I love everything about Christmas. The sacred music, beautiful decorations, bright lights, giving of gifts, and cherished traditions create a special spirit during this season of the year. Most of all I love the message of Christmas. The story of the first Christmas reminds me of the importance of the Savior in my life. To me the message is that through Jesus' miraculous birth, exemplary ministry, and atoning mission, I can find peace, goodwill, hope, and eternal life along with all of God's children.
While there are many things to be learned from the story of Christ's birth, there are three events from that first Christmas that teach me important principles for my life as I strive to be a disciple of Christ.
The first of these events took place on the crowded streets of Bethlehem shortly before the Savior was born. Luke records,
“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed . . . And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee . . . unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem . . . To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:1 -7, emphasis added).
The phrase,“there was no room for them in the inn” has always peaked my curiosity. I wonder why there was no room in the inns of Bethlehem for Mary, Joseph, and the yet to be born Son of God. I think about those scriptural accounts where some humble man or woman was inspired to care for one of God's servants. Amulek was told by an angel to care for Alma. A widow was commanded to provide for Elijah. Why wasn’t an innkeeper told to prepare a more fitting place than a stable for the birth of the Son of God? Perhaps the Spirit did try to whisper to someone but he was too busy conducting business to hear the promptings telling him to prepare a place for his King’s birth.
Unfortunately, unless I am careful, I am no different than the innkeepers. My life can become so caught up in my daily routines of life that I may fail to let Christ in. When He knocks, do I let Him into my life or am I so busy that I turn Him away?
President Thomas S. Monson said,
“Before we can successfully undertake a personal search for Jesus, we must first prepare time for him in our lives and room for him in our hearts. In these busy days there are many who have time for gold, time for shopping, time for work, time for play, but not time for Christ.
"Lovely homes dot the land and provide rooms for eating, rooms for sleeping, playrooms, sewing rooms, television rooms, but no room for Christ." (Thomas S. Monson, "The Search for Jesus," Ensign, December 1990)
In the beautiful poem, "A Prayer for December," the poet offered this prayer:
Dearest God, please never let me,
Crowd my life full to the brim.
So like the keeper of Bethlehem’s inn,
I find I have no room for Him.
Instead let my heart’s door be ever open,
Ready to welcome the newborn King,
Let me offer the best I have,
To Him who gives me everything. (Author unknown)
At this Christmas season, I pray that I may rededicate my life to always inviting Him in, to truly knowing Him, to always hearing His voice, and to doing His will. May I never crowd Him out.
The second event took place with the shepherds on the plains of Judea when the angel and the heavenly hosts announced the birth of the Savior to the shepherds. Again Luke records,
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 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. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy . . . . 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. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away . . .the shepherds said one to another, Let us . . . go . . . unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which . . . the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen [it], they made [it] known abroad . . .” (Luke 2:8-17).
As I contemplate this account, I wonder why the angels appeared to the shepherds. Why wasn’t the Savior’s birth announced to the powerful religious or political leaders of the Jews? After all He was the King of the Jews. Why the shepherds? Maybe it was to the shepherds because they were humble, meek, and submissive and not only would they hear and accept the message but they would also act upon it. Perhaps angels did announce the Savior's birth to many others, but as with the innkeepers, they were also too busy. Maybe it was just too inconvenient or it didn’t fit in with their beliefs and traditions, and they chose not to listen or perhaps they procrastinated doing something with the message and missed their opportunity to worship the Christ child.
There may also be another reason why others are not mentioned. Luke says that the shepherds after visiting and worshipping Jesus went and “made it known” to others. They went and testified of what they had seen and felt. They shared their sacred experience with someone who recorded it. Perhaps, there were others who visited the baby Jesus but they kept silent and didn't speak of it so it was never recorded.
For me there is much to be learned from the shepherds. I learn to be humble, to listen, to go when the Spirit speaks, and importantly to testify. After I have made room for Jesus in my life, after I have sought Him and let Him in, after I have gained a testimony of Him, I need to tell others both through my actions and my words that I believe and accept Christ.
The final event took place some time later when the wise men came seeking Jesus. Matthew records,
“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem . . . there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem . . . . And, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.” (Matthew 2: 1 - 3, 9 - 11)
It's interesting that these seekers of Jesus were called “wise men”. Our traditions refer to them as three kings, but all Matthew says is that they were wise men. These men who knew of the prophecies about Jesus' birth were undoubtedly watching for the signs of His birth. Maybe they even heard heavenly choirs and heeded the message of an angel. While the innkeepers of Bethlehem, King Herod, the religious leaders of Judea, and others may have been caught unprepared, they were ready. Having seen the Star, they went searching for Him. When they found Him, they gave Him the gifts they brought. But these worldly gifts of wealth were no where near the value of the goodness of their lives. I am sure they had prepared by giving gifts of sacrifice, love, obedience, and devotion. These were the gifts and treasures of eternal significance that insured them a place at the cradle of the recently born King.
I need to be similarly prepared to receive Him. I must love, sacrifice, be obedient, and devoted so that I will be ready whenever my call to serve and worship Him comes.
As I reflect upon these events of long ago, I have much to wonder about. I believe if I can learn the lessons of the first Christmas and let Him into my life and heart, bear testimony of Him as the Shepherds did, and worship Him as the Wise men then I will be ready, as the Shepherds and Wise Men were ready, to worship Him not only during this Christmas season but throughout the whole year.