Cincinnati Ohio North Stake - High Council

Sunday, December 28, 2008

His Kingdom of Nobodies

Excerpted from "Thoughts on the Meaning of the Birth of Jesus"

“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we… are come to worship him. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled…And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again…. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him…And Herod…was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under…”
—Matthew 2:1-11

"One of the most striking elements of story outlined above from Matthew’s gospel is the sheer cruelty of Herod’s reaction against a perceived challenge to his power—his willingness to indiscriminately slaughter untold numbers of small children to root out the threat. The violence is especially shocking to us today, because we live in a world in which children enjoy a historically unique position of social status, legal protection, and general affection. Yet the ancient world into which the Savior was born was vastly different from ours, and the difference is thrown into sharp relief by the truly precarious status of children—particularly infants—in the peasant society of the Palestinian countryside. A child, writes New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan, “was quite literally a nobody unless its father accepted it as a member of the family rather than exposing it in the gutter or rubbish dump to die of abandonment or to be taken up by another and reared as a slave.” In that society, “a child was a nothing, a nobody, a non-person.”

If (Jesus' kingdom) is indeed a Kingdom of little children, “Jesus is, in a profound way, also saying that his is a kingdom for all those whom the world considers to be ‘nobodies.’ And in Jesus’ world, that meant the poor, the sick, the slaves, the sinners.” By focusing His message of the kingdom on children, Jesus demolished the barriers that separate those who lack worth and status in the eyes of the world from access to God.

Christ’s kingdom of nobodies presented a radical challenge indeed to the rule of Herod ... for the mere suggestion of an order in which wealthy, educated, well-traveled men condescended to worship the child of peasants. The story of Jesus’ birth in the most abject of circumstances invites us to consider what kind of kingdom that momentous and celebrated event was meant to inaugurate; to ask ourselves whether labels we apply to each other to divide and marginalize (words like “liberal,” “conservative,” “gay,” “inactive,” “immigrant,” etc.) have any meaning in such a kingdom; and to ponder the genius of the Master, who brought us access to the Kingdom of Heaven both through His atoning sacrifice and by teaching and exemplifying the principles by which we might enter."


"Atonement" means "to make as one; to unify; to bring together what once was separated." When we speak of the Atonement, we generally focus on the Garden of Gethsemane and the Cross of Golgotha (where He finished the steps to allow us to become "at one" with Him and Our Father), but we often fail to realize that an important part of the Atonement occurred at His birth - when He condescended to become "at one" with us. Think about that for a moment and contemplate what an amazing thing that is.

How many of you have ever been in a stable? How many of you have spent a night there, amid the straw and the stink and the flies? Now remember that this was a King and a God who agreed to be born in a stable. Not only did He descend below us all in His suffering and death, but He also started His life as one of the lowest of the low - a nobody among nobodies.

When we celebrate Christmas, at the most basic, fundamental level we are not marking a birth; rather, we are expressing our deep and profound gratitude for the reason for that birth - the love and condescension and grace of God that inspired the birth.

Returning to the concept of the place of children in His time, it is important to make one more point:

Under the ancient system of inheritance, the oldest son inherited everything from his father. Younger sons were left to establish their own inheritance for their oldest sons, and daughters had access only to the support of their husbands. In Romans 8:17, Paul taught that Jesus turned this tradition on its head, as well - opening the inheritance of His Father to all of God's sons and daughters to share equally regardless of familial order.

And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.

So, as we contemplate the birth of Jesus, the question becomes, "Who benefited from this change?"

I submit that the primary group for whom Jesus was born was the group that became His kingdom of nobodies - the poor, the scorned, the publicans and sinners, the sick, the shepherds, the lepers, the lame. Everyone else had a "place" of acceptance within the society of that time; Jesus lived among, taught, loved and, most importantly, healed those others rejected and despised and marginalized.

As we celebrate His birth, we should ask ourselves a few very pointed questions:

"Are we serving those Jesus served?"

"Are we loving those Jesus loved?"

"What would happen if someone stumbled into our meetings (perhaps during the actual administration of the sacrament) reeking of alcohol or tobacco, in filthy, ragged clothing that smelled of the street and sat down next to us?"

"Would we put our arms around them - or would be scoot to the other end of the pew - or would be ask them to stay in the foyer as we worshiped in the chapel?"

