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An Unconventional Telling of the Christmas Story

The story of Christmas is a tried and true story reenacted by families everywhere this time of year. The conventional story we get strengthens our faith and allows us to remember Christ in meaningful ways. What is even more beautiful are the details found in our very own scriptural texts (and some from extra-biblical sources) that have such light intensive details that are seldom explored. The following is a commentary on various aspects of the Christmas story and how, in every instance, they point us to Christ and his Holy House.

Luke 1:5-11 - The Appearance of Gabriel

Joseph Smith gives commentary on how the events surrounding Zacharias unfolded:

“... Zacharias [plead] with the Lord in the temple that he might have seed so that the priesthood might be preserved.” (Words of Joseph Smith, p. 67)

Commenting on this event:

“Zacharias, of the order of Abia, had a turn—the rare opportunity—to officiate in the priest's office in the temple. The Prophet here asserts that Zacharias, in the authority and wearing the robes of the Levitical priesthood, wrestled with the Lord to obtain the promise of a son. Because of respect to Zacharias's keys, God sent the angel Gabriel.” (Words of Joseph Smith, p. 90, note 26)

The connection with the angel Gabriel being Noah is also interesting:

"Noah is one of God's most notable prophets, Patriarchs, and ministering messengers. He became a second father-with Adam-of all mankind following the Flood and later returned to earth as the angel Gabriel to announce the births of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ (HC 3:386; TPJS, p. 157)" (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Noah)

“Joseph Smith revealed that Gabriel was Noah; Luke declared that it was the angel Gabriel who appeared to Zacharias and Mary, and the Lord has declared that Elias appeared to Zacharias and Joseph Smith. Therefore, Elias is Noah” (Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 3:141).

Elias appeared to Joseph Smith in the Kirtland Temple. Gabriel, who was also Elias/Noah, likely appeared to Zacharias and Mary in the temple from the extra-biblical texts discussed below. The restoration of the blessings of Abraham might be one reason why Elias/Gabriel was sent to Mary and Zacharias.

Luke 1:26-32 - Mary, the veil, and The Day of Atonement

The Infancy Gospel of James (a text dated even earlier than many texts we have in the New Testament) gives us more details to this story. Mary was given to the temple at a young age like Samuel in the Old Testament. She eventually became old enough to where she married a widower in Joseph. This lost text claims that Mary received the knowledge that she would be the mother of the Savior from an angel while she was spinning and creating, along with other chosen women, a new veil for the temple in Jerusalem.

This veil is what separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple. At this time only one man could enter therein one day a year, on The Day of Atonement. On this day, the High Priest would sacrifice a goat and a bull and collect their blood into two separate containers. When he entered the Holy of Holies he would mix the blood of the goat and the bull on the mercy seat. The blood of the goat representing the blood of Christ and the blood of the bull representing our blood, they become one on the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies during The Day of Atonement.

What does this have to do with Christmas? If Mary did indeed weave, or help weave, the veil that the High Priest entered into on The Day of Atonement, the symbolism is stunning.

Luke 2: The Inn and the Manger

The colors of the veil, the one that Mary wove, were the same colors as the clothes that the High Priest wore on The Day of Atonement. Mary was the one that brought Christ through the veil and tradition holds that the swaddling clothes that Mary weaved for the Savior (verses 7 and 12) are a symbol of the same High Priestly garments of the priesthood the High Priest wore on The Day of Atonement. There is amazing Hebrew wordplay in Luke that supports this idea.

"Swaddling clothes in the Aramaic is azrura which really means a bandage. The Greek word that is used is esparganosen which is the Greek word for a bandage. We have the word swaddling used in Ezekiel 16:3. The Hebrew word used here is chatal which is the Hebrew word for a bandage. I believe it is safe to say that this was more than just a diaper or a blanket... " (http://www.chaimbentorah.com/…/hebrew-word-study-swaddling…/)

The idea of his swaddling clothes being a bandage might refer to Christ's role as our "beloved physician" (see Colossians 4:14). Even further, Swaddling clothes is mentioned twice which means it must be an important detail Luke includes for some reason (mentioned in verse 7 and 12). Margaret Barker suggests this is a symbol of the High Priestly garments of the priesthood. (KOJ, p. 136) The High Priest, when they entered into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, would wear robes of the priesthood that were virtually the same colors and fabric of the veil that was in the temple. He would also have 12 stones upon his shoulders that would represent Christ carrying all of Israel into the Holy of Holies to receiving Healing at the mercy seat.

Another interesting detail that parallels the idea of Christ being a physician of our souls is the Greek word for Savior. In Luke 2:11-12 an angel declares unto the Shepherds that a Savior has been born:

"... the Greek word for saving, sodzo, can also mean to heal... It turns out that every time there's a healing, the woman with the issue of blood, the girl that dies, the man born blind, it's always sodzo. That's translated as healed. But if you look at every time the word save appears in the New Testament, it's from the same word, sodzo. In other words, you could, with just as much linguistic accuracy, translate the term Jesus Christ, healer of the world." - Terryl and Fiona Givens (Faith Matters Podcast, The Christ Who Heals)

Therefore, it is as if the Angel said, "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Healer, which is Christ the Lord."

It is also interesting that the sign the Angel gives the shepherds, right after declaring this, is that they will find him wrapped in "swaddling clothes, lying in a manger". It is as if the angel was literally saying:

"You will find the Healer of Israel, and the world, wrapped in his physicians' garb. He is lying in the manger which symbolizes this healer preparing to heal all."

