At the birth of each of my children, the nurse handed me a pair of long scissors with which to sever the cord, and each time I tried to make a clean cut in one snip but failed.
It generally took me (butter-fingered Edward Scissor Hands that I am) two or three snips to succeed.
Every father (and let's not forget the mother) knows a certain relief in that moment: cutting the cord is the culmination of months of waiting and planning and worrying and hoping.
So it is with the Second Coming.
Paul compared the tribulation period preceding the Lord's return to a woman giving birth; we call her contractions the "signs of the times."
For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.
For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.
But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.
(1 Thess. 5:2-5)
Paul's analogy is apt. How do we know it's time to go to the hospital for the delivery? Well, I remember watching TV while timing my wife's contractions on my watch, marking the intervals between them ("Time!"). When her contractions narrowed to several minutes apart, we drove to the hospital.
Before the Second Coming, the Earth will convulse with the contractions of a birth mother. The valleys and mountains shall tremble (D&C 43:18); the heavens shall shake; and her water shall break and flow down (D&C 133:29); there will be birth and afterbirth as the earth is blanketed, first in darkness and then in glory (D&C 133:51, 69).
But what is the Earth giving birth to?
A paradisiacal (terrestrial) glory.
Signs of Contractions
No one knows the day or the hour a baby will come, it's true, but the fact the mother begins having contractions isn't a shock to anyone.
We are prepared with our overnight bags packed; we knew this was coming; after all, there were the signs of a growing belly and the baby kicking in her womb; and don't forget the insatiable cravings for peanut butter on pickles ― all these things, coupled with measuring the months since conception, gives us a pretty good idea of the due date. (Only one of our children was born on their due date; such an obedient child).
When the contractions become serious enough, we summon the midwives who monitor the mother's cervical dilation; there's a lot of tears, hand-holding and ice-chewing (see D&C 133:26).
But here's the point: while contractions are painful (or so my wife tells me; she's given birth five times but I have had five kidney stones, so let's call it even), that pain is also accompanied by intense joy.
How is that possible? How can contractions be called a "good" sign when they're excruciatingly painful? (Is there an epidural for the last days?) It's because we're filled with excitement and anticipation that the wait is finally over and the baby is on its way: it's time.
How close apart are the contractions we're seeing in 2023? Is it time to grab our bags and head to the hospital?
A Brief History of Signs
We need to understand a few things about signs to help us be prepared ― for the the scriptures admonish, "He that watches not for me shall be cut off" (D&C 45:44).
And the day cometh that you shall hear my voice and see me, and know that I am.
Watch, therefore, that ye may be ready.
But how do we know which signs to "watch" for? And how do we know what to pack in our overnight bags?
1. Expect Signs.
The Lord loves signs; He works through signs. While seeking for signs is bad, signs themselves aren't bad. They're gonna come whether we're looking for them or not.
The question is whether we are able to interpret them. Signs and symbols are the lexicon of the stars and of heaven.
Yea, signs come by faith, not by the will of men, nor as they please, but by the will of God.
For example, think of all the signs that accompanied the birth of Christ. In the Book of Mormon, the people were filled with joy as they witnessed "signs and wonders" (3 Nephi 1:22) that were given to prepare them for His coming.
How did they know these were important signs? Well, because the prophets told them:
And it had come to pass, yea, all things, every whit, according to the words of the prophets.
(3 Nephi 1:20
Bringing glad tidings unto the people because of the signs which did come to pass, according to the words of the prophecy of all[what percentage is all?] the holy prophets.
(3 Nephi 1:26)
So when you're interviewing prophets at work, be sure to ask them (in addition to 'what are your strengths and weaknesses') if they can decipher the signs of the times.
2. The Book of Mormon is a Sign.
The purpose of contractions (not to get too medical) is to open the mother's birth canal so the baby can pass through the gates of life.
Now, in 2023, we've already experienced two centuries of contractions; they began with the coming forth of the Book of Mormon (in September 1827 ― remember that date because it will become very important) according to what the Lord told the Nephites in 3 Nephi 21:
I give unto you a sign, that ye may know the time when these things shall be about to take place―
This is the thing which I will give unto you for a sign―
When . . . thy seed shall begin to know these things― it shall be a sign unto them, that they may know that the work of the Father hath already commenced.
What's the sign? In case we were asleep-at-the-wheel (or, because we're gentiles, driving while intoxicated (Isaiah 28:3)), Mormon hits us over the head with a baseball bat to wake us up (no sobriety tests required).
He tells us the great sign of the end times is the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and the restoration ― (no, not of the Church, it's never "the Church" in the Book of Mormon) ― but the restoration of Israel "to the lands of their inheritance" (3 Nephi 29:1).
When we see these things, "ye need not say that the Lord delays his coming" (3 Nephi 29:2).
