Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas irony

I was asked to prepare some brief remarks for a church service in which members of my choir spoke and performed today. Hopefully it won't seem too self-indulgent if I post a somewhat expanded version of my talk here.

At this Christmas season, as I've reflected on the story of the birth of Jesus, I've noticed that there are many ironies in the story. For example, although Jesus is very important, He was born in Bethlehem, a relatively small, inconsequential town:
But thou, Beth-lehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel;... (Micah 5:2)

Another irony is that, apparently, this same prophecy of Christ's birth was used by Herod to discover the location of Jesus' birth. He subsequently issued an order for all children two years old and under to be killed in an attempt to eliminate the perceived threat to his power (Matthew 2:16). Apparently, the words of the prophet were good enough for Herod to use to get information, but Herod didn't have enough respect for the words of the prophet to welcome the Messiah of which Micah prophesied.

Another ironic thing surrounding the birth of Christ is that, while He is the most important King that has ever been born in the world, the first people to learn of his birth were humble shepherds (Luke 2:8-11). The great Jehovah condescended to be born in humble circumstances (1 Nephi 11:16).

Indeed, He came unto his own, and His own received Him not (3 Nephi 9:16).

The sense of irony that I feel when I reflect on things like these is, I guess, caused by an inconsistency with my sense of justice. The injustice is that there is a mismatch between what Jesus deserved and what He got.

It is perhaps the greatest irony or injustice that Jesus, One who truly did not deserve to suffer for sin, suffered to pay the price for all our sins and took upon Himself all our suffering:
But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him: and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

But justice is done. While Jesus was mistreated, disrespected, and eventually crucified by many who did not see Him for the Messiah that He is, He now reigns in heaven, and will return again in His glory.

There is another application of justice, one that is more troubling to me. It is the reality that I have sinned, and that I deserve to suffer for my sins. It is not possible for us to be redeemed on our own merits:
And since man had fallen he could not merit anything of himself; but the sufferings and death of Christ atone for their sins... (Alma 22:14)
Wherefore, all mankind were in a lost and in a fallen state, and ever would be save they should rely on this Redeemer. (1 Nephi 10:6)

Without the intercession of Christ, justice would mean condemnation for me and all sinners. So as much as my sense of justice is offended by ironies like the ones I've mentioned above, when pondering my own sins, I hope that there is some way that mercy can be done also.

And it is possible. Both justice and mercy are satisfied through the sacrifice of our Great Redeemer. He paid the price required by justice and extends to us His mercy.
...and mercy claimeth the penitent, and mercy cometh because of the atonement; and the atonement bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead; and the resurrection of the dead bringeth back men into the presence of God; and thus they are restored into his presence, to be judged according to their words, according to the law and justice. For behold, justice exerciseth all his demands, and also mercy claimeth all which is her own... (Alma 42:23-24)

Through the sacrifice of Jesus, justice is done, and mercy also. I know that Jesus is the Savior. I hope that you also find enjoyment in pondering the ironies of Christmas as I have at this time of year. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

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