|A Nativity cast with a Christmas |
tree in the background
Approximately 600 years before the first Christmas, a young man (probably still a teenager) from Jerusalem stood atop a mountain peak, probably not far from his father’s camp in Wadi Tayyib al-Ism or another nearby wadi. He may have been standing before the entire divine council, though all we know for certain is that he spoke directly with the Spirt of the Lord and one other divine being. He asked about the meaning of a tree. In response to his inquiry, the Spirit of the Lord showed him the following:
And I beheld the city of Nazareth; and in the city of Nazareth I beheld a virgin, and she was exceedingly fair and white. And it came to pass that I saw the heavens open; and an angel came down and stood before me; and he said unto me: Nephi, what beholdest thou? And I said unto him: A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins. … And he said unto me: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh. And it came to pass that I beheld that she was carried away in the Spirit; and after she had been carried away in the Spirit for the space of a time the angel spake unto me, saying: Look! And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms. And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw? And I answered him, saying: Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things. (1 Ne. 11:13–15, 18–22)
There, standing atop a peak in the northern part of the Hijaz mountain range, this young man witnessed in vision the nativity; the first Christmas. He saw the mother Mary; he saw the Christ child in her arms, and he understood that this scene represented the love of God. All from pondering on the meaning of a tree.
Daniel C. Peterson has documented how this imagery of a tree and a divine mother made sense in the ancient Israelite context. This month, as we prepare to celebrate another Christmas season, we will place trees in our living rooms, decorate them, and place gifts underneath them. Let’s not forget, however, what it represents. It is a Christmas tree. Christmas is about that virgin and child foreseen 600 years earlier by an Israelite-turned-nomad.
When you see a Christmas tree, I hope it brings to your mind that first Christmas nativity—the child, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger with his mother nearby. From there I hope you remember why that child is significant. “For God so loved the world,” the child would grow up to say, “that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Through the Savior we gain access to the most desirable of all gifts—his gospel and eternal life.
This is the meaning of Christmas. It is a meaning which is reflected in the very name of the virgin vessel through whom the child came—Mary. Mary comes from an Egyptian word meaning “love, desire, wish.” Since most names in the ancient world were theophoric—meaning the name of a god was appended at the beginning or end—Mary is probably short (like Jon for Jonathan) for “Beloved of God.”
Mary and her child; a perpetual symbol for the love of God. May you remember that love every time you see a Christmas tree this season. May that still God’s love in your heart, and through you infectiously spread abroad to all the children of men this Christmas.