Brothers and sisters, it is a great blessing to be gathered with you tonight.
Three weeks from today, it will be Christmas Day. That morning, millions of young children will get up at an unreasonable hour and, in an interesting role reversal, drag their parents out of bed. Bursting with anticipation, they will gather around the gifts they’ve been gazing at for days.
My father loved Christmas; giving gifts brought him great joy, and he and my mother were very good at it. My siblings and I, as well as many others, were the beneficiaries of their talent. Some of their best gifts were not tangible—they were experiences that created bonds of love and treasured memories. Those memories still bring me joy today.
It seems appropriate that giving and receiving gifts is a central part of Christmas. After all, we are celebrating the matchless gift of God’s Son, the Savior Jesus Christ. Of course, our gifts to each other will never compare to this gift, but I believe that the joy of giving and receiving gifts can turn our hearts toward the “gifts of God.”1
The precious gift of God’s Son invites each of us to find “peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come.”2 Peace may seem elusive in a world where conflict and division are intensifying. But that peace is exactly what our loving Father and His Son offer to each of us, if we will only receive it.
Imagine how strange it would be if, on Christmas morning, we sat around the Christmas tree, admired the beautifully wrapped presents, talked about what might be inside them, and then went about our day without ever opening the gifts!
Unfortunately, this is what we sometimes do with God’s gifts to us. Consider these words of the Savior: “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.”3
Tonight I want to invite all of us to ponder how we might truly receive the gifts God has offered us. In particular, I’d like to focus on the boundless gift of the Holy Ghost. As I do, I pray that the Holy Ghost will help us understand the significance of this gift, teach us what we can do to more fully receive it, and give us grace to act on what we feel.
The Holy Ghost is the third member of the Godhead. He is a comforter,4 a guide,5 a teacher,6 a sanctifier,7 and thereby a changer of human hearts.8 Through Him, we can receive the power and attributes of God in our lives.
You remember some of those attributes: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, [and] temperance.”9 To me this sounds like a good description of what is often called “the Christmas spirit.” The angelic promises of “good tidings of great joy” and “peace, good will toward men”10 from that first Christmas night are fulfilled, in part, as we receive the Holy Ghost.
We often speak of trying to keep the spirit of Christmas throughout the year. We naturally want these divine attributes to truly possess our souls forever. And our perfect Father wants us, His children, to receive these gifts. This is the great promise of the gospel of Jesus Christ—to have our hearts changed, to have “no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually,”11 to be filled with “hope and perfect love.”12 It is in truly receiving the Holy Ghost that these precious gifts are opened to us.
Significantly, the gift of the Holy Ghost is offered to us with these words: “Receive the Holy Ghost.”13 I would like to suggest three keys that will help us truly receive this precious gift. To do so, I turn to a profound scene from the Book of Mormon. The resurrected Christ had spent a miraculous day ministering among the people, promising to return the next day. Word spread, and in great anticipation the people gathered from throughout the land, some laboring all night so that in the morning they would be in the place where Jesus would appear again.
As they waited for the Savior to return, the disciples taught the multitude what Jesus had taught the previous day.14 The record then says they knelt and prayed “for that which they most desired; and they desired that the Holy Ghost [would] be given unto them.”15 Consider for a moment how significant that is—they were anxiously anticipating the promised return of the Savior, but they did not pray for that. Having been taught by the perfect teacher and then by His chosen disciples, what they most desired was the gift of the Holy Ghost. This intense, overarching spiritual desire is a vital key to receiving this gift.
President Henry B. Eyring taught: “Most of us … have enough faith to want the Holy Ghost at times. That desire may be weak and intermittent, but it comes, usually when we are in trouble. [But] for us to be led upward to safety in the times ahead, it must become steady and intense.”16 Brothers and sisters, for us to receive this gift we need to desire it with all our hearts.
Returning to the scene in the Book of Mormon, we discover another key. After pleading in prayer for the gift they most desired, the Holy Ghost, the disciples went down into the water and were baptized. “And it came to pass when they were all baptized … the Holy Ghost did fall upon them, and they were filled with the Holy Ghost and with fire.”17 The ordinance of baptism serves as a physical witness of our commitment to remember and obey, our willingness to take Christ’s name upon us, and our desire to receive the Holy Ghost.18
Each week we have the opportunity to renew that witness by partaking of the sacrament, “that [we] may always have his Spirit to be with [us].”19 The companion ordinances of baptism and the sacrament help bring “the power of godliness” into our lives.20 In a way, they symbolize both the destination and the process of becoming godly. Becoming new creatures in Christ, “his sons, and daughters,”21 is our desired destination. That destination is reached week by week as we strive to remember and obey. I invite you to come each week to the sacrament of the Lord with faith in His promise that as we keep our covenants we will be filled with the Spirit, degree by degree, “until the perfect day.”22
This year Christmas Day falls on Sunday. What a blessing to celebrate Christ’s birth and His perfect Atonement as we receive the sacrament on that day.
The final and most important key I will mention is faith in Jesus Christ. After the Holy Ghost fell upon the disciples with great power, Christ appeared and prayed, thanking His Father for giving this precious gift to them. He then said these important words: “Thou hast given them the Holy Ghost because they believe in me.”23 Faith in the Savior and His perfect Atonement is the source of every good gift.24
Increased faith brings greater endowments of the Spirit into our lives. So how do we increase our faith in Christ? We feast on and obey His word. Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught, “The central purpose of all scripture is to fill our souls with faith in God the Father and in His Son, Jesus Christ.”25 This truth is found throughout the Book of Mormon. King Benjamin, for example, taught his people the words he received from an angel, which helped them have “exceeding faith” in Jesus Christ, and because of that faith the Spirit wrought a mighty change in their hearts.26
If we desire the Holy Ghost as our daily companion, we will feast on and obey the word of Christ received through the scriptures, living prophets, and the whisperings of the Spirit. This daily pursuit of light and truth will increase our faith in Christ, our desire to be like Him, and our capacity to receive the third member of the Godhead as our constant companion.
Brothers and sisters, God offers His priceless gifts freely to us at Christmas and throughout the year. I pray we will not leave them unopened but receive them by turning these keys. I testify that as we do, we will be filled, step by step and degree by degree, with love, joy, peace, purity, and power. We will become “partakers of the divine nature.”27 We will rejoice in the gift and the giver of the gift. And when He comes again, we will be prepared to “receive [our] King.”28 In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.