Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas talk

I was asked to prepare a talk for today during our Christmas program.
What an honor it is to speak at Christmas time.
Thought I would share it with you tonight!
Good Night dear friends!

One of my favorite Christmas memories was when I was a little girl and Christmas Eve fell on a Sunday.
 Back then, we went to church in the morning and then again in the evening
. I just remembering how neat it felt, to be a church on Christmas Eve and celebrating the Savior's birth. I remember crying as we sang the Christmas hymns, I felt the spirit so strong that night, I knew then that it was true, Jesus Christ did come to earth in very humble circumstances, and the whole world would never be the same because of it. I was happy, truly happy to be able to honor Him at church that night. As a little girl, that stands out in my mind and each time when the Christmas season rolls around again, and we sing the Christmas songs in church, that same feeling of gratitude comes back.
Another favorite Christmas memory was singing in our Stake and Ward Choir. Our Choir Director Sister Slack, seemed to make the music come alive and I strengthened my testimony through many of the songs we sang. She would always tell us about the song and who wrote it and what the history was behind it, and that truly did make the songs much more real to me. One of the most powerful songs we sang was THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD, but it wasn’t until I read a talk by Elder John R. Lasater  from the 1988 Ensign that I truly understood just how much I loved that song and why. This is what he said…
Some years ago, it was my privilege to visit the country of Morocco as part of an official United States government delegation. As part of that visit, we were invited to travel some distance into the desert to visit some ruins. Five large black limousines moved across the beautiful Moroccan countryside at considerable speed. I was riding in the third limousine, which had lagged some distance behind the second. As we topped the brow of a hill, we noticed that the limousine in front of us had pulled off to the side of the road. As we drew nearer, I sensed that an accident had occurred and suggested to my driver that we stop. The scene before us has remained with me for these many years.
An old shepherd, in the long, flowing robes of the Savior’s day, was standing near the limousine in conversation with the driver. Nearby, I noted a small flock of sheep numbering not more than fifteen or twenty. An accident had occurred. The king’s vehicle had struck and injured one of the sheep belonging to the old shepherd. The driver of the vehicle was explaining to him the law of the land. Because the king’s vehicle had injured one of the sheep belonging to the old shepherd, he was now entitled to one hundred times its value at maturity. However, under the same law, the injured sheep must be slain and the meat divided among the people. My interpreter hastily added, “But the old shepherd will not accept the money. They never do.”
Startled, I asked him why. And he added, “Because of the love he has for each of his sheep.” It was then that I noticed the old shepherd reach down, lift the injured lamb in his arms, and place it in a large pouch on the front of his robe. He kept stroking its head, repeating the same word over and over again. When I asked the meaning of the word, I was informed, “Oh, he is calling it by name. All of his sheep have a name, for he is their shepherd, and the good shepherds know each one of their sheep by name.”
It was as my driver predicted. The money was refused, and the old shepherd with his small flock of sheep, with the injured one tucked safely in the pouch on his robe, disappeared into the beautiful deserts of Morocco.
As we continued our journey toward the ruins, my interpreter shared with me more of the traditions and practices of the shepherds of that land.
It has made the 23rd Psalms come alive…
Sheep instinctively know that before they have been folded for the night, the shepherd has mapped out their grazing for the morrow. It may be that he will take them back over the same range; it may be that he will go to a new grazing ground. They do not worry. His guidance has been good in the past and they have faith in the future because they know he has their well-being in view.
VS 1: The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
Sheep graze from around sunrise until late morning. They then lie down for 3-4 hours and rest. Consequently, the good shepherd starts his flocks out in the early hours on rougher herbs, moving on through the morning to the richer, sweeter grasses, finally coming with the band to a shady place for its forenoon rest in fine green pastures for the best grazing of the day.
VS 2:  He maketh me lie down in green pastures.
Every shepherd knows that sheep do not like to drink gurgling water. Although the sheep need the water, they prefer not to drink from these fast – flowing streams. The shepherd must find a place where rocks or erosion have made a pool or else he fashions with his hands a pocket sufficient to hold at least a bucketful.
VS 2: He leadeth me beside the still waters.
Holy Land sheep exceed in herding instinct. Each takes his place in the grazing line in the morning and keeps the same position throughout the day. During the day, however, a sheep may leave its place and go to the shepherd. The shepherd stretches out his had as the sheep approaches with expectant eyes and mild little baas.
