Robert L. Millet Blog Posts
Publications Director of BYU Religious Studies Center
POSTED BY: holzapfel
The term Advent comes from the Latin adventus, meaning “coming” or “appearance.” Beginning the fourth Sunday before Christmas, Advent helps Christians not only to celebrate the First Coming of Jesus Christ but also to look forward to his glorious Second Coming. Although Advent customs may be foreign to many, like so many other seasonal traditions they are a wonderful way to turn our attention more fully to the true meaning of Christmas.
Many Advent traditions come from Germany, where Martin Luther encouraged its continued observance as a way of teaching children and families more about the significance of the coming of Jesus Christ. It came to be celebrated by both Roman Catholics and Lutherans there and has become a common celebration in many Christian faith communities throughout the world.
One of the best known Advent customs is the lighting of the candles in an Advent wreath, a simple or decorated evergreen wreath with four candles placed in the circle and a single white candle in the center. The wreath itself represents the never-ending circle of God’s love, that he is forever the same in his love toward his people. The green of the wreath, as in the Christmas tree, represents the hope of eternal life that comes through Christ and serves a reminder of the freshness of God’s love and promises. The light of the candles reminds us that Jesus is the Light of the World, that his birth represented the coming of the light into darkness, and that we are called to reflect that light in our lives.
The outer candles are purple, the color of royalty, although customarily the third one is rose or pink. Traditions differ regarding the symbolism of the candles. One is that they represent the hope, love, joy, and peace that come through Jesus Christ. Each Sunday before Christmas an additional candle is lit, creating a beautiful stepped effect as the previous weeks’ candles burn down further. Scriptures can be read and carols sung as part of the lighting, which we do before family prayer. The four candles can also represent the different Old Testament covenants that God made with his servants, beginning with Noah and continuing through Abraham, Moses, and David. The central white candle is known as the Christ candle. It is lit on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and represents the new covenant made possible through Christ.
While formally observing Advent is not part of the Latter-day Saint tradition, individuals and families can often adapt and employ such traditions for their own use. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf has spoken positively of the Advent traditions that he grew up with in Germany in a recent First Presidency Christmas devotional, as have other converts to the Church. As my wife and I were developing our own family traditions early in our marriage, observing Advent was one that we found enriched our Christmas season, and in recent years we have found that it is a wonderful way to teach our children, share spiritual experiences with them, and keep them focused on the true meaning of Christmas.
For LDS families, Advent can be adapted by reading not only from the Old Testament and New Testament but also from the Book of Mormon and Pearl of Great Price (see our selection at my Advent site). While not all families may wish to observe such Advent customs, spending time with the scriptures and enjoying beautiful music on the Sundays of Advent can be uplifting and provide meaningful reflection on the season.
POSTED BY: holzapfel
When Jesus came to Jerusalem on what would be his last visit, he walked from the Mount of Olives to the Holy City. As he did so, “the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen” (Luke 19:37). Luke adds, “And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples. And [Jesus] answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out” (Luke 19:39–40).
Stones are everywhere in this rugged land. Not only do people see them everywhere; they walk on them and visit places made out of stone, such as the Garden Tomb or the rock-hewn tomb at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; the bedrock where Abraham offered Isaac, now covered by the Dome of the Rock; the rock where Jesus prayed in Gethsemane (part of the altar in the Church of All Nations); and the massive Herodian retaining wall of the Temple Mount. I returned this past week from a visit to Jerusalem. Sometimes church bells, the call of the muezzin, and the Jewish Sabbath siren capture our attention—competing sounds floating through the air. But the real story is in the stones.
On my flight to Jerusalem, I read Simon Goldhill’s latest book, Jerusalem: City of Longing (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008). It helped me in my visit, providing some insights that allowed me to tie together a mass of information and years of experiences in Jerusalem. As I thought about the people I met (guides, tourists, cab drivers, and a host of other people), I realized how often most of us want to see the stories about Jerusalem as “black and white.” However, as Goldhill proves in this well-written narrative, “the city has to be viewed from multiple perspectives if it is to be appreciated” (viii), and the stories are “much more complicated and much more interesting than the stereotypes” (ix).
