The Wrappings of Christmas
This time of year is rich in symbolism that testifies of the Lord Jesus Christ, and my original submitted message that has been advertised along with what I’m going to be talking about--I called last Monday and asked if I could change it, and so, if you were anticipating one thing, you’ll be getting another. I hope that the Spirit of the Lord will direct me as I do this today. I feel, through going to the temple and fasting and contemplating, and just really thinking about the richness of this season, that you will be able to be uplifted and edified through this.
I’m going to sing a couple of songs first today, and I want you to listen carefully to the words. Some of these songs are just kind of Christmas traditional songs, but the words in there—I wonder if the people who were composing them really thought about what they were writing. So as we go through this, just really pay close attention to the words.
God rest ye merry gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember Christ our Savior
Was born on Christmas Day,
To save us all from Satan's pow'r
When we were gone astray
Oh tidings of comfort and joy.
Oh tidings of comfort and joy.
While shepherds watched their flock by night
Seated on the ground,
An angel of the Lord came down,
And glory shown around.
Fear not, said he, for mighty dread
Had seized their troubled minds.
Glad Tidings of great joy I bring
To you and all mankind.
In Bethlehem of Judah,
The blessed babe was born,
And laid within a manger
Upon this blessed morn.
All glory be to God on high,
And on the earth be peace.
Good will henceforth from heaven to men,
Begin and never cease.
Now, those glad tidings are words that are generally specific to this holiday season. What are the glad tidings? Today, I hope to convey to you the image of a Christmas gift, and, where some people kind of get caught up, worried about the commercialism of Christmas, I’m going to use that image—of a Christmas gift—hopefully to teach a gospel principle.
I used to get really excited as a young little boy. My parents were kind of nervous about how excited I was about Christmas. I was snooping around the house during that time and searching out these gifts. There also came a time to wrap those presents, and I would try really hard to wrap it really nice, and my mother would see how I did it and re-do it—as if to convey that the wrapping testified of something more important inside. And so it is that principle—the bows, ribbons, and wrappings of Christmas—that I would like to try to convey to you today.
In Israel, outside of Jerusalem on a hillside, shepherds were tending temple flocks, when an angel of the Lord came down and gave them a sign—as often happens to temple-minded people. The message was, “Ye shall find the babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes,” (interesting, wrapped—the gift to all—wrapped), “lying in a manger.”
Now, the Son of God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth and all things that in them are, condescends—comes down—takes upon Him a wrapping of flesh and blood—that blood which would someday atone—as a baby, born lower, descended below all things.
His life to follow would also be wrapped up in doing the will of His Father. As His mother anxiously wondered where He was—in the next scene that we see in the New Testament after His birth and those who came to visit Him—is His departure from a caravan after leaving in a celebration of the Passover, finds His way back to His Father’s house. And He says to His concerned mother, “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?”
His life is wrapped up in ministry, and in miracles, and in teaching. In Mosiah we learn: “For behold, the time cometh and is not far distant, that with power the Lord Omnipotent, who reigneth, who was and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay. And he shall go forth among men, working mighty miracles, such as healing the sick, raising the dead, causing the lame to walk and the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and curing all manner of disease.”
I love that phrase, “All manner of disease.” Whereas these things may look like a physical curing, there is a deeper message. Look inside the gift; He cures all who will have faith on His name. What a gift came to us in swaddling clothes, in a mortal body! And now ministering, as we hear so often taught these days among the children of men, serving and teaching them—teaching them in a way that those that had ears to hear could hear. And those who didn’t would just ask, “Why teach ye in parables?” Because what He was teaching was a gift, a gift of a plan that He would exemplify through His wrapped up service life.
Just last week—my wife Angie is probably next to the Savior in serving people. She doesn’t shut off, especially this time of year. It’s like on hyper drive. Recently, our second son served in [the] South Africa Capetown [Mission]. His native companion was serving in a bishopric in the Congo with a man who just—in like weeks—has moved here from the Congo in Africa, to the Salt Lake City area, wearing only, and owning only, Congo-appropriate clothing. When we saw him, he was in shorts, a T-shirt, and flip-flops.
