The First Christmas in America
by Kathy Penrod
Imagine with me that you and your family have been singled out due to your religious beliefs; the belief that a Savior of the world would come to earth. A belief that started five years prior based on the words of a prophet. Imagine that because you believe in the reality of the Savior, Jesus Christ, you are sentenced to death. But not just you, your spouse, your children, your parents and your Christian neighbors. In fact, those who did not believe sentenced ALL believers in the soon-coming Jesus Christ – all Christians – to death.
Imagine that your persecutors threatened that if a promised sign from God did not appear by the end of day, you would be executed. You had no doubt in the saving grace of the soon to be born Messiah. You had no doubt God could save you. But your captors did doubt and assigned their timeline to God’s signs. And one thing you knew for sure was God did things on His OWN timeline.
Now imagine, that in addition to the sign, which may or may not come in time to save your life, there was one other way to save yourself – and your family. But, to do that, you would have to deny your beliefs; deny that you had faith in Jesus Christ.
This was the scene playing out over 2000 years ago on the American continent. Samuel, a prophet in the Book of Mormon, taught and preached of the coming of Christ. Many believed him. Unfortunately, many more did not and, were so angry at what he was doing, persecuted the believers. Samuel promised that a sign would be given of Jesus’ birth in five years from the time of his prophecy. The sign would be a day and a night and a day – as if it were one day. The believers, the Christians, were mocked, persecuted and eventually, sentenced to death. The non-believers had decided that the five years had passed and set aside a day to execute the believers. (3 Nephi 1:6-9)
This is one of the most thought provoking stories of the Book of Mormon for me. I imagine I would have believed Samuel. I imagine I would have hoped for the coming of the Savior. But what, exactly, would I have done when I realized that my family was about to be executed? I like to believe I would have stayed strong in the faith; consoled my frightened children with words of faith. I liked to believe that I would have joined the other believers in “watching steadfastly” (italics added) for the sign to be given. I imagine there may have been some, who, in hopes of saving their family, denied their beliefs. I imagine that some of the persecutors were neighbors, former friends, to some of the believers. Perhaps families were even divided – brothers against brothers – so to speak.
Happily, the sign did come in time. The believers were spared and many, who had not believed, came to believe in Jesus Christ.
I love the lessons in this Christmas story. While Mary and Joseph were searching for a place to give birth the Savior of the World, Christians, on the other side of the world, were preparing to die for their belief that He would be born.
How many times have Christians been called on to stand up for what they believe – in the face of death? How many times are we tempted to turn aside from our beliefs because the pressure from others is getting difficult? How many times do we watch steadfastly for our Lord, Jesus Christ?
As the world remembers the gentle babe, lying in a manger, will we also remember that He will come in His holy glory to save the earth again? As we remember the soft lullabies, likely sung by a new mom to her precious baby boy, will we also remember the hymns of faith that give us hope in His perfect atonement?
Jesus Christ did, in fact, come to earth as a babe. As He grew, He went about His father’s business. He showed His infinite love as He ministered to those in need. He bled and suffered in Gethsemane for each of us. He was tortured and crucified, having done NO wrong. And, triumphantly, He broke the shackles of death and was resurrected.
The truth is… HE LIVES. It is He whom we celebrate this Christmas. May we all serve as the Savior would have us serve, live as he would have us live and watch steadfastly for the light that will fill the earth again when He comes.