Sunday, December 13, 2015
The Manger Scene as a Metaphor
These humble caregivers, among the lowliest station of society, were “watching over their flocks by night,” not unlike a mother who loses sleep caring for a sick child.
Being in the right place at the right time, these lowly servants were the first to hear and receive the news of Christ’s birth. They were visited by angels, bathed in glorious light, and witnessed a heavenly chorus.
Their response, “Let us now go,” indicates their lack of any hesitation in their journey to receive a personal witness of the things they’d been told. They didn’t worry about whether they were appropriately dressed or received an invitation. They just went.
The scriptures tell us they “came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.” They sought Christ, came to Christ, and found Christ. But their discipleship doesn’t end there. Luke continues, “And when they had seen it, they made known abroad” all they had learned about the Savior. To me, the shepherds signify CARE, HUMILITY and WITNESSING.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, “Discipleship means being drawn by seemingly small and routine duties toward the fulfillment of the two great and most challenging commandments.” (“True Believers in Christ,” p. 135)
“The sooner we are on the way to serious discipleship, the sooner the needed spiritual and personal reinforcements and intellectual reassurances will come to us personally.” (On Becoming A Disciple-Scholar, p.19)
The wise men were prepared by learning and study. Because of their careful gospel scholarship, they were expectant of the signs surrounding the birth of the Messiah. Their focus was on the heavens, on light and truth. “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.”
They journeyed a great distance to Bethlehem. “And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him.” (Matthew 2:11) They made their journey to the Christ child, knelt and worshipped him, and laid their gifts at his feet. But their discipleship doesn’t end there.
“Being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.” By not returning to King Herod, they made a deliberate and symbolic decision to turn away from the power, riches, honor and violence of the world and journey “another way,” the journey of true discipleship. To me the Magi symbolize GOSPEL SCHOLARSHIP, CONSECRATION AND SPIRITUAL WISDOM.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, “For a disciple of Christ, academic scholarship is a form of worship. It is another form of consecration...How else could one worship God with all of one’s heart, might, mind and strength?” —(Luke 10:27) On Becoming a Disciple-Scholar, p.7)
Gentle Joseph understood his place and was not ego-driven. He was merciful to his bride-to-me, Mary, when he learned she was “with child” but not by him. He did not put her to death, as Mosaic law allowed, and had decided to “put her away privily” rather than shame her publicly. After “the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, “ helping Joseph understand the baby’s true parentage, “...Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:” Joseph walked beside her every step of the journey.
He was a righteous father who received revelation for his family—a second visitation is recorded when an angel instructed him to take his family and flee to Egypt. In both cases his spiritual receptivity likely saved the life of Jesus, who in turn saved us. But his discipleship doesn’t end there. Joseph literally stood in for God as Jesus’s earthly father and early mentor. To me, Joseph symbolizes PERSONAL REVELATION, RIGHTEOUS LEADERSHIP, and above all, MERCY.
Elder Maxwell stated, “Discipleship in our day, as in all eras, has as a goal not our being different from other men, but our need to be more like God.” (A Time to Choose, p.16)
Though very young, Mary had tremendous “inward strength.” The angel told of her most remarkable mission, and her response resonates through the centuries. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” When she asked meekly, “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” she soon learned that “with God, nothing is impossible.”
Later, after greeting her relative and mentor Elizabeth, Mary exclaimed, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.” Her use of the word magnify seems to mean “celebrate with praise.”
When “the days were accomplished that she should deliver,” without mention of a midwife or other assistance “she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” In the humblest of circumstances arrived the greatest of Gifts.
Surely no one knew and loved Jesus quite like Mary, who birthed him, nursed him, and nurtured him. Yet her discipleship doesn’t end there. Mary understood the sacredness of her mission and refrained from sharing much of her glorious experience. Luke tells us that “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” To me, Mary represents the qualities of SUBMISSIVENESS, PURITY and RESTRAINT.
Elder Maxwell wrote, “Even articulate discipleship has its side of silent certitude.” (Meek and Lowly, p.57)
At this point we can find some common threads in our quest for discipleship.
We can agree that each of these representative figures from the Nativity deeply and personally KNOWS AND LOVES THE LORD. As a corollary, their deep affection for the Savior also prompts them to keep the second great commandment, to LOVE AND SERVE OTHER PEOPLE and deal with them MERCIFULLY.
I imagine that truly knowing the Lord causes us to see ourselves in relationship to Him, resulting in GENUINE HUMILITY. There is no self-deprecation here. Disciples merely choose to compare themselves to God rather than compare themselves to other people, resulting in a humble perspective that both honors God and unifies the human race.
This expansive brand of humility naturally breeds a deepening degree of SUBMISSIVENESS. When we know and understand His greatness, His goodness, we more naturally bend our own will to meet His. We obey—not just the written commandments, but the promptings of the Spirit that move us outside our comfort zone and away from the clipboard to be “anxiously engaged” in seeking out His will and doing it, daily, hourly moment by moment.
May we each deepen and find joy in this journey of a lifetime.