Looking Ahead: Renewal, Repentance, Restoration, and Resurrection
By Ken Allen December 28, 2008
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Frohe Weihnachten and Guten Rutsch ins Neue Jahr. I love the German word for Christmas – Weihnachten - holy nights. And a Good Shove into the New Year. It seems appropriate as we progress from long dark nights to beautiful sunny days.
Yesterday in this beautiful sunny weather I spent some time in the yard looking around while cleaning up the leaves. For many years we had a couple of huge fig tress. They shed their leaves every autumn, and we had to clean them up.
I’ve been watching the trees lately. You can learn a lot by watching trees. Each autumn the trees are relieved of the burden of rotting but once beautiful leaves, laying bare their branches and preparing for the next cycle of growth after the dark of winter. In spring, the trees quickly began to bud with fruit and new leaves.
Today I wish to speak about renewal, repentance, restoration and resurrection, concepts that are symbolized by the rites and trappings of the season. To those of you who think you cannot change, as well as to those of you who wish to change, I speak in images to allow you to visualize, in your own way, what has meaning for you.
This is a time of Renewal. We are coming out of the darkest and shortest days of the year. The barren trees now await the renewal promised by the warmth of springtime. Leaves will soon grow. Light will emerge and chase away the long darkness, for darkness cannot abide light.
Yet spring still seems so far away. It is cold, and it is dark and stormy. The weather drives us into ourselves. Perhaps we find ourselves in trying circumstances in this uncertain and troubled world. And each of us, if we have shed the burdens of old leaves, can begin renewal with resolve.
Elder Richard G. Scott in his May 2003 Ensign article stated:
“Even if you exercise your strongest faith, God will not always reward you immediately according to your desires. Rather, God will respond with what in His eternal plan is best for you. He loves you to a depth and completeness you cannot conceive of in your mortal state. Indeed, were you to know His entire plan, you would never ask for that which is contrary to it even though your feelings tempt you to do so. Sincere faith gives understanding and strength to accept the will of our Heavenly Father when it differs from our own. We can accept His will with peace and assurance, confident that His infinite wisdom surpasses our own ability to comprehend fully His plan as it unfolds a piece at a time.”
Most, if not all of us, have made covenants with the Lord, covenants that offer a promise in exchange for commitment. These covenants are much more than New Year’s resolutions, those promises we make to ourselves each year and then, more often than not, keep them only in breach.
Therefore, reflect now on those sacred personal covenants. For example we have just partaken of the Sacrament. The Sacrament symbolizes the covenant we made at baptism, to take upon us the name of Christ—to be called followers of Christ, even in the face of challenge and ridicule—and to remember him and to keep his commandments.
Each Sunday, as we attend Church, we are given an opportunity to reflect upon our covenants, as we partake of and meditate on the Sacrament and the meaning of the Atonement, where Christ gave his life for us.
As Elder David A. Bednar has stated: “It isn’t about going to Church, rather it’s about worshipping God and renewing our covenants when we go to meetings. It’s not about going to or through the temple; rather it’s about carrying the spirit, the covenants and the ordinances in our hearts.”
Pray that that we might be relieved of the burden of the actions and thoughts, which like rotting leaves clinging to a wintering branch would otherwise decay our souls. To renew we must repent, and shake off the sins that cling to us, just as the wind shakes a tree to sweep away the rotting leaves. If the leaves of sin cling to us, then we, like branches that are overloaded and water-soaked, may be ripped from our roots and come crashing down, just as has happened to great branch of a tree in our yard. Once that happens, scars may be left that may take years to heal. That tree stands in our yard with a large scar in the bark of its trunk, clear down to its roots, and which is now just healing many years after it failed to shed it winter leaves.
Renewal and repentance require testimony to give vision and direction. For testimony is what sustains us in troubled times and on rough roads. Testimony is a window into the soul. Once expressed, it must be lived to avoid hypocrisy. Testimony links us to spiritual matters and gives us reason to stand apart and not follow the sometimes misguided trends of conventional culture. It guides the way to worship, to act, to work, to listen, to speak, to dress, to serve, and to observe.
