The new star above Bethlehem signalled to the wise men and Judean Shepherds the birth of the promised Messiah, the very hope of Israel. In the western hemisphere this same celestial sign came in fulfilment of Samuel’s prophecies to the Nephite people, providing hope and relief to the desperate prayers of the faithful believers facing certain death. For them the hope of Israel could not wait another day.
The birth of Jesus Christ, his life, teachings, infinite atoning sacrifice and resurrection transformed mortality and eternity for everyone and everything ever created. No longer captive by the effects of the Fall of Adam and Eve, mankind became free to choose – and free to change.
“And the Messiah cometh in the fullness of times, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because they are redeemed from the fall, they have become free forever, knowing good and evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon… And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life through the great mediator of all men or to choose captivity and death…” (2 Nephi 2:26-27)
What greater evidence is there that God is our loving Heavenly Father than the divine gift He gave of His Only Begotten Son? Is it any wonder that we celebrate the birth of Christ by giving gifts? The atonement of Jesus Christ makes possible the greatest of all the gifts of God, eternal life (D&C 14:7). It also makes possible the full gift of agency; the ability to choose the gift of repentance, which is the ability to change.
We are accountable for our choices and our willingness to change. We are masters of our own fate. The result of our mortal life will be exactly what we choose – we are accountable for who we become. Agency and accountability are inseparable principles. Elder Neil A. Maxwell taught: “If in the end we do not choose Christ, it will not matter what we have chosen.” Eternal life is a gift, but it is also a choice. “Our decisions determine our destiny” said President Thomas S. Monson.
These wonderful divine gifts to choose and to change came at a terrible cost, and are given to us with great expectation and commandment. The Saviour’s invitation to change is not casual:
“Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how hard to bear you know not. For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; but if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit…” (D&C 19:15-18)
The gospel principle most often taught by the Saviour and His holy prophets is repentance – the need to change.
The Saviour is loving, merciful, and forgiving in His invitation to “Come unto me”.
“Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I the Lord, remember them no more” (D&C 58:42). “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).
The purpose of repentance is not simply to forsake sin; it is also an invitation to become perfect like the Saviour. We need to change everything about ourselves: habits, attitudes, behaviours, attributes and even our natures to become more like Him. Accepting that “no unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God” can be overwhelming. Confronting the reality of our own weaknesses and inadequacies may compound doubts and lead to discouragement, despair and disbelief. But the gift of the atonement comes with divine enabling power to help us change and become who we need to.
Understanding the atonement replaces despair with hope, disbelief with faith, and disablement with divine enablement. ‘True doctrine understood changes attitudes and behaviours said President Boyd K. Packer. How does the atonement make repentance and change possible?
1. The Savior and His teachings provide the example, the pattern and the power to change.
“I am the way, the truth and the life. No man cometh unto the Father but by me” (John 14:6).
The Holy Scriptures and words of the living prophets lead us to the gift and influence of the Holy Ghost, “who will show us all things what we should do” (2 Nephi 32:5).
2. Understanding the atonement enhances our ability to pray with faith, and to obtain true knowledge of Jesus Christ; his character, attributes, teachings and divine nature. This knowledge then reveals an understanding of God our Eternal Father and our own divine relationship with Him. “As soon as we understand the true relationship in which we stand toward God (namely, God is our Father, and we are His children), then at once prayer becomes natural and instinctive on our part” (Bible Dictionary, Prayer). Prayer brings comfort and peace, and the realization we can change; spiritual promptings about what we need to change, and spiritual power and strength to be successful.
3. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the first principle of the gospel. It is also a gift resulting from personal righteousness and sustained obedience to God. It is an “assurance of things hoped for” (Hebrews 11:1, JST) and a divine means enabling us to change. “And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which over-powereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance” (Alma 34:15). Faith in Christ provides us with the means and assurance that we can and must change—every day.
The new star above Bethlehem appeared over two centuries ago. It was symbolic of Christ; and is a reminder of the pattern, the pathway, and the divine power that constantly invites us to change – to choose to become the sons and daughters of God we were born to become.