During Christmas season, we think a lot about gifts. We think of the gifts we want to give to others and admire the generous gifts we receive. However, if we slow down from the hectic scramble to check off the items on our Christmas lists, we can ponder and benefit greatly from understanding the reason we celebrate with gifts during this time of year.
Sometimes, recognizing the greatness of a gift in the very moment it is given is difficult to do. It requires proper perspective and understanding. Unfortunately, I am not known for for being an expert in either maintaining the proper perspective, or in possessing anything that resembles great understanding. However, as I often do, I have a story that demonstrates my lack of perspective and understanding, and I’m glad to share it.
When I was growing up in Payson, Utah, the entire gamut of youth sports programs was comprised of just two options. We had summertime city baseball, and wintertime Junior Jazz basketball. Not quite the same as the full time year-round club teams kids now have for every sport. Needless to say, as kids, we looked forward to those seasons (mostly for the snow cones we would get IF won our baseball games).
In my first year of playing this Junior Jazz basketball, I was 8 years old. I barely knew how to dribble or shoot, and hardly understood the game itself. However, Junior Jazz did have its perks. Each year, they would have some members of the Utah Jazz organization put on a little basketball camp for all the kids in town to kick off the season.
In this particular year, 1985, the players that were sent down as guests to help run the camp in the thriving metropolis of Payson were the new guys. Some short, spindly, second year player from Spokane, Washington, and the new rookie kid from Luisiana.
It’s likely that the veteran Jazz players used the camp as a cruel hazing initiation for the new guys, or teach them patience. It was certainly needed to run a basketball camp full of 8 year-old kids in Payson. I am fairly certain it was not to bolster up a developmental league or to identify the next shining star, or future prospect for the NBA.
All I remember from that day, was the short spindly player that came could dribble like a madman. He went over some dribbling drills for us to do, which, when he demonstrated, looked more like the roadrunner’s feet from the cartoon. None of us could do them. When we tried, the gym was almost instantaneously a madhouse full of kids chasing the basketballs that had bounced of our heels, feet, knees, and butts. I remember him demonstrating another ball-handling drill while laying on his back and scissoring his legs front to back while moving the ball between them, all while talking to us. He looked more like a magician than a basketball player. I just remember thinking and wondering how on earth a real human could even do that. He looked more like what you’d see on a video game.
The only thing I remember about the other guy was that he was super tall, and he could actually dunk.
After the camp, the two guys sat down and were signing pictures and handing them out to the kids. I remember my dad being adamant that I get that signed picture from each of them before we went home. I was just wanting to go home and eat my bowl of cereal that was my custom on Saturday mornings. I remember chatting with the tall guy very briefly as we walked down the hall on the way home. Whatever, no big deal.
Some memory huh? Just a normal day in the life of and 8 year-old boy in 1985 Payson, Utah. Nothing to see here.
Well, as it turns out, I still have those signed pictures that my Dad was so worried about (and thanks Mom for helping me keep them from the trash heap). The players just happened to be John Stockton and Karl Malone.
After thirty-five years, I can now look back at the events of that day with added perspective and understanding. Captain Crunch consumption should not have been my focus that morning. What an amazing day that was. What a gift. How often does a little kid in Payson get to go to a free basketball camp put on by two future hall of fame NBA players? Once in a lifetime, that’s when.
Sometimes, the magnitude of the gifts we receive takes time to sink in. But, as we look back, these gifts can grow in meaning for our lives. This happens to us all the time.
In order to fully understand the immensity of the gift we celebrate each Christmas, we need to better understand the nature of God Himself, and the nature of our Savior. Just as an additional thirty-five years of life added to my appreciation of a special basketball camp as a little boy, added knowledge and understanding of the true nature of God and his benevolent gift can add to our love and appreciation for Him.
