Text of my talk given on Dec. 22, 2013 at my church.
As we remember the birth of the Savior each Christmas, we also celebrate the His life, the Atonement, and the Resurrection. His life and teachings showed us that it is through agency, love, and sacrifice that we ultimately gain what we desire. The Resurrection gives the assurance of living on after death with our loved ones. The miracle of Christ’s birth preceded the greatest miracle of all. The Atonement. I pray that as we remember the Savior now, at this season, and at all times that we remember the greatest Christmas gift that’s ever been given. Which is, the promise and assurance that we will be "at one" with our Heavenly Parents, and be like them throughout eternity.
During this time of Christmas, how can we fully celebrate the Atonement? We do so by choosing and allowing it to change us into who we really are. Change. To me that is the essence of the Atonement. The Atonement allows us to let go, leave behind, stop, start, forgive, repent, change. The Gospel teaches us that we must repent, or in other words change.
The Atonement in essence is all about change. I’ve found that change can come in four different ways to us through the Savior and the Atonement.
-Change that comes with the Resurrection as our bodies and spirits unite permanently.
-Change of becoming clean as we receive forgiveness of our sins and mistakes.
-Change the comes when we are healed or as we are healed. Physically, spiritually or emotionally.
-Finally, the Change of our hearts. Changing our being, our nature.
In a General Conference talk in 2003, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said “The Gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to change. ‘Repent’ is its most frequent message and repenting means giving up all our practices - personal, family, ethnic, and national - that are contrary to the commandments of God. The purpose of the gospel or the Atonement is to transform common creatures into celestial citizens, and that requires change.” He goes on to say that “repentance means more than giving up our sins. In it broadest meaning it requires change. Giving up all of our traditions that are contrary to the commandments of God.”
Former Church Relief Society President Julie B Beck said this, “The easiest, quickest path to happiness and peace is to repent and change as soon as we can.” She goes on to say that thoughts or actions to do otherwise, that is to say, delay repentance, delay change in our life, or to get discouraged, offended, or whatever it may be that keeps us from changing is not from the Lord.
President Ezra Taft Benson taught that “The important principle for us to understand if we would be true members of the Church is that repentance involves not just a change of actions, but a change of heart.”
Somehow during my growing up years, I came to associate repentance with getting in trouble. I obviously know now that’s not the case, but I’ve come to understand and fully live the principle of repentance when I think of it as change. Repent is just another word for change. Like President Benson said, it’s a change of actions, but mostly a change of heart.
That’s the power of the Atonement. The power of change. So to simply think of the Atonement as a way to receive forgiveness of sins misses the other half of it that is just as miraculous. That it has the power to literally change us and our hearts to what it is that we ultimately desire.
That is why it is so important to have the Savior in our life, and to always remember him. That’s why we go to Church. That’s why we make covenants. Because it is through that relationship with Christ that the needed change, growth, and progression can occur. Is it through Him that forgiveness comes. It is through Him that the healing we need comes, emotional healing, physical healing, spiritual healing or whatever healing it may be. It is through Him that a change of heart is brought to pass.
You may wonder - How do I change? What needs to change? How can I be sure that I’m making the right changes? It’s a little different for everyone, but the Spirit is there to answer those questions. Our responsibility is to live close enough to the Spirit, for He “knows all things”. The answers most often come as promptings, thoughts, and inspiration to do better, to try something a little differently, to see something in a different light and perspective. The Spirit will ultimately lead us to change and to grow and to become more like our Savior.
I know in my home, we tend to stay pretty busy. Especially with work, school, keeping the house clean, callings, personal time, etc. It is what’s in all of those day to day things, that defines us. Elder Oaks recently taught, “We have to forego some good things in order to choose others that are better or best because they develop faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and strengthen our families.” Some of the hardest change that I’ve found is the changing from the good things in my life to the best things. That’s where faith comes in, do I have the faith to start doing the best things while sacrificing other good things in my life? President Uchtdorf in a recent General Conference taught of the things that mattered most (best things) and he mentioned four things. They all deal with relationships. Relationship with God, relationship with family, relationship with others, and then relationship with self. With these four things in mind, we can use the Spirit to help us make any needed change in our lives to refocus on these relationships. To me, that’s why we celebrate Christmas and how we can celebrate the love that is the Atonement. It is strengthening those four relationships.
The scriptures talk often about our heart. It is defined in the Guide to the Scriptures as “A symbol of the mind and will of man and the figurative source of all emotions and feelings.” We read many phrases in the scriptures like: a change of heart, soften the heart, a broken heart, a pure heart, and as in the case of Laman and Lemuel in the Book the Mormon - a hardening of the heart. The heart is often associated with other parts of ourselves like our spirit or our mind. In the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord says “I will tell you in your heart and in your mind that it is right” and that we should offer a sacrifice of “A broken heart and a contrite spirit”.
That is the sacrifice we’re asked to make - a “broken heart and a contrite spirit” in order to accept needed change. “A broken heart is to be humble, contrite, repentant, and meek - that is, receptive to the will of God.” If we are receptive to the will of God, that in turn will inevitably bring change to our lives. And that is good thing. I’ve been taught that if we do the same things then we will get the same results. Thus, a different result requires something different to be done. As we sacrifice our heart and mind, we will be happy as we continue to progress and to grow and to change. Amulek in the Book of Mormon counseled, “Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation; and therefore, if ye will repent <change> and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you.” In other words, if we do but two things, change and harden not our heart, then immediately will the Atonement’s power be brought unto us. I find that to be a powerful scripture, and it shows that the Atonement’s power is within our reach.
I’ve been able to work and use various kinds of GPS devices over the years. One of the features that I like is the ability of a navigation GPS device to “recalculate” a route that I may be following. Often, when following a route you may have to make a detour or change from the suggested course slightly. Or you may choose to go an entirely different way that may be more “scenic” but takes a little longer. Whatever the case may be, the software on the GPS device will automatically recalculate your route once you vary from the suggested route. Ultimately no matter where you go, the GPS will always show you how to get to where you want to go. In a way, that is how the Atonement works with us - no matter where we are currently in our life, no matter our current path, and no matter what unknown changes lie ahead, our route is always calculated to go back home. The Atonement is the device that shows us the way and paves the way, and the Savior leads us on our route back home. We need not be fearful of getting lost. The Savior said to “Look unto <Him> in every thought. Doubt not, Fear not”. No matter what detours we take, or scenic views we wish to explore, He is there with us to always show us the way. Sometimes the journey is rockier at times than others, but He’s okay with that. If a sharp rock gives us a flat tire, he has a spare to put on so we can keep going. Even when we expect to take one road on our journey, a change happens, and a new road is built. The new road is smooth, and lets us see the world around us from different views, and its a much better ride than the old bumpy, pothole-filled road you were just on and accustomed to.
At this Christmas time, I pray that we can celebrate more fully the life and Atonement of our Savior, Jesus Christ. I’ve come to know that as much as we talk about the Atonement it is not something we learn or analyze, but more something that we feel and internalize. I pray that we will use the Spirit and the Atonement to find needed change in our lives and hearts to become more like Him and ultimately to become who we are destined to become. I know the Atonement is real. Its power is real. It is forgiveness and healing. It is the power of change. I know we have a Father who knows us and cares for us. I know the Savior lives. I know He loves us because He chose to provide the Atonement for us. I know He will guide us on our route back home.