Exponent Book Review Series: Papa’s Book of Mormon Christmas

Papa's Book of Mormon ChristmasGuest Post by Nicola

Nicola is a UK-born (currently) Gospel Doctrine teacher, who lives in Australia. She likes sleeping when possible, and spending time at the beach, and is the mother of 7 children– with another on the way!

Now, if I’m being honest, I was a little put off by the title. I thought it sounded a little like it would contain yet another reprimand for not having enough ” Christ in Christmas” – you know the people that freely rebuke the buyers of Christmas trees, tinsel, cookies and presents and treat them as signs of apostasy? I was pleasantly surprised to find it wasn’t at all preachy, in fact it was the opposite. (sample page here: Papas sample pages (1))I felt it was sincere and gentle and motivated by love. I realise, however,  that this title might make it more appealing to an LDS audience and that maybe I am in a minority of people who get overly sensitive about it around this time of year 😉. Now for the rest of it:

This Christmas story is a wonderfully sweet rendition of a beloved volume of scripture being tenderly shared between a doting grandfather and his adoring granddaughter. My favourite part of the story was the ease with which the love for the Book of Mormon was conveyed across the pages by the grandfather. It was great to see a volume of scripture being revered and held dear by someone at Christmas rather than a few traditional verses of scripture.

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Power in the Name

IMG_9775By Jenny

One evening this month I sat down to read a Christmas picture book with two of my daughters.  “Way up North in the land of ice and snow stands a cozy little house. And beside the front door hangs a neat little sign. S. Claus, says the sign.  Because that is who lives there—Santa Claus.  Mrs. Santa Claus lives there, too, of course.  She keeps house for Santa Claus, and for all the elves who work in Santa’s toy shop.”

The cacophony of sexist words pounded against my head and my heart.  The image of a little old woman tending Santa’s house, cleaning up after his elves, endlessly, endlessly making cookies was enough to drain the energy from my body.    What did Mrs. Claus ever do to inherit an eternal identity as the nameless cleaner and baker for Santa’s busy household?  I say nameless, because that is what was on my mind that particular day.  Mrs. Santa Claus…it isn’t so much a name, as it is a title that causes this mythical female character to be subsumed by her husband’s identity.  We know her not by who she is, but by whom she is married to.  Mrs. Santa Clause.  Who is she?

The reason this was on my mind is because I had been reading earlier in the day from a book called “The Creation of Patriarchy” by Gerda Lerner.  Yes, my husband rolled his eyes when he heard me teaching my daughters about the creation of patriarchy in the middle of reading them a children’s picture book.  “…the divine breath creates, but human naming gives meaning and order….name-giving is a powerful activity, a symbol of sovereignty.  In Biblical times, in line with Oriental tradition, it also had a magical quality, giving meaning and predicting the future.” Pg. 181-182

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Guest Post — In Error Pining: Thoughts on Christmas

christmas star (2)by Ashley

Despite my love of Christmas, of lights and decorations and holiday traditions and carols, for many years I felt a deep sadness at Christmas.  Christmas often seemed to highlight what I didn’t have.  My family doesn’t always do well at the holidays and it was frequently a time of stress.  When my beloved grandparents died almost seven years ago, I wondered if I would ever be able to recapture my love of Christmas.  Six years ago I was mourning their loss, which had also triggered my fear that perhaps I would never marry.  I was in my late twenties and one of the things I was saddest about was that my grandparents would never meet my as yet unknown spouse or hold my hypothetical children.  I remember weeping in my Bishop’s office during tithing settlement when he asked me “How are you doing?”  I was surprised by my emotion and response, since I was usually fairly good at smiling and saying “Fine,”  no matter what was really going on.

But that year I began to acknowledge my loss and disappointment that things in my life felt perilous and tenuous.

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An Open Letter to Claus Inc. North Pole

dear santaDear Mr. and Mrs. Claus,

A recent video mashup  of male LDS leaders providing instructions to LDS women on how to be LDS women, left me longing for gender parity in General Conference speakers. The ratio of two female speakers to 36 male speakers documented here  is devastating to those like me that hunger for messages from Heavenly Parents spoken in a female voice of leadership.

An English speaking woman of modest means or a non-English speaker is restricted to the meager rations of LDS female leader voices doled out in increments of two every six months (with a once a year bonus of three additional talks by women in the Women’s Session of General Conference). That’s an annual total of seven talks by women translated in a variety of languages and available for free. Half the membership of my church is represented by seven voices in a year!

Those privileged as English language speakers with money and means may hear from the female auxiliary leaders and some other LDS female role models at BYU’s Women’s Conference sponsored by BYU and the Relief Society. Last year over 11,000 women attended. Early registration for 2015 will cost $52 for two days of predominantly female voices with additional costs for transportation and lodging ($92 for a stay in Helaman/Heritage Halls). That’s half a million US dollars in registration fees for 11,000 attendees! I wasn’t part of the elect 11,000 this year, but I caught most of the talks for free online.

Thank goodness I speak English! My Spanish speaking grandmother struggles to understand spoken English, but has no trouble with a written English language copy of a talk. Sadly, no free transcripts of the 2014 BYU Women’s Conference are available for printing at home. You might want to pay the $24.99 to buy a copy of the 2014 talks from Deseret Book. I think she’d really like this gift, but this is not what I want for Christmas.