Instead of producing a chronological storyline, the author provides a look at different places (most associated with rock or stone) connected to pivotal points in the story of Jerusalem. As he tells his story, Goldhill provides some of the “competing narratives” (Jewish, Muslim, and Christian—Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant) providing their own black-and-white versions of the events (282). He adroitly concludes, “The tensions between the three Abrahamic religions [Judaism, Christianity, and Islam] are intently aimed at the holy places, their possession, their guardianship, their symbolic value” (47). In a very real sense, guardianship of each site allows each group to share its own validating narrative.
Goldhill concludes, “Jerusalem has a strange relation to stone” (224). He notes that even “the archaeologists try to make [them] speak” (225). Nevertheless, he acknowledges that there is “the inevitable disappointment of the lost, the fragmentary, the unknowable and shattered past” when relying upon archaeology (225).
Not everyone will agree with the sites and stories Goldhill decided to include, but readers will discover that he “tried to tell this story in as simple and as neutral a way as possible” (281). Whether you have visited Jerusalem in the past, plan to visit Jerusalem in the future, or are only interested in Jerusalem, this book is worth a visit—providing a nuanced approach to a complex city. He concludes, “To be in Jerusalem is always to wander in a city of longing, as one seeks to find one’s own place in the layers of history, imagination, belief, desire, and conflict that make Jerusalem what it is” (332).
POSTED BY: holzapfel
This year will bring a major demographic shift on planet earth. By the end of the year, for the first time in human history, more people will live in urban settings than rural. By the end of 2009, more than three billion people will live in cities, a third of them in slums (see Jonas Bendiksen’s haunting photograph of Caracas, Venezuela; used by permission, Magnum Photos). According to the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat, the percentage of the world’s population living in urban areas in 2005 was 48.6 percent. By 2010 the urban population percentage will rise to 50.6 percent. Truly, “to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). As human history unfolds, this transition signals a new period, providing new challenges along with new opportunities.
In ancient times, many biblical events occurred in rural areas. For example, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were primarily rural people living on the outskirts of towns and cities. Though Abraham planted a grove in Beer-sheba, he did not live in the city of Beer-sheba. Similar to modern Bedouins who live in the deserts and wilderness of modern Middle Eastern states, Abraham lived on the fringes of Near Eastern urban society.
Likewise, Jesus was raised in Nazareth, a rural village of two to five hundred people. For most of his ministry, he avoided the large cities of the Holy Land, visiting Jerusalem at the time of the pilgrimage feast because it was the site of the temple. The second largest city in the region, Zippori (Sepphoris), is not even mentioned in the four Gospels. In Galilee, Jesus avoided the large cities of Tiberius and Caesarea Philippi, although he visited the coast [region] of Caesarea Philippi (see Matthew 16:13).
At the beginning of the Restoration, the Lord began to move his work forward in the rural areas of America. During the founding events of the Restoration, the Smith family lived in the township of Manchester, not even in the village. The Church was organized on a farm in Fayette Township.
Only after his prophetic call did the Prophet become an urbanite. As Richard L. Bushman and Dean C. Jessee write, “Less than six months after the church’s organization, he sent out missionaries to locate a site for a city that the revelations called the ‘City of Zion’ or ‘New Jerusalem’” (Joseph Smith Papers, Volume 1 [Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2008], xxiii). The Prophet “gave himself entirely to cities and temples. This vision drove him until the end of his life; and after his death the same vision inspired Mormon settlement in the Great Basin” (xxiii). They conclude, “Building cities was a strange mission for a person reared in the rural villages of New England and New York” (xxiv).
Why the move to cities? These gathering places provided central locations to organize the Church and erect temples so that the “fulness of the priesthood” could be restored (see Doctrine and Covenants 124:28). Again, Bushman and Jessee note that the Prophet was involved in numerous activities, but “city building, priesthood, and temples” were the heart of those labors (xxv).
Today the modern Church generally establishes mission headquarters in the major cities of the nations. Soon temples are erected in areas that allow access to the greatest number of people possible. As world demographics shift to an urban world, we will continue to preach to these urban centers and erect temples so that many more of God’s children can receive the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ.