Note: I often feel that Christmas programs are beautiful, and well meant, and certainly full of inspiring music, and powerful scripture. I love Christmas Sundays. But, I also often leave wondering why no one ever gives weight, more weight, and meaning to the actual doctrines of Christmas–the doctrines that make Christ’s birth unique and His atonement actually possible. I’m all for talking about His birth. I’m all for praising His atonement. I just wish there was often more emphasis on how His unique birth made the atonement, and indeed our lives and hopes, actually possible. So, this is my version of a Christmas program–songs alluded to. ~BT
The Doctrines of Christmas
The Plan of Salvation hinges on the atonement of Jesus Christ. That atonement (at-one-ment) of Jesus Christ begins in the pre-mortal life, is incited by His birth, and brought to fruition by His three year ministry, His ultimate suffering in Gethsemane, and His willful offering up of His own life on the cross. This atonement of Christ serves a grand and infinite purpose that began before we came to earth and continues for each of us beyond the grave. It is the sacrifice that enables us, if we so choose, to become like—or one—with God.
In Alma 34:9-10 we read:
For it is expedient that an atonement should be made; for according to the great plan of the Eternal God there must be an atonement made, or else all mankind must unavoidably perish; yea, all are hardened; yea, all are fallen and are lost, and must perish except it be through the atonement which it is expedient should be made.
For it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice; yea, not a sacrifice of man, neither of beast, neither of any manner of fowl; for it shall not be a human sacrifice; but it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice.
Christ was that infinite and eternal sacrifice. He was able to pay justice on our behalf, provide mercy for the repentant, and secure some measure of grace for all. And how was He able to be that infinite sacrifice? He was able to be our Savior because of His unique birth.
It Began in the Pre-Mortal Life
It all began in the grand council in heaven during the foundations of the earth when Christ said, “Here am I, send me” (Abraham 3:28). And, “Father, thy will be done and the glory be thine forever” (Moses 4:2). Christ preached in that semi-innocent, pre-mortal state, to all of us, of His role and mission, and it’s purpose in our lives.
JST, St. John 1:1 (italics are JST):
In the beginning was the gospel preached through the Son. And the gospel was the word, and the word was with the Son, and the Son was with God, and the Son was of God.
We can only begin to imagine the joy we felt and the angelic singing that took place when at last the great plan of our God was prepared and ready—for us. For, indeed, Christ would condescend to come to earth, set an example for us, and to be born in Bethlehem; that each of us might have the opportunity to become like God, our Heavenly Father.
Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o’er the plain
And the mountains in reply
Echoing that joyous strain
Come to Bethlehem and see
Him whose birth the angels sing
Come adore on bended knee
Christ the Lord the newborn king
(203, Angels We Have Heard On High, LDS Hymnal, 1st and 3rd verses)
The Unique Nature of Christ’s Birth Was Critical to His Atonement
Bethlehem means “house of bread.” And, indeed Christ would become the “bread of life” (St. John 6:32-33). But, in order to become so, He had to be born of a mortal mother. A mortal mother would enable Him to be subject to (or affected by) mortal struggles including temptation and death. Because of this mortal inheritance, He would be able to feel the struggles we would feel. He would be able to suffer as we would suffer. Indeed, He would “go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people” (Alma 7:11).
Because of His mortal mother, He would also be able to die. For indeed, to be able to die is a power of mortality, not immortality. He had to be able to die in order to die for us.
In the Hymn, O Little Town of Bethlehem we are reminded of Christ’s mortal mother, the virgin Mary. “For Christ was born of Mary… O morning stars, together proclaim the holy birth, and praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth.” This birth was holy partly because of the importance of Christ’s duality. He needed to be part mortal to fulfill His role as Savior.
After Christ’s birth, many were told by angels to go and worship Him in Bethlehem. Signs in the new world were proclaiming His miraculous birth. A day and a night and a day with no darkness (Helaman 14:3-4). For, indeed, Christ’s birth fulfilled the hope of all of us, that all darkness, sin, death, and suffering would be overcome and ultimately healed.
But, how could Christ have the power to live perfectly? How could He be subject to temptation and death and yet overcome it? How could He be the infinite, godly, sacrifice required to satisfy the demands of justice?
While Christ’s mother was a mortal, He was also begotten in the flesh by God, the Father. Well did the angel Gabriel tell Mary, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).
In John 10:17-18 we read: “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.”
Christ was subject to death because of His mother. But, because of His immortal father, He had the power to keep Himself alive–to avoid death. He had to choose to lay His life down. What greater meaning comes from His sacrifice and His suffering because it was willing! “Which suffering caused myself,” Christ said, “even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men” (Doctrine and Covenants 19:18-19).
In Alma 34:8 Amulek testifies:
And now, behold, I will testify unto you of myself that these things are true. Behold, I say unto you, that I do know that Christ shall come among the children of men, to take upon him the transgressions of his people, and that he shall atone for the sins of the world; for the Lord God hath spoken it.
Peter, one of Christ’s beloved apostles, was asked by Christ, Himself, “Whom say ye that I am?” and Peter testified: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Then, later, on the day of Pentecost he added to that testimony, “Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.”
Not only did Christ take upon Himself our sins and afflictions (which required the power to keep Himself from dying as He suffered such), but He overcame death. He allowed Himself to die and had the power to raise Himself up again, whole, perfected, and immortal. Because of Him, we will all be resurrected someday. All psychological, emotional, and physical hurts will be made right. All this He was able to do because of His powerful, important, and unique birth to a mortal mother and a Heavenly Father.
We Are That We Might Have Joy
It is because of Jesus Christ’s unique birth that “we are that we might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25). Indeed, as we think again upon that grand pre-earthly council, Jesus offered His life that we might be able to learn to become like God without being condemned by the learning process (Hafen, Bruce C., “Eve Heard All These Things,” 1993 Women’s Conference © By Intellectual Reserve, Inc.). That was the purpose of His infinite atonement from the very beginning. His gift was to make all that we pass through in this life turn to joy; as it helps us learn and grow on our journey to become as much like He is as we are willing to try to be. Christ made joy in this life possible, and joy in the world to come.
Rejoice, rejoice, when Jesus reigns
And Saints their songs employ
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy
(201, LDS Hymns, Joy to the World, 2nd verse)
Though day-to-day life can often dampen our spirits and test our souls; though the world is full of division and struggle; today, and always, let us rejoice that Jesus reigns. He lives! He is our advocate with the Father. He is over all. And, He will come again in power and great glory to redeem the earth and finish the Lord’s work. All of this He will do because of one Silent Night.