The Third Sunday of Advent

The Festival of Advent is celebrated the four Sundays before Christmas. It is a time of preparation for the birth of Jesus Christ. This year, my family is celebrating Advent with activities and a devotional each Sunday night. Read about our first week HERE and our second week HERE.

Helama 14 5Last night as we were setting up our Christmas tree, my six year old son asked me if we believed in the star on the top of the tree. I thought it was a very insightful question for a six year old to ask. I said yes we do believe in the Christmas Star and asked him, what does the star symbolize? He said, “It’s Jesus’ birthday star.”

We went on to talk about the signs of Christ’s birth, specifically the signs given to the people on this continent by the prophet Samuel the Lamanite. In Helaman 14, we read:

2 And behold, he said unto them: Behold, I give unto you a sign; for five years more cometh, and behold, then cometh the Son of God to redeem all those who shall believe on his name.

3 And behold, this will I give unto you for a sign at the time of his coming; for behold, there shall be great lights in heaven, insomuch that in the night before he cometh there shall be no darkness, insomuch that it shall appear unto man as if it was day.

4 Therefore, there shall be one day and a night and a day, as if it were one day and there were no night; and this shall be unto you for a sign; for ye shall know of the rising of the sun and also of its setting; therefore they shall know of a surety that there shall be two days and a night; nevertheless the night shall not be darkened; and it shall be the night before he is born.

5 And behold, there shall a new star arise, such an one as ye never have beheld; and this also shall be a sign unto you.

6 And behold this is not all, there shall be many signs and wonders in heaven.

7 And it shall come to pass that ye shall all be amazed, and wonder, insomuch that ye shall fall to the earth.

8 And it shall come to pass that whosoever shall believe on the Son of God, the same shall have everlasting life.

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The Second Sunday of Advent

Today is the Second Sunday of Advent. Advent is a time for Christians to prepare for the celebration of Christmas. Our family is celebrating the Festival of Advent each Sunday leading up to Christmas with scriptures and stories. Last week’s devotional is HERE.

Luke 1.37 Nothing impossibleToday we’re focusing our readings on the Annunciation. In this important event, the Angel Gabriel appears to Mary and tells her that she will be the mother of Jesus Christ.
In Luke 1 we read about this event:

26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.
29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.
31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.
32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:
33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.
37 For with God nothing shall be impossible.
38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

The lesson for me is an important one. Mary asks, “How shall this be?” Gabriel answers, “With God nothing is impossible.” This is another example of the enabling power of the Atonement, and of Jesus Christ in our lives. We all have hard things given to us, and with God, nothing is impossible. And I’m sure Mary, even though she was willing, “be it unto me according to thy word”, was scared of the unknown. So many times I think we all face the unknown in similar ways. The Lord gives us trials to test us and to strengthen us, but if we allow His help, nothing is impossible. Our Father in Heaven loves us, because we are His children. He wants us to succeed. With God nothing is impossible.

Tonight, we will have the blessing of hearing from the First Presidency and leaders of the Church in the Christmas Devotional. In addition to beautiful music, we will have the opportunity to hear the testimony of the living prophets about our Savior Jesus Christ. I hope that you will take the time to watch with your family and to enjoy the Spirit of Christmas. You can watch the broadcast online at LDS.org or BYUTV.org, at 6 pm MST.

Happy Advent and Merry Christmas!

The First Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 9.6Today marks the first Sunday of Advent. Advent is a time of expectation and preparation for the Christmas holiday. During the weeks of Advent many Christians participate in readings, songs, worship, devotionals, and traditions that prepare them for the arrival of the Christ Child on Christmas Eve. Advent is not something that is normally associated with LDS Christmas worship, but in many countries around the world, LDS families, along with members of other Christian faiths, celebrate the four weeks before Christmas in preparation for the holiday.

After many years, I have finally decided to start this tradition in our family as a way to turn us toward the Savior instead of the holiday rush and the more secular aspects of Christmas. Starting today and over the next weeks, I am going to share our Advent devotionals here, and hope that you will join us in preparing for Christmas.

Traditionally, on the first Sunday of Advent the readings and devotionals focus on the Old Testament prophesies of Christ. This video from the Church focuses on the prophesies of Isaiah. Happy Advent and Merry Christmas!

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More than a plate of cookies

Over the years, I’ve gone in and out of phase with my like of visiting teaching. In the last two years, I’ve tried to be a better member of the Relief Society, by actually being a visiting teacher. There were some years here in the recent past where I was not a visiting teacher for various reasons. But when I felt the spirit nudge me to call the Relief Society President of our ward, and tell her I could do it again, I did. It was a really overwhelming thing for me, even though I felt I could do go and serve. Following that direction from the Holy Spirit has taught me that indeed the Lord does provide a way for us to do the things he asks us to do, just like he did with Nephi, and Moses, and Noah and so many others.

Back when I was still a single gal, fresh out of college, and freshly back in Mesa, AZ, after living in Provo and BYU for 3 years, where my visiting teacher was my roommate, and the sisters we taught lived five steps next door, I was in a big singles’ ward with a lot of people I didn’t know, and who frankly, scared me to death most of the time. I was also working for The Devil at a personal injury law firm, and making exactly .25 cents more per hour than I had made working at the MTC Mailroom, which was a job I actually liked. That job, in the bowels of the shark, and pit of hell, taught me a lot, but this post is not about that job, another day I’ll write about that job and the lessons I learned there.

