In the popular film Miracle on 34th Street, the central figure, Kris Kringle, is taken to court over his claim to be the real Santa Claus. At stake is the faith of a child who wants to believe in Santa but is caught in a tug-of-war with her hardheaded mother (who is convinced that she should outgrow such fantasies). In the real world, tragically, the controversy between faith and skepticism is fought upon much more serious ground: one need look no further than the latest holiday headlines to know something of the erosion of faith in Jesus Christ as the literal Son of God-even among church attenders. In His own time, Jesus was crucified because some said He blasphemed in claiming to be a God; in our time, He is vilified by those who claim Him to be only a man. It isone thing to question the Miracle on 34th Street; and wholly another to lose hope in the Miracles of Calvary, Gethsemane, and Bethlehem. The Christian writer Malcolm Muggeridge asks a poignant question, “Would something like the miracle of Bethlehem even be allowed to happen in our day?”:
In humanistic times like ours, a contemporary virgin … would regard a message from the Angel Gabriel that she might expect to give birth to a son to be called the Son of the Highest as ill-tidings of great sorrow … It is, in point of fact, extremely improbable, under existing conditions, that Jesus would have been permitted to be born at all. Mary’s pregnancy, in poor circumstances, and with the father unknown, would have been an obvious case for an abortion; and her talk of having conceived as a result of the intervention of the Holy Ghost would have pointed to the need for psychiatric treatment, and made the case for terminating her pregnancy even stronger. Thus our generation, needing a Savior more, perhaps, than any that has ever existed, would be too humane to allow one to be born; too enlightened to permit the Light of the World to shine in a darkness that grows ever more oppressive.
Against this sad backdrop of doubt, I am grateful for the light God has given us. I am glad to declare the divinity of our Lord; to affirm that it is the Christ of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, not the Jesus of Rice, Webber, Kazantzakis,and Crossan who is real; to testify that Jesus is not merely a man who died but a God who lives.
In this article, I will discussthree survival skills for these skeptical times: believing in Christ, submitting to God’s will, and seeing with an eye of faith.
Believing in Christ
To believe in Christ, we must first understand who He is. From the Gospel of John, chapter one, we read:
1. In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
2. The same was in the beginning with God.
3. All things were made by him;
and without him was not any thing made that was made.
4. In him was life;
and the life was the light of men.
5. And the light shineth in darkness;
and the darkness comprehended it not….
10. He was in the world,
and the world was made by him,
and the world knew him not.
11. He came unto his own,
and his own received him not.
12. But as many as received him,
to them gave he power to become the sons of God,
even to them that believe on his name.
What does it mean to “believe on the name” of Jesus Christ? It is, of course, something more than a mental or verbal assent; it means a kind of belief that has a profound impact on our daily lives: our attitudes and vicissitudes, our relationships and one-upmanships, our likes and dislikes, our appointment books and our checkbooks. Christian belief is one with Christian action: serving when it is inconvenient to serve, loving those whom it is difficult to love, and “[looking] up to God and [caring] about what is right” rather than “sideways to man and [arguing about] who is right.”In short, believing in Christ thoroughly changes what we do, think, and say; it imposes the highest possible standards: uncompromising honesty, unbounded charity, costly commitment, and absolute forgiveness. President Howard W. Hunter has said:
… I invite all members of he Church to live with ever more attention to the life and example of the Lord Jesus Christ, especially the love and hope and compassion he displayed. I pray that we will treat each other with more kindness, more patience, more courtesy and forgiveness.
This Christmas, mend a quarrel. Seek out a forgotten friend. Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust. Write a letter. Give a soft answer. Encourage youth. Manifest your loyalty in word and deed. Keep a promise. Forgo a grudge. Forgive an enemy. Apologize. Try to understand. Examine your demands on others. Think first of someone else. Be kind. Be gentle. Laugh a little more. Express your gratitude. Welcome a stranger. Gladden the heart of a child. Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth. Speak your love and then speak it again.
Submitting to God’s Will
There is, however, more than Christian kindness that is required of a disciple, and if we miss this, we miss the essence of what ChristHimself exemplified. To believe and follow Him means that we, like Jesus, “submit cheerfully and with patience” to the will of our Father in Heaven, our will, like His, being “swallowed up in the will of the Father.” Jesus said:
I can of mine own self do nothing…
I seek not mine own will,
but the will of the father which hath sent me.
This means that it is not enough to merely love and serve our fellow man – for there are many without faith in God who do the same – but that we must allow Him to direct us as to how we can best serve at any moment: whether it is feeding the famished in the soup kitchens this morning or assuaging spiritual hunger this afternoon; working in the House of the Lord or stopping at the home of a neighbor; shouldering boxes into a moving truck or bearing the burdens of a troubled friend; volunteering at the elementary school or teaching in the Sunday school; devoting a year to the Peace Corps or two in the missionary corps; attending a meeting away or playing with the children at home.
