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Friday, December 20, 2013

The Work of Angels

She was alone, perhaps in the midst of some daily activity—getting water from a well, preparing food for a meal, praying by her bedside. It may have been morning or night, inside or out. But certainly, she was alone. And suddenly she was not alone. There was a light. A voice. A glorious being. A strange salutation: “Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women” (Luke 1:28).

Surprise and wonder must have filled Mary’s mind and heart—and perhaps fear, for who would not have felt fear at this sudden apparition, this brilliantly white person, this unearthly voice. Yet there must have been also an instinctual sense of awe and reverence, a deep, dawning, and indisputable awareness of the holiness of this personage, a growing glimpse in her heart that this man, this presence, carried with him all that is good and godly, gifts and grace from heaven itself.

His name was Gabriel. He was a messenger from God, an angel of light, sent to announce the wondrous news of an infinite and eternal redemption from sin and death. To the virgin before him—perhaps frightened, perhaps humbled, perhaps sensing the holiness of the moment—he declared the startling news that she, Mary, would give birth to a child, but not just a child: “the Son of the Highest,” said Gabriel. “And he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:32, 33).

In response to this earthshaking revelation, Mary simply asked, “How shall this be?” (Luke 1:34). Gabriel must have rejoiced to find a heart that did not dispute or doubt or debate, but that simply sought clarification. And when the explanation was given, with deep faith, submission, and complete trust in Gabriel’s words, Mary said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38).

It was a brief interview. An introduction was made, a message delivered, a question asked, an explanation given, and a sublime declaration of ultimate faith expressed. Yet how momentous that conversation was for Mary, for Gabriel, for the entire world.

The story of Christmas is the story of angels. From Gabriel’s messages to Mary and Zacharias to the angelic instruction to Joseph to the declaration to the shepherds to the heavenly choir that filled Bethlehem’s night with praises to God.

But the angelic work began long before Bethlehem, or even Nazareth. It began at least several thousand years earlier when an angel declared the tidings of redemption to Adam, who had only recently been expelled from the garden (see Moses 5:4-9). It continued on through the centuries as angels delivered messages of salvation to prophet after prophet. In one such visit, Gabriel announced the future coming of the Messiah to the Old Testament prophet Daniel (Daniel 9:21-27). In another, an angel awakened the Book of Mormon prophet and king Benjamin and said, “I am come to declare unto you the glad tidings of great joy. . . . For behold, the time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay” (Mosiah 3:3, 5).

Agony in the Garden by Frans Schwartz,
in Sacred Gifts at the BYU Museum of Art.
The angelic ministry continued after the blessed birth as well. It was an angel who warned Joseph to flee with his young family to Egypt and who later called him back. Years later, after Jesus fasted for 40 days and faced temptations delivered personally by the father of lies himself, Matthew records that “angels came and ministered unto him” (Matt 4:11).

Then, in a garden called Gethsemane, the Babe, now grown, fell to the earth in agony and prayer. The Son of God, He who had power over death itself, He who had lived the only pure life in history, felt the crushing burden of sin. “And,” Luke records, “there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him” (Luke 22:43). To the Savior of the World, the angel of Gethsemane brought solace, support, and strength.

Angels do the work of God. As exemplified in the Christmas story, their work is to testify, as did Gabriel. Their work is also to minister, as did the angel in Gethsemane.

To testify and to minister—this is the work of angels. “Have angels ceased to appear unto the children of men? Or has [God] withheld the power of the Holy Ghost from them? Or will he, so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man upon the face thereof to be saved? Behold I say unto you, Nay” (Moro. 7:36–37).

The work of angels continues today. Ofttimes, that work continues through us. Wouldn’t you have loved to have been one of the angels in the heavenly host? What a privilege it would have been to stand in Gabriel's place and to make the announcement to Mary. And with what humility and love you would have approached the angelic assignment to minister in Gethsemane. We may not have been those angels, but we can be those angels. We can sing praises that will rise to heaven and join with those of the angelic choir. We can testify of the Savior’s divine birth and holy redemption. We can minister and strengthen and love and comfort. We can do the work of angels.

As was said by Him who is the subject of angelic messages and the source of angelic love, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:40).

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Sunday Afternoon Top 11!

So I narrowed my list for Sunday afternoon to 11 and just couldn't choose one more to cut. So there's a bonus here...

And as an extra bonus, I've included a recent picture of our "stellar spirit"--or one of them, anyway... hard to think of that term not applying to Lizzy as well; she is as stellar as they come.

Elder Quentin L. Cook: Addictions impose on society a burden of such magnitude that it is impossible to quantify.

Elder Quentin L. Cook: How we preserve time for family is one of the most significant issues facing many societies.

