Monday, December 19, 2011
M's Christmas Talk
This picture is courtesy of www.lds.org
Despite her arguments to the contrary, M is truly one of the greatest people I have ever known. I wonder many times why she decided to marry me. Amongst her many talents, one of her gifts is to write and deliver moving talks in Church. She spoke last Sunday on the topic of "Keeping Christ at the center of Christmas." Because she did such an amazing job, I think it should be shared. Here is the text of her talk:
Between Thanksgiving and Christmas every year our family has had a lot going on. We have the usual family life responsibilities, our callings, work, and taking care of the kids, and the four of us all have birthdays within that one-month period. Plus this year we hosted my extended family for a big Thanksgiving feast. This year Noah got baptized, we’ve hosted out of town guests, we’ve gone out of town, we’ve had visits with both boys’ birthmoms, and we’ve hosted several parties.
I assume I’m not alone about being spread thin during December. With big families, music concerts, school finals, job responsibilities, travel plans, shopping, making cards, baking, ward parties to plan or attend, getting everyone to doctor because your deductible has been met, decorating, tithing settlements, and I KNOW everyone’s callings are busy at the end of the year… I could go on for hours listing all the things we NEED to do before Christmas. Yet most of them really have nothing to do with Christ.
In Elder Uchtdorf’s Christmas devotional this year, he compared the Christmas season to a game of Jenga. If one part of what we perceive as a piece to the perfect season gets misplaced, the whole holiday falls apart. But we must remember that the season is already perfect. We are celebrating Heavenly Father’s supreme gift to us, that of the birth of our Savior.
So how can we open our hearts to Christ during December? Rather than doing more traditions to invite the Christmas spirit, perhaps we should do fewer.
We can most effectively invite the spirit of Christmas by following the examples of those who saw the baby Jesus with their own eyes. I love the article in this month’s Ensign by Elder Patrick Kearon. He shares lessons we should learn from the shepherds, Simeon, Anna, and the wise men.
Elder Kearon says we must respond with haste, like the shepherds, whenever the spirit speaks to us. Thomas S. Monson said we must, “never, never, never postpone following a prompting.”
Simeon was promised he would not die until he saw Christ. He was prompted to go to the temple the day that Mary and Joseph brought baby Jesus to present him to the Lord at the temple. Elder Kearon says, we should follow the Holy Ghost so our lives can follow the path Heavenly Father has for us. Simeon was in the right place at the right time to receive the blessings the Lord had promised him.
Anna was a “prophetess” who spent a lot of her time in the temple as well. She also held the baby Jesus in the temple. We can follow her example of a lifetime of prayer and fasting and temple attendance.
The Wise Men knew the signs of Jesus’ coming, so when the saw the new star, they prepared their gifts and went to find Him. What gifts are we willing to give the Savior? Are we willing to give our will to Him and to go where He is?
I remember some wonderful Christmases from my childhood. We were a typical middle class family. We never went without, but my parents gifts to us were never extravagant. We had some fantastic traditions though. I remember riding the old train in the top floor of Meier and Frank downtown. I remember Peacock Lane. I remember Santa – in the flesh -- coming to visit to bring us each a small gift to my grandma’s house a week or so before Christmas. I remember my grandma’s cheeseball. And her mouth-watering delicious “snacks,” which was glorified Chex mix.
But the memories and traditions I really treasure was the service my family would provide to others. The two best things my parents exemplified was a life of hard work and daily service. I remember when it was time to bring gifts to the “giving tree” at school, the other kids would bring a gift each and I would bring a sack of presents to give away, all lovingly purchased by my mom. When I was really young I would look around and compare my sack of gifts and wonder why my mom bought so much. I learned over the years that she always gave so much. She always gives away her Christmas bonuses. Any money saved in her change jar was given away. All her spare time was given away too.
John A. Widstoe said, “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…Do we stand ready to sacrifice for the cause of the Lord in the unpaid services of the Church? That is, are our time, talents, and means at the disposal of those who administer the Lord’s work? Great is the gift from such a hand.”
I have enjoyed this topic and the chance it’s given me to notice the wonderful giving going on around me. 135 Blessing Bags for the homeless, well over 300 children helped by Helping Hands in Sherwood this year, our ward’s Giving Tree, Blankets made for a women’s shelter, to name a few. Last year my brother and his in-laws dressed up like Santa Claus and his elves and hand delivered donated Christmas gifts to families on Christmas day. Have you heard about the anonymous donors paying off layaways at Kmarts around the country? According to a news article 100 layways have been paid off by donors at the Kmarts around the Portland area.
