Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Morning Sacrament Talk

I was asked to speak in church for Christmas this year. Here is the text of my talk.

Where and how did the celebration of Christmas get started? The earliest reference to Christmas being marked on Dec. 25 comes from the second century after Jesus' birth. It is considered likely the first Christmas celebrations were in reaction to the Roman Saturnalia, a harvest festival that marked the winter solstice - the return of the sun - and honored Saturn, the god of sowing. Saturnalia was a rowdy time, and much opposed by the more austere leaders among the still small Christian sect. Christmas developed, one scholar says, as a means of replacing worship of the sun with worship of the Son. By 529 A.D. after Christianity had become the official state religion of the Roman Empire, Emperor Justinian made Christmas a civic holiday. (from a devotional address given at BYU on Dec. 5, 1972 by President Howard W. Hunter.)

In 1870 President Ulysses S. Grant signed into law a bill making Christmas a legal US national holiday.

But was the birth of Jesus really on December 25?

Shepards would not have been "tending their flocks" in December in the the H0ly Land.

D&C 20:1 cites April 6 as the the day of Christ's birth corresponding to the day His restored Gospel was reorganized.

But why shouldn't we celebrate Christ with the rest of the world? This was written in Dec. 1919 in the Improvement Era: "Of all holidays there is
none that enters so fully into the human heart, and stirs so many of the higher
sentiments. The holly and mistletoe entwined among the evergreens, the habit of
giving gifts to those we love, the presence of the Christmas tree, the superstition of Santa Claus, all combining to make Christmas the most longed-for, the most universal, and from every standpoint, the most important holiday known to man"

On Jan. 2, 1908 the First Presidency made this statement regarding Christmas.

“Christmas, to the Latter-day Saint, is both reminiscent and prophetic—a reminder of two great and solemn events, which will yet be regarded universally as the mightiest and most wonderful happenings in the history of the human race. These events were [foreordained] to take place upon this planet before it was created. One of them was the coming of the Savior in the meridian
of time, to die for the sins of the world; and the other is the prospective advent of the risen and glorified Redeemer, to reign upon the earth as King of kings” [“What Christmas Suggests to a Latter-day Saint,” Millennial Star, Jan. 2, 1908, 1].

The traditions of Christmas are certainly within the admonition of Paul in the Thirteenth Article of Faith. "If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things."

There are many traditions that surround Christmas, but all of them have at there root the celebration of the baby Jesus.

In Luke 2 we read of the shepards in the fields. "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, which shall be to all people. 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.

In 1741 George Fredrick Handel set this story to music. He completed the 259 page manuscript for the Messiah in just 24 days of composition. At the end of the manuscript he wrote the letters "SDG" - Soli Deo Gloria, "to God alone the glory.

Tradition has it that when King George the III ( the same King George of Revolutionary War Mischief) heard the Hallelujah Chorus of the Messiah he rose and all with him rose to pay respect to the King of Kings. While no actual record of this event exists the tradition lives on today. Our own dear sister Helen Jones always respected this tradition whenever the ward choir sung the Hallelujah Chorus of the Messiah.

Today Handel's Messiah is one of the best know and most frequently performed choral works in Western music.

In 1818 Josef Mohr was a young priest serving as parish priest at St. Nikolas church in Oberndorf Germany. ( some say the village was in Austria) Two days before Christmas, the bellows in the church organ were found to be rotted through, possibly eaten by rats.

Needing music that could still be appreciated by the congregation, Mohr wrote a poem. He then asked the church organist and choirmaster, Fanz-Xaver Gruber, if he could set it to music which the two men could sing, accompanied by Mohr on the guitar. Late on Christmas Eve, the men practised and song for the first time, and performed it for Mass. The song the Mohr penned was "Silent Night" and it was first sung on 24 December 1818.

Most of us would probably cite the Christmas hymns as our favorites in the Hymn Book. Contemporary musicians will often have their Christmas Albums including the sacred songs be among their best sellers. In many cases it is their Christmas Songs that have immemorized them decades after their deaths.