Elder Quentin L. Cook: If we allow our culture to reduce the connection from children to mothers and grandmothers, we will come to regret it.

Elder Quentin L. Cook: It will be hard to change society at large, but we should work hard to change the culture immediately around us; our primary efforts should be to protect our own family and the rising generation--the vast majority of whom are not yet in bondage.

Brother David M. McConkie: Teachers, ask yourself: what would the Savior say if He were teaching my class today, and how would He say it?

Elder Terence M. Vinson: God should be the center of our universe, our literal focal point. Is He? Or is He far from the thoughts and intents of our hearts?

Elder Terence M. Vinson: Rather than solve our problems Himself, the Lord wants us to develop the faith that will allow us to rely on Him in resolving our problems; then we can become connected with Him more powerfully.

Elder Russell M. Nelson: Stellar spirits are often housed in imperfect bodies.

Elder Russell M. Nelson: Why the need for self-mastery? God implanted strong appetites in us for nourishment and love. When we master our appetites within the bounds of God's laws, we can enjoy longer life, greater love, and consummate joy.

Elder Russell M. Nelson: Freedom from self-slavery is true liberation.

Elder Russell M. Nelson: God's marriage pattern cannot be disregarded--not if you want true joy.

Sunday Morning's Top 10

My favorites notes and quotes (paraphrased) from the Sunday morning session of October 2013 LDS General Conference.

President Henry B. Eyring: It is only with the companionship of the Holy Ghost that we can hope to be equally yoked in marriage.

President Henry B. Eyring: I gave him to you because I knew you could and would love him.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks: The principle is not whether we have other priorities; the question posed by the second commandment is What is our ultimate priority?

Elder Dallin H. Oaks, quoting President Thomas S. Monson: Let us have the courage to defy the consensus, the courage to stand for principle.

Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson: Conversion comes through living the principles of the gospel and sacrificing for them.

Elder Richard J. Maynes: Dedication, perseverance, self-discipline: the keys to endurance, physically and spiritually.

Elder Richard G. Scott: Repentance is not punishment; it is the hope-filled path to a more glorious future.

Elder Richard G. Scott: As you fill your life with service to Father in Heaven's children, Satan's temptations lose power in your life.

President Thomas S. Monson, quoting "the Poet": "Good timber does not grow with ease; the stronger the wind, the stronger the trees."

President Thomas S. Monson: The gospel of Jesus Christ is the penetrating light that shines through the darkness of our lives.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Priesthood Session Top 10

Here are my 10 favorite paraphrased notes from the priesthood session.

Elder L. Tom Perry: Doctrine is to the Church as a battery is to a cell phone: without it, the Church is useless.

Bishop Gerard Causse: Before you told me your name, I knew what you were called: My brother.

Elder Randy D. Funk: To be a successful missionary, you must be humble, obedient, and in tune with the promptings of the spirit.

Elder Randy D. Funk: Think of the good that comes from broken things: ground is broken to grow wheat, wheat is broken to make bread, bread is broken for the sacrament, of which we partake with broken hearts as we offer our souls to God.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf: We don't become champions without making mistakes. Our destiny is not determined by the number of times we stumble, but by the number of times we rise up.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf: Worldly sorrow leads us to become discouraged and want to give up. Godly sorrow leads to conversion and a change of heart.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf: Rise up. Your destiny is a glorious one.

President Henry B. Eyring: A parable for overloaded priesthood holders: the Good Samaritan--just remember you are the Samaritan, not the priest or the Levite who passed by.

President Henry B. Eyring: Only the Lord can bind up spiritual wounds, but He sends us to rescue His children and bring them to Him.

President Thomas S. Monson: Ours is the great privilege to brighten, to touch, to save those souls entrusted to our care.

Saturday Conference Top 10

I gained so much from the first two sessions of LDS General Conference today. Here are my 10 favorite notes, in chronological order. (Most of these are paraphrased.)

Elder Edward Dube: In the sight of the Lord, it is not so much what we have done that matters, but where we are willing to go.

Elder David A. Bednar: A grateful person is rich in contentment. An ungrateful person is in a poverty of discontent.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf: When the entire truth is made known, things that didn't make sense before will be resolved to our satisfaction.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf: Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson (quoting Elder Neal A. Maxwell): One day what happened in cradles and kitchens may prove to be more influential than what happened in congress.

Elder S. Gifford Nielsen: How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, ... that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth! Exclamation point!

Elder Timothy J. Dyches: Mortality is meant to be difficult. The vicissitudes of life help us fashion an eternal relationship with God and engrave his image in our countenance.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: Though we may feel we are like a broken vessel, we should remember that our vessel is in the hands of the Master Potter.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: Live by faith, hold fast to hope, and show compassion one of another.

Elder M. Russell Ballard: The command to share the gospel is a directive we cannot escape.