Colossians 2:6–7). 

When we receive Christ and His Atonement, Heavenly Father will bless us with even more gifts. One of the blessings we will receive is a change of heart. The greatest gift we will receive is eternal life.

President Uchtdorf shared another blessing: “Every gift that is offered to us, especially a gift that comes from the heart, is an opportunity to build or strengthen our bond of love. When we are good and grateful receivers, we open a door to deepen our relationship with the giver of this gift.”

Furthermore, he warned, “But when we fail to appreciate, or even reject, a gift, we not only hurt those who extend themselves to us but in some way we harm ourselves as well.” Some of the things that stop us from receiving Christ and His Atonement are pride, sin, and lack of faith. When we let these things stop us, we hurt ourselves and stop more blessings from flowing to us.

I invite you all to receive Christ into your hearts this Christmas. I close with the reverent words of another Christmas hymn.

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is giv'n!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of his heav'n.
No ear may hear his coming;
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him, still
The dear Christ enters in.

(“O Little Town of Bethlehem,” Hymns, 208) 

Challenge: Receive Christ into your heart.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Joseph, the Stepfather of Jesus
Mary the mother of Jesus is revered in Christianity, particularly in Catholicism. She was "highly favoured" and "blessed . . . among women" (Luke 1:28, 30). But we seldom talk about her husband, Joseph. He too must have been highly favored and blessed among men to have been given the honor of raising Jesus.

Joseph was a "just man" and not spiteful: when he learned of Mary's pregnancy, he did not publicize it, but wished to divorce her privately (Matthew 1:19 footnote b). He was also very unselfish toward Mary during her pregnancy (Matthew 1:25).

Joseph was obedient to the Lord, as shown when he followed angels' commands to still marry Mary (Matthew 1:20-24) and flee to Nazareth to protect little Jesus from King Herod (Matthew 2:13-15). Joseph served as young Jesus's example of a righteous husband and father. The Bible Dictionary states, "Joseph was naturally regarded in Nazareth as [Jesus's] father, and the holy child treated him as such (Luke 2:48, 51)" (see also Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3). It only seems logical that, knowing the influence a father has on his son and all the duties that come with fatherhood, Heavenly Father prepared Joseph for this calling just as He prepared Mary for hers.

I think the Primary song "When Joseph Went to Bethlehem" describes Joseph best:

I think there at the busy inn that he was meek and mild
And awed to be the guardian of Mary's sacred child.
Perhaps all through the chilly hours he smoothed the swaddling bands,
And Jesus felt the quiet strength of Joseph's gentle hands.

And close beside the manger bed, he dimmed the lantern's light
And held the little Jesus close upon that holy night.

Challenge: When you read the nativity story, remember Joseph as well.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Sacrament Prayers

We hear the sacrament prayers every week, but do we listen to the words and know the purpose of the prayers? I have broken down the blessing on the bread to help us better understand the sacrament, something I was advised to do in my patriarchal blessing.

O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy son, Jesus Christ,
First, we address Heavenly Father. Then we ask Him in humility and verify that we are doing so in Jesus's name, as we are commanded to do all things in His name (3 Nephi 27:7, 9).

to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it,
The Guide to the Scriptures on defines the words bless and sanctify as follows:
Bless: To confer divine favor upon someone. Anything contributing to true happiness, well-being, or prosperity is a blessing.
All blessings are based on eternal laws (D&C 130:20–21). Because God wants his children to find joy in life (2 Ne. 2:25), he grants blessings to them as a result of their obedience to his commandments (D&C 82:10), in answer to a prayer or priesthood ordinance (D&C 19:38; 107:65–67), or through his grace (2 Ne. 25:23) [emphasis mine].
Sanctification: The process of becoming free from sin, pure, clean, and holy through the atonement of Jesus Christ (Moses 6:59–60).
that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son,
As we eat the blessed and sanctified bread, our thoughts must be on the Savior's body that allows for the blessing and sanctification of our souls.

and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father,
Our act of partaking the sacrament is a testimony to God and His holy court that we are going to keep the promises associated with the act.

that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son,
One of the definitions, and the most appropriate one, of the word willing is "cheerfully consenting or ready." Our attitude must be cheerful (Moroni 7:6-10) and we must be ready at all times to take and defend His name.

A 1978 Ensign article explains what it means to take upon His name: "We take Christ’s name upon us when we join his church; we come to be known as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But far more than that is involved. Because of our baptismal covenant, we have become “the children of Christ,” “spiritually begotten” by him. (Mosiah 5:7.) As our understanding of the atonement grows, we become increasingly mindful of the need “to retain … [Christ’s] name written always in [our] hearts.” (Mosiah 5:12.)"

and always remember him
An article in the December 2010 Ensign reads,
When I read this story [of the Israelites and the fiery serpents], I would say to myself, “How could the people not do something so simple when their lives depended on it?” I couldn’t understand. All that changed when the Spirit showed me how similar I was to the Israelites.
One morning, as I thought about the Savior, I recalled the sacrament prayer, which says that we may have His Spirit to be with us if we always remember Him (see D&C 20:79).
It seemed so easy. Then I realized how often I get caught up in my daily life and give little thought to the Savior. I remembered that the brass serpent symbolized Jesus Christ being lifted up on the cross. Suddenly I realized that the “remember Him” in the sacrament prayer could be considered the latter-day version of looking to Him in the story of Moses and the brass serpent.
Remembering Him is more than just thinking about Him; it's also acting like Him. This New Era article has great suggestions on how to always remember Christ.
and keep his commandments which he has given them;
When we take the sacrament, we renew not only our baptismal covenants, but also all covenants we've made (Ensign, July 2012).

that they may always have his Spirit to be with them 
If we do all the above--partake the sacrament worthily, take upon Christ's name, remember Christ, and keep His commandments--we will be blessed with the Spirit. "Everything the Savior’s gospel teaches us to do and become is intended to bless us with the companionship of the Holy Ghost," said Elder Bednar in General Conference October 2010.

Elder Oaks explains further:
We cannot overstate the importance of that promise. President Wilford Woodruff called the gift of the Holy Ghost the greatest gift we can receive in mortality (see The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, ed. G. Homer Durham [1990], 5). . . .
The gift of the Holy Ghost is so important to our faith that a prophet gave it unique emphasis in a conversation with the president of the United States. Joseph Smith had journeyed to Washington to seek help in recovering compensation for injuries and losses the Saints had suffered in the Missouri persecutions. In his meeting with the president, Joseph was asked how this Church differed from the other religions of the day. The Prophet replied that “we differed in mode of baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands” (History of the Church, 4:42). He later explained that this answer was given because “all other considerations were contained in the gift of the Holy Ghost” (History of the Church, 4:42).
An Important Prayer
The prayer is so important that we use words divinely given us and repeat them perfectly. Sometimes it may seem frustrating to have to repeat the prayer until it is said perfectly, but it can be a blessing, as shared in this Ensign article:
In one sacrament meeting, a young priest had to repeat the sacrament prayer four times. This motivated one sister to think more deeply about the sacrament. After the meeting, she sought the young man out and said, “The first three times I wasn’t ready. But the fourth time, I was ready, and I’ve had one of the most meaningful experiences in partaking of the sacrament that I’ve had in a long time.”
Challenge: Let us listen more carefully to the sacrament prayers so we know what we are asking for, promising to do, and promised to receive.