I, with you, have witnessed during the past few days and weeks what has become over the years the annual commercialization of Christmas. I am saddened to see Christmas becoming less and less about Christ and more and more about marketing and sales, parties and presents.
And yet, Christmas is what we make of it. Despite all the distractions, we can see to it that Christ is at the center of our celebration. If we have not already done so, we can establish Christmas traditions for ourselves and for our families which will help us capture and keep the spirit of Christmas.
For almost as long as I can remember, I have had a particular tradition at Christmastime. My family knows that just before Christmas I will read again my Christmas treasury of books and ponder the wondrous words of the authors. First will be the Gospel of Luke—even the Christmas story. This will be followed by a reading of A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens and, lastly, rereading The Mansion, by Henry Van Dyke. . .
Second Counselor to the First Presidency, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, tells how an imperfect Christmas is nothing compared to the message behind its celebration. I couldn't help thinking of the fictional character in National Lampoons Christmas Vacation who ended up with a disaster trying to do everything just right:Because He came, there is meaning to our mortal existence.Because He came, we know how to reach out to those in trouble or distress, wherever they may be.Because He came, death has lost its sting, the grave its victory. We will live again because He came.Because He came and paid for our sins, we have the opportunity to gain eternal life.Because He came, we are gathered tonight to worship Him, in bonds of brotherhood and love.
Sometimes it seems that our efforts to have a perfect Christmas season are like a game of Jenga—you know, the one played with small wooden blocks that are precariously stacked up to a tower. As we try to increase the height of the tower, we pull out one wooden block before we can place it on top of the delicate structure.
Each of those little wooden blocks is a symbol of the perfect Christmas events we so desperately want to have. We have in our minds a picture of how everything should be—the perfect tree, the perfect lights, the perfect gifts, and the perfect family events. We might even want to re-create some magical moment we remember from Christmases past, and nothing short of perfection will do.
Sooner or later, something unpleasant occurs—the wooden blocks tumble, the drapes catch fire, the turkey burns, the sweater is the wrong size, the toys are missing batteries, the children quarrel, the pressure rises—and the picture-perfect Christmas we had imagined, the magic we had intended to create, shatters around us. As a result, the Christmas season is often a time of stress, anxiety, frustration, and perhaps even disappointment.
But then, if we are only willing to open our hearts and minds to the spirit of Christmas, we will recognize wonderful things happening around us that will direct or redirect our attention to the sublime. It is usually something small—we read a verse of scripture; we hear a sacred carol and really listen, perhaps for the first time, to its words; or we witness a sincere expression of love. In one way or another, the Spirit touches our hearts, and we see that Christmas, in its essence, is much more sturdy and enduring than the many minor things of life we too often use to adorn it . . .
In these precious moments we realize what we feel and know in our heart—that Christmas is really about the Christ.
We cannot offer Him the gift of perfection in all things because this is a gift beyond our capacity to give—at least for now. The Lord does not expect that we commit to move mountains. But He does require that we bring as gifts our best efforts to move ourselves, one foot in front of the other, walking in the ways He has prepared and taught.
And what are the Savior’s gifts to those who are willing to bring these gifts to Him?This may be the most one-sided gift exchange in the history of the universe. The Savior’s gifts to us are breathtaking.
Let us begin with immortality. Because the Savior overcame death, all men and women—both the just and the unjust—will live forever. 2
Then, forgiveness—even though our sins and imperfections be as scarlet, they can become white as snow because of Him. 3
And finally, eternal life—the greatest gift of all. 4 Because of the Atonement of Christ, not only are we guaranteed an infinite quantity of life, but He offers the possibility of an unimaginable quality of life as well. 5
Some of His divine gifts are reserved for that glorious future day when we return to His presence.
But He extends many gifts and His grace to us every day. He promises to be with us, to come to us when we need comfort, 6 to lift us when we stumble, to carry us if needed, to mourn and rejoice with us. Every day He offers to take us by the hand and help transform ordinary life into extraordinary spiritual experiences.The theme of the gifts of Christ to us continue with First Counselor to the First Presidency, Elder Henry B. Eyring who also warns the wicked might miss the opportunity of eternal blessings:
I am grateful for this opportunity to celebrate with you the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. His birth was a gift to all of us. John the Apostle, quoting the Savior, wrote of His birth in these stirring words:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
“For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” 1
And then the Savior made clear that true faith leads to keeping God’s commandments and that in turn qualifies us for the gift of eternal life, which is to live with God forever in heavenly light.
