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“Christmas as Devotional”: Christ appeared in order to reconcile us

“Christmas as Devotional”: Christ appeared in order to reconcile us December 25, 2020

 

Snow in Jerusalem
Israel is a very Christmas-relevant place, but most of it scarcely ever gets snow (which, for some reason, many people — not including me, a Californian — regard as a holiday drawback). Here, though, is a scene in Jerusalem following an unusually heavy snowfall in 2013.

(Wikimedia Commons public domain image)

 

First of all, I wish everyone out there a Merry Christmas!

 

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Cherry Bushman Silver wrote the Interpreter Foundation’s Christmas essay for 2020.  That essay appeared today in Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship:

 

Christmas as Devotional: A Time of Commitment

Abstract: Christmas is more than a time for celebrations and traditions — it is an occasion to remember the blessings and miracles in our lives. From the joy of friends and family to the peace inspired by devotion and dedication Christmas offers us a time to marvel at the mercies of God; let us remember the holier anthems of the season.

 

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Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
hail th’incarnate Deity,
pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus, our Immanuel. . . .

Mild he lays his glory by,
born that we no more may die,
born to raise us from the earth,
born to give us second birth.

 

The phrase “Mild he lays his glory by,” coupled with what has already been said in the carol about Christ’s divine and exalted antemortal status, puts me in mind of the angel’s question recorded in 1 Nephi 11:16:  “Knowest thou the condescension of God?”

 

For modern readers and speakers of English, the word condescension primarily conjures up patronizing behavior or attitudes.  However, the oldest or, at least, the earliest attested sense of the word signifies (according to Merriam-Webster) “voluntary descent from one’s rank or dignity in relations with an inferior.”  That usage is documented as early as 1647, and it is with that meaning that the term is used in the English of 1 Nephi 11:16.

 

Divine condescension, in that sense of the word, is one of the principal themes of a Christian understanding of Christmas.  See, on this subject, my 22 December 2011 Deseret News column “Pure love led Christ to descend the courts of glory.”

 

And a major theme of Christ’s incarnation and mortal life is that of atonement, or reconciliation.  For a long time, I resisted the suggested that our English word atonement derives from at-one-ment.  I thought it a cute folk etymology and a helpful teaching device, but no more.  I expected some sort of Latin origin for the word.  I just hadn’t learned it yet.  But I was wrong.  The term atonement was coined in the early sixteenth century from, precisely, at+one+ment.

 

How is atonement a Christmas theme?  Well, here’s at least one way:

 

Among the most beloved German-language Christmas carols — at least, it was one of the most popular in German-speaking Switzerland during the time that I lived there — is “O du fröhliche.”  You can listen to a performance of it here, while enjoying a nighttime photograph of Vienna’s city hall at the Christmas season:

 

“O du fröhliche”

 

Here are the lyrics, both in the contemporary German version and in my English translation:

 

O du fröhliche, o du selige,
gnadenbringende Weihnachtszeit!
Welt ging verloren, Christ ist geboren:
Freue, freue dich, o Christenheit!

O du fröhliche, o du selige,
gnadenbringende Weihnachtszeit!
Christ ist erschienen, uns zu versühnen:
Freue, freue dich, o Christenheit!

O du fröhliche, o du selige,
gnadenbringende Weihnachtszeit!
Himmlische Heere jauchzen Dir Ehre:
Freue, freue dich, o Christenheit!

 

O thou joyful, O thou blessed,
Grace-bringing Christmas time!
The world was lost, Christ is born:
Rejoice, rejoice, O Christendom!

O thou joyful, O thou blessed,
Grace-bringing Christmas time!

Christ appeared, to reconcile us:
Rejoice, rejoice, O Christendom!

O thou joyful, O thou blessed,
Grace-bringing Christmas time!
Heavenly hosts rejoice in thine honor:
Rejoice, rejoice, O Christendom!

 

I’m struck by the line “Christ ist erschienen, uns zu versühnen,” which I’ve rendered “Christ appeared, to reconcile us.”

 

The German verb versühnen (synonymous with versöhnen) means “to reconcile.”

 

And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.  Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.  (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)

 

In our current climate, it seems to me that there are few things that we need more than reconciliation, both with God and with each other.

 

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This is the note that I sent out a couple of days ago to leaders, volunteers, and others associated with the Interpreter Foundation:

 

Dear friends of the Interpreter Foundation:

As I write, it’s the two hundred and fifteenth anniversary of the birth of the Prophet Joseph Smith.  Tomorrow will be Christmas Eve.  And, obviously, Christmas itself follows the next morning.

These anniversaries and holidays fill me with gratitude.

I’m grateful at this season, too, for all of those who have given time, energy, talent, and money to make possible the remarkable success and flourishing of the Interpreter Foundation.

We continue to post blog entries and do our weekly Interpreter Radio Show.  Depending upon the state of the pandemic, we’re looking forward to the theatrical premiere of our essentially complete Witnesses dramatic film and the broadcast of its accompanying documentary film somewhere between mid-May and early July.  On New Year’s Day, Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship will have published at least one article each week for four hundred and forty-one consecutive weeks.

During this past year alone, Interpreter sponsored conferences on the Book of Moses and on temples, as well as publishing Sacred Time, Sacred Space, and Sacred Meaning (volume four in The Temple on Mount Zion series) and Seek Ye Words of Wisdom: Studies of the Book of Mormon, Bible, and Temple in Honor of Stephen D. Ricks (which is not yet generally available for purchase).

All of this represents an effort to commend and defend the Gospel of Jesus Christ, whose nativity we’ll celebrate on Friday, as it was restored through Joseph Smith, his latter-day witness.

Thank you for your friendship and your help.  I pray that you will have a joyous Christmas and a blessed 2021.

Sincerely,

Dan Peterson

President, The Interpreter Foundation

 

Posted from Bountiful, Utah

 

 


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