We took all the kids who are home, our foreign exchange student from Slovakia, and a friend of my daughter’s to visit Temple Square last evening. The place was crowded. That’s an understatement;. It was packed. At times the sidewalks were “sidestands,” because no one seemed to know you could walk on them.
The impatient crowding and the cold made the overall experience less than I’d hoped. After crowding about in the Square itself, we maneuvered to the east, exiting the Square onto former Main Street by the large reflecting pool. There wasn’t any relief there from the congestion and stern faces. People seemed quite determined, though it was hard to see of what.
We found some open space between the two sides of City Creek on the frozen grass and took a few group pictures with the eastern face of the Temple in the background. Then visited the Nativity scenes from other countries in the court area between the Administration Building and the Church Office Building. My daughter’s friend needed to visit the restroom, so we set out for the North Visitor’s Center, using the sidewalk on North Temple to avoid the congestion. As we entered North Temple there was a beggar on the ground. Now that the church owns the property, beggars are not allowed into Temple Square, Main Street, or in the campus area to the east. I gave some money to my daughter who is home from the University of Wyoming, and she gave to the beggar. That helped improve the spirit of the evening. Reminded us of the condition we occupy in relation to God. (See Mosiah 4: 19.)
At last, arriving in the Visitor’s Center it was even more crowded than outside. There was a small rivulet of movement against the north wall before the desk, and at the moment we arrived the rivulet was occupied by outward bound Sister Missionaries headed back out to the frigid throngs. I noticed a wool cap on the floor, picked it up and held it high above my head for the owner to notice and come to reclaim. No one did. After a few minutes of holding it up, I asked a Sister Missionary with a Swiss Flag beside her nametag if there was a “lost and found.” She said it was at the desk beside the north wall. So I entered the rivulet and headed inward. Those who were not visiting the restroom followed me. We settled beside the lost and found north desk to await the return of our missing company.
In the North Visitor’s Center there was a youth choir in the southeast corner of the main floor singing some forgettable Christmas tune. I was taken by the expressions on the faces of those in the crowd as they either pressed into one another trying to move, or stood about in exasperation. The event was not what they had hoped for either. I lapsed into a quiet thoughtfulness of the circumstances, and wondered at how little joy seemed to be all about me in this crowded place.
Then it happened. It only took six notes to recognize the coming hymn. A cascade of memories of that song came back to me. The first time I remember recognizing it was in high school, when two of my classmates sang a duet. Debbie Penn was one of them, and I forget who accompanied her. When I first heard it I was stirred to reflection. For years it has been my favorite Christmas Hymn, even though it is terribly difficult to sing it well. On occasion, as I try to sing along, I will mutilate it. I cannot do the hymn justice, and I hope the Lord recognizes in my sincerity a slain sacrifice offered in honest devotion.
Then the female voices joined in the melody:
O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth.
They were perfect. Here was the greatest of Christmas Hymns being presented by the loveliest of chorus voices. I was transfixed. The crowds began to disappear and I was in deep reflection.
It was a holy night. That night represented more than just His birth. It represented also the beginning of an infinite sacrifice. It is difficult to adequately state how great the condescension of God in coming here. His great condescension began by coming into the flesh. (1 Nephi 11: 16-20.)
He explained to the Nephites His great status before His birth. He was the one who gave the Law to Moses on the Mount. (3 Ne. 15: 4-5.) The glory He displayed on the Mount was inexpressible. Moses attempted to convey some idea using precious stone and referring to the bright glory of heaven itself. (See Ex. 24: 10, but the translation is not a fair expression of the idea in Hebrew in which “the clear, bright glory of heaven” should probably replace “the body of heaven in his clearness.”)
A great, glorious Law Giver, whose glory was like the brightness of Heaven itself, condescended to become confined to a body of dust. Condescension indeed! Even before offering Himself as a sacrifice, He descended from glory to dwell here in the dust among our fallen race. The enormity of that step can hardly be put into words.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. …
Here, in the newly born body of our Lord, was Hope come down to this fallen world. What humility exists in the God of Glory who would choose to come here. We are all important because God came from His lofty position down to be among us, to rescue us all. What greater proof of man’s worth can there be than this great condescension by a Holy Being?
Fall on your knees! Oh hear the angel voices! …
The angels came to announce His birth. In their joy they could not contain their feelings, and words alone would not do. They broke out in hymns of praise. Only the combined voices of a glorious chorus could give vent to the feelings within the message of His coming! (Luke 2: 13-14.) Enoch saw this coming, and also rejoiced at the Lamb destined to be slain, at last coming into the flesh! (Moses 7: 47.)
The crowd before me in the Visitor’s Center transformed. They were not longer a busy, distracted, stern body pressing against one another. Each of them showed the merit of a God who came to dwell with them. They are all holy. They are all His handiwork.
Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains He shall break, for the slave is our brother. …
We are our brother’s keeper after all. If we love one another, we are only loving Him. (John 13: 34.)
As the chorus completed the great hymn of praise I was grateful for the reminder of that Holy Night when Christ was born. We all still kneel before His great presence, for nothing else will adequately show our adoration of Him. (3 Ne. 11: 17.) We dare not stand in His presence until His command to “arise.” (3 Ne. 11: 20.) At the command, a momentary conflict takes place inside you between the inappropriate pride to stand in His presence and the compelling respect for His command. All doubts presently flee. His word is sovereign. It is obedience to His will that lets you stand before Him.
As my group reassembled and left the North Visitor’s Center, I was glad we had come. And glad for the great anthem I’d heard from the teenage choir. It was just what I’d hoped to find when we first departed for Temple Square.