Monday, December 22, 2014

Not your average Christmas lesson - Like the Star of Bethlehem, I can lead others to Christ

Nothing like being thrown in to the deep end!  My first month in YW and they've asked me to teach the joint Christmas Sunday lesson to the girls, but don't want it to be "too Christmasy".  So here is my lesson:

One of the most beautiful symbols of the birth of Jesus Christ into this world is light. The appearance of the long-promised Messiah brought light to a darkened world.
We know from the true record in the Book of Mormon that God’s prophets had long taught the people that light would be a sign of the birth of the Only Begotten Son of God in the flesh. Samuel the Lamanite prophesied years before the birth of Jesus:
“Behold, I give unto you a sign; for five years more cometh, and behold, then cometh the Son of God to redeem all those who shall believe on his name.
“And behold, this will I give unto you for a sign at the time of his coming; for behold, there shall be great lights in heaven, insomuch that in the night before he cometh there shall be no darkness, insomuch that it shall appear unto man as if it was day.
“Therefore, there shall be one day and a night and a day, as if it were one day and there were no night; and this shall be unto you for a sign; for ye shall know of the rising of the sun and also of its setting; therefore they shall know of a surety that there shall be two days and a night; nevertheless the night shall not be darkened; and it shall be the night before he is born.
“And behold, there shall a new star arise, such an one as ye never have beheld; and this also shall be a sign unto you.” (The gifts of Christmas, Henry B. Eyring)
The Star of Bethlehem has been depicted in art as part of the Nativity scene for centuries. The star that led the Wise Men to the Savior was real. But it also was symbolic of the light that came into the world with the Savior’s birth. It is usually seen as a very large and very bright star resting just above the location where Jesus had been born. But the greatest significance of the Star of Bethlehem was not its brightness, but its part in the heavenly announcement of everything that Jesus was. 
Now why are we talking about astrology?  The reality is that the Magi, which we often hear of when speaking of the nativity, were wise men.  Magi is the basis for the word magic, and while these men were NOT magicians, they were educated to read changes in the stars and sky in order to influence and give guidance to the Kings they served.  In today’s terms they are what we would call astrologers. Whatever happened in the sky indicated 1) birth, 2) kingship and 3) Jews. It also gives us a clue about the Magi. They were interested in things Jewish.
The motive of the Magi in coming to Jerusalem tells us a great deal more about them. They wanted to worship a Jewish king. It is quite possible that some of the Magi were of Jewish descent, perhaps a Jewish remnant from Daniel’s day. This would help explain why they were watching the sky for things Jewish, why they wanted to worship a Jewish king, and why they were taken so seriously by Herod and Jewish chief priests. If they were not Jews, then they must have been most impressive magi indeed, as Jews of the time were deeply disdainful of their beliefs.
Around the time of Jesus’ birth, this star began to appear. But what has traditionally been called a “star” was an alignment of stars and planets within the constellation Leo, which is the Latin name for lion. This constellation includes the star Regulus whose name means “king.” Jupiter, the king planet, became aligned within Leo. Also, Mars, the “Warrior,” Mercury, the “Messenger,” and Venus, the “Morning Star,” all came together amidst the constellation Leo, the “Lion of Judah.”
The star of Bethlehem was this celestial phenomenon that announced the birth of the Son of God who was the Lion of Judah, the King of the nations, and God’s gift of love sent for the redemption of mankind. And it was this phenomenon that created the Star of Bethlehem, of which the Magi said, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2:2) 
We know much about the Star.
§  It signified birth.
§  It signified kingship.
§  It had a connection with the Jewish nation.
§  It rose in the east, like other stars.
§  It appeared at a precise time. 
§  Herod didn’t know when it appeared.  He lacked the education and had to rely on experts
§  It endured over time.
§  It rose in the East, but was ahead of the Magi as they went south from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.
§  It stopped over Bethlehem.

When we say it endured over time, remember that it took time for the magi to travel!  The alignment of all the constellations and planets remained, each contributing its full brightness to what became the most brilliant star these men had ever seen.

