Far, far away on Judea’s plains, there were “shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.” Easing their fears, the angel said, “I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:8-12). Around six hundred years prior to that night, another heavenly messenger heralded the birth of the Savior, asking the Book of Mormon prophet Nephi, “Knowest thou the condescension of God?” (1 Nephi 11:16). Nephi then saw a virgin, “bearing a child in her arms. And the angel said unto [Nephi]: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father!” (1 Nephi 11:20-21). Though it was announced by angels, the birth of Jesus Christ was no spectacle. Unaware of the identity of the Child that was to be born, the innkeeper offered only a stable as lodging for His mother, Mary, and for Joseph. There, the Savior of the world was born, the very same One who Isaiah prophesied would be called, “Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” of whose “government and peace there shall be no end” (Isaiah 9:6-7). Though He was the God for whom Israel had built a temple of gold, silver, and brass, He lay His head in a straw-filled manger after His birth. Though He was the Framer and Creator of the earth and the cosmos, He came into the world to be raised by a humble carpenter. Though He had toppled the walls of Jericho, had led an army of three hundred to triumph over the Midianites, and had routed the Assyrians who had laid siege to Jerusalem, He was, as a newborn, totally vulnerable to Herod’s jealous malice. Though He had given the Children of Israel daily manna and had sent ravens to feed the prophet Elijah in times of famine, He chose to become entirely dependent on a virgin mother—who had never before raised a child—for His sustenance and care.
Recalling the humble condition of the Lord’s birth, Phillips Brooks wrote:
How silently, how silently
The Wondrous gift is giv’n!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of his heav’n.
The Savior came into the world without fanfare and without pretense. The Greatest of All, He chose not to be born into luxury and fame, but He chose, rather, to be born in a stable in Bethlehem, exemplifying from the beginning His teaching that “whosoever of you will be chiefest, shall be servant of all” (Mark 10:44). But, though the wondrous gift of God’s own Son was given silently, the effects of that gift extend into the eternities. Surely, this is the condescension of God: He was the very Word who was “in the beginning with God” by whom “all things were made” and in whom “was life” and the “light of men,” and He “was made flesh, and dwelt among us” in order to give “to them that believe on his name” the “power to become the Sons of God” (John 1:2-4, 12, 14). This is the joy of Christmas, the glad tidings brought by angels through the millennia—that the Son of God, though apparently small and simple, came into the world and prepared the way for us to return to live forever with our Father in Heaven, the greatest gift of all.
When reports began to circulate that Jesus of Nazareth was the prophesied Messiah, some underscored the obscurity of his origin, asking, “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). Nevertheless, Jesus continued to do great things in the Galilean countryside, healing lepers, restoring sight to the blind, preaching to multitudes, calming storms, and even raising the dead. Indeed, He grew up as a “tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground” (Isaiah 53:2), working many miracles and preaching an unequaled gospel of peace and selfless love. His life exemplified the truths He taught: he forgave as often as He taught mercy, he comforted as often as He taught compassion, and He bowed in prayer as often as He taught humble devotion. What made His ministry great was not that it was done in the great metropolises of the ancient world among kings and philosophers, but that it was done with godly grace, dignity, and power. Nobody was beneath or above His notice, from the devoted widow who cast her meager mites into the temple treasury, to Nicodemus, “a ruler of the Jews” (John 3:1), because His mission was “to preach good tidings unto the meek,” to “bind up the brokenhearted, to pronounce liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound” (Isaiah 61:1). Because “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), we all depend on Him and on His goodness and mercy in order to overcome opposition in the world and in order to inherit the richest blessings of heaven. As a result, the quiet glory of Jesus’ earthly ministry continues to touch each of us without exception.
Paul taught that “we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together” (Romans 8:16-17). Jesus Himself taught the same principle with His incomparable plea: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). There is in that plea the promise that Christ will make our burdens light, the promise that, through Him, we will find an inheritance of rest to our souls. To celebrate His birth, then, is not to celebrate the birth and life of a great humanitarian or of a gifted teacher or of an unrivaled leader. To celebrate His birth is to celebrate the life of the only sinless Son of God who gave His perfect life in sacrifice so that “the world through him might be saved” (John 3:17).
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…. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:4-5, 12)
What does the Christ ask for in exchange for such an incomparable gift? That we become “as a little child” (Luke 18:17), that we “keep [His] commandments” (John 14:15), and that we “love [our] neighbor as [ourselves]” (Matthew 19:19). He asks only that we accept His help to abandon our weaknesses and flaws and that we embrace a higher, more heavenly pattern of living. With the assurance of His aid and the promise of His peace, there is nothing to impede us as we pursue a course closer to perfection. Thus, the celebration of Christmas is as much a celebration of the Savior as it is a celebration of gratitude for the strength He gives us to overcome sin, sickness, and sorrow.
Born into the simplest circumstances, Jesus Christ lived and died and showed the world “that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass” (Alma 37:6), for who would have said that one who appeared to be merely the son of a Nazarene carpenter was the Savior and Redeemer of all the world? Surely, though, He was—the Son of God, the light and life of the world. Indeed, because of the great things He did in spite of his simple appearance, we have the assurance that, by our small and simple efforts, great things will come to pass in our lives and in the lives of those we love. Reflecting on that truth embodied in Christ’s birth, life and ministry, Parley P. Pratt penned the poetic verse of the hymn “Jesus Once of Humble Birth,” a quiet reminder of the price He paid so that we could be joint heirs with Him in the eternities:
Jesus, once of humble birth,
Now in glory comes to earth
Once He suffered grief and pain;
Now he comes on eath to reign.
Now he comes on earth to reign.
Once a meek and lowly Lamb,
Now the Lord, the great I Am.
Once upon the cross he bowed;
Now his chariot is the cloud.
Now his chariot is the cloud.
Once forsaken, left alone,
Now exalted to a throne.
Once all things he meekly bore,
But he now will bear no more.
But he now will bear no more.
I know that Jesus Christ lives, that He loves us, and that He gave His life for us that we may live. I know that great things can result from small efforts, and I know that as we press on, refusing to succumb to the opposition that faces us, we will find joy and peace. Thus, at this sacred time of year, I wish you a merry Christmas, one resplendent with the light of faith and the warmth of hope in our Savior, Jesus Christ.