Editor's note: this article originally ran on LDSLiving.com in December 2020.
If you are like me, there are Christmas memories that stand out in your mind. For me, these memories include Christmas Eves spent at my grandparents’ house, Christmas jar drop-offs, and my dad always trying to get the video camera ready before we came down the stairs on the morning of the 25th. But two of my Christmases were certainly different than all of the others as I served as a missionary through two holiday seasons—and one memory from that time stands out above the rest.
My companion and I sat in a small apartment lit by colored Christmas lights with a woman we were teaching. Her name was Natividad. Now, for those of you who speak Spanish, no, I am not making this up. For those of you who don’t speak Spanish, “natividad” means “nativity.” The irony of teaching Natividad at Christmastime was not lost on me. But what I didn’t expect was in this woman’s little apartment, Christmas and what it meant to me would change forever.
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We were reading together in 1 Nephi 11 when we began to read a series of verses that in Spanish say, “¡Mira! Y mire . . .” or in English, “Look! And I looked . . .” I had read these verses many times before. They are in 1 Nephi after all. But that night in that little apartment, I was the one being told to “look,” and I saw it all. I saw Mary, a virgin. And when the angel asked, “Knowest thou the condescension of God?” I realized I didn’t, but then I felt the Spirit begin to teach me (1 Nephi 11:16). There are many different interpretations of these verses and what the angel was trying to teach Nephi—and by extension, you and me. But that night, it struck me that when the angel wanted to show Nephi the condescension of God, he showed him a mother. Now, certainly, Mary was the mother of the Son of God, and He was the One who condescended to save us. But as we read with Natividad I felt that the angel was also trying to show me the love of a parent and a parent's capacity to emulate 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 Nephi 11:22).
Jared Halverson spoke of these verses on this week’s episode of "Unshaken." “To help unlock condescension, the angel is drawing Christmas,” Halverson said.
Just the other night, I had another special Christmas moment. The Small Seed, one of my favorite websites, released a meditation app with a free guided nativity meditation just in time for Christmas. In the Small Seed Still app, which is available on Apple and Google devices, Brooke Snow walks listeners through an experience that begins with the shepherds abiding in the fields and ends at the manger with the Christ child. This year, I once again found myself in a small apartment dimly lit by Christmas lights. Unlike that Christmas seven years ago, this time I was completely alone—but not unlike that night years ago in Natividad’s home, that stable scene once again came alive for me.
On this week’s episode of “Don’t Miss This,” David Butler and Emily Belle Freeman are joined by Courtney Rich of Cake By Courtney as they talk about that fateful night in Bethlehem. Butler and Freeman reveal that when creating a nativity scene this year for Deseret Book, they wanted to make sure that the nativity scene included “running shepherds.” This is how the shepherds are portrayed in The Chosen’s special Christmas episode—with shepherds who after the angels visit the manger run to find the Savior wrapped in swaddling clothes.
I love this because that is also how I pictured it in my mind as Brooke Snow’s meditation begins with the shepherds. I ran with them, and when I arrived at the stable, I was out of breath.
“Do you ever think they wondered, ‘Wait, we are the ones who get to go? They picked us to be the first ones? Because we’re the least. We’re the ones who are forgotten, we’re the ones no one even remembers . . . and for some reason on that night they were the highest,” Freeman said on “Don’t Miss This.”
They point out that Christ often comes to us in our places. For shepherds, a manger would’ve felt like home to them. It was likely not what they expected, but as Freeman points out, “When He enters into their story, it’s in the place where their story takes place, which is so neat to me because He’s like, ‘I’ll come to your stable. I’ll come to the place where you do your work. . . . And He’ll do that for every one of us.”
Not only that, but Butler points out that He also came as “the Lamb of God” because once again, that would’ve been something the shepherds were familiar with.
Rich adds that the humble circumstances of the Savior’s birth seem symbolic in our own lives.
“I love how it depicts, too, [that] our greatest hope for our relationship with Christ is to be in our most humble place . . . that’s where we really start to develop our relationship with Christ,” Rich says.
Coming to the Manger
Coming back to the nativity meditation, I must say was surprised by what I saw. As I approached the manger, yes, I saw the baby Jesus and his mother, but I also saw other faces I recognized and loved. They smiled at me and beckoned me to come closer and to see the Savior’s face. But in their faces, I saw the condescension of God because through these people—my family and my friends–I have felt His love for me.
Halverson spoke of the condescension that was witnessed around that manger and quoted the lyrics of “Welcome to Our World” by Chris Rice. “So wrap our injured flesh around You / Breathe our air and walk our sod / Rob our sins and make us holy / Perfect Son of God.”
Halverson eloquently says:
To breathe our air, to walk our sod—that is condescension and it all came about at Christmas. So my dear friends all around the world, wherever this Christmas finds you, enjoy all the gifts, but don’t forget Him who is the source of every good gift. Enjoy the Christmas lights, but don’t forget the Light of the World. Enjoy your thoughts of Old Saint Nick, but think about Him that can make saints out of each of us. Depending on where you live, enjoy your white Christmas, but please try to remember Him who can take your scarlet sins and make them white as snow. Enjoy the ornaments you hang on your tree, but don’t forget Him who hung on a tree at Calvary. Enjoy leaving out the milk and cookies, but please try to find more meaning in the bread and water. Enjoy the man in the red suit, but don’t forget Him who wore the purple robe. Enjoy your full stockings, but do not forget the empty tomb. Yes, let Christmas be a time of great joy. But take time to remember the Man of Sorrows acquainted with grief, who carried our sorrows and carried us through them, who was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities.
I echo Brother Halverson’s words and will just add that this Christmas, it is my hope that whether you are being guided to Bethlehem through a meditation, through reading an account of Christ’s birth in the Bible or in the Book of Mormon, or simply through listening to a Christmas song, that you will feel, in that story we’ve heard so many times, the love of God for you.