Sunday, December 19, 2010

Being a Disciple of Christ in the Christmas Season

The following is the written version of a sermon I gave earlier today at church and is my personal Christmas message to everyone this year:

I was asked to speak on what it means to be a disciple of Christ during the Christmas season.

As a child, I couldn’t wait for Christmas to come along. It was a time of family gathering together, cookies, games, television specials, and the best thing of all: unwrapping gifts to reveal all the toys I’d be playing with for the next year! It was almost too much to handle – all that waiting for the goodies I’d been coveting. Of course, I had to endure getting things like clothes from mother and hand knit slippers from a grandmother who didn’t understand what Christmas was about. They clearly didn’t have a clue! Oh how the years have gone by since then and oh how much I’d like a pair of new slippers knitted by my grandmother to keep my feet warm – especially during this bitterly cold winter we are having.

Age and the knowledge acquired over those years have changed my perspective mightily. A greater understanding of what is truly important in life makes for a very different feeling about Christmas time. While it is still much about family, the holiday season doesn’t fill me with anticipation the way it once did. Of course, being raised in a secular household that had no spirituality or faith made it more of a material holiday back then. Having found faith in Jesus Christ, it has different meaning to me now. Sadly, many I see are still caught in the material trappings of the season that have little to do with the Savior. We must not forget Him in the midst of all the blinking lights, frenzied shopping, distractions, even decorations and trimmings of a very commercialized and ever more secular holiday.

To be a true disciple of Christ, first one must understand what a disciple is. In the Bible dictionary, a disciple is defined as the following: “A pupil or learner; a name used to denote (1) the twelve, also called apostles, (2) all followers of Jesus Christ.” Most people think of the Apostles when ‘disciple’ is used, but the word applies to all of us who take on the name of Christ and follow in his path. In Acts 11: 26, we read “And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” So Christian is another word for disciple. But there is more to it than that.

There are things that followers of Christ must do. In D&C 41: 5, it says “he who does the law is the Lord’s disciple.” We also read, “But my disciples shall stand in holy places, and shall not be moved;” in D&C 45: 32. Moving to section 84 of D&C, the Lord proclaimed, “Whoso receiveth you receiveth me; and the same will feed you, and clothe you, and give you money. And he who feeds you, or clothes you, or gives you money, shall in nowise lose his reward. And he that doeth not these things is not my disciple; by this you may know my disciples.”

Much is asked of those who would be disciples of Jesus Christ. It isn’t meant to be easy and I found the following scripture interesting. When the Lord visited the remnants of Israel in the Americas he set apart apostles there as he had in Israel. “And now it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words, he said unto those twelve whom he had chosen: Ye are my disciples; and ye are a blight unto this people, who are a remnant of the house of Joseph.” 3 Ne. 15: 11-12. Being a blight on others sounds harsh, doesn’t it? But those who make a stand for that which is right, good, and holy are something of a pain to those who don’t. It pricks them deeply, but shouldn’t stop us from doing what’s right.

We are asked to be obedient in Matthew 10: 24-25, “The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord.” We are asked to sacrifice in Luke 14: 33, “So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.” Most of all, we are to love others. In John 13:34-35 the Savior declared, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” Love. To me, love is at the heart of being a true disciple of Christ.

We live in a materialistic world, where things often have more value than people do. To me, no time of year more embodies this than the holiday season. Perhaps my saying this disturbs you, but I’ve watched the incredible amount commercialization take over Christmas more every year. The constant sales pitches, the people running around and even fighting with each other to buy the latest and greatest time killing toy, for child or adult, seems to me to have nothing to do with the true love of Christ. By that, I am speaking of charity, of course.

There are so many who need love and help, especially in this often lonely time of year. While we need to strive to be true disciples every day of the year, the expectations and stresses of this increasingly frenetic holiday season are a sore trial for those who have little and even those who have much. No matter what part of society we inhabit, we should remember that all people are our brothers and sisters, all children of God. That includes our family members, a known source of stress – well, at least in my experience.

Charity takes many forms and while we are often mindful of the physical needs of others around Christmas time, there are other ways to show Christ like love. My words are utterly inadequate, so I will quote from President Thomas S. Monson’s address to the General Relief Society Meeting earlier this year. The sisters will be familiar with it but I think it applies to the brethren as well:

“I consider charity--or "the pure love of Christ"--to be the opposite of criticism and judging. In speaking of charity, I do not at this moment have in mind the relief of the suffering through the giving of our substance. That, of course, is necessary and proper. Tonight, however, I have in mind the charity that manifests itself when we are tolerant of others and lenient toward their actions, the kind of charity that forgives, the kind of charity that is patient.

I have in mind the charity that impels us to be sympathetic, compassionate, and merciful, not only in times of sickness and affliction and distress but also in times of weakness or error on the part of others.

There is a serious need for the charity that gives attention to those who are unnoticed, hope to those who are discouraged, aid to those who are afflicted. True charity is love in action. The need for charity is everywhere.

Needed is the charity which refuses to find satisfaction in hearing or in repeating the reports of misfortunes that come to others, unless by so doing, the unfortunate one may be benefited. The American educator and politician Horace Mann once said, "To pity distress is but human; to relieve it is godlike."

Charity is having patience with someone who has let us down. It is resisting the impulse to become offended easily. It is accepting weaknesses and shortcomings. It is accepting people as they truly are. It is looking beyond physical appearances to attributes that will not dim through time. It is resisting the impulse to categorize others.

In a hundred small ways, all of you wear the mantle of charity. Life is perfect for none of us. Rather than being judgmental and critical of each other, may we have the pure love of Christ for our fellow travelers in this journey through life. May we recognize that each one is doing her best to deal with the challenges which come her way, and may we strive to do our best to help out.

Charity has been defined as "the highest, noblest, strongest kind of love," the "pure love of Christ . . . ; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with [her]."

"Charity never faileth." May this long-enduring Relief Society motto, this timeless truth, guide you in everything you do. May it permeate your very souls and find expression in all your thoughts and actions.”

It is my hope that we will find ways to show charity to others this season and to also find ways to be better disciples of Christ during it – and beyond. As we go forth into this final week leading to Christmas, may we remember to love one another and express it often. Let us never forget the love of the Savior and what Christmas is truly about during the whirling madness going on about us.

Christ loved us so much He went through the unimaginable pain of performing the Atonement. Our Father in Heaven loved us so much He sent His most beloved son to be sacrificed so that we would be able to come back home to Him. We should remember this charity shown us during the season celebrating the birth of the Savior. I testify of this love and end this talk in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.