This lesson focuses on Christ’s birth, and his development as he prepared for his ministry. I think one of the telling phrases in this whole lesson is the title of the lesson – Unto You Is Born … A Savior. The important words are “unto you.” It is for us that he came, and for us that he lived as he did. Everything he did was for us and for our Father, not for him. We’ll look at what that means for us later in this discussion.
The reading assignment is Luke 2 and Matthew 2.
Luke describes Christ’s birth in chapter two. The Lord never does anything without great thought and consideration. Jesus, creator of all things both in heaven and earth, was born in a pile of hay and placed in a feeding trough, a manger, to sleep. Angels were sent to announce the birth, not to kings and governors, but to shepherds tending their flocks. The announcement came not in the middle of the day for all to see, but in the stillness of the night. The birth came not in the dead of winter or at the height of summer, but in the spring, during lambing season. Why? I’ve broken these questions out into numbered answers.
1. Why was Jesus born under such humble circumstances? The Lord taught his disciples in Luke 22:24 – 27 that he who would be great in the kingdom of God must become the servant of all. Here are the verses where he discusses the principle with his apostles.
24 And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest.
25 And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors.
26 But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.
27 For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth.
There are volumes that could be written about these verses. In the world, those who hold power and influence, and do good with it are called benefactors. The Lord says that in his kingdom those who would become the greatest and most powerful must learn to become, first, the servant of all. He then points out to the apostles that he came to earth to serve. We all know that he is the ruler, but as the Messiah, his role was as servant to all. It was in his service and example that his role as deliverer was taught and demonstrated.
It wouldn’t do at all for he who came as the servant of all, the deliverer of all, to be born in a palace or place of grandeur. The Lord chose the humblest of circumstances and locations for his own birth. The Lord never passes up an opportunity to teach and demonstrate for our profit and learning. Even his birth place and circumstances are instructive to us. He came with no pretense, no demonstrations of greatness. All this would be shown by his own actions as he grew and served others, just like the rest of us.
2. Why announce the birth of God on earth to a handful of shepherds in a field? On the surface this could seem very random, but the Lord is anything but random. Christ is the great shepherd. He is the good shepherd. Who better to make the announcement to than fellow shepherds? All his life he compared what he was doing for all mankind with what a shepherd does for his sheep. Lesson learned.
I think it is also instructive that the announcement was given to only a handful of shepherds instead of thousands of them. Those who have been called by Christ to lead his people number only as a handful, compared with all the people who need guidance. Truly the work is great, and the need for more shepherds is always wanting for more to answer the call to come and help.
3. Finally, why during lambing season? As I said earlier, the Lord never passes up an opportunity to teach us and remind us of things we need to remember. Christ is the Lamb of God. In the Law of Sacrifice the ultimate offering is the lamb without blemish. This lamb represented the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, he would would come and make the great and last sacrifice for sin. After Christ’s sacrifice there were to be no more sacrifices since he had fulfilled the purpose and intent of the law. He had paid for our sins, and the law had been given to point to the day Christ would come to make that ultimate payment for all. How fitting indeed that he was born during lambing season. He fulfilled all the requirements for the lamb to be sacrificed. He was the firstborn, and was without blemish, perfect.
Christ Grew in Favor
When we look at Christ’s upbringing, though we know little enough about it, there are things we can pick up from the references we have. Think back on the training Joseph Smith went through as he learned of his role as the prophet of the last dispensation. In order for him to have the authority necessary to perform all the ordinances needed he was visited by prophets who held those keys. In order for him to understand the truths that had been either taken from the scriptures he had or had been twisted over the centuries, he had to have many revelations where he received first-hand instructions on the plan of salvation. He received these from heavenly sources since no earthly sources were available.
As we look at what the scriptures tell us of Christ’s training, they say nothing of how he learned of his mission, how he came to understand the deep purposes of the Father, and how he came to fully understand his own role in mortality. That Joseph and Mary were great role models for him has to be generally accepted. That Joseph was faithful in teaching Jesus the scriptures and making sure he was attending the synagogue regularly is assumed to be without doubt. But as to Christ’s priesthood, there is silence. As to the revelations he received from the Spirit, again there is silence. We are left to surmise and assume that the Father made sure his son was well instructed for such an important role as savior for the whole family of God.
What we do know is that “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” That is the only information given to us about his upbringing. Yet even in so little we can take instruction for ourselves. Twice in Luke 2 it mentions that Mary saw and witnessed things about Christ and pondered them or kept them in her heart.
How does this apply to us? The Lord expects us to grow in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. God expects us to be observant and notice his workings among the children of men. He wants us to ponder, to think deeply about what we see, feel, and experience. We are expected to grow as people. That means that we never stop learning. We never stop growing and experiencing new things. If we want all that Christ offers us to have meaning in our lives, that meaning comes at the cost of applying what meaning we know to our actions in life. By applying what we understand, the Lord can teach us more. This creates greater capacity to love, to serve, and to understand the workings of God.
We have only been given glimpses into parts of the childhood of Jesus, but what little we have is still full of instruction for us in our daily lives. Christ was given to us, “born unto” us, and provides us with a rich and perfect example in all things.