By Jeff Westover
There is a saying common among Christian believers:
“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
This saying speaks to the eternal nature of the soul and that thought is at the very center of Christmas.
In countries around the world Christmas is observed with diverse tradition. There are family gatherings, parades, secret gift giving, church services, prayers, parties and sometimes even tokens of shame for the naughty. There are as many ways to say Merry Christmas! as there are ways to actually observe Christmas.
There are several elements of the season that mislead us in defining the day. Santa Claus, a beloved figure with a rich history and devoted following, causes many to suppose that Christmas is about the giving and receiving of gifts. The Nativity, a beautiful and miraculous story, is used to define Christmas as an elaborate birthday celebration.
Ancient festive elements such as evergreens and mistletoe are tied to Christmas now. In olden times they spoke of reverence to mythical gods and were symbols of good luck. Christmas has evolved with all manner of societal and religious methods of observance. And whether they are modern or ancient none of these elements actually define the day or speak completely as to why Christmas is observed at all.
In fact, each these seasonal traditions, legends, and customs — many fun, some spiritual, a few mysterious, and others whimsical — may combine to confuse what Christmas is really all about.
Christmas did not begin with the birth of Jesus Christ. Christmas is not a refined form of ancient winter festivals, as critics of modern Christmas observance point out.
Christmas is older than recorded history itself. The first Christmas took place before anything on earth was ever created — and every person who ever lived or will live on earth was there to celebrate it together as spiritual beings.
Christmas is the remembrance of our experience there. It is the acknowledgement of what transpired during an event scriptural scholars have come to call the Grand Council. Here is what happened “before the world was”:
All the spirit children of God were gathered together and participated in a great discussion concerning human mortal existence and God’s plan of salvation for mankind.
“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…”, the scripture says– inferring that more than one being was involved in the organization of the human family. This scripture, and others like it, speaks of an organized discussion on the mission and salvation of humankind — and an eventual conflict — called the “war in heaven” by John the Revelator.
It was in this setting that God’s plan for man was revealed and discussed. Those who proved worthy there and then would be given the opportunity to be proven worthy here and now in mortality on earth. Through the Father’s plan we were promised the opportunity to live a mortal life where we could make choices of conscience by our own free will. The exercising of free will would give us valuable experience intended to help us as spiritual beings to grow in knowledge and intelligence. The plan was His loving method for enabling us, as His children, to become more like Him.
At risk to each of us in the plan was the possibility that we would fall into sin and become unworthy of returning to live with God after our physical existence. To overcome that, a way would need to be provided for an unclean being to become clean again and thus “saved” for eternal life with God the Father. God’s plan provided a Savior and thus the way needed to return to God.
It was after this plan was presented that one of the “noble and great” ones spoke up. He was known as the Son of the Morning. It was his idea and his plea that man should not come to the earth with freedom to make choices and suffer consequences. Instead, his plan was to compel all human souls into compliance to God’s laws and thus never become unclean. He promised that not a soul would be lost to God. And he insisted that all the glory that would be God’s should be given to himself — the Son of the Morning or Lucifer, as he was also known, as part of his plan:
“…Behold, here I am, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor.”
Lucifer used the fear that the possibility of failure in this mortal mission could result in eternal separation from God to deceive many. What he and those who followed him failed to recognize there was that the purpose of God’s plan was to provide opportunity for growth for us as spiritual beings.
“The glory of God is intelligence, or light and truth.”
Intelligence, and thus glory to God, could not be achieved if all souls were to be compelled into righteousness. The fact that Lucifer’s diabolical alternative sought to take the glory from God underscores the fact that he did not want us to grow as spiritual beings.
Then, in a gesture that could not be more contrasting, another noble and great one arose — The Only Begotten, or Jesus Christ, as he was known: “Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.” Jesus recognized that the Father’s plan was perfect. That His goals could be achieved through no other way.
The merits of each argument did not divide the gathered beings evenly. And it was not a happy debate. Lucifer, according to the scripture, was able to convince a large number of souls to go against the will of the Father:
“And there was a war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.” More than one third chose Lucifer’s side — and those were cast out and not given the opportunity to come to this life.
This scene was made known to the Old Testament Prophet Isaiah. “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!…For thou has said in thine heart, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God…I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell.”
In the middle of this pre-mortal drama, Jesus Christ “…who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world”, was chosen and ordained of God for a special purpose: to become the Savior of the world. He was the Only Begotten of the Father, in possession of the God-like traits necessary to redeem man from sin that would forever remove them from the presence of eternal life with God.
It was only after this war in heaven– after the one third of the hosts of heaven who sided with Satan were cast out– that those who remained in support of God’s plan could celebrate victory. But it was Jesus Christ’s role in the great plan that made it all worthy of celebration– “the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy”.
That was the very first celebration of Christmas.
All of humankind was present and all of us participated. It was a celebration of opportunity. It was a celebration of love. It was a celebration of eternal life best explained by Jesus himself:
“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, who thou hast sent. I have glorified thee on earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.”
Christmas is the recognition of God’s plan. It is the acknowledgement of Jesus the Christ, the First Born of the Father. And it is a remembrance of our acceptance of Jesus Christ there in our first estate and an expression of our acceptance of Him here in our second estate.
“For God so loved that world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”. That is the gift symbolized in the presents we wrap each holiday season. That is the purpose of the celebration we call Christmas.