Original title: “Christmas in Zarahemla,” (c) 1985 by Mabel Jones Gabbott and Grietje Terburg Rowley.
(Read to the end of the article to hear an amazing arrangement for piano!!)
To any non-Latter-Day Saint readers that I might have, this may be one of the strangest Christmas songs you have ever heard. This story comes to us straight out of the Book of Mormon.
The Book of Mormon tells the story of two families who are led away from Jerusalem 600 years before Christ was born. They were guided to what is now the American continents. Cut off from the Old World, the Lord gave them prophets and scriptures of their own. Traditionally, one group was basically righteous and followed God, and the other group did not.
The story of the prophet Samuel occurs when during a time when things are flip-flopped. He is a Lamanite, regarded by the Nephites to be from a backwards and wicked people. He is called by God to tell the Nephites to repent, and, as part of his sermon, he foretells the birth of Jesus.
This whole account fascinates me. I can only imagine the scene, as the Nephites see Samuel up on the wall of their city. I’m working from memory, but it seems that they had already run him out of town once. He knew he wasn’t welcome, but he also knew he had an assignment from God.
Sometimes, I feel as if I am given small assignments by Heavenly Father — nothing as big as a prophet, but just little things that I can do or say for someone. When it falls outside of what I would consider “normal,” I am very prone to believing that I’m just a little crazy and that I made the whole thing up. When I try to imagine what it was like to be on that wall, telling people to repent, having them hurling stones and shooting arrows at me — and then telling them that I was going to prove my words by giving them the sign that the Savior would be born in five years, I have to wonder if he felt a little crazy as the words came out of his mouth.
I know that, when I’ve prayed to make sure my heart and mind are in the right place and then acted on those feelings to do something, everything has turned out ok. Samuel’s prophecy was fulfilled. Maybe he had more faith than I. My faith is still growing. It takes a lot for me to trust and step out when I can’t see where things are going. I am grateful that I am getting better at it.
I’ve often thought of how the Nephites would have received all of this. I am very familiar with feelings of self-righteousness. I can imagine people listening to him falling back on traditional stereotypes and telling themselves that he had no right, as a Lamanite, to come to them and tell them what God wanted them to know. After all, everyone knew that Lamanites were wicked and Nephites had the corner on God’s words. I’m sure they had already mastered the art of rationalizing their behavior and were unwilling to consider that they were blinding themselves. I have seen scripture misquoted and misapplied to justify inappropriate behavior many times in my life — I wonder how many in the crowd were going over their favorite passages as they were getting angrier and angrier with Samuel!
Then, he has the audacity to tell them that they had better believe now, because his proof was coming in five years! I rely heavily on logic in my life, and I can see where, had I been there as it was happening, that I would have likely written him off at that point. His proof would have sounded like a con game to me.
The Book of Mormon tells us that, among the Nephites who were listening to Samuel, there was a small number who believed what he was saying. As I have thought about what made the different for these people, I think I begin to understand why we see the same reactions to the gospel today.
What did make the difference? How could these people accept what Samuel was teaching when so many others were rejecting it? I think the answer lies in the power of the Holy Spirit to work in the minds and the hearts of humankind. Perhaps they already knew in their hearts that morals and teachings were slipping in the Nephite society. Perhaps they were already looking for a way to change things for the better. This would be evidence that the Holy Spirit had already been working in their hearts and minds. Samuel just confirmed what they already knew, and they didn’t need to wait five years for proof.
As I have thought about this part of the story, I am reminded that I am not the one who has to convince others what I believe is true. It is not my job to prove anything. Heavenly Father has blessed us with the Holy Spirit, and it is His job to touch the hearts of those with whom we share. My job is to be a living, breathing example of why God is so good.