What a wonderful time of the year! When I hear the beautiful music, see the lights, and feel the chill in the air, I am transported back to the many occasions throughout my life when the spirit of Christmas has warmed my heart and lifted my soul.
Like many of you, I find that some of the warmest and most vivid memories of Christmas come from my childhood. Although I grew up in modest circumstances, my parents wanted Christmas to be a time of joy and wonder for their children. They went to great lengths to make Christmas a special time for our family.
We children made gifts for each other. One year, I remember drawing a picture as a Christmas gift for my sister. It could not have been a work of art, but she treated it like a treasure. How I love her for that! Another year my brother, who is 12 years older than I, gave me a precious gift. He had found a wooden stick in the park near our home and carved from it a small toy knife. It was simple, not fancy at all, but oh, how I cherished that gift because it came from him!
Isn’t one of the great joys of Christmas seeing the excited faces of little children as they take in their hands a wrapped gift that is just for them?
As we get older, however, our ability to receive gifts with the same enthusiasm and grace seems to diminish. Sometimes people even get to the point where they can’t receive a gift or, for that matter, even a compliment without embarrassment or feelings of indebtedness. They mistakenly think that the only acceptable way to respond to receiving a gift is by giving back something of even greater value. Others simply fail to see the significance of a gift—focusing only on its outward appearance or its value and ignoring the deep meaning it has to the sincere giver.
This reminds me of an event that took place during the last night of the Savior’s life. He gathered His beloved disciples around Him, broke bread with them, and gave them precious final instructions. Do you remember that as the meal progressed, Jesus rose from the table, poured water into a basin, and began to wash His disciples’ feet?
When He came to Simon Peter, the fisherman refused, saying, “Thou shalt never wash my feet.” The Savior gently corrected him: “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.”1
I’m sure Peter thought he had noble reasons for refusing this gift and felt he was doing the right thing. But at that moment he clearly did not understand the spiritual significance of what Jesus was offering him.
At Christmastime we talk a lot about giving, and we all know that “it is more blessed to give than to receive,”2 but I wonder if sometimes we disregard or even disparage the importance of being a good receiver.
On a Christmas day many years ago, a young girl received a beautiful beading kit. The girl’s father suggested that she make something for one of her relatives who had assembled for a family party.
The girl’s face lit up, and she went to work creating what she thought would be a perfect gift. She picked out the person she wanted to make it for—an elderly aunt with an unhappy face and a harsh personality.
“Perhaps if I make her a bracelet,” the little girl thought, “it will make her happy.”
And so she carefully selected each bead and did her very best to make this a special gift for her aunt.
When she finally finished, she approached her aunt, handed her the bracelet, and told her she had designed it and made it just for her.
Silence descended on the room as the aunt picked up the bracelet with her finger and thumb as though she were holding a string of slimy snails. She looked at the gift, squinted her eyes and scrunched up her nose, and dropped the bracelet back into the hands of the little girl. She then turned away from her without saying one word and began talking to someone else.
The little girl blushed with embarrassment. With deep disappointment she quietly walked out of the room.
Her parents attempted to console her. They tried to help her understand that the bracelet was beautiful—regardless of her aunt’s insensitive reaction. But the little girl couldn’t help feeling unhappy every time she thought of this experience.
Decades have passed, and the little girl—now an aunt herself—still remembers, with a bit of sadness, that day when her childlike gift was refused.
Every gift that is offered to us—especially a gift that comes from the heart—is an opportunity to build or strengthen a bond of love. When we are good and grateful receivers, we open a door to deepen our relationship with the giver of the gift. But when we fail to appreciate or even reject a gift, we not only hurt those who extend themselves to us, but in some way we harm ourselves as well.
The Savior taught that unless we “become as little children, [we] shall not enter … the kingdom of heaven.”3
As we watch the excitement and wonder of children at this time of the year, perhaps we can remind ourselves to rediscover and reclaim a precious and glorious attribute of children—the ability to receive graciously and with gratitude.
Not surprisingly, the Savior is our perfect example not only of generous giving but also of gracious receiving. When He was in Bethany, near the end of His mortal ministry, a woman approached Him with an alabaster box of rare and expensive oil. She was allowed to anoint His head with this precious gift.
Some who witnessed this event became angry. “What a waste of money,” they said. The oil was extremely expensive. It could have been sold and the money given to the poor. They saw only the temporal value of the gift and entirely missed its much greater spiritual significance.
But the Savior understood the symbolism and the expression of love in that gift, and He received it graciously.
“Let her alone,” He said to those who murmured. “Why trouble ye her? … She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying.”4
My brothers and sisters, my dear friends, what kind of receivers are we? Do we, like the Savior, recognize gifts as expressions of love?
I hope that this Christmas and every day of the year we will consider, in particular, the many gifts we have been given by our loving Heavenly Father. I hope we will receive these gifts with the wonder, thankfulness, and excitement of a child.
My heart grows tender and warm as I think of the gifts our loving, gracious, and generous Father in Heaven has given us: the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost, the miracle of forgiveness, personal revelation and guidance, the Savior’s peace, the certainty and comfort that death is conquered—and many, many more.
Above all, God has given us the gift of His Only Begotten Son, who sacrificed His life “that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”7
Have we received these gifts with humble gratitude, with joy? Or do we reject them out of pride or a false sense of independence? Do we feel our Father’s love expressed in these gifts? Do we receive them in a way that deepens our relationship with this wonderful, divine Giver? Or are we too distracted to even notice what God gives us each and every day?
We know that “God loveth a cheerful giver,”8 but does He not also love a good, grateful, and cheerful receiver?
“For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.”9
Whether we have experienced 9 Christmases or 90, still we are all children—we are all children of our Heavenly Father.
Therefore, we have it within us to experience this Christmas season with the wonder and the awe of a child. We have it within us to say, “My heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God”10—the Giver of all good gifts.
With you, and with all those who desire to follow the gentle Christ, I lift my voice in praise of our mighty God for the precious gift of His Son.
This Christmas season and always, I pray that we will see the marvelous gift of the birth of the Son of God through the blessed eyes of a child. I pray that in addition to giving good gifts, we will strive to become good and grateful receivers. As we do so, the spirit of this season will enlarge our hearts and expand our joy beyond measure. In the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.