In these scriptures, Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph had to make the trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem when Mary was “great with child”. The government required that they go back to the city of their family heritage (“because Joseph was of the house and lineage of David”, Luke 2:4). This was for tax purposes.
I’ve always thought how hard of a journey this must have been for Mary while being that close to her due date. I am not familiar enough with the area to know how far of a trip it was. I don’t know if she was on a camel or donkey or on foot. I imagine she walked part of the way and rode part of the way. It’s certainly not as comfortable as driving my temperature-controlled truck with cushioned seats on paved roads.
But, what struck me today about these scriptures, is that Mary and Joseph were meeting their civil responsibilities. Regardless of the difficulty, they didn’t make excuses, they just went. “And…while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered” (Luke 2:6).
Our 12th Article of Faith is: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” There is no caveat for living in a country under an evil dictator. Sometimes I wonder about that. I feel so fortunate (blessed really) to have been born in and live in the US where we are able to vote in or out our government officials.
But it wasn’t the government’s plan that Jesus be born in Bethlehem. It was God’s plan. Prophecy is fulfilled whether or not we know we are participating. I think I benefit more, though, if I am a willing participant. I know my life would certainly be more difficult if I did not obey, honor and sustain the law. The scriptures are full of examples of people receiving inspiration while they were meeting their family, career and church obligations. Besides, I like my freedom.
I have been skeptical about many things throughout my life; saying, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” (The title is not a typo.)
But the scriptures about John, the Baptist, preparing the people before Jesus’ ministry (Luke 1:17) got me thinking about the importance of preparation and how spiritual preparation can actually help us foresee some pitfalls. Some people were already prepared for the Lord to come. For instance, Zacharias and Elizabeth had to have been prepared spiritually to receive the revelation about the extreme circumstances of their son’s birth. God could have chosen someone younger to raise John. But He chose them because they were prepared spiritually (among other reasons). Heavenly Father can work with our physical frailties but if we aren’t actively preparing ourselves to do His will, then we really aren’t interested in what His will for us is.
So, why did John need to “go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways” if there were already some who were prepared? (Luke 1:76) I think that we all learn in different ways. Some need more physical or tangible things to learn from; something (or someone) you can see or hear. God wants all of us to return to Him. He gives us every opportunity because He loves us in a way that we can only imagine. He is our Father!
The thing is, I think preparation requires willingness (deja vu) and effort. We can’t just go through life thinking that we have no choice in what happens to us. Just as we look for opportunities to take, we should also try to understand what we can learn from our experiences (chosen or not). If we don’t learn anything, why are we here anyway? So, we have to choose what we are preparing for. We will all meet Christ face-to-face, whether it will be at our death or at His 2nd coming to the earth. I would like to be prepared for that so I can get the most out of it. I think of all the things I do to prepare for a guest in my home. I prepare a little extra when family members are coming to stay for a while. When I am looking for things that I need to do in preparation for the visit, (because I “believe” they are coming) I can see what I need to do. If I have prepared adequately, I get the most enjoyment out of the visit. If I wait until they get here to prepare (believe it when I see it), it’s too late.
Christ did come. Christ does live. You’ll see amazing things when you believe that; including your potential.
If you REALLY want to know, you have to try it. The feeling you get when you make someone happy is a REALLY good feeling.
The Christmas season is a perfect time to help our children learn this principle. We have to provide opportunities for them to feel it. We get so busy this time of year that it’s easier and quicker to just do everything ourselves. But if you want your children to enjoy giving, they aren’t going to learn it on their own.
There are tons of websites with ideas for crafts that children can make as gifts for family members or neighbors. They can make something out of almost anything and it doesn’t need to cost much. The best gifts come from the imagination of a child. I Googled “gifts kids can make” and got 88.3 million links within .26 seconds!
It’s always fun to deliver a plate of homemade cookies or bread to a neighbor. Get the kids in on the fun. They can help with the baking and with the delivery. Maybe they’ve helped with the baking but then seen Mom carry it all out of the house 😦 Seeing the look on the face of the recipient helps reinforce the idea that they are making someone happy. You can tell by the laughter after the delivery how good it makes them feel. Be sure to point that out to them so they remember how good it feels to give.
