by Sharon Lindbloom
19 December 2018
In approaching Christmas, Christians focus on Jesus Christ as we commemorate His birth. We celebrate God’s merciful Gift: “Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David” (Luke 2:11). As summarized at GotQuestions.org,
“We celebrate Christmas because… Jesus is the Savior who delivers us from sin and death (Matthew 1:21). He is the human Messiah (or Christ) who fulfills the Law and the Prophets, showing that God is faithful (see Matthew 5:17). And He is the divine Lord who has entered our world: the Almighty has taken on human flesh… God is truly with us (see Matthew 1:23).
“…We celebrate Christmas with gift-giving because of the ‘indescribable gift’ that God gave to us (2 Corinthians 9:15) …by stringing lights because the Light of the world has come to us (John 1:4; Isaiah 9:2) …with carols and choirs because they are expressive of joy…by decorating evergreen trees with stars and angels and tinsel because of the eternal life Jesus brings (John 4:14).” (“Why do we celebrate Christmas?”)
The December (Christmas) issue of Ensign magazine, published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, devotes space to articles about Christmas and Christ. The magazine cover is a painting of mother and child titled, “Holy Night.” Page 5 is devoted to “The First Christmas Journey” as depicted in the Bible. Scattered among the usual kinds of articles about family, church service, and living the Mormon lifestyle that are found in every issue of the Ensign, December’s issue includes a few additional Christmas-related stories, as would be expected in a church publication.
A regular feature in each non-Conference issue of the Ensign is a column titled “Until We Meet Again,” found on the last page of the magazine. Each month this column is comprised of an excerpt from a talk (or article) given by a past Mormon authority. For example, in August it was Melvin J. Ashton exhorting church members to “Keep Trying” (“…eternal life requires effort – constant work…”). In September, right before the church’s General Conference, it was Mark E. Petersen reminding members that they are “Led by Living Prophets.” And in October, it was James E. Faust counseling Latter-day Saints that they must live in harmony with church leaders (“Our Sustaining Support”). These monthly articles are positioned as important parting thoughts from church leaders to the members “until [they] meet again.”
This year’s December issue of the Ensign closes with something that, to Christians, seems like an odd choice for Christmastime. It is an excerpt from LDS apostle Bruce R. McConkie’s 1976 General Conference talk titled, “Joseph Smith—The Mighty Prophet of the Restoration.”
The current Ensign article, titled “Knowing Christ through Joseph Smith,” begins, as did the original 1976 Conference talk, with the affirmation that Mormons recognize 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…”
“But,” Mr. McConkie said, “I shall now speak of another, of the one by whom the knowledge of Christ and of salvation has come in our day…”
The current Ensign article necessarily (due to space constraints) leaves out quite a lot of the apostle’s original address. It contains but a brief summary of the more that 2,000 words Mr. McConkie spoke concerning his understanding of the persecutions, ministrations, accomplishments, and greatness of the “mighty prophet of the Restoration.”
In the original, Mr. McConkie noted things like the following:
“Here is a man who was chosen before he was born, who was numbered with the noble and great in the councils of eternity…he sat in council with the Gods when the plans were made to create an earth…he participated in the creative enterprises of the Father. In his premortal state he grew in light and knowledge and intelligence, attained a spiritual stature which few could equal…”
These things (and many others) are not included in the December Ensign article, where Mr. McConkie’s full and lengthy recitation of Joseph Smith’s life has been reduced down to just one paragraph that centers on the Prophet’s First Vision.
From there, the December Ensign moves on to Mr. McConkie’s concluding remarks. These few paragraphs are also heavily edited from the original, but manage to leave the main idea intact:
“All men may well ask themselves where they stand with reference to Joseph Smith and his divine mission. Do they inquire after his name and seek that salvation found only in the gospel of Christ as revealed to his latter-day prophet…? The great question which all men in our day must answer—and that at the peril of their own salvation—is: Was Joseph Smith called of God?
“…Let there be no misunderstanding. We are witnesses of Christ. He is our Savior. …But we are also witnesses of Joseph Smith, by whom we know of Christ, and who is the legal administrator to whom power was given to bind on earth and seal in heaven, that all men from his day forward might be heirs of salvation.” (Ellipses from the quoted source)
That the Mormon Church provides an article asserting the greatness of Joseph Smith as take-away for Latter-day Saints at Christmastime reminds me of another December Ensign, this one from 1997, when President Gordon B. Hinckley began his “First Presidency Message” with these words:
“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.” (“A Season for Gratitude,” Ensign, December 1997, 2)
I’m also reminded of a “Viewpoint” article that appeared in Church News in 1987. This December article, “Two Whom We Honor,” said,
“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.” (Church News, December 12, 1987, 16)
The remainder of the Church News article was devoted to comparing supposed parallels between the lives of Joseph Smith and Jesus Christ.
While it is true that December’s Ensign article, President Hinckley’s 1997 Christmas remarks, and the December 1987 “Viewpoint” all included statements of praise for Jesus Christ, this recurring choice to venerate Joseph Smith at Christmas strikes me almost as if the LDS Church is concerned that the “glory” of Joseph might be eclipsed by the heart of Christmas – Jesus.
In truth, all things – all people – pale in the light of Christ. Absolutely nothing compares to the glory of God.
Consider this. Jesus said, “there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist,” yet John did not compare to Jesus. He himself said of Christ, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Matthew 11:11a; John 3:30). This is as it should be; God’s people know this!
This baby who is celebrated at Christmas, this baby who was born a King, came to set His people free. He was Immanuel. God with us.
Prince of Peace.
The long-expected Savior.
King of kings and Lord of lords.
Jesus is all of these things (and we know all of these things) without any help from Joseph Smith. It’s very sad – and revealing – that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not recognize Jesus as the King that He truly is. There is so much to celebrate in Christ at Christmas! Latter-day Saints, don’t miss it. Christmas is rich and full in Christ alone.
Come, Thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.
Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King;
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all-sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.
(John Wesley, “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus”)
Wishing a blessed and merry Christ-centered Christmas to all.