Know Ye Not that Ye are a Temple of God, and how that relates to Christmas

When I was first asked to speak for our relief society activity tonight I immediately thought about Christmas. But the topic I was asked to cover was, “Know ye not that ye are a temple of God?” And at first, I thought that these were two very different topics. But the more I started reading and planning my talk I realized that the topics are not mutually exclusive. I thought about temple characteristics and traits that help us identify who we are as women.

When you think about temples usually the words that we use to describe them are, “holy”, or “houses of the Lord”. The buildings are kept as close to perfection as humanly possible. 

In fact, in a talk given by Scott D. Whiting, titled, “Temple Standard” he talks about going through the Laie Hawaii Temple.  In his own words he says, “As we moved through the temple, I watched and listened to Elder Walker and his associates as they inspected the work and conversed with the general contractor. On occasion I observed one man running his hand along the walls as we moved from room to room. A few times after doing this, he would rub his fingers together and then approach the general contractor and say, “I feel grit on this wall. Grit is not temple standard. You will need to re-sand and buff this wall.” The contractor dutifully took notes of each observation.
As we approached an area in the temple that few eyes would ever see, the same man stopped us and directed our attention to a newly installed, beautiful leaded-glass window. This window measured about two feet (0.6 m) wide by six feet (1.8 m) tall and contained an embedded, small stained-glass geometric pattern. He pointed to a small two-inch (5 cm) colored-glass square that was part of the simple pattern and said, “That square is crooked.” I looked at the square, and to my eyes it looked evenly placed. However, upon closer inspection with a measuring device in hand, I could see there was a flaw and that this little square was indeed one-eighth of an inch (3 mm) crooked. Direction was then given to the contractor that this window would need to be replaced because it was not temple standard.

I admit that I was surprised that an entire window would need to be replaced because of such a small, barely noticeable defect. Surely, it was unlikely that anyone would ever know or even notice this window given its remote location in the temple.

As I entered the completely renovated Laie Hawaii Temple, I was overwhelmed by its beauty and quality of finish. You can appreciate my anticipation as I approached the “gritty” walls and the “flawed” window. Did the contractor re-sand and buff the walls? Was the window really replaced? As I approached the gritty walls, I was surprised to see that beautiful wallpaper now hung on all the walls. My first thought was, “So this is how the contractor addressed the grit—he covered it.” But, no, I learned that it had always been the plan to hang wallpaper on these walls. I wondered why a little hardly detectable grit mattered if wallpaper was to cover it. I then eagerly approached the area where the flawed window was located and was surprised to see a beautiful floor-to-ceiling potted plant sitting directly in front of the window. Again I thought, “So this is how the contractor addressed the crooked little square—he hid it.” As I moved closer, I pushed the plant’s leaves aside and smiled as I saw that the window had indeed been replaced. The formerly crooked little square now stood neatly and evenly in the pattern. I learned that it had always been part of the interior design to have a plant in front of this window.”

Why would it matter to sand grit from the wall or to replace the window if no one would ever know? Because it wasn’t “temple standard”. Now because the entire temple had been perfected it could now be a house of the Lord.

This made me reflect on the many women in history who are themselves “temple Standard”. First, let’s reflect on our Heavenly Mother. Elder Dallin H. Oaks has said that our theology begins with heavenly parents, and our highest aspiration is to be like them. She works side by side with the divine Father.

Then I thought of Mother Eve. How she chose to bring about the fall in order to bring about the entire human race. To leave a perfected garden to do the ultimate will of the Father and the Son is surely “temple Standard”.

 My thoughts then turned to Mary, the mother of the Son of God. I have a painting that hangs in my house at Christmas time. And if you don’t mind I’d like to describe this painting to you, in the words of the artist herself, Judy Law.

“In my painting Mary is quietly contemplating the bright and wondrous new star which has appeared in the heavens announcing to all the world the birth of the precious little son which she holds in her arms. The stable I have pictured is a place so humble and small that it had not been previously considered as possible tourist accommodations. However, it is peaceful and has been made comfortable with clean straw and soft light.

Many things in the painting have symbolic meaning to me: Mary is dressed in a soft greenish robe-green representing youth, and springtime, new life. The white represents purity. The robe on the floor is brownish earth color suggesting the humble life of a poor peasant family. But the cool blue and the warm reddish lights falling on it create purplish highlights which suggest the robes of royalty that should have belonged to Joseph and Mary as legal heirs to the throne of King David, had not the Romans been in power in their land.

The post was included as a reminder of the cross which would come. Part of the brace across the top of the entrance points to both Mary and Jesus, suggesting the scripture, “yea, a sword shall pierce through they own soul also” (Luke 2:35). The water has many meanings: baptism or being clean before God, service or the washing of feet, and the quenching of spiritual thirst through the Son of God.
My model for the painting was born in Bethlehem. When I first met her I had not yet decided for sure that I would paint her as Mary, so I didn’t mention that this had been suggested to me. I only asked how she would feel about posing for me to paint something from the scriptures. Imagine my surprise when she answered, “oh, that’s interesting! When I was younger I went to a convent school, and one of the men who was there studying to be a priest told me that someday I would pose for an artist to paint the Virgin Mary!”

