Anticipation can be described as the excitement one has for a future important event, and perhaps can be measured by the extent of the preparations made for that significant event. Christmas time is a wonderful time filled with lots of anticipation. There are many exciting and beautiful things happening around us at Christmas time - colorful, sparkling lights; special music; amazing displays portraying historical and seasonal events; time spent with family and friends; delightful Christmas dinners; wonderful gifts and time spent withh others opening those gifts; time off from our jobs, school, and other activities - and we are so busy. We are busy preparing for this special day and special season each year which will bring joy and wonderful memories to us all. With all this excitement and busyness it can be easy to overlook the spiritual element of Christmas.
As I thought about Christmas and all its associated festivities, I pondered over the excitement and anticipation that must have been felt by those people who were part of the first Christmas. I thought how the recognition of the things those people must have felt so long ago could help us draw closer to the Savior as we celebrate his birth.
The Need for a Savior
In the beginning, when God created man and woman and placed them in the beautiful Garden of Eden, they were innocent, pure and perfect. They lived in the presence of God, but they lacked experience, they needed to learn to choose good over evil on their own, they needed challenges so they could grow. We needed these opportunities as well. By eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam and Eve transgressed a commandment God had given to them. At that time they also changed and they began to mature. They began to understand the difference between good and evil as they were forced out of God's presence for the act of disobedience, they also became mortal - they would one day die.
However negative these changes seemed, they were also positive because this was according to a plan which existed in heaven even before Adam and Eve were created. This plan stated that because Adam and Eve were unable to return to God's presence on their own merits due to their transgression, someone would have to pay the price for their transgression to satisfy the demands of justice. This person would also have to be someone who could help them overcome death. This person had to be a perfect, sinless God who could pay an infinite price and overcome death - a perfect and sinless person because only someone untainted could satisfy the demands of justice; a God because only a God could forgive sins, restore purity and overcome death. Because Adam and Eve's posterity were born into this state, this atonement to be done by their Savior would have to cover Adam, Eve and every person that would come after them. Thus this Saviors atonement must also be infinite - being able to cover everyone who came before or after him. Without such a Savior all mankind would be forever separated from Gods presence being bound by sin and never able to overcome death or be redeemed.
Many prophets have tried to explain to us, the children of Adam and Eve, this precarious state which we are in:
Romans 3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
Alma 34:9 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.
Thus, the appearance of this Savior would be a huge event, bigger and more important than any other event that would ever occur on the earth - and God needed to let people know about it so they could take advantage of this great and wonderful opportunity to be redeemed and have eternal life. He chose prophets, he gave them visions, he gave them dreams, he told them what was going to happen and he told them to tell others. He didn't tell everyone directly himself because he wanted people to choose righteousness, and to follow the Savior by faith - of their own free will and personal choice.
Prophecies of the Birth and Role of The Savior
There were many prophets testifying and teaching about God, his commandments and things that people needed to know. These same prophets foretold the coming of this Savior. Isaiah, one of these prophets, received revelation from the Lord about his future birth and role of the Savior, he gave many details about his coming. To Ahaz, king of Judah Isaiah said:
Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; a child Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
Later Isaiah also prophesied more concerning the coming Savior:
Isaiah 9:6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
In the Book of Mormon, a book written by prophets came to the American continent, prophets recorded the things they taught. Nephi, one of these prophets, saw a vision wherein an angel showed him many things about Christ's birth.
I Nephi 11:18 And he said unto me: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.
1 Nephi 11:20 And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms.
21 And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?
Alma, another ancient prophet on the American continent and the first chief judge over the Nephite people and high priest of their Church also spoke of the birth of Christ as he spoke to the people in Gideon at about 83 BC:
Alma 7:9 But behold, the Spirit hath said this much unto me, saying: Cry unto this people, saying—Repent ye, and prepare the way of the Lord, and walk in his paths, which are straight; for behold, the kingdom of heaven is at hand, and the Son of God cometh upon the face of the earth.
