Friday, December 23, 2011

"With Wondering Awe: An Ode to the Christmas Season"

"With Wondering Awe: An Ode to the Christmas Season"
Elder Darrel L. Hammon

What a glorious season! With Wondering Awe, we listen to young children–yes, truly Angels We Have Heard on High--and sing hymns and carols that shout Joy to the World....” In the precious hymn Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful that we sing at least once or twice at Christmas come three wondrous strains: “Come, all ye faithful,” “Come, and behold Him,” and “Oh, come, let us adore Him.”

 “Come, all ye faithful

During this Christmas season, the faithful followers of Christ congregate to sing joyous hymns to him. Note that the Lord did not say, “Come, all ye faithful for just this season." Rather, the words merely state “Come, all ye faithful.” The Lord wants us to faithful every minute of the day, every day of the week, and every week of the year.

Thankfully, at Christmas time, we tend to listen to our hearts more than our heads, the spiritual more than cerebral, and the perennial more than the ephemeral. We seem to want to fix our lives so that they are in accordance with the Lord's. Yes, we tend to “come unto Christ and adore Him.” But should we "come unto Him" only during the Christmas holidays?

Wouldn't it be nice if every year, we had twelve Decembers?  Then we wouldn't have to be trying to repent every 12th month. Instead of an annual event of repenting and striving to be like the Father and His Holy Son, it would become a daily activity. Every day would become an act of kindness. We would actually smile because we would have forgotten how to be sad. Every day we would finally reach out to those most in need. Every day we would understand each other’s feelings. Every day would become a glorious where the sun would shine and brighten lives. Every day would bring us closer to our Savior. Every day we would know whose we really are: For we are the Father’s and He loves us deeply.

As one poet penned in an “Ode to Christmas”:

An Ode to Christmas
Decembers come and go, like winds from the west.
But for those brief 31 days, our hearts stretch just a bit.
We sometimes sense in ourselves a gratification
that cannot be quenched without our first giving
of ourselves to others most in need.
It is at that moment, this sense of oneness with our hearts,
when we finally understand our true place in the universe,
We come to know that we, indeed, have hearts to give
and feelings of love to share with others.
This feeling, if carried for more than thirty-one days,
would endow us with the true gifts from our Father.
Surely, then, we would reach out more than before.
Alas, the essence of the trueness of Christ’s message
would fold our worrisome cares into large gray bundles,
dropped them humbly in the swiftest part of the stream,
and watch them thankfully bob in the current
until they disappear around the bend downstream,
away from us at last and, perhaps, forever.
Then for 365 days, we would come and be His again.

“Come, and behold Him”

 The shepherds “came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in the manger” (Luke 2:16). After the shepherds had seen the Christ child, they returned to their flocks and herds, “glorifying and praising God for all they things that they had heard and seen....” (Luke 2:20). There also came “wise men from the east to Jerusalem” (Matthew 2:1) and began asking about: “Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2). And we know not how many others came to “behold him.”

We do know that Lamoni’s father, the great king over all of the Lamanites, after he had heard the preachings of Aaron, said, “O, god, Aaron hath told me there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day” (Alma 27:18). Thus, we see that the King also desired to “Come, and Behold Him.” And he did. When he rose from his spiritual trance, he stood forth “and did minister unto them, insomuch that his whole household were converted unto the Lord” (Alma 22:23).

Often, we believe that to “behold God” we must be completely spiritual pure. In one sense that is correct, but in another, we can behold God–though daily communion with Him and through reading the holy scriptures. Plus, our heart can be filled with Him always. Consider the words of (Christina Rossetti, “My Gift”)

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a Wise Man
I would do my part,—
Yet what I can I give Him, give my heart.

Thus, the question hinges on this:”What are we willing to do in our lives in order to “behold Him”? Are we willing to give away all of our sins? Are we willing to yield our hearts to God? Are we willing to do our part?

“Oh, come, let us adore Him.”

What does it really mean to “Come and to adore Him? As I have sung this hymn over the past several years and in two different languages, I have come to adore Him. Who is Him? Or in more appropriate English Who is He? According to that great Old Testament prophet Isaiah, He is called “Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace....(Isaiah 9:6)...the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity....Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “At the Summit of the Ages,” Ensign, November  1999, p. 72).

The ancient Prophet Moroni, as he ended his work and closed the abridgment of the record of God’s dealings with His people, which is the Book of Mormon, called upon all who read his ending passage: “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ” (Moroni 10:32).

Elder Robert S. Wood of the Seventy said: “When we speak and act, we should ask whether our words and expressions are calculated to invite the powers of heaven into our lives and to invite all to come unto Christ. We must treat sacred things with reverence. We need to eliminate from our conversations the immodest and the lewd, the violent and the threatening, the demeaning and the false. As the Apostle Peter wrote, “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation” (1 Pet. 1:15).

We all know the prophecies of Christ that he “shall go forth amongst men, working mighty miracles, such as healing the sick, raising the dead, causing the lame to walk, the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and curing all manner of diseases" (Gordon B. Hinckley, “At the Summit of the Ages,” Ensign, November. 1999, p. 72). He has already done those things, both in when he lived among His people in Jerusalem and when he visits the Americas after he was resurrected.

Thus, the challenge: “Come, all ye faithful....come, let us behold him... [and] come let us adore Him.” The real goal is to “Yea, Come Unto Christ.”

