“The Gifts of Christmas,” Ensign, Dec. 2003, 2–5
From 3 Nephi in the Book of Mormon we read, “Lift up your head and be of good cheer; for behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world, to show unto the world that I will fulfil all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets.”1
With the birth of the babe in Bethlehem, there emerged a great endowment, a power stronger than weapons, a wealth more lasting than the coins of Caesar. This child was to be the King of kings and Lord of lords, the promised Messiah—even Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Born in a stable, cradled in a manger, He came forth from heaven to live on earth as mortal man and to establish the kingdom of God. During His earthly ministry, He taught men the higher law. His glorious gospel reshaped the thinking of the world. He blessed the sick. He caused the lame to walk, the blind to see, the deaf to hear. He even raised the dead to life.
What was the reaction to His message of mercy, His words of wisdom, His lessons of life? There were a precious few who appreciated Him. They bathed His feet. They learned His word. They followed His example.
Down through the generations of time, the message from Jesus has been the same. To Peter by the shores of beautiful Galilee, He said, “Follow me.”2 To Philip of old came the call, “Follow me.”3 To the Levite who sat at receipt of customs came the instruction, “Follow me.”4 And to you and to me, if we but listen, shall come that same beckoning invitation, “Follow me.”
As we follow in His steps today, we too will have an opportunity to bless the lives of others. Jesus invites us to give of ourselves: “Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind.”5
Our opportunities to give of ourselves are indeed limitless, but they are also perishable. There are hearts to gladden. There are kind words to say. There are gifts to be given. There are deeds to be done. There are souls to be saved. “Go, gladden the lonely, the dreary; Go, comfort the weeping, the weary; Go, scatter kind deeds on your way; Oh, make the world brighter today!”6
A wise Christian once urged, “May we not spend Christmas, but keep it.”7 When we keep the spirit of Christmas, we keep the spirit of Christ, for the Christmas spirit is the Christ spirit.
At this time of the year my family knows that I will read again my Christmas treasury of books and ponder the wondrous words of the authors. First will be the Gospel of Luke—even the Christmas story. This will be followed by A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and, finally, The Mansion by Henry Van Dyke.
I always must wipe my eyes when reading these inspired writings. They touch my inner soul, as they will yours.
Wrote Dickens, “I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round— … as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”8
In his classic A Christmas Carol, Dickens’s now converted character, Ebenezer Scrooge, declares at last: “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”9
Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ—He who was burdened with “sorrows, and acquainted with grief”10—speaks to every troubled heart and bestows the gift of peace: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”11
He sends forth His word through the many thousands of missionaries serving far and wide proclaiming His gospel of good tidings and salutation of peace. Vexing questions, such as “Where did I come from? What is the purpose of my being? Where do I go after death?” are answered by His special servants. Frustration flees, doubt disappears, and uncertainty wanes when truth is taught in boldness, yet in a spirit of humility by those who have been called to serve the Prince of Peace—even the Lord Jesus Christ. His gift is bestowed individually: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him.”12
May I share several more examples of true giving learned by me from the experiences of the three most recent Presidents of the Church, with whom I have had the privilege to serve as a counselor.
First, from President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994): He described an assignment he had received from the President of the Church following World War II. President Benson was to leave his wife and family and go to the devastated members of the Church in Germany and other nations. Through the God-inspired welfare program, he literally fed the hungry, comforted the weeping, and lifted closer to heaven all with whom he met. Years later, at a dedication service at Zwickau, Germany, an elderly member, with moist eyes, said to me, “Please tell President Benson that we love him. He saved our lives: mine, my wife’s, my children’s, and many, many others’. He was as an angel sent by God to literally restore to us hope and confidence in the future. Tell him we love him.”
Second, from President Howard W. Hunter (1907–95): On one occasion President Hunter dealt with a particularly tragic and difficult situation. At length he said, “I have always liked to lift people, rather than put them down, to show them the way of the Lord, that they might follow Him.” Subsequently, the gift of forgiveness, the gift of compassion, the gift of encouragement were freely given to the distressed couple by this saintly leader.
Third, from President Gordon B. Hinckley: President Hinckley is a much-traveled prophet and President. His presence, his example, his testimony have been shared throughout the world. About five years ago he returned from a visit to the southeast area of the United States, where he spoke to tens of thousands. The morning after his return home, President Hinckley said he felt a bit weary. In the next breath, he commented, “I’ve learned of the terrible suffering endured by the people of Central America because of the rampaging floods which engulfed homes, fields, and many persons. I feel a need to visit the stricken area, and so I, along with Elder L. Tom Perry and Bishop H. David Burton, will leave by plane in two days in order to do so.” We reviewed with the President information concerning the supplies already sent and received at distribution points, plus those which were en route by air and by ship.
President Hinckley returned from his three-day trip rejoicing in a welfare program which works. He met with the members. He met with the missionaries. He complimented throngs who were at work cleaning up the debris which once was homes.
President Hinckley gave them encouragement and assurances of additional assistance, but more than this, he gave to them himself. We express thanks to our Heavenly Father for such a prophet.
In my lifelong association with President Hinckley, I know that he is a wise and prudent steward regarding the sacred funds of the Church. He abhors waste and extravagance. However, never have I seen President Hinckley turn away the needy, the hungry, the downtrodden, or the oppressed. Helping is our divine duty. The food, the shelter, the assistance rendered are freely given so that suffering may be alleviated, hearts cheered, and lives saved.
There is no better time than now, this very Christmas season, for all of us to rededicate ourselves to the principles taught by Jesus the Christ. It is the time to love the Lord our God with all our heart—and our neighbors as ourselves. It is well to remember that he who gives money gives much, he who gives time gives more, but he who gives of himself gives all. Let this be a description of our Christmas gifts.
After you prayerfully prepare, share this message using a method that encourages the participation of those you teach. A few examples follow:
Ask family members to tell of instances when they have given of themselves at Christmastime. Read together the “His Beckoning Invitation” section. Encourage family members to follow the example of the Savior in their giving this year.
Give a gift of yourself to each family you teach. Then invite family members to read about the examples of giving in the “True Giving” section. Read the final paragraph of the message aloud, and bear testimony of gifts of Himself the Savior has given to you.