10 And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God.
Because of the amazing experiences these men had with God, angels and the Holy spirit, they had a profound knowledge and understanding of the existence of God, the reality of the plan of salvation and the need for and the existence of the Savor Jesus Christ. Can you imagine how being armed with such an understanding and knowledge of God would change one's outlook on the world, their relationship with others and the choices they make? These men would often give up everything they had and change the entire course of their lives because they knew it was crucial to Gods plan. No wonder some of these prophets have expressed in the scriptures their great desires to see the Lords work fulfilled.
Miraculous Experiences at the Time of Christ's Birth
The Virgin Mary
Prophets were not the only ones that had marvelous spiritual experience, others also were chosen to do special things in bringing to pass this Gospel plan. The Virgin Mary was a choice young woman, who had kept herself pure and was soon to be marriet. She was visited by the angel Gabriel and told she would bear the Son of God, how must she have felt when she heard:
Luke 1:31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.
32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:
33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
35 And the angel answered and said unto her, 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.
Joseph to Take Mary to Wife
Perhaps some fathers may read this, you fathers, think how Joseph must have felt when he learned that Mary was to have a child and was visited by an angel in his dreams who said:
Matthew 1:18 ¶Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.
20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,
23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
24 Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:
How did they feel for those months waiting for the birth of their Son, knowing what they knew because of the visions and dreams they had, the prophecies they had heard? perhaps they did not even fully understand it completely, they just obeyed stayed true to their God. How must they have felt when they first held and kissed their sweet and fragile son, who was really the God and Savior of the world, They were normal people like us, not rich, not powerful, but for their goodness chosen by God for these crucial roles in the eternal plan.
Events at The Time of Christ's Birth and Shortly Thereafter
The Shepherds in the Field
Others were called to witness this great event, normal people like us - we don't know why they were chosen, but the must have been deemed worthy of receiving the blessing of being witnesses to such an event. When the angel and other heavenly host appeared to the shepherds in the field at the time of Christs birth, they were "sore afraid", then after receiving their message they said to one another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. - Luke 2:15.
Luke 2:8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David aSaviour, which is Christ the Lord.
12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
The Magi Journey to See the Christ Child
Not much is known about the Magi, whether they were actually kings, Zoroastrians, where they were from or how many there really were; but they were watching the heavens and saw the new star appear. They knew the prophecies and knew it was a big event - and they wanted to be there. Evidently with much anticipation, they prepared for and took their long journey from the east to find the prophesied king. They found Herod and asked "where is he who is born King of the Jews", Herod's scholars directed them to Bethlehem.
The Magi found the Christ child and his family - perhaps the humble home he was found in seemed to be a holy place to them. They brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Herod had asked that they return and tell him where the child was after they found him, Herod wanted to destroy this king, but the Magi, being warned departed by a different way after visiting the holy family.
Simeon, a Prophet at the Temple Meets the Christ Child
Consider again Mary and Joseph when they were taking Jesus to the temple to offer sacrifice and present Him to the Lord. They brought with them two turtle doves or pigeons for the sacrifice, an indicator that they were not wealthy since people who had sufficient means would have brought a lamb as one of the sacrifices, but the law allowed for the use of two of the birds wherein the parents were not wealthy.
At the temple, they met an old man named Simeon to whom 26 .. it was revealed ... by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came by the Spirit into the temple this day and found the family there. He took the child in his arms, blessed God and said:
Luke 2: 29 Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:
30 For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
31 Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
32 A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.
Simeon was given this promise long ago. The Egyptian pharaoh Ptolemy II Philadelphus(285-247 B.C.) wanted to have a copy of the scriptures in the library at Alexandria. He invited scholars from Jerusalem to do the work of translating the scriptures into Greek from Hebrew. Simeon was one of these 72 scholars that help translate the scriptures, this version became known as The Septuagint.
