Even though Christmas is behind us, I’m not yet ready to let it go. Christmas brings such a wonderful, tender atmosphere. The warmth of family, the sparkle of lights, the renewed joy of the birth of my Savior. I love the Christmas carols and the candlelight worship service, all bringing Christ into focus — where He always ought to be.My favorite Christmas tradition in my home is the lighting of the “Christ candle.” First thing on Christmas morning I read these scriptures:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. …In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. (John 1:1-5)Arise, shine; for your light has come! And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you. (Isaiah 60:1)
Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
But the LORD will be to you an everlasting light, and your God your glory. (Isaiah 60:19b)
Then I light a pillar candle that burns throughout Christmas Day. The pillar represents Christ as my strength and essential support. The color of the candle, which changes each year, represents Christ’s holiness and purity (white), Christ’s sacrificial death for me (red), or Christ’s steadfast promise of eternal life (green). The flame represents the everlasting light that is Jesus, given to the world at His birth. This burning candle reminds me and my family, during all the festivities and other traditions of Christmas Day, that God is with us — Immanuel has come.
It was amidst this Christmas backdrop that I read an article in the LDS Church News titled “Christmas Gift.”
On Saturday evening, Dec. 2, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve told Salt Lake Big Cottonwood Stake President Ellis Ivory that his stake “might receive the biggest Christmas present ever.”The next morning, President Ivory realized what Elder Ballard was talking about: President Gordon B. Hinckley made a surprise visit to the stake conference.
“It was a real gift to us,” President Ivory said. “The members couldn’t believe that he was there. Many were so emotional that they couldn’t sing. It was by far the most tearful conference that has ever been in the history of our stake.” (Church News 12/9/06, 5)
As reported in Church News, President Hinckley spoke to the LDS stake members about Church membership. He said:
- “…whenever you lead someone into the Church, you confer upon him or her blessings that can be had in no other way in all of this world.”
- “There is nothing you can do that would bless the life of anybody that is more important than leading to membership in this Church.”
- “…nothing will reel in greater happiness or bring more permanent and wonderful blessings, than leading someone into this Church.”
According to the Church News report, President Hinckley concluded his remarks by speaking of the atonement of Christ as the “most important facet of all the facets of the gospel.” As far as I can tell by reading Church News, this was the first time in his address that president Hinckley mentioned Jesus, and was but a very small part of the message.
Following President Hinckley, LDS Apostle Ballard told the congregation that it was a great blessing to be “schooled by the president of the Church and a prophet of the Lord,” and that it is a privilege to “learn the great lessons” taught by President Hinckley.
Maybe because of it being Christmastime I’m more sensitive to this, but it struck me as strange that the focus and adoration of the LDS congregation were directed to the man Gordon B. Hinckley, rather than to Immanuel — God with us.
It struck me as strange that a man claiming to be God’s mouthpiece on earth used this opportunity to address the people by speaking primarily of the Church, rather than speaking first and foremost of Immanuel — God with us.
It struck me as strange that a man hailed by millions as a true prophet of God taught that the greatest happiness and blessing available to mankind is LDS Church membership, rather than the incredible and unsurpassable blessing of Immanuel — God with us.
In the early Christian church, just after teaching that “the Word was God” and “in Him was life, and the life was the light of men,” the Apostle John wrote,
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. …the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John bore witness of Him… (John 1:6-14)
A true prophet of God, sent to bear witness of Christ. Jesus said John the Baptist was the greatest prophet of all (Matthew 11:11). While Gordon B. Hinckley bears witness of the LDS Church and the attendant blessings of membership, John bore witness of the true Light Who became flesh and dwelt among us.
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! …I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:29, 34)
What an incredible message! What an incomparable blessing! Immanuel has come; God is with us.