Christmas Series: God Loves Us More At Christmas

Guest Post by Erin Belanger 

Christmas aloneTwo years ago I was anticipating my first Christmas after my divorce. My finances were scant as I came home from a much needed Thanksgiving trip with my kids to Las Vegas where most of my siblings had gathered. The kids, ages 13, 11, 8 and 6, were excited about making wishlists and there was a slightly manic buzz about the idea of having two Christmases. I was not going to have them until the afternoon on Christmas day and my heart hurt a little bit at not spending Christmas Eve enjoying our rituals: fondue dinner, the annual nativity pageant put on with remnant fabric costumes and baby dolls, singing Christmas hymns, reading the goals we had set last year from the stocking for Jesus, putting cookies and milk by the fireplace, watching It’s a Wonderful Life with a cup of cocoa in hand. I was already tired trying to think how I was going to stretch the little bit of money I had to spend on Christmas to make this year not seem quite so different from all the others. I usually tried and failed to keep Christmas simple, but I was mourning the excess of year’s past. There was just no way I could see that Christmas would have quite the same magic when I had to do it on my own with limited means.

What I failed to remember is that God loves us more at Christmas. He softens hearts and inspires the whole of humanity to look around for someone in need or in pain to bless. At that time I was in both pain and need and heaven’s blessings were poured out upon my little home that Christmas season.

When I left Las Vegas I told my mom I was going to put a trampoline on layaway and that would be their only gift besides a few small things in their stockings. I wanted to do things on my own and I knew I would have a small paycheck from my new job subbing at the elementary school later that month that would cover the rest. I went the next day and put my $20 down and looked forward to buying it with my first earnings. I knew I was going to have to wait until the last minute for a tree, because they always marked them down the last week, but that was better than nothing. I usually had a small present that was opened by the child that found the *pickle ornament on the tree. Obviously, the trampoline couldn’t be wrapped, so I tried to think of something else I could give them that wouldn’t set me back. Stockings would be fruit and nuts and chocolate. They would be okay without the trinkets, that usually filled the leg of the stocking, right?

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Christmas Series: The Best Ward Christmas Party Ever

4870085601_bd3e4c2dc8_mAlmost everyone that I know has a decided opinion on the ward Christmas party.  I have discovered that what constitutes an ideal party varies so widely that it is absolutely impossible that everyone would be pleased.  Last week the woman who has been asked to organize ours called me.  She asked if I would be willing to put together a program for before the dinner, because she likes to have everyone gathered and busy in the chapel while food is set out and organized.  She feels it brings the Spirit, and she hates it when dinner is interrupted for singing songs or other things.

Unfortunately, my view is almost entirely opposite from hers.  Our ward is actually putting on a concert the night before in which I am heavily involved.  I told her that given my involvement in the other program I didn’t feel I had resources to put together a new program.  I put forward the idea that maybe we

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Christmas Series: Primary Nativity Program

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The Annunciation – Luca Giordano courtesy of www.metmuseum.org

 

If your ward is anything like mine, the Nativity program put on by the children of the Primary at the annual Ward Christmas Party is a highlight of the season!  Some years, the script seems like it might have been lifted from “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” others you may notice the absence of spoken lines for the beloved female characters.

Let’s call this an “equitable” Nativity script, then. With spoken lines for Mary, Elisabeth and Anna (in addition to the lines of a second angel and shepherd which may be cast as either gender), this Nativity script offers equal speaking opportunities for girls and boys alike.

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The Exponent Christmas Series: The Posts of Christmas Past…

We love Christmas here at the Exponent, which means we love Christmas posts!

noelBecause of this love, we are dedicating this week to a Christmas Series, complete with poetry, ward Christmas party hints, an excellent Christmas Nativity play, and even a Christmas book review, plus lots of love for the women who celebrated the First Christmas, Exponent Style. But it won’t end this week, we will sprinkle flakes of Christmas cheer throughout all of December, in celebration of Christmas.

“But wait!” You say, “This week is American Thanksgiving! We want Tofurky recognition!”

We know!  We do, too! We love American Thanksgiving …and Canadian Thanksgiving, and Australian Thanksgiving and any time a Thanksgiving Feast is offered.  (“Thanksgiving” was a term used in a celebratory feast when voyagers arrived at far off destinations, and was even a term used among Mormons at the completion of a new chapel’s construction.) So we are still having some delicious Thanksgiving posts as a part of the Christmas Series, to round out the season properly…. rather like a nutmeg-sprinkled happy sip of egg nog.

But before this series of fresh Christmas posts begin, we invite you to visit the ghosts of Christmas posts past. So, sit down, grab a cup of cocoa –or iced chocolate for those in the Southern Hemisphere– and put your feet up. Because we have some magical Posts of Christmas Past for you, such as:

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A Perfect Mother

perfect parent (1)In honor of National Adoption Month

For me the catchiest tune in primary is “The Family is of God.” I can’t get it out of my head. Along with the tune come images of families from my time as an adoption social worker that contradict the lyrics as written. Images of nurturing fathers and mothers that provide and preside. Images of the most needy and rejected children.

Too often as an adoption recruiter I observed that the more a child needs a parent, the more terrible the behaviors they express, making the neediest children the least adoptable. As the tune trips through my head I keep thinking about the children that I struggled most to match with an adoptive parent/parents.

