Over two thousand years ago, a child was born in a humble stable in Bethlehem, born to live a perfect life and to die a perfect death out of love for all mankind. Today I would like to consider the perfect gift that He has given to each of us through His Atonement.
The Atonement had always been something of a mystery to me. Growing up, in church I would hear all about how Jesus saved us from our sins, and that because He died for us, we can all return to live with our Father in Heaven again. But I never understood how. I couldn't make the connection between His suffering and death giving us eternal life. Fortunately, earlier this year I read a book called, "The Peacegiver" by James Ferrell.
In this book, the author uses a story from the Bible to metaphorically illustrate the Atonement. One day as I was reading it while eating my lunch, I paused for a moment to go get something from the pantry and I remember stopping dead in my tracks, as the words I had been reading seemed to suddenly fall into perfect order, like pieces of a puzzle, and I could finally see the whole picture. I was so stunned, I immediately called my mother to share my insight with her.
What I learned that day in the kitchen is that as spiritual beings we live within a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum is total sin, or spiritual death, where Satan resides. On the other end is perfection and exaltation where Heavenly Father resides. The area in between these two extremes is like an obstacle course, with various temptations designed to test our spiritual strength, causing us to either fall back toward spiritual death or overcome and move closer to perfection. When Christ suffered for all mankind, He took a journey from the presence of the Father all the way through every obstacle (temptation) to the very edge of spiritual death and then turned around and passed back through every obstacle to return to exaltation. And throughout it all, He remained spotless and perfect. He never faltered on any temptation; He passed through each test with flying colors.
We are not perfect. We approach these temptations, these obstables, and we struggle. We falter and we fall, as we often try to manage them on our own. But because Christ has been through every possible obstacle we may face on our journey, He is a perfect Guide. He is standing right with us, and His hand is extended. He knows the best way to ford the river, to climb the walls, and to pick through the minefields of sin and temptation, yet we think we can do it on our own. What we don't understand is that we can't possibly climb that wall or ford that river on our own- these obstacles are designed to require two people to overcome them. We were never meant to take the journey alone, and we can only reach our Father in Heaven by taking Christ's hand that He offers us through His loving Atonement and letting Him pull us up and carry us over.
A few weeks ago I was asked to give a talk in church about Salvation and Exaltation, and as I was writing the talk, I was blessed with another deeper understanding of the love Jesus has for each of us. We often hear of Christ "suffering for our sins", and I think that many of us view His suffering much like suffering that we endure. But I realized, His suffering had nothing to do with the pain our sins caused Him- His pain was purely out of His sorrow for the pains our sins would cause us. It's like a mother whose child is about to fall from a great height. She reaches out her hand to catch him, and in doing so she cuts a deep gash in her arm. At that moment, she could care less about the pain in her arm- she cares only for the danger her child was in, and for the fear he was feeling. Her pain is not her own, much like the Savior's pain was not His own.
The most beautiful part of this gift our Savior has given us is that He doesn't care how weak we are. He doesn't care if spiritually, we can barely put one foot in front of the other. He loves us so much that all we have to do is ask and He will gladly carry us over every obstacle. To Him we are precious and amazing and beautiful, and He wants desperately to help us, to take us in His arms and bring us safely home, yet so many of us push Him away. But no matter how many times He is pushed away, He loves us still, with a fierce and unwavering love that is without end. We may pridefully go our own way, but the second we humble ourselves and ask for Him, He will be by our side in a heartbeat, with nothing but love and guidance. What an incredible blessing and gift that is.
So this Christmas, I would like to celebrate this gift- the Ultimate Gift- that Christ has given us. It is His love, His love that has made it possible to return to our Father in Heaven despite all of our shortcomings and weaknesses. His love that reminds us that there is nothing in this life that we cannot overcome with Him by our side, if only we invite Him in. His love that sacrificed all that He had and ached for all we would have to suffer if not for Him.
There is no way that I can ever give enough to Him to repay His gift to me, and so all I can offer is my heart, and my outstretched hand to accept His eternal gift of love. I will vow to forgive others, for I know that His gift was for them as well. And no matter how many times I may feel that I have been offended by another, my anger and hurt are unfounded because I know that whatever anyone else may take away from me, my Savior is there to give it back, for He has paid for the offender's sins as well. I will strive to share His love with those around me, that they too might be willing and able to accept His gift. I will try to live as He would have me live, that His gift to me might not be in vain.
May we all remember the Ultimate Christmas Gift, and celebrate this Christmas with an attitude of deep gratitude for all that He has given us.
To learn more about my beliefs as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please visit www.mormon.org.