Thursday, December 13, 2012

Knowest Thou the Condescension of God?

In the beginning of the Book of Mormon, the prophet, Lehi, has a very symbolic vision wherein he sees groups of people and their different destinations. Some, the true followers of Christ, end their travels at a tree filled with beautiful, white, pure fruit which symbolizes the love of God. Others make their way towards the tree but then fall off the path and go in other directions. Still others go to a "large and spacious building" which symbolizes the pride of the world and they make fun of those at the tree partaking of the love of God.

After he has this vision, Lehi tells his family about it and helps them understand some of the symbolism but not much. One of his sons, Nephi, doesn't understand the vision very well and decides to pray and ask God to show him the vision as well so that he can better understand it as well as the symbolism. So in the beginning of 1 Nephi 11, Nephi goes and prays to have this vision unfolded to him. In response, the Lord shows him not only the same vision but also give him more than what we have record of Lehi seeing.

At the beginning of this vision, Nephi is being instructed by an angel who kind of tests his desires and willingness to learn. Once Nephi has expressed his strong desire to know these things, the angel shows him old Jerusalem where he sees "A virgin, most beautiful and fair" whom he later identifies as Mary, the mother of the Savior. After he is shown Mary, the angel asks him, "Knowest thou the condescension of God?"

How would you respond to that question? Do you know the condescension of God? Do you know what the word condescension means? I know that up until a few days ago I didn't! But in a study manual put out by the Church, I found that it includes a definition of this word! It says, "Condescension means a voluntary descent from rank or dignity."

So to rephrase that question, what do you know about the voluntary descent from rank and dignity of Christ? That is what I want to talk about. This is, after all, His season. Why not talk about His birth and what He willingly and voluntarily did for all of us?

Who is Jesus Christ?
Jesus Christ was the Savior of the world. He came to this earth to do the will of His Father. He lived a perfect life and set the example to us of what we need to do in order to return to live with God again. He taught us how to live our lives in such a way as to become as our Father in Heaven is and also how to be of the most benefit and help to those around us.

Jesus Christ taught the words of God with such power that it could not be mistaken that He had a special authority. Just as we are taught at the end of the wonderful Sermon on the Mount, Christ's teachings were different from that of the other teachers of the day. He taught simply and powerfully because He had the authority of God to teach His words.

With this same authority and power, our Savior performed many miracles. All throughout the four gospels we have record of Him healing the maimed, the blind, the crippled, and all those with any sort of physical infirmity. But more than that, He also healed spiritually. Doing what only the true and living Son of God could do, He forgave the sins of adulterers and other sinners. In a supreme act of Godliness and love, as He hung on the cross, Christ even plead to the Father to forgive those who accused and killed Him.

What Christ did for us
All of these things are wonderful and very important, but they pale in comparison to what He did at the end of His mortal ministry. With what we call the Atonement, Jesus Christ suffered for our sins in the garden of Gethsemane, suffered death on the cross, and rose from the tomb with a glorified and perfected body, never to be subject to the pains of mortality again.

Jesus Christ was just like you and me in reference to the fact that He was born of a mortal parent and subject to the frailties and weaknesses that accompany that. In spite of having His own weaknesses and trials of mortality, He also willingly choose to suffer and experience for Himself all of our pains. Many people know that Jesus Christ suffered for our sins so that we can be forgiven and cleansed from those, but His Atonement also covers much more than that!

As we learn in the book of Alma, that yes, Christ did take upon Himself our sins, but He also took upon Him our pains and our afflictions and our sicknesses and our infirmities of every kind. We learn from these verses and through other modern revelations that our Savior suffered for every negative and painful thing we experience in mortality. Are you lonely? He knows what that feels like. Are you depressed? He knows exactly how you feel. Are you burdened with guilt? He has felt that.

The biggest question that I always come up with in regards to this is why. Why would He do these things. This is the Son of God! He had all power given to Him from the Father. He could have simply chosen to understand what we went through and called it good! But He didn't. He went a step further and actually experienced the same physical pain that we have experienced. All pain.

In a recent general conference, Kent F. Richards, one of the leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, spoke about this. He said, "As I pondered, I came to understand that during His mortal life Christ chose to experience pains and afflictions in order to understand us....President Henry B. Eyring taught: 'He could have known how to succor us simply by revelation, but He chose to learn by His own personal experience.' "

The Atonement of Jesus Christ also includes His resurrection from the tomb after His crucifixion. Through this effort, Christ broke the bands of death, thus making possible the resurrection of all mankind. Because Jesus Christ rose from the grave, "both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, both the wicked and the righteous," all of us, will also be resurrected. Our spirits will once again join our perfected bodies never again to be separated.

From the writings of the first Book of Mormon author, Nephi, we learn of how important Christ resurrection is to us and exactly what that means to us! "For behold, if the flesh should rise no more our spirits must become subject to that angel who fell from before the presence of the Eternal God, and became the devil, to rise no more. And our spirits must have become like unto him, and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself".

What a chilling thought that is to be cut off eternally from God and subject to the devil. How grateful I am that because Jesus Christ was resurrected, we too will be resurrected and we don't have to face that frightening future.

What does Christmas mean?
These are only a select few things that are as a result of the life and example of our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ. With only this brief description, it is little wonder that the Lord would comfort the prophet Joseph Smith in what was quite possibly the hardest period of his life by saying, "all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?"

We all know the story of the Christ child born in a lowly manger with animals to watch. Many of the Jews rejected Him as the Messiah because of this very fact. They believed He would be born as a king with riches and a palace, not simply a carpenter's Son. As Gerald N. Lund says, “Here was Jesus—a member of the Godhead, the Firstborn of the Father, the Creator, Jehovah of the Old Testament—now leaving His divine and holy station; divesting Himself of all that glory and majesty and entering the body of a tiny infant; helpless, completely dependent on His mother and earthly father. That He should not come to the finest of earthly palaces and be … showered with jewels but should come to a lowly stable is astonishing. Little wonder that the angel should say to Nephi, ‘Behold the condescension of God!’”

This is the holiday that we celebrate. This is the reason for the season that we are now celebrating. This Heavenly King, born baby, literally descended below everything to allow us to rise above all things as we rely on Him and do as He commands. This condescension meant so much to a group of lowly shepherds and rich kings that they were willing to give up everything they knew in pursuit of the King of kings and Lord of lords. So during this Christmas season, I invite you all to ask, "What does Christmas mean to me?"

Merry Christmas!

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