The Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ is the heart and core and center of revealed religion.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie Christ and the Creation

By , on March 16, 2016

Christmas, General Authorities, Kimball

We celebrate the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ at this season of the year. Some years ago, Sister Kimball and I were in the Holy Land with Elder and Sister Howard W. Hunter, and on Christmas Eve we were mingling with thousands of religionists and curious from around the world. We bent over to get through the small aperture into the Church of the Nativity and inched our way in turn to the crypt where some churches claim are the sacred spots of the manger and the birth of the Savior.

As we stood looking at the metal star in the concrete floor, it seemed to fade and we seemed to see a crude manger in a cave and sitting by it a lovely lady with a beautiful face and sweet spirit watching a little infant wrapped like other Hebrew babes in swaddling clothes. He had likely already been washed and rubbed with salt and laid on a square cloth, his little head on one corner and his tiny feet on the corner diagonally opposite. The cloth had been folded over his sides and up over his feet and the swaddling bands tied around the precious little bundle. His hands would be fastened to his sides, but he would be loosened occasionally and rubbed with olive oil and possibly dusted with powdered myrtle leaves. If still in swaddling bands, he could be handled easily on the trip to Egypt, and he could even be strapped to his mother’s back.

How grateful we are that the baby Jesus was born, but do we place more emphasis on his birth than upon other phases of his experiences? Is birth the major event in any of our lives? We might ask to what are we born? For what purpose is our birth?

We remember that billions have been born.

. . . .

He had said, “Love your enemies.” Now he showed how much one can love his enemies. He was dying on the cross for those who had nailed him there. As he died, he experienced such agonies that no man had ever before or has since experienced. Yet he cried out, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Was this not the last word—the supreme act? How divine to forgive those who were killing him—those who were clamoring for his blood! He had said, “Pray for them which despitefully use you,” and here he was praying for them. His life met perfectly his teachings. “Be ye therefore perfect” was his command to us. With his life, his death, and his resurrection, Jesus truly has shown us the way.

And so, as resurrection and death and life are important to achieving perfection, so also is birth. And with the thought, my mind comes back again to Bethlehem, the Bethlehem of today. My wife and our party move about with the surging crowds, we are jostled and pushed. We are nearly drowned in the ocean of innumerable bodies and faces. It is hard to concentrate upon the sacred object of our coming. There is little on the hill which can stir our reverence or satisfy our longing to be alone with our thoughts.

We have our taxi take us to the hill overlooking the shepherds’ field. Below us in the little valley is the field of Boaz and Ruth. Before us is the undulating area where shepherds once watched their sheep. On the brow of the hill is a cave opening out over the little valley. There, tradition says, the shepherds slept and watched on that eventful night. An open cave could protect them from the night’s coolness, yet still they could watch their flocks. There, gazing into the valley, the only place near Bethlehem where we could find privacy, we stood in the dark, looking out into the starry sky as did the shepherds, and with the shepherds contemplating the angel dressed in exquisite whiteness in the center of infinite glory, and the words he had said to the humble shepherds:

“Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

“For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

“And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10–12).

Did not the angels sing that night? We, too, seemed to hear faint music, not loud, but in symphonic harmony it penetrated deeply our hearts. We seemed to hear singing in unison, the never-to-be-forgotten melody, the cry of the ages: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14).

As the strains of the heavenly words merged with our hearts, we four sang. After singing “Far, far away on Judea’s plains, shepherds of old heard the joyous strains,” we stood close together in the star-lighted night with our wraps pulled tight about us—physically close, mentally close, spiritually close, emotionally close; and we communed. No lights but the twinkling lanterns in the heavens, no sound but the whispering of our subdued voices. Our Father seemed to be very near. His Son seemed close. We prayed. More in unison than a single voice, our four hearts poured out love and gratitude that rose to mingle with the prayers of all mankind that night.

We prayed our gratitude. We prayed our love. Like the raising of the flood gate releasing the long impounded and pent up waters behind a dam, our voices almost inaudible, mellowed with reverence, softened by the intangible forces of the heavenly world, we poured out our prayer of thanksgiving: grateful, Father, that we know so positively that thou dost live; that we know the babe born here was in reality thy Son; grateful that thy program is real, workable and exalting. We told him we knew him, we loved him, we would follow him. We repledged to his cause our lives, our all.

President Spencer W. Kimball
Jesus of Nazareth“, Ensign, Dec. 1980, 3

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