The signs of Jesus birth were these: A new star would appear and there would be two days with no night in between. And the sign of his death was the opposite. There would be a new and terrible storm, and two nights with no day in between. And so when the new star arrived and there were two days in a row without a night, you might think that everyone decided to believe Samuel. Because a new star and a two days with no night is what you call a miracle. And who can doubt a miracle? Well, actually, just about everyone can doubt a miracle. It’s easy. Go ahead, try it.
The greatest miracle in your life is that you are loved by friends and family and by God and Jesus. And yet, it is very easy to doubt that anyone loves you. Every person in this world is a miracle. And yet it is the easiest thing in the world to not believe in people. It’s easy to dismiss them as bad and mean and selfish.
And it’s particularly easy to doubt God and doubt other people when you are doubting yourself. And that’s the story of the Nephites we’ve been calling the Downlookers. When they saw the miracles of Jesus’ birth, they did not believe. They doubted.
They turned to the Stargazers and said, “You have to leave. We will not kill you. But we cannot live together. You are too pure. You are the Stargazers. You are the waiters. We are not pure like you. And so we do not want you around to remind us.”
And the Stargazers agreed. They said, “Maybe it is better this way. We will live with people who believe and are pure like us. There will be no fighting because we will all agree on everything. And we will be good and righteous together.” And so they packed up and left. But they could not take the star with them. It remained high above them all.
And everyone tried to live next to people who thought the same way and lived the same way. They split apart. They splintered into smaller and smaller groups. And they lived in tribes. “And this is peace,” they thought, because no one was fighting. But there are things worse than fighting. And this was one of them. They thought they had found peace, but all they had found was seclusion.
Seclusion, a definition
Living in seclusion is often confused with living peacefully. Because when you are secluded from the world you do not fight. You do not start wars. You do not say mean things. But peace can only be found in the world. And if you live in seclusion, you have given up on the world. And if you have given up on the world, you should know that God is in the world. If you think the world has become your enemy, remember that God so loved the world. And if you are scared of the other people in the world, remember that they are the part of the world that God loves the most.
Nephi, the prophet, could see what was happening. And so he went to all of the tribes. “Hey Nephites and Lamanites! You cannot live in seclusion forever. You are human. And humans need to be around other humans. All different kinds of humans. We need people around us to learn, and to disagree, and to help, and to be helped, and to practice being kind, and to practice receiving kindness. We need each other. We need people who are tall and people who are short. People who are clever and people who are generous. People who are liberal and people who are conservative. We need people who are fun and people who are thoughtful. We need everybody from all of the houses.
“So come out now. Please. Come back together. Come and be human, and let other people be human too. And we’ll learn to be kind, all together, all over again.”
But the people just hid in their houses until Nephi went away. And Nephi went and sat down by a stream and cried. Everything seemed upside down and inside out. Everybody should be happy, not hiding. They should be together, not divided. They should be singing, not sighing. And the more he cried, the more unhappy Nephi became. Because his people had given up on each other. They had never been further from peace.
And then it happened. The other sign that Samuel had predicted. The ground started to shake. First pebbles rattled, then big boulders started falling down from the mountains. There were bolts of lightning, and streaks of fire fell from the sky and split across the earth. Dust and smoke filled the air. It was a new storm. As terrible as the new star had been beautiful. Clouds spilled over the sky. They were dark and they hid the sun away from the earth and everything everywhere was dark and shaking and tumbling and confused. And Nephi looked up to the dark black sky, and he looked down at the angry thrashing earth, and he dropped on his knees and cried because he knew what the storm meant. They had killed Jesus.
It was the biggest, baddest, saddest, most terrifying storm anyone had ever seen. And after the storm stopped there was only darkness. They could feel the darkness. It crawled over them, blew down their backs, snuck into their noses and made them cough. And when they tried to rub it out of their eyes, they only rubbed it in deeper. They could not light candles to see their moms and dads or brothers and sisters. There was nothing in the world but darkness.
For the first time in history, the earth was without Jesus. He had been the light of the world from the very beginning. And without Him, there was nothing but shadow upon shadow upon shadow. And the darkness grew deeper and darker for three days. And as the darkness poured down their throats and into their hearts, Nephites and Lamanites began to choke and cry and sob. “The world has become a nightmare,” they said and then hid under their blankets and they cried and cried. “Jesus,” they said, “We will be true to you. Come back. Please come back to us. We need you.”
And on the third day, as the people were about to give into despair, there was a voice. It was a quiet, soft voice, but it echoed around the kingdom like church bells. It was Jesus.
“You think I have left you, but you are the ones who left me. You have run away from me like baby chicks running away from their nest. You ran into each other. You bumped noses. You tripped over roots and pebbles, and other little chicken feet. But you did not help each other up. As you ran away, you were running away from each other. And as you ran away from each other, you were running away from me. But I will gather you all up together again, and bring you home to the nest. Because I am your mother. And you are my children. And we are a family. And families are supposed to gather together and play, not just on Christmas or Easter or birthdays, but every day.”
And after Jesus finished talking, the people cried again because they wanted to be back in the nest with Jesus and with each other. And they cried themselves to sleep. And when they woke up in the morning, the darkness was gone. And the people stepped outside and blinked in the bright light. They walked around to find their neighbors. They whispered together “Did you hear it? Did you hear the voice too?”
And they gathered. The tall people and the short people. The early birds and the night owls. The clever people and the generous people. And they hugged and kissed each other. And no one doubted the miracles walking and talking and hugging around them. “I have missed you,” they said.
But this was not the only miracle. Not even the greatest miracle. Because all of the sudden, right in the middle of everybody hugging and crying, there was Jesus. The Jesus. He was standing there in front of them living and breathing and shining and completely alive, like a miracle. His smile was bright as the sun. “My friends,” He said, and He reached His hands out towards them. And the people saw His hands, and they had holes in them.
And Jesus saw that they were looking at His hands. And He smiled again. He said, “Come, look and see how I have written your names down in my hands. All of your names. All together.” And when Jesus lifted his hands, the sun shone through the holes, and they could see their names written in light, like a new star shining in the hands of God.
And every single person there came and felt the holes in his hands. And the people wept because it wasn’t just their names that they found written on Jesus’ hands. But there were the names of their fathers and mothers. Brothers and sisters. The short people and the tall people. The stargazers and the downlookers. The liberals and the conservatives. And there was the name of a friend who had died long ago. And there was their great grandmother whose name they had forgotten until now. And there were other names, so many names. Names that would have been forgotten. But God had not forgotten them. Nobody’s name was forgotten.
You are there, and I am there. We have been gathered up in Jesus’s hands. I want you to imagine holding His holy hands. Seeing all the names. Because I think this is a little like heaven. I do not know what heaven is, except that it is everyone. You are there, and your mom and dad, and their moms and dads, and their moms and dads, and the cousins and the second cousins and the grannies and grandpas and the uncles and aunts and all of the families which were always actually part of the same family. God has gathered His children together. And there is no crying or tears or tribes or jealousy or seclusion. There is peace. Because Jesus is there. And His broken hands are opened up to us, calling our names.
All artwork by Lauren Blair.
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