Anthony’s life was a series of disasters. An unexpected pregnancy to a drug addicted mother placed him in foster care upon her testing positive for methamphetamine at his birth. His mother lost custody of his two and three year old brothers before Anthony was born. Infants are generally easier to place for adoption, but Anthony was part of a sibling group and it took some time to find a home that would adopt the sibling set of three boys.

The four and six year old brothers were legally adopted by their foster parent, but three year old Anthony’s adoption had not yet finalized when awful physical abuse was uncovered. The older siblings with the adopted last name were removed from the home and sent to one foster home, while Anthony with his birth name went to another home. Unknowingly, the siblings with different last names were assumed to be unrelated and separated.

The older boys were legally freed from their adoptive parents and fortunately went almost directly to the home of a young single woman who fostered the boys for about a year before adopting them. Anthony was not so fortunate. In his new foster home he became the victim of an older teenage boy who befriended him and brutally raped Anthony repeatedly for over a year before the sexual abuse was discovered.

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A Review of Walking With the Women of the New Testament

51Hil65oDaL._SL500_AA300_Walking With the Women of the New Testament by Heather Farrell contains 60 meditations on women of the New Testament.  All the named women in the New Testament are featured, as well as many who are not, such as Jesus’ sisters and the mother of the man born blind.

At 291 pages the book has heft to it, and this tangible fact relays one of its main messages: that women in the New Testament were numerous and real, with “real lives, real feelings, and real problems.”  Each entry begins with the scriptural passage telling the woman’s story and artwork depicting her story, and is followed by a 2-3 page meditation by Farrell in which she frames the story in terms of its historical context and/or the possible feelings and motivations of the woman in the story, and then a reflection on a spiritual lesson to be gained from the story.

For example on the Widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-15), Farrell writes,

“We don’t know if this young man’s death was the result of a long drawn out illness or an unexpected accident, but no matter how she died, it is likely that his mother’s grief was fresh.  She may have only had hours to process the news of his death and all the implications that came with it.  As a widow, with no male to take care of her, this woman’s plight might have been hard indeed.  The newness of her grief makes Christ’s tender words, “Weep not” (verse 13) all the more powerful.  He was telling her that even though her grief seemed unbearable, she wouldn’t have to mourn much longer.”

Farrell then explains the etymology of compassion (“He had compassion on her.” (verse 13)), and notes that “in the accounts we have of Jesus raising someone from the dead, all of them are done in the presence of, and usually on behalf of, women.”  This is an interesting insight I’d never thought of.  Farrell continues,

“Raising a person from the dead is an incredible miracle for anyone to witness.  Yet I can’t help but feel that it has special meaning for women, whose bodies create mortal life and who spend so much of their time nurturing and shaping lives.  It seems to me that Christ wanted to demonstrate to women that He had power over the grave.”

I think the meditation on the Widow of Nain is reasonably representative of the other entries in the book.  It’s a heartfelt and faithful reading that reflects Farrell’s original impetus in studying the scriptures with a focus on the women’s stories.  She writes, “I wanted to gain a better testimony of God’s love for women and better understand women’s roles.”  So she kept a journal as she read, which gave rise to this book.  She encourages readers to do the same: read while reflecting on suggested questions, read between the lines, and rely on the Holy Ghost.  She acknowledges that the details about these women are scarce, and that “while there is much truth in the Bible, some of it is missing, and if we want those gaps filled in, we don’t have to turn to outside sources.  The Holy Ghost can enlighten our understanding and teach us.”  While I agree that the Holy Ghost is the unparalleled teacher of truth and wisdom, I would also have liked if the book delved deeper into other historical and scholarly work that has been done on the subject.  I generally prefer exegesis (critical explanation or interpretation of a text, or reading “out of” a text), and this book includes quite a bit of eisegesis (an interpretation that expresses the interpreters ideas, or reading “into” a text).

I feel I must point out that while Farrell’s book is a thoughtful and comprehensive meditation on the women of the New Testament, it is not what I would consider a feminist reading of them.  It does not challenge current gender roles in the Church or attempt to stretch the understanding of roles that women in the New Testament may have held.  For example one of the questions she suggests readers reflect on in their scripture reading is, “What type of influence would she [the woman in the story] have had on those around her?”  She writes of current times:

“I think the problem is that in our society we often don’t see women.  Too often we take their influence in our lives and in society for granted.  Similarly in the scriptures, we simply don’t see the women.  The pages of the scriptures are filled with their stories and their influence, but too often we skip right past them, not even realizing they are there.”

Seeing women in the scriptures and in the world is something feminists have long fought for, but when the focus is on their “influence” I think we lose the perspective of their being agents unto themselves, not just an influence on the other actors or agents in a story.  Too often in the Church praising the “influence” of women is done as a way of deflecting attention from the fact that they hold so little actual power.

That said, this book acknowledges the women of the New Testament as being more present, both in numbers and in significance, than some would suppose.  I think it would make a good addition to Church member’s libraries (it is definitely written from an LDS perspective) and would be a great resource in preparing for talks and lessons as a way of finding examples of gospel principles in the lives of women in scripture.

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