So my wife talks to him on the phone, because Bucasa, the 2nd counselor to him, who was in the bishopric with him back in Africa just before he moved—Bucasa had told Angie the phone number. So she calls this gentleman, who was serving as the bishop in the Congo and speaks some English, just asks for sizes for him and his wife and children, what they needed. And then, to a ward that had been previously prepared by my wife through my son’s mission president, for those missionaries who weren’t getting any gifts in the South African mission—most of them natives—our ward adopted a bunch of missionaries, and that was still on their mind when Angie gave them a call and said, “Hey, we’ve got a family who has just moved here from the Congo, and they need to be clothed”—one of the teachings that Jesus Christ taught.
So our ward, like a call to arms, starts funneling in clothing, beds—and I just get to be the driver, and the guy who carries the bed up the stairs. We get to their apartment, and it’s cold outside. There they are, dressed in Congo clothing. We’re handing them bags from loving, caring members who they don’t even know and had never seen. We get to be the delivery service.
I remember as a kid wanting to receive gifts, but learning as an adult that it is better to give. We had a chance to do what the Savior taught and to feel the gift in return, as we watched three little girls literally dancing for joy as they received some toys and some gifts and some clothing. They took pictures of their new coats that they were wearing and their boots and gloves. They were out in the new-fallen snow that has just happened this last couple of days.
Instruction from the Savior is a gift—a gift that not only gives to others but blesses us in return. Now I’m going to try to sing another song for you on the piano. It’s the first song on a Christmas—well, really the only Christmas song that I’ve ever written. I wrote it in a very cold place—well, it was in Yosu, South Korea, on my mission. It was around Christmas time and there were holes in our walls in our apartment, and you could see your breath in the apartment. You had to break ice to use the toilet. No hot water. It was cold, and it was snowing in this coastal area, which was kind of unusual. I started to think about what Christmas means. It’s about reunion; it’s about coming home—not just to our family here on earth, but the ultimate coming home. I’m going to head over to the piano—for all you piano players out there, keep in mind I am not a piano player. I’m just a dude who knows a few chords.
Cold December morning, blanket white is falling down,
And the winter winds come blowing in,
It can turn your heart around.
And saddled in the storm there rides
The hope of holidays?
Snowy mountains high, castles in the sky,
Oh, the winter wonder takes your breath away. (31)
There is no sweeter sound,
No words to define
The memories so clear to me
When my heart goes back in time.
And even though it’s freezing,
And my breath is on the air,
The thoughts of home keep rolling on,
And the winter winds they almost take me there.
And even though I know how far away I am,
The closer I’ll become
No matter where I am,
If I want to be near you
I know that I can
No matter where I go.
I remember your love
When the winter winds take me home.
Somewhere, somebody is celebrating all alone.
The candle is burning with hearts still yearning
For something to call home.
And I can’t help but feel the winter wind
Blows in my way,
There’s got to be some room
Here in our hearts
For them to stay.
‘Cause aren’t we all God’s children anyway.
And even though I know
How far apart we are, The closer we’ll become.
No matter where I am,
If I want to be near you,
I know that I can.
No matter where I go,
I remember your love
When the winter winds take me home.
So the idea of going home is really what it’s all about, and really why the Son of God came to earth. His life, though wrapped up in serving others, was also in the unwrapping others, who were bound by sin and death.
In the great object lesson taught to us in John 11, we read: “And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth, bound head and foot with grave clothes, and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him and let him go.”
It might be this Christmas when you are unwrapping that you think about being unwrapped, loosed from sin and from death. All that He did was to teach of a greater level, a greater gift.
And although He went around doing good, His life was also going to be wrapped in sorrows, pains, and affliction. In Alma 7:11 we read: “He shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind, and this that the word might be fulfilled, which he saith: he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.”
His gift is accepted by many, and rejected by so many others. In Isaiah 53, we see: “He is despised and rejected of man, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and we hid, as it were, our faces from him. He was despised and we esteemed him not.”
Christ then was openly mocked, the gift now wrapped in mocking robes of royalty, crowned with thorns. And they clothed him with purple and plaited a crown of thorns about His head, and began to salute him: “Hail, King of the Jews.” And they smote Him on the head with a reed and spit upon him, bowing their knees and worshipped Him. When they had mocked Him, they took off the purple robe from Him, and put His own clothes on Him and led Him about to be crucified.
After His crucifixion, Nicodemus—a friend to the Savior—as well as Joseph of Arimethea, in whose tomb He would rest, “then took they the body of Jesus, wound it in linen, clothed in spices after the manner of Jews to His burial. His life is bookended in wrappings. In swaddling clothes as an infant, He was brought gold, frankincense and myrhh as a gift, only to teach about the end of His life, where His body would be wrapped again in linen, and where they would anoint Him for burial.