May we accept the challenge and experience the glorious days that the Nephites of old had with the Savior that we may at some time "thrust [our own] hands into his side, and ...feel the prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet...[that we may] see with [our own] eyes and...feel with [our own] hands, and...know of a surety and...bear record, that it was He, of whom it was written by the prophets, that should come... [that when we have] all gone forth and...witnessed for [ourselves], [we] can cry out with one accord, saying: Hosanna!  Blessed be the name of the Most High God!  And then [we will] fall down at the feet of Jesus [our Savior and Brother], and...worship him" (3 Nephi 11:15-17) who is the Truth and the Light and the Prince of Peace is my prayer and Christmas challenge....

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"Hogar de Ancianos": An Afternoon of Singing Christmas Hymns"

"Hogar de Ancianos": An Afternoon of Singing Christmas Hymns"
Elder Darrel L. Hammon

Senior missionaries serving in the DR
          We had a wonderful early Family Home Evening this afternoon. We went to the Hoger de Ancianos to sing Christmas carols to the residents called ancianos.We met at the Casa de Huéspedes, gathered up the senior missionaries, and then waited for the Snows to arrive. They arrived in a van, which we used to haul the rest of us. Brother Muñoz drove the temple van. So, two vans full of people went: Los Bair, Swapp, Hammon, Snow, Burke, Brown, Casanova, Ferguson, Ford, Low, Muñoz, Shaver, Sisters McDermid and Meade, and Reid Cornish. We drove down the Malecón to the Luperon and then on to Independencia. It was just a couple of blocks away.
Sister Maria
We rolled into the yard, parked, and then packed our presents of hygiene kits into the building. Sister María, one of the senior nuns who works with Mother Superior, met us at the door. Her large smile made up for her minute stature. I am sure her small body is packed with energy. She greeted us and then led us through a couple of courtyards to an open area where several ancianos were sitting, some in wheelchairs, others in rocking chairs, while others sat on benches. Whether they were just there because of the time of day or had been summoned that the Mormones had arrived to sing, we do not know. Our thoughts were they had come to hear us sing.
                We had a good time. We sang several Christmas hymns like Venid, adoremos!, Cantan santos ángeles, Jesús en pesebre, and ÍRogocijad! Jesús nació. The senior missionaries from Puerto Rico began singing various songs from Puerto Rico. With glorious notes and rhythmic movements, they, along with many of the senior missionaries who joined in, sauntered around the big room, singing melodious tunes to the ancianos. At the end, we sang Noche de luz.
One of the ancianas
                While the missionaries were singing, I went around the room and took pictures of some of the ancianas/os. They were wonderful. One of them asked me to take her picture. I told them I would and then come back and bring them the pictures. They seemed pleased.
More of las ancianas
I also spent some time with Sister María who told me about how the Church had helped them last year through a humanitarian project and how appreciative they were because of our help. One of the next projects they wanted to complete was renovating their chapel.
After visiting the kitchen and being serenaded by another sister, we trundled back to the front of the building where we bid adieu to Sister María and another sister. She asked us to return someday in the morning so we could take a tour of the entire facility, which houses over 300 ancianos. I loved the courtyards and the gardens. I am sure there are more to be seen.
One of the courtyards
President Bair (Temple President), Sister Maria, and another Sister who sang to us.
We left the Hogar de Ancianos, sharing Feliz Navidades. What a great time!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

"Kits de Cocina: Missionary Service Project in the Dominican Republic"

 "Kits de Cocina: Missionary Service Project in the Dominican Republic"
Elder Darrel L. Hammon

Here in the Dominican Republic we have a Centro de Capacitacion Misional (CCM), which is the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in the Caribbean Area. Missionaries who will be serving in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico, or perhaps another Spanish-speaking county may spend some of their time here. 

As in all MTCs or CCMs, missionaries need service projects. Here in the Bishops' Storehouse, we have several projects the missionaries can do--everything from dry packing food to stocking shelves to cleaning. One of the projects we needed done was "Kits de Cocina" or Kitchen Kits for emergency purposes. Here are the items in a "Kit de Cocina":

English                            Spanish
   big aluminum pot          Calderos de aluminio    (26 cms)
   bathroom tissue             rollos de papel de bano
   plastic bowl (big)           lebrillos plasticos (24 cms)
   candles                          paquetes de velas
   small lighter                  encenderdor (pequeno)
   plastic plates                 platos plasticos
   plastic glasses               vasos plasticos
   bowls                            tacitas plasticas
   stainer                           colador plastico
   ladle (no holes)              cucharon liso
   ladle (with holes)           curada con hoyos
   knife                              cuchillo #7
   silverware                      set de cubiertos
   can opener                     destapador multiuso
   metal cup (jug)              jarros de alumino #12
All of these items are place in a five-gallon plastic bucket and sealed. Yes, every item can be placed in a bucket. The missionaries found an organized way to place all of the items. 

The missionaries came the past two Mondays for about an hour or so. We had 250 buckets to fill. 

   1) one set to take off all of the place wrap from the cooking pot; 

   2) two sets of missionaries to verify what was in the buckets and make sure everything on the list was in the bucket; 

   3) two sets of missionaries to stack the buckets when they were finished; 

    4) a set of missionaries to put together one of the other pots we put in the bucket; and 

   5) the rest of the missionaries placing the items in a new bucket. One of the elders would place the items in the bucket, and the other elder would mark it off the list. This organization went very well. 

They completed over 200 Kits de cocina. Muchas gracias, Elderes!