This Christmas we will take the sacrament together. The ordinance will be, or can be, bigger than the time and place. Bigger than the place, because it binds us to all the Saints who are taking it with us worldwide, and to God in his heaven. Bigger than time, because it brings us to the foot of the cross and to the times when we made our covenants.
Like the sacramental ordinance, many sacred experiences seem to transcend time and place when we experience them.
My first son was born this year. His birth was a sacred experience like that for me.
Every birth is a nativity for the family involved. Every newborn babe unmans us, because against our settled expectations we see innocence and holiness existing in a fleshly vessel. Births are a miracle.
In this way every birth is like Christ’s birth. His birth does to all of us what individual births do to individual parents. He unmans all creation.
And because we experience innocence, in a sense we are spiritually reborn when we are at a birth. For we individual parents, at the birth of our children. For all of us, at Christmas, at Christ’s birth.
That was the conclusion I came to at a sacrament while thinking over Christmas and rebirth. I had remembered that baptism makes us born again and that the sacrament “renews our baptismal covenants,” which is the matter-of-fact Mormon way of saying that every week in the sacrament we are born yet again as new sons and daughters of Christ. It was while I was thinking about this that I realized I had experienced that rebirth. At least, I had sometimes experienced something when I took the sacrament that I had experienced on witnessing my daughters’ births or on standing as a Christmas witness to the timeless birth of Jesus. I had felt the value, hope, freshness, and vitality that slowly drains out of everything come flooding back in. Nothing looked the same in those times. I’d only seen before with dead eyes. Now I was alive.
This rebirth experience, I realized, has happened to me many times. I was baptized once. I’ve often taken the sacrament efficaciously. I’ve seen four daughters and one son born. And every Christmas in my heart I’ve gone to the stable to glory in the Infant. All those were rebirths for me and remembering them was a sweet accompaniment to the sacrament.
Then, as I was sitting there with the bread and water, I suddenly saw myself in contrast to Him. I have been reborn and will be reborn many times. He was born but once.
Certainly we celebrate his birth every year. But we don’t do it, I think, as if he were being reborn. We do it as if his birth was for all time and therefore ever present. It is as if he were the Lamb slain and born from the beginning of the world. But now can a birth, how can anything, be timeless? The answer came. His birth continues–the joyful promise of it is as good today as it was then–because he has never blighted it and therefore has never ceased to be what he was. The omnipotent Jesus is in some sense still the child.
Every baby grows a little crooked as it grows. Every sacrament goer leaves the meeting touched, if still only lightly, with stupor. Every Christmas brings its quarrel. Every new leaf stiffens in the summer and sickens in the fall. He alone–the Christ–was born and lives an evergreen.