Christmas is when we remember the gift that Heavenly Father gave us in His Son. We also remember that Jesus came here to give us the ultimate gift of His sacrifice of the Atonement and His life so that we could return to live with Him and Heavenly Father after our life here is over. They gave these gifts to us without any expectation of receiving anything from us. All we need to do is accept them.
Before I go any further in the Gospel of Luke, I think some insight can come from what Joseph was going through. (Matt 1:18-25)
When Joseph discovered his fiance’ (whom he hadn’t had sex with) was pregnant, he thought she’d been unfaithful to him. The scripture doesn’t say how far along she was when Joseph “discovered” it. But he “being a just” (and a kind) man, didn’t want to embarrass her publicly. So he thought about divorcing her privately. In those days engagement required a divorce. The marriage commitment began with the engagement (betrothal) and sex still didn’t enter into the relationship until after the marriage. Interesting….commitment before sex…what a concept! And not just saying you’re committed, but demonstrating it for months. This builds trust as a foundation to the relationship.
Anyway, he could have easily acted out of hurt and made a public example of her for revenge. The scriptures say “but while he thought on these things”. So we know he didn’t just react out of anger and hurt. He thought about it for a while. Since he was a righteous man he probably prayed about what to do, as he thought, and he waited for inspiration to come. (Maybe this is when Mary went to visit her cousin for 3 months? He needed a time out. 🙂 ) But Joseph was to play a big role in Jesus’ life so I’m sure he needed a pretty strong testimony of what was happening. The Lord had compassion on Joseph and sent an angel to him in a dream. The angel told Joseph who the child is and to name him Jesus and assured him that this was according to God’s plan. Joseph married Mary right away “and he knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son”.
I’m sure, if Joseph wasn’t up for the task, the Lord could have found someone else. But I believe that people are put in the path of others for a reason. We always have a choice whether or not to walk the path and follow the inspiration we receive. Sometimes I’ve chosen to go my own way because His way seems too hard or, more commonly, I was not patient enough to wait for the inspiration. Down the road I’ve realized that my way was the hard one. What I thought was easier and would get me to the same place, took me over some unnecessary hazards that I could have avoided. And it took me a lot longer to get to where He knows I can be.
I’m guessing that Joseph’s journey wasn’t easy from that point on. I’m guessing there were friends and family who didn’t have the assurance that he had about who Mary’s child was. More sacrifice would be required of him. But he was committed. He was faithful to the end. He helped raise the Son of God and other children. I’m sure he never imagined his life would go this way. But Joseph prayed for inspiration before he acted and was willing to act on the inspiration he received.
Patience isn’t easy. I’ve found that sometimes I have to keep doing those things that keep the Holy Spirit with me while I’m waiting for inspiration. Chances are greater that I’ll know what direction to take when it is presented to me. Sometimes I don’t even know that my path was directed until years later. The Holy Spirit gives us a calm assurance that what we are doing is right. If we don’t feel that peace, maybe we’ve veered off the path.
In these scriptures the angel Gabriel visits Mary to tell her she’ll have a son and who He will be. In the first few verses, if I were Mary, I could reason that this will be a very special person that I am to raise. I’m not sure my mind would go beyond thinking he’d be a “very special person” though. How could I dare think I’d have that privilege? After all, she is engaged to Joseph who has a royal lineage (Matt 1:1-16). Gabriel says he’ll inherit the throne of his father. But in verse 35 Gabriel came right out and told her that her son would be the Son of God and how that would happen. The Book of Mormon prophet, Nephi, (1 Nephi 11: 15-20) sheds a little more light on the condescension of God. When Mary realized what Gabriel was telling her she willingly submitted to the will of the Lord, (verse 38) “And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”
As a tender mercy the Lord gave her someone to talk to who would understand. Gabriel told her about her cousin Elizabeth so she immediately went to visit her for 3 months. We women need to talk and Joseph was having his own challenges with the situation.