Testimony requires a choice. Testimony is fragile and must be nurtured, just like the trees that give us shelter and shade. If, like Adam and Eve, the leaves of the fig-leave apron are not renewed often, the modesty it promises is soon lost. It takes work and tremendous individual effort to retain and strengthen a testimony. It is nurtured by actions that are consistent with belief.
Frankly, you can talk yourself right out of a testimony. There are lots of reason not to come to Church and not to pay tithing and to disagree with the opinion of a fellow member and to refuse a Church calling, and to challenge the Word of Wisdom, and to skip prayers and to avoid scripture reading. All of the reasons may be perfectly sound. But is it worth the risk and consequences? As a convert told me who has seen both sides: “It is far easier to live the consecrated life than to live the high life and then have to deal with the destructive consequences.”
Consider Alma the Younger, himself once wayward and who spent the rest of his life trying to undue the evil he had done, here explaining the facts of life to his wayward son in his marvelous exposition on restoration, resurrection and repentance: (Alma 41:12-14)
“And now behold, is the meaning of the word restoration to take a thing of a natural state and place it in an unnatural state, or to place it in a state opposite to its nature?
O, my son, this is not the case; but the meaning of the word restoration is to bring back again evil for evil, or carnal for canal, or devilish for devilish—good for that which is good; righteous for that which is righteous; just for that which is just; merciful for that which is merciful.
Therefore my son, see that you are merciful unto your brethren; deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually; and if ye do all these things then shall ye receive your reward; yea, ye shall have mercy restored unto you again; ye shall have justice restored unto you again; ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again; and ye shall have good rewarded unto you again.”
“And now, the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made, therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect and just God, and a merciful God also.
“But God ceaseth not to be God, and mercy claimeth the penitent, and mercy cometh because of the atonement; and the atonement bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead; and the resurrection of the dead bringeth back men into the presence of God; and thus they are restored into his presence, to be judged according to their works, according to the law and justice.
“Therefore, O my son, whosoever will come may come and partake of the waters of life freely; and whosoever will not come the same is not compelled to come; but in the last day it shall be restored unto him according to his deeds.”
The Book of Mormon has so many lessons for our time and in our place in this New Year. As I read it in preparing this, I marveled at the lesson, even in the very first pages, of how we are blessed and need to be prepared for upheavals and need to listen to the Lord. The symbolism of the Tree of Life struck me as so very relevant to our theme today. My challenge to you is to read and ponder the Book of Mormon as soon as possible in the New Year, but this time not for the stories but for its lessons and symbolism and spiritual guidance. Study Lehi’s dream. Study the words of Jacob. Study the sermons of Alma. Study the words of Isaiah. Study the words of Christ. And put it all in front of your mind’s eye as a filter through which to view the world and the events that now surround us. Gain inspiration. Gain strength. Build your personal testimony.
Elder Enzio Busche, made the following observations.
“Many people are hesitant to listen to matters concerning the spiritual world because they feel they have no control over such things. There is, therefore, a level of spiritual awareness that most people seem to have closed themselves to. But when spiritual eyes have been opened, circumstances change…
“ This world we live in is not the real thing. The actual world—which is closer to us than we sometimes realize—is full of truth and capable of bringing us to a higher level than we can understand. Indeed, it is more beautiful and majestic than a human can imagine. My spiritual insight let me see that we as human beings live far below our potential from day to day. One day we will be confronted with our true potential; and we will see what we have missed because we have not embraced the ultimate help offered to us from our Creator. Life is not worth living if we walk around in it without really knowing that every choice we make defines our lives in the eternities.”
And As President Monson said in his Christmas message:
“Now this very Christmas Season is the perfect time to renew our efforts. In our busy lives with ever so many others competing for our attention, it is essential that we make a conscious, committed effort to bring Christ into our lives and into our homes.”
May you all have a wonderful and happy new year and a long and prosperous life in the Lord.
And think about the trees.