The Shepherd rubs its nose and ears, and scratches its chin, and whispers affectionately into its ears. The Sheep will rub against his leg or nibble at the shepherd’s ear and rub it’s cheek against his face.
After a few minutes of this communion with the Master, the sheep returns to its place in the feeding line.
VS 3; He restoreth my soul; He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
There is a valley of the shadow of death in the Holy Land. Grazing conditions make it necessary for the sheep to be moved through this valley for seasonal feeding.
The valley is 4 ½ miles long. Its sidewalls are over 1500 feet high in places and it is only 10 or 12 feet wide at the bottom. Travel through the valley is Dangerous.
About halfway through the valley the walk crosses from one side to the other at a place where the path is cut in two by an eight-foot gully. One section is 18 inches higher than the other and the shepherd must stand at its break and coax or force his sheep to make the leap. If a sheep slips and lands in the gully, the shepherd’s staff is used to lift the sheep out.
Many wild dogs lurk in the shadows of the valley looking for prey. If they happen upon a wild dog, the shepherd—skilled in throwing his rod, hurls his rod at the dog and knocks it into the washed out gully.
Thus, the sheep have learned to fear no evil.
VS 4: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil….Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.
There are many poisonous plants in the grazing areas. Each spring the shepherd goes ahead of the flock and digs out the stocks of the poisonous plants and lays them upon a stone. By the next day they are dry enough to burn.
In the meantime, the sheep are lead into this newly prepared pasture which is now free from poisonous plants and graze. So, in the presence of their deadly plant enemies, they eat in peace.
VS 5: Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.
At every sheepfold there is a big bowl of olive oil and a large jar of water.
As sheep come in for the night they are led to a gate. The shepherd lays his rod across the top of the gateway and inspects each sheep in line for briers in the ears, snags in their wool, or weeping of the eyes from the dust or scratches.
If such a condition exists, the shepherd drops his rod and the sheep steps out line.
Each sheep’s wounds are carefully cleaned. Then the shepherd dips his hand into the olive oil and anoints the injury. A large cup is dipped into the jar or water, kept cool by evaporation in and is brought out—never half full, but always overflowing for the sheep to drink.
VS 5: Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Each evening at sundown shepherds bring in their small flocks of sheep to a common enclosure where they are secured against the wolves.  A single shepherd is employed to guard the gate until morning.
One by one, each shepherd enters the gate early in the morning and calls His sheep- by name. The sheep will not harken unto the voice of a stranger, but will leave the enclosure only in the care of their true shepherd, confident and secure because the shepherd knows their names and they know His voice.
So as we read this Christmas Eve… the words in the book of Luke 2:8… “And there were in the same country Shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night”, let us remember this Christmas season, we are suppose to be doing the same.
The 3rd memory was 34 years ago when I was a young missionary and it was my first Christmas away from home. I had only been out a few months, just had my first transfer…which meant I was leaving my trainer and going into a neighborhood that was less than desirable. I was put with a companion with a ton of problems and my Christmas package had gotten lost, and I thought could it get any worse? Actually it did and circumstances had it that I was transferred again 2 days before Christmas, into a ward that wasn’t really excited about missionary work. I remember going saying my prayers that night and praying that this area and situation would be better. As I arose the next morning my companion told me that a family in the ward wanted us to come have Christmas Eve dinner with them and our land lady wanted to have us for Christmas with her. I was hopeful that maybe things would turn around and they did.
 I will never forget the sweet family that we had dinner and Christmas Eve with. The husband was a DR  ( only know that because they mentioned how blessed they were that he got to have Christmas Eve off this year ). They had 3 or 4 small children. I don’t remember what they served for dinner but I do remember the Mother telling a Christmas Flannel board story. I had never heard that story before, it was truly magical.
 I was so touched by their desire as a young family to teach their children the gospel at such a young age. We I came home from my mission, I looked up the story. It has always been one of our favorite Christmas stories to read each year.
I realized on my mission that we as Shepherds truly need to know our sheep. We need to know them and their needs. They need to know us. They need to know that we will always be there for them. I gained a greater understanding that the Lord is truly our Shepherd and that He will guide our efforts to feed our sheep.
 I think this work is best expressed in a poem by Howard Thurman called The Work of Christmas
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.
I am grateful for my Savior, My Shepherd…the little babe in Bethlehem, which has truly changed my life forever.

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