3. Signs Need Interpretation.
Signs are meaningless in-and-of-themselves, unless we understand what they're signaling.
For example, what was the sign given of Christ's birth?
The new star.
Everyone could look up and see the star ― but the Wise Men understood its significance and acted upon it, whilst Herod sipped vodka on the palace veranda, looking at the night sky, completely clueless.
So it is today: there are signs being given; but are we "awake" to see them? And if so, how do we know what they mean?
You are probably familiar with this statement by the prophet Joseph Smith:
"Christ says no man knoweth the day or the hour when the Son of Man cometh. . . . But he did not say that there was no man throughout all generations that should not know the day or the hour. No, for this would be in flat contradiction with other scripture, for the prophet (Amos 3:7) says that God will do nothing but what he will reveal unto his Servants the prophets."
Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.
I want to give a slightly different perspective on what this means.
When I was younger, I used to worry that the prophets held all these secrets and here I was, a nobody, who didn't know any secrets! Woe is me! How was I supposed to prepare for the future if I wasn't a member of the "inner" circle? What's to become of me if I'm left off the invite-list to Adam-Ondi-Ahman's gala?
I want to put everyone's mind at ease: prophets don't have crystal balls (*cough* seer-stones-aside) or special access to knowledge that is kept from the rest of us.
There is nothing that Joseph knows, but that the least saint can know.
The easiest way to explain this principle is the star of Bethlehem we were just talking about.
Everyone got the sign; I mean, it was placed smack-dab in the sky itself!
No one in Jerusalem could argue, "Well, I might have made different decisions, Lord, if you'd shown me the sign; if I had had time to prepare."
So you see, the signs are shown to all of us (else His judgments would not be just). The prophets don't get exclusive-VIP-access to signs. After all, it would defeat the purpose of signs if they were hidden or secret.
Thus the secret is not the sign itself but its significance (and then, of course, having the Holy Ghost apply it to our personal situations).
The good news is that all of us can go to the Lord with the signs being given, tonight, and ask Him to unlock (unseal) their meaning.
The Sign of the Everlasting Covenant
You can't spin an elephant by its ears in the scriptures without bumping up against signs; they're everywhere.
An important sign we find in the scriptures was given to Enoch; it was the sign of the covenant.
In the story of Noah's Ark, it says that "the windows of heaven were opened" (Genesis 7:11). God set the rainbow in the sky as a sign to symbolize His covenant, stretching from one end to the other, and (as anyone who has chased a rainbow knows) it was without beginning or end.
I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token [i.e., a sign] of a covenant between me and the earth.
So what covenant, exactly, are we talking about? There are lots of covenants, aren't there; which one is so important that it is never-ending?
And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and EVERY LIVING CREATURE.
Notice that God's everlasting covenant is with "every living creature" ― gay or straight, Black or white, male or female, you name it . . . everyone!
The first time I read these words, my mind was blown:
And this is mine everlasting covenant, that when thy posterity shall embrace the truth, [remember the sign of the Book of Mormon; of truth flooding the earth?] and look upward [where are we looking? To Salt Lake?] then shall Zion look downward, [where does Zion come from?] and all the heavens shall shake with gladness, and the earth shall tremble with joy [contractions giving birth].
And the general assembly of the church of the firstborn [which Church?] shall come down out of heaven and possess the earth [what does it mean to "possess" the earth?] and shall have place until the end come. And this is mine everlasting covenant, which I made with thy father Enoch.
(JST Gen. 9:22-23)
Ummm, why don't we teach this in Sunday School?
Joseph Smith said:
"I have asked of the Lord concerning His coming; and while asking the Lord, He gave a sign and said, 'In the days of Noah I set a bow in the heavens as a sign and token that in any year that the bow should be seen the Lord would not come; but there should be seed time and harvest during that year: but whenever you see the bow withdrawn, it shall be a token that there shall be famine, pestilence, and great distress among the nations, and that the coming of the Messiah is not far distant.'"
(History of the Church, 6:254; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on Mar. 10, 1844, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Wilford Woodruff; TPJS, 341.)
But we don't have to go back thousands of years to find signs; how about we look in our backyard?
A Sign Given, September 23, 2017
The world witnessed a momentous sign on September 23, 2017. You'll recognize the date: it was the autumn equinox. It also coincided with the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashana), when the shofar was blown to gather the armies of Israel.
The Sign of the Woman ("Virgo" is Latin for Virgin) is given in Revelation 12:1-2:
"And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth."
I believe there are multiple layers of symbolism being described here; and when it comes to the Lord, there can be multiple fulfillments (because he works by types, shadows, cycles and patterns).