I recently had an experience that gives me an inkling of how Mary might have felt initially. I was getting ready to read my scriptures by saying a prayer. I suddenly had a thought pop into my head that was unrelated to anything I was praying about. It was that I would be called to the Branch Relief Society Presidency. I’d heard others say they’d received premonitions like this but I never have. The current presidency had served for just over a year, I thought, and I didn’t know of anyone who was moving. So I thought maybe I needed a couple years to prepare myself. That was on a Thursday and that Sunday the Bishop called me into his office. I held my breath until he told me that I’d be a counselor and not the president! Very few callings in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are lifetime callings. They can last from a few months to a few years and we can have several at one time. From a practical sense, it takes a lot of people to run a Branch or a Ward and I figure if we all do our part at the time and where we are called, then no one is over-burdened. We don’t aspire to any position. There is not a progression of callings in a hierarchy if we do well in each one. A man may serve as a Bishop for a few years and then a Sunday School teacher for 15 year-olds. A Relief Society President may be called to the nursery after she is released as president. Each calling I’ve had has given me unique opportunities to learn and grow as I serve. It also puts me in closer contact with people I may not have had the chance to get to know. These relationships, and their effect on me, are lasting even though I might lose touch with some as we move on. One of the things that I love about the callings I’ve had is watching how the Lord works. We do our best to fulfill the duties of the calling and the Lord places people in our path at the exact time they are needed. As long as we are on the right path, the Lord takes care of the details.
Sometimes being “willing” is not easy but I hope I always am because I always benefit the most. Recently I keep thinking of Mark 9:24, “Lord I believe, help thou mine unbelief”, substituting “willing” for “believe”: to be “Lord I am willing, help thou mine unwillingness”.
This blog has become sort of like my journal. That’s the only reason I can think of that I’m writing about Christmas. It’s not that I think I have something to teach. …just thoughts as I think and read the scriptures leading up to the birth of our Savior. So, if you’re not into this, you may have to put me on ignore for another couple weeks; although I’ll still post some wildlife photos.
The Old Testament is full of prophecies of Jesus coming to save the world. The ordinance of sacrificing the firstborn lamb was given as a reminder of Christ’s coming. (I say “ordinance” because I don’t know what else to call it. It wasn’t just a tradition or a practice. It was a commandment.)
Like the firstborn lamb, Jesus was the firstborn of Mary. In the scriptures, a virgin may also represent someone who is morally clean (Rev. 14:4). She was a virgin both in the literal and the spiritual sense of the word (Luke 1:27-28). She was engaged to Joseph and had not yet “known” him. In the scriptures that means they had not had sexual intercourse. I can think of a lot of lessons we can take from Mary’s example. But the one I’m thinking about today is that repentance is a gift we are given to purify our hearts. If we have fallen, we get back up, repent and move forward. We are not forever “impure” after our first mistake. We make a commitment at baptism to follow Christ. We repent daily and we take the Sacrament weekly to recommit. When was the last time I was pure and clean? The last time I participated in that sacred ordinance of the Sacrament. Not everyone can be the mother of Jesus. But we can prepare ourselves to receive His message; whenever and however it comes.
Righteous people had been preparing (blood sacrifice) for hundreds of years for this to happen. How would people find out about it in a time before Twitter, Facebook, internet, cell phones or even a news wire? The Holy Spirit communicates His message. We have to learn what that communication feels like.
I can’t blog without a photo. So, here’s a mom with a baby:
You can’t read the Christmas story in Luke without running across the angel, Gabriel, at least a couple times. While I don’t believe angels have wings, I do believe in angels or heavenly messengers and can see how someone could describe them that way.
This is one of my favorite paintings by Greg Olsen:
I have lots of earthly angels in my life; in the form of family, friends and people who’ve popped in and out of my life for a specific purpose. I think of Karson, our grandbaby who died before he was born. It is hard to understand how such a short life could have such an impact on a family. I feel like he is watching over his parents and sister and brother. I’ve never personally seen a heavenly messenger but I’ve felt impressions so strongly that it seemed I heard a voice. One thing I know for certain is that this life on earth is not the end of our life. Our job is to stay alive as long as possible because there are things to learn here that can’t be learned in the next life. And I am not talking about reincarnation.
But I digress…or do I?
Don’t discount the Christmas story because it has an angel in it. Maybe the lesson from the scriptures today is to pay attention to the impressions I get.