by Sharon Lindbloom
17 December 2020
‘Tis the season. Christmastime is here, the holiday celebrated all around the world by Christians and non-Christians alike. The December issue of Ensign, the official magazine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, celebrates the Christmas season with a few holiday-related items. One is a reproduction of the oil painting, “Adoration of the Infant Jesus,” by Dutch master Matthias Stomer on its cover. Another is pages of ideas listing ways church members can “light the world” during the month of December.
Also, there’s a feature article by LDS apostle D. Todd Christofferson titled, “Why We Need Jesus Christ,” where readers are encouraged to “Dial down the noise this Christmas season and reflect on the wonder and majesty of the Son of God.”
“I am grateful,” Mr. Christofferson begins, “that, in addition to Christmas, December brings an occasion to contemplate the life and contributions of the Prophet Joseph Smith, his birthday being on December 23… In a time to come, we will see the prophet Joseph honored as the worthy head of this great and last dispensation…”
Wait. What?? Isn’t this article supposed to be about why we need Jesus Christ? And isn’t it supposed to help readers “reflect on the wonder and majesty of the Son of God”? Well, Mr. Christofferson does get to that after a few paragraphs of first praising Joseph Smith.
Christmastime praise of Joseph is not uncommon in Mormonism. For example, the December 2018 Ensign included an article titled, “Knowing Christ Through Joseph Smith,” excerpted from a 1976 conference address by LDS apostle Bruce R. McConkie in which he wrote of Christ as
“our Lord, our God, our King. We worship the Father in His name… He is Lord of all, without whom there would be no immortality nor eternal life. But I shall now speak of another,… I shall speak of Joseph Smith, Jr., the mighty prophet of the Restoration…” (“Joseph Smith—The Mighty Prophet of the Restoration,” Ensign, May 1976. Emphasis added).
In 2015, in “A season of wonder,” LDS Church News said,
“As Latter-day Saints commemorate the Savior’s birth, we remember also one who bore powerful witness of the Christ Child born in the little town of Bethlehem. On Dec. 23, 1805, Joseph Smith Jr. was born in an obscure village in Vermont’s Windsor County. Though the world didn’t know it at the time, this 19th century birth would initiate what is arguably the greatest and most far-reaching chain of events in the history of Christianity since the Savior’s mortal ministry itself.”
In 2008, upon the December release of a new Mormon Tabernacle Choir album titled, “Praise to the Man,” 16th LDS President Thomas Monson’s remarks were reported by Deseret News:
“President Monson praised the efforts of the choir… He also noted that he’s always appreciated the fact that Joseph Smith was born in the season in which we celebrate the birth of Christ. ‘I think very little happens by coincidence,’ he said. And at this season, he’s happy that our thoughts can be drawn to Joseph Smith. ‘He gave us everything.’” (“‘Praise to the Man’ honors Joseph Smith,” December 22, 2008)
Also in 2008, LDS Church News reported on the then-upcoming “Christmastime events at the [LDS] Museum of Church History and Art in Salt Lake City.” The article noted,
“To extend gratitude for Jesus Christ into the new year, the museum will observe the Dec. 23, 1805, birthday of the Prophet Joseph Smith, who helped restore a complete knowledge of Christ in this dispensation, with a celebration Dec. 23-Jan. 3. Festivities will include story-telling, birthday treats, crafts and games, a theatre shop, and a discovery tour enabling children to explore artifacts throughout the museum pertaining to the Prophet’s life.” (Church News, November 1, 6)
In December of 1997 then-President Gordon B. Hinckley wrote a First Presidency Message for Ensign titled “A Season of Gratitude.” He wrote with admiration about both Joseph Smith and Jesus Christ, beginning with Joseph:
“This is a season for giving and a time for gratitude. We remember with appreciation the birth of the Prophet Joseph Smith, which is celebrated this same month of December, two days before Christmas. How great indeed is our debt to him… Great is his glory… We stand in reverence before him. …He is our prophet, our revelator, our seer, our friend. Let us not forget him. Let not his memory be forgotten in the celebration of Christmas. God be thanked for the Prophet Joseph.” (2)
In December 1987 LDS Church News spoke of “Two Whom We Honor,” Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith:
“As we observe Joseph’s birthday on Dec. 23 , and commemorate the Savior’s on Dec. 25, we feel that to respect and honor the Prophet Joseph Smith does not in any way take away the glory and honor of the Savior… It is fitting that we honor Joseph Smith because ‘Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord has done more, save Jesus Christ only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it.’ (D&C 135:3.) It is fitting because their lives had many similarities.” (December 12, 16)
And so on.
I have written before about this Mormon propensity to honor and praise Joseph Smith during the sacred Christmas season. Therefore, I’m not surprised to read Mr. Christofferson’s homage to Joseph – after all, this is Mormonism. It is a religion that seeks to eradicate the biblical distinction between Creator and created, God and mankind. Raising Joseph Smith nearly to the level of Jesus Christ in accomplishments and importance is par for the course. “Man is the king of kings and lord of lords in embryo” taught Brigham Young (Journal of Discourses 10:223), and Joseph Smith now reigns as a supreme being:
“…no man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith. From the day that the Priesthood was taken from the earth to the winding-up scene of all things, every man and woman must have the certificate of Joseph Smith, junior, as a passport to their entrance into the mansion where God and Christ are–I with you and you with me. I cannot go there without his consent. He holds the keys of that kingdom for the last dispensation–the keys to rule in the spirit-world; and he rules there triumphantly, for he gained full power and a glorious victory over the power of Satan while he was yet in the flesh, and was a martyr to his religion and to the name of Christ, which gives him a most perfect victory in the spirit-world. He reigns there as supreme a being in his sphere, capacity, and calling, as God does in heaven.” (Brigham Young, October 9, 1859, Journal of Discourses 7:289. See also Search These Commandments, 1984, 133)
So I’m not surprised when Joseph Smith is honored and lifted up at Christmas, yet it never fails to disturb me. That’s because the Bible says our hope, our salvation, is in Christ alone.
Christians celebrate Christmas because our Savior has come, because God is with us, because Jesus will rescue His people and save them from their sins. He is Wonderful Counselor. Mighty God. Everlasting Father. Prince of Peace. He is the light of the world! When that light shines, everything else pales and fades away, overcome by His radiance.
The praise and honor of Joseph Smith at Christmas troubles me because it reminds me that Mormonism does not call its people to honor Christ as the one and only King of kings and Lord of lords. It dilutes Who Jesus is and what He has done. I’m troubled because Mormonism’s veneration of Joseph Smith turns people away from fully trusting in Christ and keeps them from receiving the salvation He alone can give.
This Christmas, dial down the noise introduced by LDS leaders and reflect on the wonder and majesty of the Son of God alone. Come and behold Him, born the King of angels; Jesus, to Thee be all glory given; “Glory to God, all glory in the highest!” O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.
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