No one alive had ever seen such a conjunction. At the end of their travel, which may have taken months, these experts arrived in Jerusalem. They told their tale, and “all Jerusalem was disturbed.” Herod wanted to know two things: when the Star had appeared, and where this baby was. The Magi presumably described the timing of events and Herod sent them to Bethlehem in search of the child with orders that they return to tell where he was.

Historians tell us that respect for the stars and guidance derived from them was at a peak. Both ancient historians and the Scriptures make it clear that the Jews of this period expected a new Jewish ruler to arise, based upon Jewish prophecy. And it was accepted that the star could announce such an arrival.

It is important to understand all of the information surrounding the star of Bethlehem because, Just like that star in Bethlehem, “we have not only been given a star to guide us to heaven, we have also been given every one of the great principles of the gospel. The Church has been established upon the earth in our dispensation. We have been given a prophet “to guide us in these latter days.” We have been given the Spirit of our Heavenly Father himself to direct and inspire us. And not the least among all of these, we have been given the tremendous resources of our own souls. (Birth, Sterling W. Still, April 1975)”
President Monson addressed the star of Bethlehem when he said “If they would see the star that should at once direct their feet and influence their destiny, they must look for it, not in the changing skies or outward circumstance, but each in the depth of his own heart and after the pattern provided by the Master.” (With Hand and Heart, October 1971)
You see, Just like the Magi we have a responsibility to guide and lead those around us that they too can know and return to our Heavenly Father.  This year’s Young Women’s theme “Come Unto Me” is a personal plea from our Savior so that we can accept for ourselves and then act as representatives in leading others. 
President Monson gave several examples of this:
Not only by precept did Jesus teach, but also by example. He was faithful to his divine mission. He stretched forth his hand that others might be lifted toward God.
1.      At Galilee there came to him a leper who pleaded: “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.” (Matt. 8:2–3.) The hand of Jesus was not polluted by touching the leper’s body, but the leper’s body was cleansed by the touch of that holy hand.

2.      In Capernaum, at the house of Peter, yet another example was provided. The mother of Peter’s wife lay sick of a fever. The sacred record reveals that Jesus came “and took her by the hand, and lifted her up; and immediately the fever left her. …” (Mark 1:31.)

3.      So it was with the daughter of Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue. Each parent can appreciate the feelings of Jairus as he sought the Lord, and, upon finding him, fell at his feet and pleaded, “My little daughter lieth at the point of death; I pray thee, come and lay thy hands on her, that she may be healed; and she shall live.” (Mark 5:23.) “While he yet spake, there cometh one from the [ruler’s] house, saying to him, Thy daughter is dead; trouble not the Master. “But when Jesus heard it, he answered him, saying, Fear not: believe only, and she shall be made whole.” Parents wept. Others mourned. Jesus declared: “Weep not; she is not dead, but sleepeth. “[He] … took her by the hand, and called, saying: Maid, arise. “And her spirit came again, and she arose straightway. …” (Luke 8:49–50, 52, 54–55.) Once again, the Lord had stretched forth his hand to take the hand of another.
 And the apostles also followed his example:
4.      Reflect for a moment on the experience of Peter at the gate Bountiful of the temple. One sympathizes with the plight of the man lame from birth who each day was carried to the temple gate that he might ask alms of all who entered. That he asked alms of Peter and John as these two brethren approached indicates that he regarded them no differently from scores of others who must have passed by him that day. Then Peter’s majestic yet gentle command: “Look on us.” (Acts 3:4.) The record states that the lame man gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something from them.

The stirring words Peter then spoke have lifted the hearts of honest believers down through the stream of time, even to this day: “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.” Frequently we conclude the citation at this point and fail to note the next verses: “And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: … he … stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple. …” (Acts 3:6–8.)
A helping hand had been extended. A broken body had been healed. A precious soul had been lifted toward God.

Time passes. Circumstances change. Conditions vary. Unaltered is the divine command to succor the weak and lift up the hands which hang down and strengthen the feeble knees. Each of us has the charge to be not a doubter, but a doer; not a leaner, but a lifter.

Just like we learned of the star, we too must become converted or born again.  We must see that our Savior, the King of Nations, the Prince of Peace is the redeemer of the world.  We must rise each day like everyone else.  We’ve been given the gift of knowledge of the Gospel and the lifesaving gift of the Atonement.  And most importantly, like the star, we too must seek Jesus Christ and then use what we know to help and lead others on their way.