You remember the story of Mary and Martha, who received Jesus as a dinner guest. When Jesus arrived, Mary left off her work to sit at his feet while Martha continued her preparations. Martha, concerned about all that was left to be done, came in saying, “Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.” “She was talking to Jesus but really at Mary. For the moment she had lost her calmness in undue worry over incidental details.” Jesus replied tenderly to her complaining, “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” As Elder James E. Talmage observes:
There was no reproof of Martha’s desire to provide well; nor any sanction of possible neglect on Mary’s part… Both these women were devoted to Jesus, and each expressed herself in her own way …
[But] one-sided service, however devoted, may become neglect …
By inattention to household duties, the little touches that make or mar the family peace, many [parents have] reduced [their] home to a comfortless house; [while] many [others have] eliminated the essential elements of home by [their] self-assumed and persistent drudgery, in which [they deny to their] dear ones the cheer of [their] loving companionship ….
[Jesus] desired not well-served meals and material comforts only, but [also] the company of the sisters… He had more to give them than they could possibly provide for Him.
Believing that temporal and spiritual matters are one,we accept as a corollary that small choices may have great consequences. We look to God to help us recognize and act upon the things that matter most, lest we be found “straightening the deck chairs” on a sinking Titanic.
Seeing with an Eye of Faith
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, disciples of Christ are called to seewith “an eye of faith.”In submitting to God’s will, we find that He not only opens our eyes to the unseen but also allows us to seewhat others see differently. Speaking to His disciples, Jesus said:
13 …I [speak] to [the people] in parables:
because they seeing
they hear not,
neither do they understand….
16. But blessed [are] your eyes,
for they see:
and your ears,
for they hear.
What do disciples of Christ see that others do not? They see that transitoryearth lifeis part of eternal life; that although the evil of this world will crumble as suddenly and unexpectedly and completely as the Berlin Wall, the seeds of goodness will,in God’s own time, take final root and grow to fill the earth. They seein the birth of Jesus to Mary, singular as it was, thesame hand of heaventhat delivers eachchild to its mother, allendowed with a potential no less than that of their Lord.
Along with the saints who have gone before, disciples of Christ confess that they are “strangers and pilgrims on the earth” who “desire a better country,” and while hungering in their journey they find refreshment and temporary refuge intemples, those precious waystations benevolently scattered along the trail to their permanent home. They see the hidden celestial glory in each good mortal thing while realizing that the very best of what is here is but a shadow of the joys that await us in the sanctified earth that will become our heaven.
Through the practiced experience of years of looking with the eye of faith, we come to know that God and Heaven are real, as real if not more so than our houses, our cars, and our jobs, and that His business morereal and pressing than the money matters that ring our cell phone. How different our lives would be if we could continually see the reality of Heaven and Hell as clearly as we see the things of earth – “with undeniable certainty and invincible distinctness.” Every false motive would then disappear, and every decision would be made in the light of eternity.
It was a bleak January Sunday in Calais, France, a coastal town that borders the English Channel. I was serving as a full-time missionary. The active and able-bodied members had left to attend a district conference in the city of Lille, and my companion and I had been assigned to stay in Calais to conduct a sacrament meeting for anyone who might turn up. During the priorweek, we visited some of the forgotten membersalong with those who were too poor, too sick, or too elderly to travel to Lille.We invited them to meet with us and, in some cases,to bear their testimonies. That Sunday, as we welcomed our band of perhaps a dozen humble worshipers into the dilapidated building where we held our sacrament services, my heart filled with an overwhelming spirit of love. I sensed that I was feeling something of what Godfelt for each of these brothers and sisters,and I came to knowthat He cared for each of them no less than He did for the other faithful who dutifully attended their meetings in Lille that day. As I gave a concluding testimony, I felt impressed to read from 3 Nephi about the visit of Jesus Christ to the small remaining group of Nephites who gathered to the temple following the great earthquakes and darkness in their land. As I read, it became clear to me that the events described there were as real as the little meeting-hall scene before my eyes. The Spirit bore witness to me that His Second Coming was no less real and that there was no better way to prepare for that eventthan to study the Book of Mormon.
Because of this experience and many others, I can testify that as surely as Jesus came long agoto Bethlehem, He shall come again a second time to the earth.For that reason, just as at Eastertime we might placea symbol of the empty tomb besidethat of the cross, so at Christmastime, it might be fitting to hang a painting of the Savior’s coming in glory next to the manger scene. When we carol, let us sing not only Silent Night, but in addition, The Day Dawn is Breaking; to O Come All Ye Faithful let us add Come O Thou King of Kings; and may we remember not only I Wonder as I Wander, but also I Wonder When He Comes Again. His birth was real, and so will be His glorious return.
Author’s note: This Christmas article, which expresses my thoughts and testimony in a devotional mode, was adapted from a sacrament meeting talk given on December 25, 1994.
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