As I painted I changed her face many times. She no longer resembles my model because I wanted her to look almost childlike. I thought she should look very youthful and venerable, yet noble. To me her bare feet suggest humility and perhaps hint at her youthfulness, while her erect posture suggests nobility and her foot slightly raised suggests a willingness to be led by her Father in Heaven.
There are two light sources in the painting-the cool starlight streaming in through the opening to the stable and the warm lamplight behind Mary’s figure. This allowed me the delightful challenge of working out the interplay of a wide range of colors. On a deeper level, the two light sources suggest to me that this Holy Child possessed attributes from both a perfect Heavenly Father and a pure and lovely mortal mother, that he might be empowered to accomplish his special mission as out Teacher, our Savior and our Reeder-The Light of the World.”
 Mary is definitely “temple standard”.

Now today I think of all of us. How are we related to the temple? How do we live a temple standard? I want you to think of all the different types of temples in the world.

 I’d like you to observe a few things. Among these temples are buildings that are tall. Majestic, as they stand in height and stature. Some are single-story, short, and small. Some are young, new, and fresh, while others have stood through many seasons. Some have many windows, letting in much light. But there are few who let little show outside of the fa├žade. Some temples have had little to no damage. Some need updating or even rededicating. There are temples that have been damaged and needed rebuilding. There is one that started, cracked, and needed to start again from the beginning. There are temples that are within reach, while others are very far. Some temples have many visitors, while few are visited less frequently. Some temples look similar and there are temples with very unique appearances.

President Boyd K. Packer taught, “Our physical body is in the instrument of our spirit. Thus our relationships with other people, our capacity to recognize and respond to truth and our ability to obey the principles and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ are amplified through our physical bodies.”

1 Cor. 3:16-17 
16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

17 If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.

Elder Melvin J. Ballard said, “The body that has been given to us was for the purpose of allowing the spirit to exalt itself to a nobler condition. The lightning that is seen flashing from cloud to cloud, from mountain top to mountain top, is an electrical force that may tear down buildings, set fire to property, and destroy life. Conduct electricity through the dynamo wire, and motor, and behold its wonderful results working for the service of man, accomplishing something under the control of a physical instrument, it thus becomes a power for good. So with steam, if allowed to evaporate freely it does little good, but restrain it in the boiler, send it through the engine, and under its power you may travel across the continent or sail from shore to shore. And so, too, with this highest, most potent of all spiritual forces, the intelligence that is in man; enshrine it in a spiritual body, that it may have the experiences of spiritual life; and then give it a physical body, that it may enter into and obtain the joy and experiences of physical life, and you have enlarged its powers immeasurably” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1912, 107).

Elder Bednar said, “Our physical bodies indeed are temples of God. Consequently, you and I must carefully consider what we take into our temple, what we put on our temple, what we do to our temple, and what we do with our temple. And we can learn a number of important lessons by comparing the Church’s temples to our physical bodies as temples.”

“Do not underestimate the important symbolic and actual effect of appearance. Persons who are well groomed and modestly dressed invite the companionship of the Spirit of our Father in Heaven and are able to exercise a wholesome influence upon those around them. Persons who are unkempt and careless about their appearance, or adopt the visual symbols of those who often oppose our ideals, expose themselves and persons around them to influences that are degrading and dissonant. Outward appearance is often a reflection of inward tendencies” (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, ed. Clyde J. Williams [1996], 220).

I’ve never thought about the connection between the actual buildings of temples and our bodies. They are both physical structures, and are referred to as temples so shouldn’t we see the connection between the edifice and the body?

Elder Holland taught, one of the plain and precious truths restored in this dispensation is that the body and the spirit are the soul of man. And when the spirit and the body are separated men and women cannon receive a fullness of joy. That is the reason why obtaining a body is fundamentally important in the first place, why sin of any kind is such a serious matter and why the resurrection of the body is so central to the great triumph of  Christ’s Atonement.

But what do all of the temples have in common? They are dedicated to the Lord and have within them the spirit of the Lord. Sisters, we are these temples. We are tall and short, new and old, we are fresh and renewed. At times we are damaged and cracked. At times we need rededicating. We are popular and we are lonely. Some of us have a plan to be built, but at the moment, it’s only just announced, even if it’s just in our hearts.  Whiles others have the hope to someday be announced.
But we have the ability to be dedicated to the Lord. We have the ability to have the Holy Spirit with us at all times. But we must make use of our temples. We must be used for service and for learning. We can be strong. And all of the temples we have are unique in appearance, but all are beautiful.  Perhaps how we view the temple is how the Lord sees us, and our potential.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

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