This post is about that big singles ward and visiting teaching, and I why I don’t like dropping cookies off instead of having a visiting teaching visit, and especially why I don’t like just leaving a plate of cookies in the month of December with the sisters I’ve been asked to visit.

I had been assigned two visiting teachers in that big scary singles’ ward. They were very nice girls, and I cannot stress that enough. They were VERY nice, so this is not meant as slam on them. However, they were a bit clueless about visiting teaching. Every month they would drop a plate of cookies and a note. That’s all. They never came in to visit. They never talked to me more than a few minutes at church, and since Mesa is so big, I never saw them outside of church.

I was busy and overwhelmed with my job in the bowels of the shark and pit of hell. The Devil kept me busy, very, very, busy. That December, I crossed The Devil the wrong way one day. I had done something, unknowingly wrong. He called me into his office and dressed me down in front of another Devil for this sin of omission. I walked out of that office in tears, and shaking, to my own little corner, and closed the door. I knew I had to quit my job, that day, but I didn’t know how. And I was scared to go and face The Devil again.

He took care of it for me though. A few hours later, he called me into his office, and fired me. It was 11 days before Christmas and I was fired. I gathered my things, and he gave me a small severance check and I left this hell, not knowing what to do, but feeling strangely at peace with it all.

I got home from work 2 hours early, so obviously my family knew something was wrong. I told them what had happened, and we all had a good cry, of joy mostly, that I was free of this job. But I still didn’t have a job, and it was 11 days before Christmas. I had no money, I had no prospects and I was scared of the future.

And then I saw it …. a plate of cookies with a note, from my visiting teachers. The note read, “It’s been super awesome getting to know you this year! Have a Merry Christmas!!!”

I get it, it’s the thought that counts. But they had never even set foot in my house. They had never even had a proper conversation with me. They had not gotten to know me that year. All they had ever done was bring cookies. I was tired of cookies. I needed a friend. I needed to talk. I just wanted someone to share my burdens that day.

I threw those dumb cookies in the trash and ripped up the note, and cried some more. This time, though, I cried tears of hurt. I felt like all I was worth was a plate of cookies to them, and that hurt deeply.

The following Sunday, they saw me in the hall at church and approached me. “Did you get our cookies?” I took a deep breath and contemplated my answer. I was about to be honest.

“Yes, yes I did. But, can I ask you a favor? Please do not come to me ever again, if all you are going to do is drop me a plate of cookies. The day you left those cookies, I was fired from my job. I needed a visit that day. I don’t want anymore cookies. I just want a friend. You have never actually come in to my home and paid me a visit, you don’t know me at all. All you have ever done is leave cookies. I’m tired of cookies. And you have hurt my feelings.” And walked away, out the door and got in my car and went home.

I share this story, not to shame them, although, at the time, that was my intention when I left them standing in the church hall. I share this story as a reminder to myself that I have to sacrifice my time and myself to be a good visiting teacher, because I don’t want anyone to feel like I think they are only worth a plate of cookies.

I struggle with interpersonal relationships sometimes. Am I too overbearing? Do I keep my tongue in check? Am I slow to anger? Am I patient? Am I being annoying and too opinionated? These questions are always on the train of thought that runs thru my mind every day. I also don’t feel like I am one of those ladies they tell stories about in General Conference, who radiates goodness, kindness, and rainbows. And I have never had a promoting from the Holy Spirit saying, “Betty needs dinner and a babysitter today.” I am not crafty, nor do I make cute hand outs or doo-dads to give to my sisters. It’s hard to go with little kids as well. It seems like my children are especially adept at tearing up peoples’ houses. And we all can agree that, this is bad visiting teaching form. I never remember to prepare a spiritual message either, and the ones in the Ensign rarely inspire me.

But I go.

And yes, there are months that I miss. And there have been times when I have dropped a dreaded plate of cookies. However, I try not to do that. And I don’t want to make anyone feel guilty if they’ve done that, or are doing that, this month. This is not about guilt.

The point I want to make is this, it’s December, and it’s the holiday season. The sisters we serve might be struggling for various reasons. I know I struggle with enjoying the holidays and even wanting to participate in things during December. It’s a very hard time of year for me, even when I haven’t been fired from my job! I want to challenge everyone, and myself, and even the guys reading this, to pray and ponder on the people we’ve been asked to visit and home teach. Is there more we can do for them? Is there comfort we can give them, or a burden we can help bear up? Are there weak knees we can strengthen, and weary hands we can hold this holiday season? Have we shared our testimonies with them? Do they know we love them, and that the Lord loves them most? Do they know they are important?

This is my reminder to myself, everyone is worth more than a plate of cookies — although cookies and treats are nice anytime of year — I can always do more. Think, ponder, pray, and then serve the people we’ve been given stewardship over, especially in December. The Lord can and will provide a way for us to do this, because He loves all of His children, and we are all important and precious to Him.

Sacramental Christmas

This Christmas we will take the sacrament together. The ordinance will be, or can be, bigger than the time and place. Bigger than the place, because it binds us to all the Saints who are taking it with us worldwide, and to God in his heaven. Bigger than time, because it brings us to the foot of the cross and to the times when we made our covenants. Continue reading