I generally don't read things too literally. I'm not the kinda guy that makes the gospel formulaic ("The first comforter is x; and the baptism of fire is when x+y; and the second comforter is zzz.")
But on September 23, 2017, the sun was in Virgo, so the constellation was "clothed" in sun; and the moon passed beneath her feet. What was unusual is that the constellation Leo (9 stars) crowned Virgo's head, and also Mercury, Venus and Mars.
And then, what sort of sealed-the-deal was the fact that Jupiter had spent most of the year circling in Virgo's womb, like a child about to be born.
Here's the craziest part: I am not an astronomer, but a Catholic fellow from the Vatican Observatory (one of the oldest astronomical observatories in the world, headquartered at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, so these guys are legit) ― (and who I suspect knows nothing about Joseph Smith) ― figured out a similar conjunction last occurred . . . wait for it . . . on September 24, 1827.
(Remember I told you to remember that date: it was when Joseph Smith finally received the Gold Plates).
These signs were given 190 years apart. It's also astounding that Jupiter was in Virgo for 42 weeks (human gestation period) before leaving her womb.
Here's the text from JST Revelations 12:1-3, 7.
And there appeared a great sign in heaven, in the likeness of things on the earth; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.
And the woman being with child, cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.
And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up unto God and his throne.
And the dragon prevailed not against Michael, neither the child, nor the woman which was the church of God, who had been delivered of her pains, and brought forth the kingdom of our God and his Christ.
According to Joseph Smith, the woman = the Church of God (v. 7) who gives birth to her child = the Kingdom of God (v. 7). They're separate.
That all fits pretty neatly, I think, with Joseph's vision for the Council of 50. But whatever Joseph intended for the now-defunct Council of 50, it is now irrelevant because whatever Joseph had in mind for it clearly didn't happen.
So we are about to be offered a new kingdom; time for another bite at the apple.
Be Not Troubled
So it was, at midnight on Saturday, September 23, 2017, with my wife and children gone to bed, I felt a desire to pray for direction regarding how to prepare for the future, on such an auspicious day, feeling a weight of responsibility as a father and husband, knowing of the calamity which is to come.
Like Enos, my soul hungered; I pleaded with the Lord to reveal to me what I needed to do, both temporally and spiritually. You know: buy guns? Store more toilet paper (that would have come in handy)? Move to Alaska?
With all the talk about earthquakes and Yellowstone erupting and new plagues coming, it is easy to feel alarmed.
It's like we turn the scripture from D&C 38 upside down: "If you are fearful, you shall be prepared." (Am I the only one who has a survivalist wish list on Amazon?)
The Lord told me that if we plan for the future from a place of fear, we open ourselves to being deceived. If we trust Him and prepare from a place of pure love, He will guide us through the storms.
It reminded me of some advice the Lord gave His disciples when talking about the last days:
And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass.
Here's the takeaway: above all else, we need to take "the shield of faith" (Ephesians 6:16) as a protection against the tribulations to come.
I love the image of a shield; preppers are always wondering what will "protect" them and their families and friends. Is there any greater protection than faith?
What better shield than a Shepherd who stands between us and the wolves, willing to lay down His life for us?
We must be willing to lay down our lives for them as well.
So you see, the Lord doesn't need more Rambos ― He needs more Rahabs and Esthers.
Where is Safety Found?
Growing up I had hammered into my skull the precept, "There's safety in following the Brethren. Keep your eyes on the prophet."
Well, I was talking recently with my brother and I explained the problem in one sentence: "People confuse placing their trust in authority figures with having faith in Jesus Christ." Those two things are not interchangeable.
The Lord is awake and active; He is among us and preparing His children for what's to come. I know the Lord's priorities are higher and wiser than ours; so I am willing to simply trust in the Spirit of love wherever it takes me; for God is love.
We are to become Stripling Warriors of Love, nothing doubting.
I understand that everything I have stored and stashed and saved in my root cellar may be gone in an instant; but that's okay. Because I can lose everything I have, but still have my faith. Nobody can take that away from us.
And what do we have to fear when Christ's love burns brightly in our breasts; when we are empowered by a perfect love that casts out all fear, and a faith that fears nothing (whether or not we survive the nukes).
But wait, there's more! Before you go, I want to mention two other signs.
You're probably aware that one month before the sign of the Woman and Child was given in 2017, another sign appeared in the sky.
The 2017 Total Solar Eclipse
On August 21, 2017, we all witnessed a total solar eclipse. It was big news; my family got special glasses so we could gaze up at the sun without being blinded.
Here are my kids watching the sign:
Lucky (?) Number Seven?
Is the number seven significant? Does it bring anything to mind?
Because there is a second total solar eclipse that will happen next year on April 8, 2024.
What significance is there in the fact these two solar eclipses will occur seven years apart, and draw a bullseye across the United States?