The Savior warned, “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” 2
He then went on to teach, “For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.” 3
He praised those who, rather than hide in shame, chose the right and to walk in the light: “But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.” 4
One of the most beautiful symbols of the birth of Jesus Christ into this world is light. The appearance of the long-promised Messiah brought light to a darkened world . . .
The lesson is not that we can have such marvelous experiences whenever we wish for them—nor that they will come even when we feel great need for them. The lesson is that God knows our every need, that He loves us, and that He watches over us.
He gave us the gift of a Savior, His perfect Son, the Lamb without blemish. By personal appearance of the Father Himself and of the Son, and through angels, He has restored the Church of Jesus Christ in the latter days. He has called prophets and apostles to guide us to safety in this life and eternal life in the world to come. Jesus Christ was crucified and resurrected that we may live again, that we may be purified and cleansed from sin, prepared for the glory of eternal life.
I would also suggest reading the December 2011 Ensign, particularly Come, Let Us Adore Him and The Condescension of Jesus Christ together. From the first one we read:Those are gifts to us that we can offer to others for Him. We do that by remembering Him and trying with all our hearts to do what He would do and love as He loves.
This discipleship doesn’t necessarily require us to leave our sheep in the fields or to cross deserts. Our journey to Him isn’t physical; it is spiritual and behavioral. It involves accepting and embracing the fact that His Atonement is infinite and covers every aspect of our lives—our sin, weakness, pain, sickness, and infirmity (see Alma 7:11–13). It means that we can let go of those things that hold us down in the gloomy fog of our own inversion and live instead in the warmth and love of the Light of the World. As President Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency, has taught: “The words ‘come unto Christ’ are an invitation. It is the most important invitation you could ever offer to another person. It is the most important invitation anyone could accept.”3The second one is no less special with the message:
The wonder of the Lord’s condescension is most meaningful when we contemplate how far He descended. The irony of the Jews’ rejection of Him pierces more deeply when we contemplate who He had been for them before He came to earth.
For example, before the Lord Omnipotent came to earth, He was known as “the Creator of all things from the beginning” (Mosiah 3:8; Helaman 14:12). Contrast that with the Jews’ query, “Is not this the carpenter?” (Mark 6:3). The Creator of all things became a carpenter.
Similarly, consider the contrast between “Shepherd” and “Lamb.” In the Old Testament the Lord was called the “Shepherd of Israel” (Psalm 80:1). Isaiah described Him as the One who gathers His lambs with His arm (see Isaiah 40:11). In His earthly life, that lamb-gathering Shepherd became God’s Lamb, sacrificed for Israel and for the whole world (see John 1:36).
Consider this difference. Before Jesus came to earth He was called “the Father of heaven and earth” (Mosiah 3:8). On earth He was mistaken as “the son of Joseph” (John 6:42).
When the Israelites were finally ready to enter the promised land, it was Jehovah who stopped the River Jordan and made it stand in its place so His people could cross on dry ground (see Joshua 3). Contrast His power in performing that miracle with His humility when, as Jesus of Nazareth, He was immersed by John in the same River Jordan (see Matthew 3:13–17).
In ancient Israel, Jehovah spared thousands and thousands of firstborn sons on the night of the Passover (see Exodus 12). When He came to earth in the flesh, Jesus rasied from the dead the only son of a widow (see Luke 7:12–15).
The Lord saved thousands. The Lord saved one. . .
Merry Christmas, and may we keep the Spirit of Christ in our hearts year around with faith and service to others as Jesus set an example to follow with love and devotion.May we remember the Lord—who He is, what He has done, and what He has promised to do. Before and after He was a baby in Bethlehem and a carpenter in Nazareth, He was and is the God of Israel and the God of the whole earth. He was and is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is the Holy and Only Begotten Son of the Living God. He was with the Father from the beginning. He is in the Father and the Father in Him; and in Him has the Father glorified His name (see 3 Nephi 9:15). May we remember and believe that He has all wisdom and all power in heaven and in earth (see Mosiah 4:9). And may we have faith that He yet condescends to help and lift the least and the last, even you, even me.