Isn’t it a wonderful privilege to enjoy this beautiful evening in the presence of our dear prophet, President Thomas S. Monson?
Christmas is that rarest of seasons—when we see others with new eyes, when we open our hearts a little more to the beauty around us and reach out to others with a little more kindness and compassion.
As adults, if we’re lucky, every now and again we can briefly catch a glimpse of what it feels like to be a child once more.
The thought that someone we love is doing something special for us—and our excitement about the special thing we are planning to do for them—warms our hearts and fills us with love and anticipation. Add to this the glimmering lights, the delightful decorations, the sublime scenes of Christ’s birth, and it’s no wonder Christmas is such a beloved time of year.
And then, of course, there’s the music. Nothing underscores the deep meaning and gentle spirit of the season quite like a Christmas carol. Whether the melodies are cheerful, reflective, or nostalgic, there’s something about Christmas that inspires glorious music. These wonderful Christmas harmonies lift our spirits and remind us of the reason for our rejoicing.
Today we are most fortunate to have the opportunity to hear the heavenly music performed by the Orchestra at Temple Square and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
The music performed by this group is so sublime I like to imagine that the angels of heaven occasionally lean in to listen and even sing along.
The choir just sang one of the most beautiful Christmas melodies ever written, the enchanting “Carol of the Bells,” which was first performed in the United States in 1921.
Originally, it wasn’t a Christmas carol at all. It was based on a centuries-old Ukrainian folk song known as “Shchedryk,” often translated as “The Generous One.”
Ukrainian families used to sing this song at the beginning of the new year. The original lyrics tell of a swallow that flies into a family’s house and foretells the marvelous good fortune that awaits them during the coming year.1
I like the feeling of that story.
I love its message of hope and optimism.
Isn’t that the message of Christmas? Even when the world may appear quite dark—when things aren’t going right, when our hearts are overflowing with disappointment and worry, even in the midst of sadness and sorrow—we sing about “joy to the world” and “good will toward men”2 because of Christ, who came “to give light to them that sit in darkness.”3
How appropriate, then, that the beloved Christmas carol we just heard was originally titled “The Generous One.” Christmas is, after all, a time of generosity.
Inspired by that spirit, we sometimes spend hours looking for the perfect gift to give our friends and families. We seek ways to be more helpful and cheerful. We are prompted to spend a little more time with those we love. We become more aware of those in need, and often we extend ourselves more generously to aid them. All of this is our imperfect but heartfelt echo of the generosity of our Savior, whose birth we seek to honor.
But we all know that too often the spirit of Christmas can become overshadowed and even lost in the frantic pace and pressures of shopping, bills, and packed schedules.
I don’t want to encourage Grinch-like behavior, but allow me to say that some of my fondest Christmas memories are of exchanging gifts, getting lost in the bustle of crowds, and attending joyful events small and large that bring people together at this time of the year.
Yes, there are many reasons to enjoy these things. But of course there is so much more.
Therefore, I invite each one of us to find, during this Christmas season, a moment in the quiet of our souls to acknowledge and offer heartfelt gratitude to “the Generous One.”
Let us consider the compassionate, beloved, and boundless mercy of our Father in Heaven.
As we shop for gifts—as we give and receive them—may we also take time to quietly contemplate the bountiful gifts God has showered upon us, His children.
I suppose it is human nature to take things for granted—even things of great value. This is one of the lessons we learn from the story of the ten lepers in Jesus’s day. Afflicted with an overwhelming disease that had separated them from friends, family, and life itself, these suffering lepers pleaded for and found healing from the Son of God.
As you know, after this glorious miracle nine of the lepers went on their way rejoicing in their good fortune.
Only one returned.
Only one of the ten took the time to express gratitude. Only one of the ten, “when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks.”4
Such humble expressions of pure gratitude may seem as rare today as they were in this story. But when they happen, they touch our hearts and inspire us to count our own blessings.
One example I learned about involved a man who lived in Africa. Because of a disability, this man had never been able to walk. He was forced to spend most of his time in his parents’ home. He could not work; he could not go out with his friends; he could not do even the simple things we take so much for granted.
Then he heard something remarkable! The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was bringing wheelchairs to an event not far from his home!
He asked a friend to take him to the event, and there he watched as dozens of disabled men, women, and children were lifted into new, gleaming wheelchairs.
Oh, how he wanted to sit in one of those chairs! How it would change his life for a moment if he could move about by his own power!
He waited in line until finally, it was his turn.
Two men lifted him into a chair and for the first time in his life, he was able to move freely!
At first he moved about hesitantly. But as he got the feel of the wheelchair, he moved more courageously.
He turned, twisted, and sprinted. He waved enthusiastically with both hands as he raced past his friend.
The look on his face was one of joy.
After a time, however, he slowly wheeled the chair back to the others and with an expression of calm resignation he prepared to be helped out.
“What are you doing?” his friend asked.
The man smiled and shrugged his shoulders. “It is someone else’s turn now,” he said.
The Church humanitarian missionary knelt beside him and said, “This wheelchair is yours.”
The man couldn’t believe it. He had assumed this event was only to demonstrate what it was like to ride in a wheelchair.
“Is it truly mine?” he asked.
“But I have no money.”
“It is yours. It is a gift from people who love you.”
When the reality of what was happening finally sunk in, this humble man looked at his friend.
He looked at the missionary.
He tried to hold back the tears, but it was in vain. And as he wept, he laughed at the sheer joy of what he felt.
His friend and the missionary wept with him.
“Thank you,” he said in a whisper.
He hugged them both, settled into his chair, and then with a “whoop!” he took off again with a big smile.
“I can fly!” he shouted as he sped back and forth along the pavement.
This man understood gratitude.
Have we ever felt such pure, unbounded thankfulness? During this Christmas season, and throughout the year, I pray that we will remember the Generous One—our God, our Father, our beloved Shepherd and Counselor.
For He is the Gift-Giver!
He is the Generous One!
When we, His children, plead for bread, He does not hand us a stone.5 Rather, He endows us with gifts so sublime and precious that they exceed our ability to fully comprehend and even imagine. He gives us:
This Christmas season we celebrate the greatest gift of all, the one that makes all other gifts possible—the birth of the babe of Bethlehem. Because of Him, “the grave hath no victory, and the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ. He is the light and the life of the world; yea, a light that is endless, that can never be darkened.”6
I joyfully give thanks to God for His generosity.
He saves us from loneliness, emptiness, and unworthiness.
He opens our eyes and our ears. He transforms darkness to light, grief to hope, and loneliness to love.
He frees us from a past of slavery and selfishness and opens the path to a present of purpose and a future of fulfillment.
This is He whom we worship.
This is our God.
This is the Generous One.
This is He who loves His children so completely that He offered His Only Begotten Son that all who follow Him will not perish but have everlasting life.7
Because of Jesus the Christ, we need never feel like strangers again. We will rise with the just when He returns! And because of His perfect life and eternal sacrifice, one day we can stand with the angels of heaven and receive with them an eternal gift.8
May we, this Christmas season, remember our generous Heavenly Father and give profound and heartfelt thanks to our Almighty God, who has given all of His children wings to fly. This is my humble and sincere prayer and my heartfelt blessing to all at this Christmas time and always, in the name of our beloved Savior, Jesus Christ, amen.