The December Ensign magazine came through my letterbox today and President Monson’s “First Presidency Message” reminded me that its that time of year again. That time when those good old boys down at Mormon Corporation HQ do their best to make Mormon folk feel all squidgy inside about the “Christmas Spirit.” When they help people remember in the hustle, bustle and distractions of cribs and shepherds, Joseph and Mary, angels and kings, what its really all about – Joseph Smith and the “Restored Gospel.”
Happy Smithmas Mr Mormon
As I leaf through the pages of the Ensign I see on the front cover of what would for any other Christian magazine be a Christmas edition the featured article is about Mormon temples. The accompanying picture is of the Mesa, Arizona temple. Well, you won’t find Jesus in there.
The aforementioned First Presidency Message is all about the “Spirit of Christmas,” epitomised in the cheery greeting of a lad in a hospital bed, “Oh, brother Benson, Merry Christmas to you.” He reminds us that it is in “this dispensation of the fullness of times” (ushered in by Joseph Smith of course) our opportunities to enjoy that spirit are “limitless.”
Ensuring Jesus is tucked safe and sound in his crib and out of the way of the real message of Mormonism, the editors press on to a feature entitled, “What we Believe” and the theme in this “Christmas edition?” The Christ child born into this world to die on a cruel cross? No, the theme is,
“The Gospel of Jesus Christ was Restored Through the Prophet Joseph Smith.”
I have tried to faithfully represent the relative scale of the lettering in the magazine and give you some idea of what hits your eye as you turn the page. The online edition is not laid out in the same way, the lettering being the same size throughout.
We Thank Thee, O God, For a Prophet
Here, in a sentence, the whole 2,000 year history of the Christian Church is dismissed with the word “Apostasy!” and the rest of the admittedly brief piece lauds Joseph Smith and his “Restoration” church. Plenty of pictures of Joseph by the way, soft focus, looking into the middle distance, by candlelight, by a heavenly light. When they laud him they don’t do it by half measures.
Jeffery R Holland sends his thoughts out to those who will be spending Christmas away from hearth and home. Mary N Cook (Young Women’s Presidency) remembers Christmases of her younger years.There is quite a lot to make you feel a catch in your throat if, like me, you are the sentimental type.
An article by David S Baxter of the Seventy begins with reference to a “great hymn of the Restoration” as he urges Mormons to “Leave Adversity Behind.”
L Tom Perry writes sentimentally about the Founding Fathers of the United States and the importance of family traditions. After placing Jesus firmly in the context of Mormonism he ends, “Remember all that the Church has done, is doing, and can do for you and your family. And remember that this is not just any other church; it is the restored Church of Jesus Christ.”
Now, if he had said Jesus instead of “the church,” but then he didn’t.
The Coming of Christ (well, sort of…)
Either side of the country insert there is a piece about “The Coming of Christ,” no more than three paragraphs. You can read them here. Otherwise it is mostly one of those tasteful photo montages the magazine regularly does (the JWs could take lessons from the Mormons on this score) Sadly, not in the online version where their absence makes the piece about Christ seem even more sparse than in the paper magazine.
There is what I can only describe as a forensic article about repentance that reads like something from Spencer W Kimball’s Miracle of Forgiveness. It might be helpful if, like the Bible, it concentrated more on the finished work of Christ at Calvary and the sure hope he offers but…
In a piece about “Prophets at Christmastime” we read of how Mormon prophets, past and present, spent their Christmases. The themes are giving, family and temples at Christmas. Yes, even under the theme of “A Testimony of Jesus Christ” it is about Mormon temples at Christmas.
Joseph Smith - again
There are a couple of articles about the service and testimony of seniors and then the obligatory reminder that blessing comes because of our obedience in keeping the commandments. After some fillers comes another piece about – Joseph Smith.
This time it addresses the question “What Did Joseph Smith Really Look Like?” to mark the 207th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s birth. Who marks a 207th anniversary! Yet here we have six images of Mormonism’s founder, from his death mask, through two busts, a statue and three portraits, all from different periods from 1844 to 1987. Again, sadly, not online.
Oh, and, remember I said the front cover carried a picture of the Mesa, Arizona temple? The inside back cover features a painting of Jesus.
A pity, by the way, they don’t publish online the pictures we have in print. There is a wonderful picture accompanying L Tom Perry’s piece that looks spookily like an old Soviet poster. I’ll scan it for you to see. See what I mean? But which is which?