Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Three Degrees of Christmas

Christmastime is an exciting and wonderful time. Christmas is perhaps the only holiday with an entire season, an entire month (or two or three) devoted to it. Most look forward to the Christmas season and miss it when it’s over. ‘Tis the season to be jolly, a season of happiness and joy, of fun and excitement and wonder, a season when people seem to come together, when our hearts are filled with compassion, when we feel more of a desire to help those who may be less fortunate than ourselves, and when we see more opportunities to do good and serve our fellow man. Christmas is a season of traditions, of family, and of worship even for those who are not actively religious. Christmas is a season of hope and love.

Of course, with Christmas come the Scrooges and the people who complain about the music and the commercialization and the cold weather. And, unfortunately, there are those who perhaps have good reason to dislike the Christmas season, people who have lost loved ones or have experienced other hardships during previous Christmas years and all of the Christmas extravaganza only serve as a harsh reminder of the past.

I’ve heard it said that there are three degrees of Christmas: Santa Claus, Silent Night, and the Adult Christ. Each degree has some sort of influence and significance in our lives, whatever the degree of importance may be.

1- Santa Claus

The Santa Claus degree is the commercialized Christmas, Xmas, and what is implied with Happy Holidays or Seasons Greetings. Santa Claus Christmas is fun, full of bright lights and elaborate decorations, snow about which people don’t complain, candy canes, Rudolph, cards, presents, Christmas trees and ornaments, and the smells and tastes of all the Christmas candies and treats. Santa Claus Christmas is perhaps best described in the lyrics to the popular Christmas song, “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas:”

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Ev'rywhere you go;
Take a look in the five and ten glistening once again
With candy canes and silver lanes aglow.
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Toys in ev'ry store
But the prettiest sight to see is the holly that will be
On your own front door.

The greetings Happy Holidays and Seasons Greetings are heard more frequently in an attempt to include all holidays such as Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and perhaps even New Years so that Christians and those with other beliefs alike may all celebrate the season together.

Santa Claus Christmas is the Christmas that the Scrooges hate. They hate the songs and the busy stores and the lack of parking and slipping on the ice and whatever else they can complain about. I say bah humbug to them; Santa Claus Christmas is fun.

2- Silent Night

The Silent Night degree of Christmas is the true Christmas story; the story of the birth of Jesus Christ, the original reason people began celebrating Christmas. The Silent Night Christmas is the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger, no room in the inns, shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night, wise men from the east; it is, in the words of a heavenly host, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” The Silent Night Christmas is the reason we give gifts to each other, although the feeling and meaning may be lost in the Santa Claus Christmas. It is the source of our feelings of goodwill toward men. The Silent Night Christmas gets its name from the sacred hymn “Silent Night” by Joseph Mohr and Franz Gruber:
Silent night! Holy night!
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and Child.
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace;
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night! Holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight!
Glories stream from heaven afar;
Heav’nly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ, the Savior, is born!
Christ, the Savior, is born!

Silent night! Holy night!
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth;
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.

The Silent Night Christmas is so wonderful because on that silent night over two thousand years ago, Christ, the Savior, was born. Families and communities around the world dress up and re-enact the holy scene each year, using the second chapter of Luke as their script. I believe that most people try at least to some degree to remember the Silent Night Christmas each season as they go about their Santa Claus Christmas excitement. The Silent Night Christmas is sacred and holy because the Savior and Redeemer was born on Christmas day.

3- Adult Christ

The Adult Christ degree of Christmas is the real reason we celebrate Christmas. Christmas is a time of hope, peace, and love and in this third degree of Christmas, the Adult Christ Christmas, our hope of peace and love becomes real.

The Holy Infant so tender and mild “increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52) and as He did so, He went about His Father’s business (see Luke 2:49). The modern prophets said of the Adult Christ:

“Though sinless, He was baptized to fulfill all righteousness. He “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38) yet was despised for it. His gospel was a message of peace and goodwill. He entreated all to follow His example. He walked the roads of Palestine healing the sick, causing the blind to see, and raising the dead. He taught the truths of eternity, the reality of our premortal existence, the purpose of our life on earth, and the potential for the sons and daughters of God in the life to come.

“He instituted the sacrament as a reminder of His great atoning sacrifice. He was arrested and condemned on spurious charges, convicted to satisfy a mob, and sentenced to die on Calvary’s cross. He gave His life to atone for the sins of all mankind. His was a great vicarious gift in behalf of all who would ever live upon the earth.

“His life, which is central to all human history, neither began in Bethlehem nor concluded on Calvary. He was the Firstborn of the Father, the Only Begotten Son in the flesh, the Redeemer of the world.”

Indeed, the Adult Christ is the real reason we celebrate Christmas. The real and lasting peace that we truly seek and that we wish upon others especially at Christmastime comes from and through the Savior. “Peace I leave with you,” He taught, “my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). He continued, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Jesus Christ did overcome the world. We gain a peace and hope of eternal life as we learn more about the Atonement. Those who have experienced hardships during the Christmas season and no longer enjoy the jollies of the Santa Claus Christmas because of undesired memories can take hope in and eventually have joy because of the Adult Christ degree of Christmas, because of His Atonement. All that is unfair in life is made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The Atonement takes a more full effect in our lives as we strive to emulate our Savior’s life of righteousness, service, and compassion. He taught, “this is my Gospel; . . . for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do” (3 Nephi 27:21). As we love and serve our fellow men just as He selflessly did during His mortal ministry, we fulfill His great commandments to love the Lord God with all our hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves (see Mark 12:30-31).

This is the true meaning of Christmas: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The Lord loves each of His children individually and equally and desires our happiness. “Men are that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25).

May we all more fully understand and act upon the true meaning of Christmas. I wish each of you a Merry Christmas and hope that the peace, hope, and joy of this Christmas season lasts throughout the whole year.