"A Surprising Christmas Gift, a Deeper Appreciation for the Restoration" by George Potter
In November, Susan and I visited in the Holy Lands, including Bethlehem and Jerusalem. My main objective of the visit was to experience the sweet spirit of witness that permeates the site of the Garden Tomb where Christ was resurrected. I thought it would be the perfect gift for our family as we prepared for the Christmas season. As so many have witnessed before us, the spirit at the Garden Tomb bears a powerful witness of the most important event in history, the resurrection of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ.
To my surprise I left the Holy Lands with another gift or witness, a certainty that as a Latter-day Saint, my life has been incredibly blessed by the mission of Joseph Smith, the great prophet of the restoration. Never in my life has the necessity of his calling been so vividly manifested. During my stay in the Holy Lands, there were three sad oddities that bore record to me of just how fortunate it is to be a member of the true Church. The first took place while we stood on the Jordanian bank of the Jordan River.
A few yards away on the Israeli side of the river, three groups of Christians were performing their own versions of a baptism. Clearly, none of the groups knew just how to perform the ordinance. The closest group to us consisted of four sincere-looking pilgrims, led by a young woman wearing a gloomy dark-brown hooded robe. She recited some verses of scripture, then all four entered the river, crossed themselves, and bent down and submerged themselves in the river. They seemed as if they were not sure what they were doing. There was no one to baptize them, so they simply baptized themselves over and over again. I am certain these pilgrims were of the sincerest weave, but I felt sorry for them. They continued to cross themselves and knelt into the river, as if thinking if they performed their self-administered act enough times perhaps God would recognize it. Another group was sprinkled by a priest, while the third group had a man in a black robe baptizing without authority. I wanted to shout to my brothers and sisters across the river, "The Lord has called a true prophet, the priesthood has been restored - YOU CAN KNOW WITH CERTAINITY THAT YOU HAVE BEEN CLEANSED OF YOUR SINS THROUGH THE LORD JESUS CHRIST."
The second witness I had of the essential mission performed by Joseph Smith came at the West wall of the foundation mount of the temple in Jerusalem. There I saw scores of Hasidic Jews "wailing" for the day they could attend a temple once more. Dressed in their unusual black suits, wide-rim hats and strange haircuts, they swayed back and forth before a massive wall made of stones. I was deeply sadden by the oddities that Satan substitutes for pure and clean worshipping of God. How pure and simple is the true gospel, and how poignant it is to know that while we are blessed with so many temples spread throughout the world, many devoted people are deeply distressed, not realizing that Elijah has already restored the temple keys to Joseph Smith and that thousands of people joyously enter temples everyday to perform saving ordinances. How bless we are! I was inclined to put my arm around each of my Jewish brothers and tell them the good news.
Finally, we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and experienced the spirit of gross intolerance and hatred brewed by Satan's ability to confuse the minds and hearts of man. In 1027-8 an agreement was reached between the Muslim Fatimids and the Byzantine Empire whereby the church could be rebuilt over the site where Helena believed Christ was crucified and placed in a tomb. Many historians still hold that the retaking of the Church was the motive behind the bloody crusades called for by Pope Urban II. After renovations were made by the Franciscans in 1555, control of the church oscillated between Franciscans and the Orthodox, depending on which community could obtain a favorable decree from the Sub Porte (open court of the Ottoman Sultan) at a particular time, often through outright bribery and violent clashes. To this day, five Christian sects still fight over the control of the site which is known for the periodic fist fights between feuding priests. At times, the fights among the priests have led to warfare in the streets of Jerusalem. Add to this sad affair the creepy hooded costumes and straggly beards of the priest and the numerous idols found in the church, and you will understand why I could not wait to leave the building and praise the Lord for the restoration of his gospel.
This Christmas I am so grateful that the Lord has restored in plainness his pure gospel to the earth, so that we have a full knowledge and appreciation for his birth, life, and atonement. Could there be a greater gift?