This perspective, or lack thereof, is not a new challenge to overcome. One of the most pointed questions on this subject came from an angel to Nephi during his vision of the history of the world. In that vision, he saw Mother Mary and the birth of our Savior. During these scenes, the angel of the Lord asked Nephi this poignant, probing question. This question may be one we skip over a lot of times because of the way the meaning of the word has changed over the years. The question he asked Nephi was…
“ Knowest thou the condescension of God?” (1 Nephi 11:16)
To us, the word condescend isn’t necessarily a good one. Usually we associate this with people who talk down to others. But, in this particular case, it is the perfect word to describe Jesus’ pathway to his earthly experience. If we look at the 3rd definition of condescend in the dictionary, it says this…
“to put aside one’s dignity or superiority voluntarily and assume equality with one regarded as inferior:”
It feels like we are getting closer with that definition.
It is almost impossible to fully appreciate the immense distance between who, and where, Jesus Christ was in the moments before his birth, to who, and where he was in Bethlehem at his birth. They couldn’t be further apart. We need to fully appreciate how great Jesus was BEFORE he was born, and just how human he became, to better understand his condescencion.
Before the little baby Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes, He was the God of the Old Testament. He was the God that cleansed the earth through the flood. He was the God that led Moses and the Israelites out of Egypt. He was the God that parted the Red Sea, and sent down fire to engulf the soaked alter for Elijah in his fight against the priests of Baal. This baby Jesus was the mighty Jehovah, the Great I am. This little one in a simple manger was the Creator of the Universe and worlds without number.
Isaiah captured this concept best in his famous scripture we often hear around Christmas time, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…” His prophetic writings then perfectly describe the divine destiny of that little baby as he continued, “and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)
The mighty Creator of the Universe chose to fulfill the Father’s plan, and pass through a veil to become that little baby in Mary’s arms. He gave up everything to be with us, and to learn like we would learn, and to face and overcome everything in much the same way we would be asked to do.
Jesus didn’t only sacrifice his perfect physical body in the garden of Gethsemane and on Calvary’s hill. He sacrificed all that he had BEFORE he was even born. By coming to earth as an innocent baby with a mortal mother, he left behind his position at the Father’s side. He gave up all his power, all his knowledge, and all that he had become, to join us on this humble earth. With his mortal birth, he was fulfilling the Father’s plan. By virtue of his mortal birth, he sacrificed all that he was before, and chose to descend below everything just for us.
That is the condescension of God. What a gift.
In section 93 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord reveals more understanding about his nature, his growth, and his condescension. By teaching us more about his nature, he is teaching us about our nature, and our divine potential.
It is in this section that we learn when it was that Jesus received a fulness of the Father. His first 30 years were spent learning, growing, and becoming who he was meant to be. This was an example for all of us and our own individual paths of growth and learning.
At the baptism of Jesus, he fully became who he was meant to be.
“And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace; And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness..And I John, bear record, and lo, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Ghost descended upon him in the form of a dove, and sat upon him, and there came a voice out of heaven saying: This is my Beloved Son. And I, John, bear record that he received a fulness of the glory of the Father; and he received all power, both in heaven and on earth, and the glory of the Father was with him..” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:12-16)
The Lord then turns to teach us how this applies to us. He teaches us about who we are, and why it’s important to understand the nature of God. His entire life was the gift. We need to celebrate it all.
We should celebrate together the gift of his birth, his teachings, and ultimately in his atoning sacrifice. HIs life, in it’s entirety, is the greatest gift ever given because of what it makes possible for all of us. Because of him, we also have divine potential. We can receive the fulness of the Father all because of him.
“I give undo you these sayings that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his fulness. For if you keep my commandments, you shall receive of his fulness, and be glorified in me as I am in the Father; therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace.” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:19, 20)
This time of year we give and receive many gifts. Let’s take just a little more time to think about the most important gift of all. Jesus gave himself as a gift to all mankind in a garden in Gethsemane, and again upon a cross on on Calvary. But, before that pinnacle event in human history, he gave up everything to [con]descend into our world as little baby in Bethlehem, and became the greatest gift ever given.
The modern day apostles may have said it best when they declared…
“God be thanked for the matchless gift of His divine Son”.