On the stage in My Fair Lady. Eliza Doolittle, the flower girl, spoke to one for whom she cared and who later was to lift her from such mediocre status: “You see, really and truly, apart from the things anyone can pick up (the dressing and the proper way of speaking, and so on), the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she’s treated. I shall always be a flower girl to Professor Higgins, because he always treats me as a flower girl, and always will; but I know I can be a lady to you, because you always treat me as a lady, and always will.” (Adapted from Pygmalion, in The Complete Plays of Bernard Shaw, p. 260.)

Eliza Doolittle was but expressing the profound truth: When we treat people merely as they are, they will remain as they are. When we treat them as if they were what they should be, they will become what they should be. (Adapted from a quotation by Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe.)
In reality, it was the Redeemer who best taught this principle. Jesus changed men. He changed their habits and opinions and ambitions. He changed their tempers, dispositions, and natures. He changed their hearts. He lifted! He loved! He forgave! He redeemed! Do we have the will to follow?

I’ll leave you with one final story from President Monson: 
Prison warden Kenyon J. Scudder has related this experience: A friend of his happened to be sitting in a railroad coach next to a young man who was obviously depressed. Finally the man revealed that he was a paroled convict returning from a distant prison. His imprisonment had brought shame to his family, and they had neither visited him nor written often. He hoped, however, that this was only because they were too poor to travel and too uneducated to write. He hoped, despite the evidence, that they had forgiven him.
To make it easy for them, however, he had written them to put up a signal for him when the train passed their little farm on the outskirts of town. If his family had forgiven him, they were to put a white ribbon in the big apple tree which stood near the tracks. If they didn’t want him to return, they were to do nothing, and he would remain on the train as it traveled west.
As the train neared his home town, the suspense became so great he couldn’t bear to look out of his window. He exclaimed, “In just five minutes the engineer will sound the whistle, indicating our approach to the long bend which opens into the valley I know as home. Will you watch for the apple tree at the side of the track?” His companion changed places with him and said he would. The minutes seemed like hours, but then there came the shrill sound of the train whistle. The young man asked, “Can you see the tree? Is there a white ribbon?”
Came the reply: “I see the tree. I see not one white ribbon, but many. There must be a white ribbon on every branch. Son, someone surely does love you.”
His friend said, “I felt as if I had witnessed a miracle.”
Indeed, he had witnessed a miracle appropriately described by the third verse of a favorite Christmas carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”:
“How silently, how silently, The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts The blessings of his heaven.
“No ear may hear his coming; But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still, The dear Christ enters in.”
—Hymns, no. 165
Our Heavenly Father gave us the gift of a Savior, His perfect Son, the Lamb without blemish. By personal appearance of the Father Himself and of the Son, and through angels, He has restored the Church of Jesus Christ in the latter days. He has called prophets and apostles to guide us to safety in this life and eternal life in the world to come. Jesus Christ was crucified and resurrected that we may live again, that we may be purified and cleansed from sin, prepared for the glory of eternal life.
Those are gifts to us that we can offer to others for Him. We do that by remembering Him and trying with all our hearts to do what He would do and love as He loves.
The Savior’s life and His teachings are like light that shines in a dark world. “He marked the path and [leads] the way” (Hymns, no. 195). Clearly, if you do as Peter said and “take heed” and follow that light, the Light of Christ that is in you from birth will grow and Heavenly Father will bless you with more light (see D&C 131:5). And as Peter teaches us, the light can grow so bright within you that the day star, the “bright and morning star,” arises in your heart.
Sue Clark, in a devotional at  BYU-Idaho encouraged us to “Believe in Christ and in His power to purify your hearts through the application of the Atonement to forgive you of sin so that the day star, the Savior of the world, the bright and morning star, may arise in your hearts and be your guide as you walk the path of life. If you do that, you will begin this upcoming year with much, much more than New Year’s resolutions. You will walk the true path.” (The Star, the Savior, and Your Heart, Sue Clark, Jan 2006)
May we be like the Star of Bethlehem so long ago lead others to Jesus Christ.
I pray, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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