Not that I'm one to talk, really. I'm really just sad that all the songs in the Christmas program were so somber, when I really like Joy to the World and Angels We Have Heard on High and all the upbeat ones like that. But the meeting got me thinking about what a happy occasion Christmas is, so I thought I'd talk a little about that.
I had a big thing on Easter about how it's completely underrated compared to Christmas, but it's true that without Christmas (or rather, the events we celebrate at Christmas, which according to our beliefs actually took place around when Easter is celebrated) there could be no Easter. It's kind of like the first chapter in book one of Harry Potter, how all the witches and wizards are celebrating the boy who lived, but since it's only the first chapter of the whole series, we know there's going to be an even greater event at the end (which I hesitate to mention, because I still haven't finished book seven, but it's really my best analogy here).
Anyway, according to the third article of faith of the LDS Church, "we believe that through the atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel." That means that Christ came into the world to save all mankind. That's like huge.
And so, I was trying to figure out exactly how to express what I wanted to say, and I was looking things up to get things right, and I came across this talk by the president of our church, Gordon B. Hinckley, which sums it up much better than I could. Of course I'd like if you'd read the whole talk, but there's one particular story he told in it that pretty much describes what the atonement means.
I have a simple story I would like to recount. It is something of a parable. I do not have the name of the author. Perhaps it will have special interest for our children. I hope it will be a reminder for all.
“Years ago there was a little one-room schoolhouse in the mountains of Virginia where the boys were so rough that no teacher had been able to handle them.
“A young, inexperienced teacher applied, and the old director scanned him and asked: ‘Young fellow, do you know that you are asking for an awful beating? Every teacher that we have had here for years has had to take one.’
“ ‘I will risk it,’ he replied.
“The first day of school came, and the teacher appeared for duty. One big fellow named Tom whispered: ‘I won’t need any help with this one. I can lick him myself.’
“The teacher said, ‘Good morning, boys, we have come to conduct school.’ They yelled and made fun at the top of their voices. ‘Now, I want a good school, but I confess that I do not know how unless you help me. Suppose we have a few rules. You tell me, and I will write them on the blackboard.’
“One fellow yelled, ‘No stealing!’ Another yelled, ‘On time.’ Finally, ten rules appeared on the blackboard.
“ ‘Now,’ said the teacher, ‘a law is not good unless there is a penalty attached. What shall we do with one who breaks the rules?’
“ ‘Beat him across the back ten times without his coat on,’ came the response from the class.
“ ‘That is pretty severe, boys. Are you sure that you are ready to stand by it?’ Another yelled, ‘I second the motion,’ and the teacher said, ‘All right, we will live by them! Class, come to order!’
“In a day or so, ‘Big Tom’ found that his lunch had been stolen. The thief was located—a little hungry fellow, about ten years old. ‘We have found the thief and he must be punished according to your rule—ten stripes across the back. Jim, come up here!’ the teacher said.
“The little fellow, trembling, came up slowly with a big coat fastened up to his neck and pleaded, ‘Teacher, you can lick me as hard as you like, but please, don’t take my coat off!’
“ ‘Take your coat off,’ the teacher said. ‘You helped make the rules!’
“ ‘Oh, teacher, don’t make me!’ He began to unbutton, and what did the teacher see? The boy had no shirt on, and revealed a bony little crippled body.
“ ‘How can I whip this child?’ he thought. ‘But I must, I must do something if I am to keep this school.’ Everything was quiet as death.
“ ‘How come you aren’t wearing a shirt, Jim?’
“He replied, ‘My father died and my mother is very poor. I have only one shirt and she is washing it today, and I wore my brother’s big coat to keep me warm.’
“The teacher, with rod in hand, hesitated. Just then ‘Big Tom’ jumped to his feet and said, ‘Teacher, if you don’t object, I will take Jim’s licking for him.’
“ ‘Very well, there is a certain law that one can become a substitute for another. Are you all agreed?’
“Off came Tom’s coat, and after five strokes the rod broke! The teacher bowed his head in his hands and thought, ‘How can I finish this awful task?’ Then he heard the class sobbing, and what did he see? Little Jim had reached up and caught Tom with both arms around his neck. ‘Tom, I’m sorry that I stole your lunch, but I was awful hungry. Tom, I will love you till I die for taking my licking for me! Yes, I will love you forever!’ ”
To lift a phrase from this simple story, Jesus, my Redeemer, has taken “my licking for me” and yours for you.
Today I'm thankful for the Christmas season and especially the reason behind it, Christmas hymns, prophets who know how to say what I want to say better than I do, giant kitties on my lap, and handy websites.