Merry Christmas, everyone! This is a magical time of the year when miracles happen, hearts are softened, and the pure love of Christ is felt and experienced like no other time of the year. It is when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God in the flesh. We see around us representations of the humble circumstances of Jesus’s birth—a stable for animals, a beautiful young virgin, a concerned and compassionate husband, and most of all a tiny little baby, unlike any other baby born on this earth. President Gordon B. Hinckley once quoted E. T. Sullivan, who said: “When God wants a great work done in the world or a great wrong righted, he goes about it in a very unusual way. He doesn’t stir up his earthquakes or send forth his thunderbolts. Instead, he has a helpless baby born. … And then God waits. The greatest forces in the world are not the earthquakes and the thunderbolts. The greatest forces in the world are babies.”1
Notice the great patience which God the Father has in letting His plan for His children unfold. The Savior of the world did not come to earth at that time with a great show of power and majesty—He came as a helpless baby. This Christ child was certainly one of “the greatest forces in the world,” and yet He was born in a simple stable with straw in a manger for His bed. “Through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.”2 And yet, according to tradition, He shared His birthplace with sheep and oxen. He would become the Savior of all mankind, yet there was no room for His expectant mother and her anxious husband in the inn. He is the Redeemer of us all, yet His first visitors were humble shepherds. There is much surrounding the events of that occasion to ponder and consider with awe.
For me, one of the greatest miracles of the Christmas story is the love which it reflects. First is the love which our Father in Heaven has for His children: “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.”3 There is the love which the Savior has for each of us. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”4 The love of God has been described as “the highest, noblest, strongest kind of love”5 “and the most joyous to the soul.”6 This spirit of love and concern seems to be especially strong during the Christmas season.
A few years ago we had a daughter living in Connecticut. She attended a Relief Society meeting one evening at which everyone was invited to share a story from the life of one of their ancestors. She listened to a sister named Donna tell a story which has had a great deal of meaning to her family through the years and which involved a simple act of kindness shown at Christmastime. Our daughter was amazed to hear that the name of the person who had shown kindness was her own great-great-grandfather. It was a sweet experience as our daughter and Donna shared notes after and realized how their ancestors had touched each other’s lives.
With the permission of Donna, I would like to share a portion of her story. It took place in a small town in Utah in December of 1901. There was a family with a mother, a father, and eight children. The year had been difficult, with one of the children suffering poor health, which drained the resources of the family and the energy of the mother. On Christmas Eve, the mother told her excited children that Santa would not be coming that year. She simply had not been able to manage the money or energy to make anything to give her children for Christmas. The older children were still hopeful, and the oldest son began to hang stockings on the mantle. His mother gently told him that Santa was not coming, but the boy insisted she must be wrong. Finally the mother suggested that instead of hanging stockings, they put a plate on the table for each person in the family. It gave the children reassurance that they would receive something, so they went off to bed.
On Christmas morning, the children all awoke, got dressed, and eagerly went into the dining room to see what gift they had received. On each of the plates they found a large dill pickle. Tears of disappointment filled their eyes, and they turned to go back to their bedrooms so their tears wouldn’t be noticed. Their mother noticed: “Children, I didn’t have anything else, and I just couldn’t bear to leave your plates empty.” Her voice broke but she went on bravely, “We have a lot to be grateful for.” Their father joined in and reminded them that they were indeed blessed with many things, including a loving family, the improved health of those who had been ill during the year, and food for their table. Their spirits brightened, and as they began to celebrate the day, the oldest son bumped the table and was amazed to find a dime lying near his plate. He was convinced that Santa had come and had left a dime for them to buy some candy. He put on his coat and raced out the door.
The stores were all closed; however, Jed Stringham, who ran the local grocery store, happened to live right next door to his store. The boy knocked on the door of Jed’s home and apologized for disturbing him on Christmas Day but explained that Santa had left a dime for them and he was hoping Brother Stringham would open his store and sell him some candy for the little ones at home.
Jed answered, “You bet I will. Come.” When the boy got home he was carrying a large bag of candy and excitedly explained that Brother Stringham had taken a scoop from each tray of candy, from hard tack to the very best. He had given it to him, saying, “Take this dime’s worth home to those little ones, and enjoy some yourself.” It was obvious that Jed Stringham had been very generous and had given him much more than a dime’s worth. There was plenty for each child to enjoy. The children remember their mother saying, “God bless Brother Stringham.” What he did was not a huge sacrifice, and it really took very little effort, but the story of the miraculous dime and Brother Stringham’s candy meant enough to this family that it was written down and has been told and retold in Donna’s family for years.7 Sometimes, small things mean the most.
As our daughter Emily listened to this story, she recognized the name Jed Stringham as being her great-great-grandfather and was touched that he had not only opened his store but his heart with his simple act of kindness on that memorable Christmas morning. Our family had never heard this story before, and we now feel blessed to have received a copy, which will become a part of our family history. It reminds both of our families that those who have made covenants to be witnesses of the Savior of the world should always strive to be generous with their time and means to bless the lives of those around them—and especially at Christmas when the hearts of children and parents are most tender.
The spirit of Christmas makes us all more charitable, thoughtful, and kind. We are taught in the scriptures that “every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.”8 That feeling which compels even the most cantankerous soul to show brotherly kindness at Christmastime comes from God. How much more are those who are already seeking to become like the Savior filled with love and compassion at this season? The spirit of Christmas is Christlike love. The way to increase the Christmas spirit is to reach out generously to those around us and give of ourselves. The best gifts are not material things but gifts of listening, of showing kindness, of remembering, of visiting, of forgiving, of giving time. I have learned from my great-grandfather Stringham sometimes it is the small and simple acts which have the biggest impact.
As we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ this season, let us also celebrate all that His birth symbolizes, especially the love. When we see shepherds, may we remember to be humble. When we see wise men, may we remember to be generous. When we see the star, may we remember the Light of Christ, which gives life and light to all things. When we see a tiny baby, may we remember to love unconditionally, with tenderness and compassion. May we open the doors of our hearts and reach out to those around us who are lonely, forgotten, or poor in spirit. As we contemplate the example and infinite sacrifice of the Savior, may we also consider how we can be more Christlike in our associations with family and friends, not just during this season but throughout the year.
I pray that we may each be filled with the spirit and love of this Christmas season. I testify that we have a caring Heavenly Father whose plan of happiness for us is the ultimate expression of love. May we always remember that once we shouted with joy9 as we understood that plan. I testify that Jesus Christ, whose birth and mission we honor and celebrate, is the light of the world, our Savior and Redeemer, our hope, our anchor, and the author of our salvation. There is such great joy in that knowledge. May we all feel the Savior’s love in abundance this Christmas season, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.