In Matthew we read of the Wise Men from the East that came, guided by a new Star to Worship the Christ Child and bring him gifts. (gifts that would be very useful as Joseph and Mary would be guided to flee King Herod from Jerusalem to Egypt.)

This tradition of giving gifts to children goes back many centuries. Long ago ( many believe in the 4th Century) in Myra, which is now modern-day Turkey, there was a bishop named Nicholas. Nicholas loved children and would often give gifts to the poor. Legend has it that he would leave these gifts in the children's shoes while they were sleeping or would throw them down the chimney.

Americans have Santa Claus, the English, Father Christmas, the French Pere Noel, others Grandfather Frost, but they all keep the tradition of blessing children with gifts.

Then there is the remembered Christmas tale by O. Henry about a young husband and wife who lived in abject poverty yet who wanted to give one another a special gift. But they had nothing to give. Then the husband had a ray of inspiration: he would provide his dear wife a beautiful ornamental comb to adorn her magnificent long hair. The wife also received an idea: she would
obtain a lovely chain for her husband’s prized watch, which he valued so highly.

Christmas day came; the treasured gifts were exchanged. Then the surprise ending, so typical of O. Henry’s short stories: the wife had shorn her long hair and sold it to obtain funds to purchase the watch chain, only to discover that her husband had sold his watch so that he might purchase the comb to adorn her beautiful long hair, which now she did not have.

The angles had another message for the Shepards. "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth Peace good will toward men." This spirit of peace and good will toward men is reflected in so many ways during the Christmas holidays.

A classic Christmas time film is Frank Capra's adaptation of Philip Van Doren Stern's short story called " The Greatest Gift" The film is "It's a Wonderful Life". It starred James Stewart and Donna Reed. Jimmy Stewart's character, George bailey was given the opportunity to see what the world would be like if he had not been born. Christmas Eve finds George Bailey deeply troubled. Prayers for his will-being from friends and family reach Heaven. Clarence Odbody, Angel Second Class, is assigned to save George and earn his wings.

The film was nominated for five academy awards although it did not win any. It is on the list of the 100 best films ever and for it's 65 year anniversary it was named the "Most Inspirational Film" ever.

"A Christmas Carol" is a novella by English author Charles Dickens. It was first published on 19 December 1843. The story tells of a sour and stingy Ebenezer Scrooge's emotional transformation after the supernatural visits of Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come. The book was an instant success and has never been out of print. It was from a scene in this book where a transformed Ebenezer Scrooge shouts out Merry Christmas that we have the custom and greeting today. After it's publication there were many accounts of a dramatic increase in charitable giving around the world.

A Christmas Carol has been set to theatrical productions, musicals, and movies. There are over 20 film adaptations of the story. Ebenezer Scrooge has been played by George C. Scott, Tim Curry, Michael Caine along with the muppets, and Donald Duck accompanied by Micky Mouse as Bob Cratchit.

You will recall from Dr. Suess's holiday "horror" story, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" that the devilish Grinch determineed to rob Who-ville of every holiday treat. In a nefarious scheme in which the Grinch dressed as Santa himself, he moved through Who-ville taking every package, tree, ornament and stocking. The Story goes:

He stared down at Who -ville!

The Grinch popped his eyes!

Then he shook!

What he saw was a shocking surprise.

Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small,

Was singing! Without any presents at all!

He HADN'T stopped Christmas from coming!


Somehow or other, it came just the same!

And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow

Stood puzzling and puzzling: "How could it be so?"

It came without ribbons! It came without tags!

It came without packages, boxes or bags!

And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!

Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store.

Maybe Christmas ...perhaps ....means a little bit more.

One of my favorite Christmas Stories is that of the Christmas Truce during World War I.