This is consistent in the Hebrew wordplay surrounding ‘manger’:

"There is wordplay on the similarity between the Hebrew words for manger, 'ebus, and the ancient name for Jerusalem, yebus. This was not the King set on Zion, but the king set in the manger, because there was no room for them in the inn, kataluma. This word too is an allusion to the place of the temple birth, since it sounds like the Hebrew taaluma, meaning 'hidden'. He was set in a manger [in the stable] ... because there was no room for them in the hidden place in Zion." - Margaret Barker (King of the Jews, p. 136)

It should also be pointed out what a manger actually is. It is an animal feeder. It is self-evident how Christ laying in a feeder mirror what we understand as the sacrament.

Luke 2:8-14 – The Stable

Quoting Micah 4:8, Alfred Edersheim (Jewish Scholar highly quoted among LDS apostles) suggests this verse is about the Messiah being revealed from the "tower of the flock" (the Hebrew translation of "Migdal Eder"). Jewish sources from this period tell of the animals kept at the "tower of the flock" and how they were specifically reserved for animal sacrifices in rituals of the Jerusalem temple.

From this alone, it is interesting to see the perfect symbolism of the manger scene occurring in a stable where the temple sacrifices were kept. It is sometimes assumed the stable was harsh and conditions were not fit for giving birth. In actuality, it was a very clean stable. It was a stable kept clean for those animals without blemish and/or were deemed fit for temple rituals. It was also kept very clean because of its ancient meaning. Oxford scholar gives this light intensive commentary:

"The Tower of the Flock was not only a place near Bethlehem. It was an ancient name for the Holy of Holies, the place where the Lord of the sheep stood, and where His prophets received revelations. Details about the tower and the flock are found in 1 Enoch, where the history of Israel is the story of the flock and of the Lord of the sheep, who leaves his tower when the flock forsake him. The Lord allowed other angel shepherds to rule them (that is, foreign rulers), but an angel scribe kept a record of their deeds and begged the Lord to intervene. A birth among the shepherds outside Jerusalem but near the “Tower of the Flock” was a sign pointing to the birth in the original tower of the flock among the shepherds, in the Holy of Holies among the angels. The angel announced to the Bethlehem shepherds the birth of the Davidic king, in other words, the return of the Lord to His people in time of danger. Origen knew that the shepherds represented the guardian angels ‘keeping watch over their flocks by night,’ and that the angel of the Lord had announced the coming of the good shepherd to help them in their struggle... Since the royal child was born in the Holy of Holies, he would have emerged into the world through the temple veil, and so Luke described how the heavens opened at that point. This was all God’s angels worshipping the Firstborn as he came into the world." - Margaret Barker (Quoted by Jeffrey Bradshaw in "Temple Themes in Luke’s Account of the Angels and the Shepherds")

Even though there is no record of animals being in the stable at the time, if we assume there was it could possibly symbolize the animals that were in the Garden of Eden before the Fall occurred. The Garden of Eden is to be understood as the first temple on the earth.

Matthew 2:1-2 – The Symbolism of the Wise Men

"The Magi of the Nativity likewise came from the east, westward to Bethlehem, their journey symbolically enacting a restoration of temple and priesthood blessings that had been lost from the earth." - Jeffrey Bradshaw (Temple Themes in the Book of Moses, p. 89)

To extrapolate further, these men could serve as a symbol of messengers coming from the Garden of Eden to minister unto the Christ child. These three messengers brought gifts that heavily relate to becoming a King and Priest.

Matthew 2:11 – Adam and Eve and the Gifts to the Christ Child

"In Old Testament times, gold was the symbol of kingship, frankincense the offering of priests, and the oil of myrrh—known as the ‘dew of resurrection’ —had anointed the royal high priests after the order of Melchizedek and transformed them into sons of God." - Jeffrey Bradshaw (Adam and Eve and the Three Wise Men)

"Gold, frankincense, and myrrh were symbolic of the temple… Jesus was the new Adam, the new creation, opening the way back to Eden and restoring the true temple." - Margaret Barker (The Original Christmas Story, p. 118-119)

There is an ancient tradition which has Adam and Eve living within a large cave in a large mountain. This large cave was tiered into 3 different layers with the top being a Holy of Holies. During this time, we learn of three messengers who are sent to Adam and Eve and they bring the same three gifts the wise men brought the Christ child. (The First Book of Adam and Eve 31:1-12)

While that story may largely be symbolic (or not), the parallels it has to the Christmas story are beautiful. Jeffrey Bradshaw gives his summation of the meaning:

"Thus, it seems that the three priceless and eternal gifts, first given to Adam and Eve by three heavenly messengers and whose restoration in the meridian of time was symbolized by the visit of the Magi to the Christ child, may also become our own, through the Atonement of Christ coupled with our “diligence and obedience.” The story of Jesus’ birth is indeed “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” - Jeffrey Bradshaw (Adam and Eve and the Three Wise Men)

Conclusion

These three gifts, namely, Kingship (or Queenship), Priesthood (becoming a Priest or Priestess after the order of the temple), and anointing to fully seal us unto eternal life are available to all. The wise men brought them to Christ as he laid in a manger. His manger, a feeding trough for animals, symbolized the tokens of his blood and body lying on an altar ready to be consumed by us.

We come unto Christ by entering His House. His House, on that first Christmas day, was a symbol of the ancient Holy of Holies. 


Many were invited to come in and adore and worship. That was made possible by Mary who symbolically allowed the rest of us to venture through the veil (the one she wove herself) and worship at the mercy seat where our nature (the blood of the bull) can be infused with the Divine Nature (the blood of the Goat).

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