Yesterday Greg and I went to the temple with my parents and my brother and his wife to do sealings for some close relatives. I had never done that before. As we sat in the sealing room, I felt like there was nothing better I could be doing during the Christmas season than giving my relatives the gift of being sealed and all the rights of the gospel that go with that covenant. My grandma Hazel died two months ago and was the source of many of my happy childhood Christmas memories. While her death was too recent to do her temple work this time, it seemed so fitting to seal her parents and all her siblings together during the time of year that reminds me of her most.
For many of us we have spent a Christmas or two in less than ideal circumstances. No children, no spouse, no parents, no money, no home, no time.
I have spent the past few months thinking about the source of my own happiness. I have thought and studied and prayed about how to have joy even during hard times. I have come to know that the source of happiness and peace is the Savior. I know that if we use Him as our source of strength and give to others even when we feel we don’t have anything to give, we will be blessed with abundance.
3 Nephi 12:3 says, “Yea, blessed are the poor in spirit who come until me, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
How do we come unto the Savior? Elder Holland says, “[Jesus] is saying to us, “Trust me, learn of me, do what I do. Then, when you walk where I am going,” He says, “we can talk about where you are going, and the problems you face and the troubles you have. If you will follow me, I will lead you out of darkness,” He promises. “I will give you answers to your prayers. I will give you rest to your souls.”
At Christmas-time we increase our focus on giving, love, family, peace, and Jesus Christ. For many of us we feel the Savior’s love more during December because of all we receive. The anonymous gift of cash or treats on the porch helps us feel that the Lord knows our struggles and loves us enough to inspire someone to reach out and help. But whether we feel the Lord’s love or not, his love is there. It is real. He loves us whether we seek his love. He loves us whether we see His love. He has atoned for us already whether we are ready to accept that gift or not. Jesus Christ does not withhold any of his gifts because we aren’t ready or willing. They are there all the time. We must give up our fears, doubts, and anger -- and when we do, we become aware of the love of God that was there all the time.
One of the most powerful stories of faith in the Book of Mormon is the story of the Brother of Jared. He trusted that the Lord in all his power could illuminate the stones to provide light for their barges. Jesus put forth his finger to light the stones and the brother of Jared was able to see him. Now, Jesus would have been there whether the brother of Jared had enough faith to see him or not. In other words, our faith or lack of faith doesn’t change the behavior of Jesus. But the brother of Jared’s faith – and our faith – allows us to see the miracles the Lord performs. Ether 3:9 says, “And the Lord said unto him; Because of thy faith thou has seen that I shall take upon me flesh and blood; and never has man come before me with such exceeding faith as thou hast.”
When Moses and the Israelites were in the wilderness the Lord sent fiery serpents to humble them. When the Israelites got bit Moses told them to look at a brass serpent on a pole. If they did, they would live. Alma 33:20 says, “But few understood the meaning of those things, and this because of the hardness of their hearts. But there were many who were so hardened that they would not look, therefore they perished. Now the reason they would not look is because they did not believe that it would heal them.”
Like the Israelites, Jesus’ atonement has already bought us eternal life. All we must do is look to Him. John 3:14-15 says, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 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.”
We can still feel the spirit of Christmas while suffering. In fact, your humility during hard times will bring you even closer to Him. Jesus Christ has already paid the price for your happiness. I know he has for me. Jesus Christ is there. If we learn more about him through scripture study, fasting, and prayer; seek Him out through worship at church and the temple; and focus our energies on service – His love will sink deep into our hearts. And no matter the ups and downs of life, we will always have peace and joy.
Jesus Christ knew his eternal destiny. He knew he would suffer and die for us, yet he didn’t waste his few mortal years worrying, but spent them serving those around him. During this Christmas-time we can ask, if Jesus were on the earth, what gifts would he give. Those are the gifts we can give.
In the year 2000 the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve published the “Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles.” I love the final paragraph. It says, “We bear testimony, as His duly ordained Apostles—that Jesus is the Living Christ, the immortal Son of God. He is the great King Immanuel, who stands today on the right hand of His Father. He is the light, the life, and the hope of the world. His way is the path that leads to happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come. God be thanked for the matchless gift of His divine Son.”
This is also my testimony. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.