The Germans had placed Christmas trees in front of their trenches, lit by candle or lantern like beacons of good will. And then we heard their voices raised in song.
Stille nacht, heilige nacht . . . .
This carol may not yet be familiar to us in Britain, but John knew it and translated: “Silent night, holy night.” I’ve never heard one lovelier—or more meaningful. When the song finished, the men in our trenches applauded. Yes, British soldiers applauding Germans! Then one of our own men started singing, and we all joined in.
The first Nowell, the angel did say . . . .
In truth, we sounded not nearly as good as the Germans, with their fine harmonies. But they responded with enthusiastic applause of their own and then began another.
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum . . . .
Then we replied.
O come all ye faithful . . . .
But this time they joined in, singing the same words in Latin.
Adeste fideles . . . .
British and German harmonizing across No Man’s Land! I would have thought nothing could be more amazing—but what came next was more so.
“English, come over!” we heard one of them shout. “You no shoot, we no shoot.”
There in the trenches, we looked at each other in bewilderment. Then one of us shouted jokingly, “You come over here.” To our astonishment, we saw two figures rise from the trench, climb over their barbed wire, and advance unprotected across No Man’s Land. One of them called, “Send officer to talk.”

They met in no-man’s land after leaving their rifles behind. They exchanged gifts of food, buttons and ribbons. They even played a game of soccer.

It is this spirit of Christmas, the spirit of Christ that has the power to change lives and bring
peace to the world. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could maintain that spirit of Christmas all year long, even all the time. It is the Christ in Christmas that makes it so. It is his teachings of
charity, and love that make us want to do acts of kindness for each other. To sacrifice for others, to accept the sacrifice of Christ or each of us. We make this so by making and keeping sacred covenants and by striving to keep all the commandments. There have been people
who have managed to do this. Enoch and his people. Nephi and his family. But there was a time that a group of people were so moved by the teachings of Christ that after his brief visit, that they
enjoyed peace and good will for 200 years. The account is found in the Book of Mormon in Fourth Nephi.

2 And it came to pass in the thirty and sixth year, the people were all converted unto the Lord, upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites, and there were no
contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with
3 And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly bgift.
7 And the Lord did prosper them exceedingly in the land; yea, insomuch that they did build cities
again where there had been cities burned.
10…..and became an exceedingly fair and delightsome people.
12….but they did walk after the commandments which they had received from their Lord and their God, continuing in fasting and prayer , and in meeting together oft both to pray and
to hear the word of the Lord.
13 And it came to pass that there was no contention among all the people, in all the land; but there were mighty miracles wrought among the disciples of Jesus.
15 And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of
God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.
16 And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.
17 There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.
As we comtemplate this day and celebrate with the Christian World the birth of the baby Jesus, I would like to close with the admonition of the prophet Howard W Hunter.

It is possible for Christ to be born in men’s lives, and when such an experience actually happens, a man is “in Christ”—Christ is “formed” in him. This presupposes that we take Christ into our hearts and make Him the living contemporary of our lives. He is not just a general truth or a fact in
history, but the Savior of men everywhere and at all times. When we strive to be Christlike, He is “formed” in us; if we open the door, He will enter; if we seek His counsel, He will counsel us. For Christ to be “formed” in us, we must have a belief in Him and in His Atonement. Such a belief in Christ and the keeping of His commandments are not restraints upon us. By these, men are set
free. This Prince of Peace waits to give peace of mind, which may make each of us a channel of that peace. The real Christmas comes to him who has taken Christ into his life as a moving, dynamic, vitalizing force. The real spirit of Christmas lies in the life and mission of the Master. (From a devotional address given at Brigham Young University on
December 5, 1972

Sunday, December 11, 2011

More Thanksgiving 2011

A new (last Christmas) tradition is some bell ringing compliments of Gramie Marla.

Grace could follow along with the music by her self this year. Eden was especially good with the free for all.

We had dinner at our new most favorite restaurant in Scottsdale. Sassi.
Gotta have some slushi punch.

Thanksgiving 2011

This year for Thanksgiving we all got together at Jesse's house in Phoenix. Perfect weather in the 70s.

Papa Jeff, Uncle Jared, Cori, Grace and Grant put together a sweet wooden train set. We haven't had everyone together for a while so we took some family pictures.

The Whitaker/Lindstrom/Bailey women.

The men.

The Lindstroms. Grant, Cori, Grace, Jesse, Eden.

The kids, all grown up.

Fabulous spread.

There's Eden ready for the Thanksgiving feast.

