As I look back on that special Christmas over a lifetime, the most memorable part was that we did not think about presents. There may have been some handmade mittens or a scarf given, but I do not recall any presents. Presents are wonderful, but I found that they are not essential to our happiness. I could not have been happier. There were no presents that could be held and fondled and played with, but there were many wonderful gifts that could not be seen but could be felt. There was the gift of boundless love. We knew God loved us. We all loved each other. We did not miss the presents because we had all these glorious gifts. It made me feel so wonderful and secure to belong and to be part of all that went on. We wanted nothing else. We did not miss the presents at all. I never remember a happier Christmas in my childhood. We all enjoy giving and receiving presents. But there is a difference between presents and gifts. The true gifts may be part of ourselves—giving of the riches of the heart and mind—and therefore more enduring and of far greater worth than presents bought at the store.
It is easy to give to our own, those whom we love. Their gladness becomes our joy. We are not quite so ready to give to others, even if they are in need, for their happiness does not seem so necessary to our happiness. It appears yet more difficult to give to the Lord, for we are prone to believe that he must give and ask nothing in return. We have foolishly reversed the proper order. Our first gift at Christmas should be to the Lord; next to the friend or stranger by our gate; then, surcharged with the effulgence from such giving, we would enhance the value of our gifts to our very own. A selfish gift leaves a scar upon the soul, and it is but half a gift. How can we give to the Lord? What shall we give to him? Every kind word to our own, every help given them, is as a gift to God, whose chief concern is the welfare of his children. Every gentle deed to our neighbor, every kindness to the poor and suffering, is a gift to the Lord, before whom all mankind are equal. Every conformity to the Lord’s plan of salvation—and this is of first importance—is a direct gift to God, for thereby we fit ourselves more nearly for our divinely planned destiny.
Gift giving requires a sensitive giver and receiver. I hope we will use this little theory not to criticize the gifts that come our way this year, but to see how often our hearts are understood and gifts are given joyfully, even with sacrifice. . . I bear you my testimony that Jesus gave the gift freely, willingly, to us all. . . Knowing what we do, how much more do we want to give him something. But he seems to have everything. Well, not quite. He doesn’t have you with him again forever, not yet. I hope you are touched by the feelings of his heart enough to sense how much he wants to know you are coming home to him. You can’t give that gift to him in one day, or one Christmas, but you could show him today that you are on the way. You could pray. You could read a page of scripture. You could keep a commandment. If you have already done these things, there is still something left to give. All around you are people he loves and can only help through you and me. One of the sure signs that a person has accepted the gift of the Savior’s Atonement is gift giving. The process of cleansing seems to make us more sensitive, more gracious, more pleased to share what means so much to us.
It is possible for Christ to be born in men’s lives, and when such an experience actually happens, a man is “in Christ”—Christ is “formed” in him. This presupposes that we take Christ into our hearts and make Him the living contemporary of our lives. He is not just a general truth or a fact in history, but the Savior of men everywhere and at all times. When we strive to be Christlike, He is “formed” in us; if we open the door, He will enter; if we seek His counsel, He will counsel us. For Christ to be “formed” in us, we must have a belief in Him and in His Atonement. Such a belief in Christ and the keeping of His commandments are not restraints upon us. By these, men are set free. This Prince of Peace waits to give peace of mind, which may make each of us a channel of that peace. The real Christmas comes to him who has taken Christ into his life as a moving, dynamic, vitalizing force. The real spirit of Christmas lies in the life and mission of the Master. I continue with what the writer defines as the real spirit of Christmas: “It is a desire to sacrifice for others, to render service, and to possess a feeling of universal brotherhood. It consists of a willingness to forget what you have done for others, and to remember only what others have done for you; to ignore what the world owes you, and think only of … your duties in the middle distance, and your chance to do good and aid your fellow-men in the foreground—to see that your fellow-men are just as good as you are, and try to look behind their faces to their hearts—to close your book of grievances against the universe, and look about you for a place to sow a few seeds of happiness and go your way unobserved”.
With the birth of the babe in Bethlehem, there emerged a great endowment—a power stronger than weapons, a wealth more lasting than the coins of Caesar. This child was to become the King of kings and Lord of lords, the promised Messiah—Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Born in a stable, cradled in a manger, He came forth from heaven to live on earth as mortal man and to establish the kingdom of God. During His earthly ministry, He taught men the higher law. His glorious gospel reshaped the thinking of the world. He blessed the sick. He caused the lame to walk, the blind to see, the deaf to hear. He even raised the dead to life. To us He has said, “Come, follow me.” As we seek Christ, as we find Him, as we follow Him, we shall have the Christmas spirit, not for one fleeting day each year, but as a companion always. We shall learn to forget ourselves. We shall turn our thoughts to the greater benefit of others. This noble transition is exemplified by an entry dated 24 December 1847, in the pioneer diary of Mrs. Rebecca Riter. She describes that first Christmas in the valley of the Great Salt Lake: “The winter was cold. Christmas came and the children were hungry. I had brought a peck of wheat across the plains and hid it under a pile of wood. I thought I would cook a handful for the baby. Then I thought how we would need wheat for seed in the spring, so I left it alone.” We are prone to say, “Oh, those were difficult times, times of stress and trial,” and they were. But I would also reply, “These times in which we live are also difficult times in their own way.” There is no shortage of opportunities to forget self and think of others. Such opportunities, however limitless they may be, are also perishable. There are hearts to gladden. There are kind words to say. There are gifts to be given. There are deeds to be done. There are souls to be saved.
The entire Christian world now moves into the happiest season of the year. There is a magic in Christmas. Hearts are opened to a new measure of kindness. Love speaks with increased power. Tensions are eased. The generous instincts that lie within all of us are given added expression. While there are those for whom Christmas is difficult—particularly those who have lost loved ones and for whom there is now a poignant loneliness—even to these there comes the assurance of future glad reunions made possible only because of the sacrifice of the Son of God, whose birth we commemorate at this season. . . Of all things of heaven and earth of which we bear testimony, none is so important as our witness that Jesus, the Christmas child, condescended to come to earth from the realms of His Eternal Father, here to work among men as healer and teacher, our Great Exemplar. And further, and most important, He suffered on Calvary’s cross as an atoning sacrifice for all mankind. At this time of Christmas, this season when gifts are given, let us not forget that God gave His Son, and His Son gave His life, that each of us might have the gift of eternal life.
At the focal point of all human history, a point illuminated by a new star in the heavens revealed for just such a purpose, probably no other mortal watched—none but a poor young carpenter, a beautiful virgin mother, and silent stabled animals who had not the power to utter the sacredness they had seen. Shepherds would soon arrive and later, wise men from the East. Later yet the memory of that night would bring Santa Claus and Frosty and Rudolph—and all would be welcome. But first and forever there was just a little family, without toys or trees or tinsel. With a baby—that’s how Christmas began. It is for this baby that we shout in chorus: “Hark! the herald angels sing Glory to the newborn King! … Mild he lays his glory by, Born that man no more may die; Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth”. Perhaps recalling the circumstances of that gift, of his birth, of his own childhood, perhaps remembering that purity and faith and genuine humility will be required of every celestial soul, Jesus must have said many times as he looked into the little eyes that loved him (eyes that always best saw what and who he really was), “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” Christmas, then, is for children—of all ages.