While Simeon was translating a verse in the book of Isaiah he read the words: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive in the womb, and shall bring forth a Son: Isaiah 7:14. He thought the word "virgin" was incorrect and was about to replace it with the word "woman". An angel appeared to him and stopped him, the angel explained that the prophecy was true and correctly written. The angel also explained that Simeon would see the prophecy fulfilled, that he would live to see Christ the Lord born of a virgin. When Simeon held Christ in his hands at the temple he would have been well over 200 years old
Faith and Obedience Proceed the Miracle
This great event happened over two millennia ago, and we celebrate it each year - telling the wonderful stories again and again. The people involved in this first Christmas and the events around it had miraculous experiences that brought them to know God in special ways. These were good people, normal people like us. They had struggles and hardships like many of us, probably much worse that most of us.
These people were blessed by God to have these special experiences because of their dedication to him. Although many of them probably could not read nor write, they wanted to live by his law, his word, and his Gospel. They did the best they could with what they knew - much of that knowledge coming from their families and religious leaders, reiterating the prophecies and traditions handed down to them. Because they decided to follow God's will and stayed true to that decision they were blessed and came to know the Lord in an amazing and special way.
I hope that this Christmas is a special one for you, may you feel the spirit today as you think about these people who were part of the first Christmas. May you feel the Holy Spirit in your life as you consider your own relationship with the Savior and those around you. May you come to know the Savior and have wonderful experiences with him as you seek him and live according to his principles. Have faith and may he work miracles in your life much like these people he did for these people. Merry Christmas.
1. Ancient historians tell us that the Egyptian pharaoh Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285-247 B.C.) wished to include texts of Holy Scripture in the famous Library at Alexandria. He invited scholars from Jerusalem, and the Sanhedrin sent their wise men. The Righteous Simeon was one of the seventy scholars who came to Alexandria to translate the Holy Scriptures into Greek. The completed work was called “The Septuagint,” and is the version of the Old Testament used by the Orthodox Church.
Saint Simeon was translating a book of the Prophet Isaiah, and read the words: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive in the womb, and shall bring forth a Son” (Is 7:14). He thought that “virgin” was inaccurate, and he wanted to correct the text to read “woman.” At that moment an angel appeared to him and held back his hand saying, “You shall see these words fulfilled. You shall not die until you behold Christ the Lord born of a pure and spotless Virgin.” https://oca.org/saints/lives/2013/02/03/100409-holy-righteous-simeon-the-god-receiver
2. During the reign of the Egyptian Emperor Ptolemy Philadelphus, Simeon was chosen as one of the prominent Seventy to whom was entrusted the task of translating the Bible from the Hebrew language into the Greek language [The Septuagint]. Simeon was performing his task conscientiously but when he was translating the book of the Prophet Isaiah and came upon the prophecy: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and will give birth to a son" (Isaiah 7:14), he became confused and took a knife to remove the word "virgin" and to replace it with the words, "young woman," and as such to translate it into Greek. At that moment, however, an angel of God appeared to Simeon and restrained him from his intention, explaining to him that the prophecy is true; that the prophecy is correctly written: that it is true and correct. The messenger of God also said that Simeon would be convinced of it personally for, according to the Will of God, he will not die until he sees the Messiah born of the Virgin. The righteous Simeon rejoiced to hear such a voice from heaven, left the prophecy unchanged and thanked God Who is making him worthy to live and to see the Promised One. When the young Child Jesus was presented in the Temple in Jerusalem by the Virgin Mary, the Spirit of God appeared to Simeon who was very old and as "white as a swan." Simeon quickly entered the Temple and there recognized both the Virgin and the young Child by the light that shone around their heads as an aureal. The joyful Simeon took Christ into his hands and prayed to God to release him from this life: "Now, Master, You may let Your servant go in peace, according to Your word, for my eyes have seen Your salvation" (St. Luke 2: 29-30). Anna the Prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, was also there, who recognized the Messiah and proclaimed Him to the people. "And coming forward at that very moment, she gave thanks to God, and spoke about the Child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem" (St. Luke 2:38). At that time, Anna was eighty-four years old. St. Simeon died shortly after that. This righteous Elder Simeon is considered to be the Protector of young children. http://188.8.131.52/prolog/February3.htm http://www.rocor.org.au/?page_id=925