Joseph and Jesus

The two hundredth anniversary of Joseph Smith’s birth is three years past, and the hand wringing of Smith-centric sacrament meetings in December (Christmas infringement!) is mostly abated. Still, it shouldn’t be a surprise that commemorating the birth and life of the Prophet of the Restoration is part of our liturgical calendar, ad hoc and informal though it may be.

Someone close to me who planned a sacrament meeting yesterday called and asked for some references regarding Joseph Smith and his teachings on the Savior. Appropriately, Christ should be an important part of any Sacrament meeting, regardless of the topic. I thought of the Book of Mormon’s Christology, Joseph Smith’s sermons on theogony and his various testimonies of the Creator. But I also thought of one sermon he delivered on May 21, 1843, where at once, he highlighted the chasm the separates the Jesus from all individuals, himself included, but also highlighted one of his own most Christ-like attributes.

I have not an idea there has been a great many very good men since Adam There was one good man Jesus.—Many think a prophet must be a great deal better than any body else.—suppose I would condescend, yes I will call it condescend, to be a great deal better than any of you. I would be raised up to the highest heaven, and who should I have to accompany me. I love that man better who swears a stream as long as my arm, and administering to the poor & dividing his substance, than the long smoothed faced hypocrites

I dont want you to think I am very righteous, for I am not very righteous. God judgeth men according to the light he gives them. (Words of Joseph Smith, 204)

On the 23rd of this month, I will be focused not on the birth of Joseph the Prophet, but on the birth of Jesus the Messiah. As the introduction of the Book of Mormon states, “Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God[.]” Still, I am happy to carve out some space in our services to discuss the person that poignantly testified of him and created of us a people.

Comments

  1. As far as I can tell, that quotation did not make it into the PH/RS manual on Joseph Smith. Or have I not looked carefully enough?

  2. Steve Evans says:

    J., you baggin’ on Smithmas now?

    I have no problem with recognizing the penultimate importance of Joseph Smith, in the same way a Jewish fellow might recognize the importance of say Moses. But I wish we didn’t celebrate the two births right next to each other, as the timing is a bit foul. Why not instead focus on the date of Joseph’s martrydom, or some other major event? “Christmas infringement” is a nice turn of phrase, but it minimizes the real danger for us to not think about Jesus enough.

  3. Maybe we should celebrate Christ’s birth on April 6th instead.

  4. If you want to celebrate and commemorate Joseph Smith’s birthday on the day it actually happened, I see nothing wrong with that. If people want to think we worship him, let them. I see no reason another person’s ignorance should stop my sincere appreciation of Joseph Smith. Even if it’s during the time we commemorate Jesus’ birth, despite this being one time of the year we know for sure He wasn’t born.

  5. I worry that it detracts from the true meaning of Christmas: the birth of Santa Claus.

  6. I love that man better who swears a stream as long as my arm, and administering to the poor & dividing his substance, than the long smoothed faced hypocrites.

    So much to cross-stitch on a pillow, so little time. And so few cross-stitching skillz.

  7. I know you already have this quote, Jonathan, but it fits here:
    “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 121).

    I would guess that Joseph Smith would have classified himself as a tool or an appendage, not the center of our religion, and would perhaps be uncomfortable with a Christmastime sacrament meeting being devoted to him rather than to the Savior’s birth.

  8. Still, it shouldn’t be a surprise that commemorating the birth and life of the Prophet of the Restoration is part of our liturgical calendar, ad hoc and informal though it may be.

    For the record, I’ve never seen or heard a reference to Joseph Smith’s birthday outside of the US. I doubt most members here are really aware of his birthday. But of course Pioneer Day gets nary a mention either, so there you go.

    What we really need is a church produced film: A Very Special Joseph Smith Family Christmas. With guest star Bea Arthur.

  9. Actually, I don’t remember ever hearing about Joseph Smith’s birthday in Sacrament meeting either. But apparently it happens. And as I believe that all December shouldn’t be all Christmas all the time, I don’t mind a bit of Smithian love. In the Christmas service however? As you say Margaret, very poor form.

  10. I love the quote, J. – and the final sentence of your post.

    I have no problem speaking of Joseph on one of the first two Sundays of December – just not on the one right before Christmas.

  11. They wanted JS quotes on the Savior? Couldn’t they have just stolen some from the priesthood/RS manual? It’s a sacrament meeting talk, right? Not a doctrinal discussion…

  12. I think we should celebrate the birth of the Savior Jesus Christ on April 6th.

  13. For the April Sixthers.

  14. Excellent post, J. It was a very entertaining and enlightening read.

  15. Btw, #13 referred to the post linked in #12. Should have been explicit.

  16. There I was thinking you were about to write about Joseph, Jesus’s foster father …

    I would be raised up to the highest heaven, and who should I have to accompany me. I love that man better who swears a stream as long as my arm, and administering to the poor & dividing his substance, than the long smoothed faced hypocrites

    I dont want you to think I am very righteous, for I am not very righteous. God judgeth men according to the light he gives them. (Words of Joseph Smith, 204)

    Another good J. Golden Kimball fan ;)

    BTW, my real introduction to Joseph Smith was quotes of this sort where he was disclaiming being any more righteous than anyone else and talking of his imperfections. Part of the materials for teaching study groups at the Hill Cumorah Pageant.

    I still think the approach is a wonderful one.

  17. The school district I work for, in an effort to be religiously sensitive, sent out a list of important religious holidays celebrated by world religions practiced in our area (NY); they included Joseph Smith’s Birthday as celebrated by the Mormon Church.

    I guess I could get the day off, then.

  18. John Mansfield says:

    The K Chronicles on the plight of Christmas babies:

    “Happy Birthday & Merry Christmas Jimmy!!”
    “I only get one?”
    “It’s Christmas time, Jimmy—money is very tight!”
    “It’s MY birthday. MY DAY!! Yet all I hear about is that Jesus fella!”

  19. Rameumptom says:

    I remember that Sunday in December 1979 in Bolivia, when our Gospel Doctrine teacher and principal of a high school, brought his colleagues to Church to show them that we worshiped Christ, not Joseph Smith.
    A counselor in the stake presidency was speaking in Sacrament, and said that since Christ’s birthday was really in April, he was going to speak on Joseph Smith’s birthday.

    Sadly, he misquoted D&C 135 in stating that “Joseph Smith has done more for the world than anyone.” By the end of the meeting, the 8 full time missionaries were cringing in our seats, wondering how we were going to fix this among the 2 dozen investigators we had present, including Brother Rossi’s school compatriots. They left convinced that we do worship Joseph Smith.

    So, I particularly prefer not mentioning anything about Joseph Smith at this time of year, except perhaps to sing happy birthday to him….

  20. Antonio Parr says:

    Christ is the light and life of the world. He alone is our examplar. He alone is our Saviour. We have not even scratched the surface when it comes to talking about him and rejoicing about Him in our Sacrament meetings. The fact that our meetings have the least Christ-centered focus of all of the Christian denominations that I have encountered might explain why our missionary efforts are so dramatically unsuccessful.

    Elder Oaks once gave a rather dramatic talk on this subject, and quoted President Benson in stating that our neglect of Christ and His atonment have placed the entire Church under condemnation. Elder Oaks even pointed to deficiencies in General Conference addresses on Christ and His atonement.

    I am happy to discuss Joseph Smith and his progeny in Priesthood and Sunday School. But when it comes to Sacrament meeting, I want to rejoice in Christ, and can never get enough talks about Him and His matchless life.

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