We took a side trip to a great Phoenix Museum. Th Musical Instrument Museum. Here is a Steinway Piano being built.

Grace is playing the electronic piece that makes the R2D2 sounds in Star Wars.

Jared the Drummer

Thea takes in her African side.

It was a great weekend. Sorry to see it end.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

General Conference

This weekend I listened / watched all 10 hours of General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. (At least I was in the room for 10 hours.) I always enjoy conference. While I was on my mission, we had no coverage of conference. We usually didn't even get the magazine with the conference report in it. I remember one time we were trying to find conference on the radio. We picked up a faint signal coming from Brazil in Portuguese. We were so excited to hear conference. We would only hear the first few words of the talk in English before the Portuguese translation took over. Then we would listen in Portuguese to see if we could pick out just a few words.
Conference is an amazing process. It goes for ten hours and there are 25 -30 assigned speakers. No one is given an assigned topic. They are given direction to seek the Spirit of the Lord and determine what they should talk about. So the Lord through his inspiration to his servants weaves together a series of messages of what he would say to the world every six months. As people listen to conference, different people will hear messages that seem tailored just for them. There is something for everyone, young and old, new member and experienced leaders, mothers and missionaries, youth, children and the elderly. There is something for everyone. It reminds me of the scriptures. We are not given a neatly ordered instruction manual. We are given prophetic accounts from different continents and different centuries and millenium. By searching, praying, and pondering we learn the things the Lord would have us learn at a given point in time.
There were a few themes that rang out to me. Next year the course of study in Sunday School is the Book of Mormon. Several speakers got me excited to read the Book of Mormon again. Elder Scott convinced me that I should start memorizing some scriptures. I've thought about taking a 3x5 card with me with a scripture to memorize on it while I drive. There was a recurring theme that the world is opperating under the philosophy of relatism. (Do what ever feels good or right) That does not replace the commandments that the Lord has given. President Monson restated the ten commandments and said they are not the ten suggestions. I also got a feeling that we (I) can do a little more, and be a little more dilligent. ( Maybe a lot more.)
The Lord does not send our updates or memos, but he does communicate to the world through General Conference.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

Our second daughter Sara has gotten a job in the LA area and moved into her first apartment sans roommates. Marla and I went down to visit with her and take her shopping for a few household items. While we were there we made a visit to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. I love to visit Presidential Libraries. They are wonderful places to learn about more contemporary US history and in the Case of the Reagan Library, history that we lived through. The Library had exhibits on Reagan's early life, his Hollywood life, his time as Governor of the State of California, and his eight years as President of the United States. He was Governor of California for much of my childhood and school days. He was President during my early adult years as a young married.
They had his airplane "Air Force One" reassembled in the museum as well as his helicopter "Marine One". They had an exact, to scale recreation of the Oval Office.
When President Reagan took office in January of 1981 I was finishing my degree in Finance at BYU. The National Unemployment Rate was 13%, Inflation was running at 13%. Most mortgage interest rates to buy a house were 14 -15%. A very high percentage of college graduates could not find employment in their field. They were working as waiters or day laborers or anything they could get. It was a scary time to graduate and enter the work force. The general assumption was that we would have those conditions for the unforeseeable future. My professors were predicting 7 -10 % inflation as the new normal condition. They said I would never see a single digit mortgage interest rate in my lifetime and gasoline would be costing $5.00 a gallon in a couple of years and for as far as we could see. Our people were being held hostage in the middle east, with prior rescue efforts ending in a disastrous death of all involved. The Soviet Union seemed to be growing in power and influence and Japan seemed to be buying up everything in America and was destined to be the world's leading economic power. That was our world when Reagan took office. I remember how cruel the media was towards Reagan. He was thought of as not too bright just B list actor. He was accused of falling asleep in cabinet meetings and on the verge of leading America into a Nuclear showdown with the Soviets.
The museum reminded me of many of the things that Reagan did. He was principled. He believed in a smaller Federal Government, lower taxes and less regulation. He was willing to take on the Powerful Government Unions, starting with firing all of the striking air traffic controllers. He was positive, never critical of his opponents. He was optimistic, talking about "a new day in America". He had faith the American people and the free markets. He faced the harsh criticisms of the media with jokes and a sense of humor.
I found a great deal of similarities in the problems of today and problems the country faced 30 years ago. It was inspiring to see how wonderfully things improved thanks to his policies and beliefs. It gave me hope that perhaps we can figure our way out of the current economic policies.
We had a great time with Sara and an inspiring day with President Reagan.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Dingle and the Ring of Kerry, Ireland

The last two days of our Ireland adventure were spent touring the Dingle Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry. Our first stop traveling to Dingle was a two mile long beach called Inch Strand. It juts out into the Dingle Bay as a long sand bar perpendicular to the shore line. And yes they have a surfing school there. We were there in July and had our coats zipped all the way up.

They call these the beehive houses. They are stone houses built around 500 AD by the Celts. Pretty amazing construction to have survived this long considering the harsh climate there.
The rugged Dingle Peninsula and the Slea Head Islands in the distance, the most Westerly point in Europe.

This is the Gallarus Oratory a Christian Church built 1300 years ago. It is what the call dry rubble masonry. (rocks stacked on top of one another with no mortar. The roof is formed by the gradual rise of the side walls from the base upward. The corners form a perfectly straight edge up to the top.

Dingle township.
Craic (pronounced Crack) means fun in Gallic. So the Craic House means fun house. This was a toy store. The uninformed might mistake it for something more sinister.
Local teenagers hanging out in Dingle. Dingle is an area of Ireland that still speaks Gallic instead of English. The Store keepers will speak English for the tourist.

One of our favorite stops was at a sheep ranch where we had a demonstration of the dogs that heard sheep. They would respond by voice command or a serious of whistles.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ireland, Cobh, Cork and Blarney

We left our Waddell and Reed friends and headed by train to the Southwest part of Ireland. You have to appreciate that when we are with the Waddell and Reed Group they have people that take care of EVERYTHING. So striking out on our own in a foreign country was exciting. We arranged a tour through the Irish Rain Tour Company. They had someone in a bright yellow jacket to meet us at every stop along the way.

Our first stop was in Cork. From there we got on a bus and went to Blarney, home of the famous Blarney Castle. There are lots of beautiful castles in Ireland, but Blarney Castle has capitalized on it's legendary "Blarney Stone". Thousands of tourist come in by the bus load to kiss stone that is suspended over the top wall of the castle. Smoochers have to lay on their backs and lean out and down over the wall while someone holds their legs to reach the stone and give it a big wet smooch. Legend has it that a kiss on the stone will grant the smoocher the "gift of eloquence in speech"

We decided to skip the eight flights of stairs through narrow medieval passageways packed with anxious smoochers and we walked over the to Blarney House. We were the only two on a wonderful tour of this fantastic house. The house is still a family residence of the family that owns the castle and grounds. They had tastefully covered over the electronics and plasma TVs with 18th Century privacy screens.

The Blarney Stone is at the top of the wall.
Irish Country side passing by the train.
Next stop was Cobh (Pronounced COVE). This is the launch site of the Titanic on it's fateful journey. This is where millions of Irish left for America. This is also the closest harbor to where the Lusitania was sunk on May 7th 1915 by a German submarine. 1198 of the passengers died and 761 were saved. The survivors were brought to Cobh and there is a mass burial site in the nearby cemetery. In the 1800s the town was renamed Queenstown to honor the Queen of England. Apparently there were no towns in Ireland named after her. Once Ireland gained it's independence the name was changed back to it's Gaelic origins of Cobh.
Mass grave site of Lusitania victims.

Memorial to Lusitania victims.
Annie Moore left for America from Cobh. She became the very first person to pass through Ellis Island in New York Harbor on January 1, 1892.
This is the embarkation station for the Titanic. It is now a museum.
We arrived at our hotel in Killarney, the International Hotel. Built in the mid 1800s. It wasn't the Ritz Carton like the suite we had in Eineskerry , but it was a perfect location for our adventures to come in County Kerry.