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Shepherds and Wise Men

By Karen

With_Us_Bethlehem_Still_Shift_Worship-HDFor as long as I can remember, my grandma has hand made a Christmas ornament each year for each one of her grandkids. This is a real labor of love since, at last count, she has 46 grandkids. She has always loved making things with her hands. This little collection of ornaments has become a real treasure to me, especially since my grandma had a stroke about 4 ½ years ago and she is no longer able to make them. The ornaments I have from the earlier years are pretty, but during the last 4-5 years before her stroke, she started making each of the pieces of the nativity. These are the ones I really love.

For the past few years, we have made these nativity ornaments part of the advent activities we do with our 4 year old, Jack. Each day, at the beginning of December, we pull out a different piece of the nativity—shepherd, wise man, star, angel—and we talk about its significance and hang it on the tree. This year, as we told the stories of the shepherds and wise men to Jack, I was particularly struck by the contrasting ways that they experienced the birth of Christ.

First, the wise men. They had studied, prayed and searched. They were watching the skies. They learned, and hoped, and waited. Then they saw the star. And when they did, they recognized it and they followed it. Even though they knew what the star meant when they saw it, they still had a long journey ahead of them before they actually saw Christ.

Contrast this with the story of the shepherds. They were going about their business, “watching their flocks 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.” I am sure that their shock came not just from seeing an angel, but because it was unexpected. They were just going about their lives, and they were presented with a miraculous vision. They immediately made the short journey to Bethlehem and saw the baby Jesus.

I think this is the way that Christ works in our lives too—sometimes we experience Christ’s grace after we have been waiting, watching, hoping and praying, and sometimes we are given moments of grace as we go about our everyday lives.

There are many examples of other “wise men” (and women) in the scriptures. In the Bible, we read about Simeon and Anna waiting at the temple to see the Savior. In the Book of Mormon, we read about Samuel the Lamanite prophesying of Christ years before his birth. In fact, much of the Book of Mormon is a story about people waiting and watching for Christ. In my life, these “wisemen” moments are things like:

  • Receiving an answer to a long-term prayer
  • Getting a piece of inspiration that helps answer a nagging question
  • Feeling a small measure of peace about a situation that has been hard for a long time and may not ever be fully resolved in this life
  • Feeling God’s help to make progress in overcoming a consistent weakness/sin

There are also examples of “shepherds” in the scriptures. In the Old Testament, we read about Moses and his experience with the burning bush. In the New Testament, we read about Paul on the Road to Damascus and about Mary Magdalene seeing the resurrected Christ. In the Book of Mormon, King Lamoni receives an unexpected but powerful witness. In my life, these “shepherd” moments are things like:

  • Feeling prompted to go to the hospital when something turned out to be wrong in an otherwise normal pregnancy
  • Having visiting teachers show up with dinner on a day when they could not have known that I had just found out I was miscarrying
  • Sitting in a Church meeting, even sometimes when I don’t particularly feel like being there, and receiving a revelation meant specifically for me
  • Feeling more fully the love of God when I see or hear something beautiful

Sometimes, we are like the wise men—we really seek after Christ. We work, ponder, pray, hope and anticipate. And sometimes, we are like the shepherds and Christ’s grace is instantaneous. Either way, His love is a gift. And it can change us.

So, how does the story end? We read that when the wise men saw the star, “they rejoiced with exceeding great joy” and they followed it. When they found Mary and Jesus, they “fell down and worshiped him.” We read that the shepherds, when the angels left, “came with haste and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger,” and they “returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen.”

Both the shepherds and the wise men recognized the light when it came, followed it, and received Christ into their lives. And I think it is safe to say that their lives were changed from that day forward.

One thing I want to point out is that, while there is definitely something to be said for waiting, learning and hoping these things are not prerequisites to experiencing the love of God (Christ) in our lives. God’s love for us is a constant and the miracle is that it is not tied to the amount of work we do. The waiting, learning and hoping can change us, but it doesn’t make God love us more. Our Heavenly Parents love us, and Christ atoned for us, just as we are—ordinary, human, with all our strengths and weaknesses. And that love changes us. It doesn’t just cover our sins and make us more presentable. It actually changes who we are, bit by bit.

It is hard to describe exactly how this change takes place—I’m not sure I really understand it. What I do know is that when I have these moments of grace, I feel inspired to do and be better. And my capacity to do and be better is expanded. Sometimes I feel like Nephi, who was shown a vision of the birth of Christ by an angel. The angel asks, “Knowest thou the condescension of God?” (Or, “Do you know how God will be manifest on earth?”) Nephi’s response is a favorite of mine. He says, “I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.” Like Nephi, we may not know the meaning of all things right now, but we can know and experience the love of God right now, individually and personally.

This Christmas season, as we strive to put Christ at the center of our celebration, it is my hope that we can look for, recognize, and appreciate these moments of grace—whether they come after we have been waiting, hoping, and praying or unexpectedly, as we go about our everyday lives. Either way, I know that God meets us where we are—wherever we are—and that Christ’s grace is sufficient. I am grateful for the ways I have experienced it in my life. At this time of year, I am especially grateful for the birth of the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, him who is mighty to save.

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Sacred Music Sunday: How Far is it to Bethlehem

DSC_001117Do you have a favorite Christmas carol?  I have too many to name just one.  You probably do, too.  For me, Christmas music is the best thing about this season.  This month the music that’s most on my mind is the English carol “How Far is it to Bethlehem.”  I memorized it because I’ll be directing a dozen kids in singing it for sacrament meeting next week.

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