Every time I look at the sacrament table, I think of that gift—that gift that helps me to remember, and how it too is wrapped in covenant white, to reflect all covenants and to remember all covenants made.
How do we access the gift, Jesus Christ Himself? That God so loved us that He would give His Only Begotten Son? When we access a Christmas gift or a Christmas present, it is wrapped in bows and ribbons and wrappings. The wrapping, to me, suggests that the gift is veiled from sight, and that which we must get through to get the ultimate reward. My thinking is maybe Jesus is the very wrapping as well.
The ribbon represents that which binds and seals the gift, and the bow—to me—suggests the very crown of the gift.
Just a few yards away from us is a gift wrapped in granite. The beautiful construction on the outside testifies of a greater beauty that is found within, the gift itself. Temples of worship are beautifully constructed. And our bodies, as temples of our spirits, likewise should be kept beautiful on the outside to reflect all that is pure and beautiful on the inside. And this is made possible only through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ.
The word atonement means “to cover.” And we, by that wrapping or covering, become clean, become pure and worthy, through His atoning blood. Isaiah teaches that “Though your sins may be as scarlet, or crimson, they can be like snow. We can be like snow. Red like crimson, they shall be as wool. And where does wool come from? Lamb, suggesting that though we may have sinned, we through His blood can become like Him, like wool that Isaiah testifies about.
And then we can be covered again—this time, wrapped or clothed in white, bound and sealed by covenants to God with our families, and even crowned, as we become presents to, or presented to, God. So Jesus Christ, the very gift to us, is now helping us to become gifts back to God.
We learn in the book of Revelation, “Him that overcometh, I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. They shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy. He that overcometh shall be clothed in white raiment, and unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood and hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father.”
He suggest to us, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown. Behold, I come quickly. Hold fast to that which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.”
And then this beautiful gift back to God, now in royal form: “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne,” the Savior says. “Even as also I overcame, and am sat down with my Father in His throne.”
To me, where I hear echoes of prophets—the prophet Nephi saying, “O, wretched man that I am.” Or another prophet, who wants to be an angel, so he can declare this beautiful message of the ultimate gift, thinking that he sins in this wish, now becomes like the Savior, the Son of God Himself, through covenants.
I sat in the temple the other day thinking about you, looking at what I was wearing, and thought about the gift that God has given us all, to repent and be worthy to be in His house, so we can prepare to receive and be received. What a beautiful thought at Christmas time.
So for all those who ask themselves, “What Child is this?” I testify that He is the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, who is mighty to save. And I have watched Him save people, through keys that I was allowed to hold for a while. What a gift to watch that! That is the message of Christmas. That’s what all the packages, ribbons, and bows mean to me. We need to change. We need to help people, through ministering, and through teaching, and through testifying. Every present this Christmas that my hands may touch, I will think of Him, who is all of that to me.
I believe that every single one of us, as well as every one of God’s creations on this world and worlds without end, will have to ask and find the answer to the question:
What Child is this
Who laid to rest
On Mary's lap is sleeping?
Whom Angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and Angels sing.
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
Why lies He in such mean estate
Where temple lambs are feeding?
Good Christians, fear for sinners here,
The silent Word lay pleading.
Nails, spears, shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail, the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,
Come Peasant, King to own Him.
The King of Kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Raise, raise the song on high,
The virgin sings her lullaby.
Hail, hail, for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
The Babe, the Son of God.
I leave you my witness that I know He lives, and loves us, and knows us. May we ever be serving Him as we serve all those around us, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Join us in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square for an hour of enlightenment as Brother Simpson addresses the college.
Greg Simpson is in his 29th year as a seminary and institute teacher. He currently serves as a seminary teacher at Fremont High in Plain City, Utah and Rocky Mountain Jr. in West Haven, Utah. He served as a missionary in the Korea Pusan Mission. He served as a bishop. Received a bachelor’s degree from Weber State University and his Master’s in Education from University of Phoenix. He and his wife Angie have 4 children and 3 grandchildren. Greg is an award-winning singer/songwriter and recording artist. He has produced, movie sound track titles, radio and television commercials, and songs for Especially For Youth. He is a former guitarist for Jewel, Richard Marx, and SheDaisy.
Talk Title: Keeping a Gospel Perspective While Pursuing your Dreams