In Matthew 25:40, Jesus said, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

As we celebrate Christmas, I hope we remember those who are homeless, abused, hungry, sick or alone. We share of our abundance with others who have abundantly, but do we bless the lives of those suffer the most among us? If we don't, I'm afraid we are missing the most fundamental lesson of His birth and subsequent life - and we are failing to build the Kingdom of Nobodies he lived and died to create.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

What Gifts Can We Give to Jesus This Christmas?

We expend copious amounts of energy, time and money at Christmas time. Along with this seasonal flurry of activity we direct our focus to the humble birth of Jesus Christ.

I would like to discuss this focus of the birth of the baby Jesus. In fact, given His birth occurred 2,000 years ago, I would like to move the discussion forward to our day. It is customary to give presents to one on their birthday, so what gifts can we give to Jesus this Christmas?

Specifically, one of the greatest gifts we could give the Lord would be to sanctify ourselves. We must be sanctified, since no unclean thing can dwell with and see God. This process will entail a lifelong series of changes and improvements until we reach the point “That [our] minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him”.

So how do we begin or, if we have already started on this course, then to augment our effort to progress spiritually in the midst of the turmoil and decline about us?

The elders of the Church were in conference and desired to know what the Church should do “in view of the critical times that had been predicted.”

The Prophet Joseph Smith asked such a question of the Lord during this same time of year – in December of 1832. What resulted was revelation, which became Section 88 of the Doctrine and Covenants. This revelation contains several points for achieving spiritual peace.

Promises from the Lord contained in the first few verses were given to these men. He promised them another Comforter. Joseph Smith explained there were two Comforters spoken of. One is the Holy Ghost and the other Comforter spoken of is the Lord Jesus Christ.

He went on to explain when a person obtains this last Comforter that Christ will attend to this such a person, He will manifest the Father unto him, the visions of the heavens will be opened and that he may have a perfect knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God.

Further along in D&C 88, the Lord lays out guidelines for us. “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you: seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you."

And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness within you; and that body filled with light comprehendeth all things.” Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God.”

This scripture received from the Savior is a message of peace. Herein we find the positive steps we must take to be acceptable to Him. In following these steps, we will not only earn the highest degree of glory, but also we can escape the trials and judgments of our times.

Throughout the scriptures we find other guidance about sanctification. In Helaman we read:

“…they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, into the fulfilling of their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God.”

Jesus teaches us in 3 Nephi; “Repent…and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost”.

Paul, beckoned by King Agrippa, recounts to him of his conversion on the Damascus road and Jesus’ instruction to him to become a “minister and a witness”. Paul relates to Agrippa the Lord instructed him,

“To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.”

In the very final teaching of Moroni in the last chapter of the Book of Mormon, he states;

“if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God.”

While explaining how the gospel prepares us for eternal glory, Paul explains to the Thessalonians,

“…because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth:

Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

In revelation to Joseph Smith, the Lord instructs the saints to act in all holiness. He states; “Purge ye out the iniquity which is among you; sanctify yourselves before me;”

In conjunction with the Lord’s covenant to make Israel a holy nation and kingdom of priests, he said unto Moses, “Go unto the people, and sanctify them to day and to morrow…”

The Lord further commands Israel, “For I am the Lord your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy.”

The Lord promises an endowment of power to those who sanctify themselves. “Sanctify yourselves and ye shall be endowed with power”.

We obtain this promise by receiving our endowment in the holy temple. We can also receive this endowment as proxies for those who have died without the knowledge and opportunity to receive it and thereby enable them to become sanctified.

Doctrine and Covenants Section 76 teaches us “That [Jesus] came into the world…to be crucified for the world, and to bear the sins of the world, and to sanctify the world, and to cleanse it from all unrighteousness.”

In doing these things, Christ brought forth the Plan of Salvation for us.

We learn from the scriptures that the Earth will be sanctified from all unrighteousness preparatory for celestial glory. This transformation is necessary so that the Earth will be fit for the presence of God the Father. It will also be the abode of resurrected beings.

“Therefore, it [the Earth] must needs be sanctified from all unrighteousness, that it may be prepared for the celestial glory;”

In conclusion, may I quote Elder Bruce R. McConkie, “To be sanctified is to become clean, pure and spotless; to be freed from the blood and sins of the world; to become a new creature of the Holy Ghost, one whose body has been renewed by the rebirth of the Spirit.”

Our gift to Christ of pursuit and progression along the course of sanctifying ourselves will manifest great approval from Him. Blessings will accrue upon us, our family and even our posterity as we live in companionship with the Spirit. As the Apostle Peter proclaimed, “Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.”