I feel very strange posting this, as I am (truly) pretty private, but some people have asked, so here is the talk I gave in church today. Feel free to share – just give me credit, ok? Perhaps it will be a help or comfort to someone out there.
“Jesus is the reason for the season”.
“Keep Christ in Christmas”.
“The magic of Christmas is not in the presents, but in His presence.”
These are common sayings among believers at Christmastime. We all know how difficult it is to fight the commercialism and materialism that accompany the holiday season.
Here is just a sampling of the barrage of emails stuffing my inbox lately: “Gifts under $50 Yule Love!”; “Can’t Miss!”; “Hottest Deals of the Season!”; “Hurry! Last Chance to Stuff their Stockings!”; “The Perfect Gift is Waiting!”; and my favorite – “Which Gingerbread House is the Best on the Block?” Because that’s what really matters.
From emails and sales flyers, television ads, news reports and holiday invitations, Pinterest pages and blog posts, we are inundated with messages telling us to plan, shop, save, decorate beautifully, and – most of all – hurry! Hurry! Hurry! Is it any wonder that we have to work so hard to remember what and why we are celebrating?
I know that we, among all Christians, discuss this very topic every year. I know my own children roll their eyes when I inevitably sit them down and ask, “What are we really celebrating at Christmas?” To which they tiredly recite, “That Jesus was born.” I know it’s annoying. I know that they don’t want to be made to feel guilty for loving the presents, food, cookies, decorations and such. Which is why, from now, on, I am changing our answer. After studying for this talk, I know what our family’s answer will be: “We’re celebrating love.”
The has only ever been one perfect Christmas. And on that Christmas day, the purest act of love, set in motion by Jesus’ heavenly declaration, “Here am I, send me”, began its earthly progression. God’s son, the Savior of mankind, was born in the humblest of circumstances. Where before there had been only darkness with the glimmer of light provided by hope, by the prophesies which foretold of a Savior – now, accompanied by the blazing light of a new star, that hope had form and life. The Savior had come and dispelled the gloom. 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.”
Dieter F. Uchtdorf, in this year’s Christmas devotional said, “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” because of Christ, who came “to give light to them that sit in darkness.””
And why did He do this? He certainly didn’t have to. He could have let someone else volunteer to save us all. He could have let Lucifer win the argument, and conscript us all to lives devoid of choice and the consequences – good and bad – thereof. He could have spared himself the pain of mortal life, and the unspeakable torment that he suffered in the Garden and on the cross. But he didn’t. Because of love. He loved every single soul with an immensity that my mind cannot even comprehend. He voluntarily took upon himself the pain and sins of us all because he could not bear to have us live forever in those sins and with that pain.
Mind you, he didn’t do this for just the people who would believe in Him. His love extends to even those who mock, scorn, revile and decry his very divinity. How many of us can claim such pure love? And so this is why we look to Him for guidance and direction, why we celebrate his birth and life, death and resurrection. He did all for us simply out of love, and a desire to follow his own Father’s example. For, as we know, “… God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
The greatest gift is love. God loved us so he sent Jesus. Jesus loved us and God so he sacrificed himself. We love Him, so we try to do ask we ought. This is life. This is love.
Our Primary children sing a beautiful song, which clearly details our Heavenly Father’s plan for us:
How could the Father tell the world of love and tenderness?
He sent his Son, a newborn babe, with peace and holiness.
How could the Father show the world the pathway we should go?
He sent his Son to walk with men on earth, that we may know.
How could the Father tell the world of sacrifice, of death?
He sent his Son to die for us and rise with living breath.
What does the Father ask of us? What do the scriptures say?
Have faith, have hope, live like his Son, help others on their way.
What does he ask? Live like his Son.
That is it. It is so simple. So pure and true. God loves us all. He created His plan to save us all. He sent a perfect example for us to follow. All He asks is that we try, every day of our lives.
President Uchtdorf has stated, “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.” The us he speaks of is all-encompassing. None are exempt. He lived and taught and prayed and suffered and died with love for all. Love for you, for me, for the poorest of the poor and the richest of the rich, for the murderer in prison, the addict under the bridge, the corrupt, the deceitful and the vile. We all begin as he did – pure, innocent and full of boundless potential. We may make choices throughout our lives which pull us from His light and hurt our chances to be with Heavenly Father and Jesus eternally, but that love is always there.
Our world needs a Savior. It always has, and always will. Of course, we know that He has already come, and that He works still to save us. But we need to be His loving arms, reaching out to enfold our brothers and sisters of this world.
Rosemary M. Wixsom said, “The wonder and awe of Christmas is just a beginning. Christmas reminds us that the babe born in Bethlehem has given us purpose for living, and what happens next to us largely depends on how we embrace our Savior, Jesus Christ, and follow Him.”
And Elder D. Todd Christofferson added, “At Christmas, the stories of sacrifice and ministering multiply across the world. Our gifts and service gladden hearts; the kindness of others pours healing balm into our own wounds. It is living the Savior’s way of life. …It must not be only an annual event, but rather the pattern of our lives.”
And so I ask you to join me in honoring the most amazing gift given to mankind. Start by realizing the vast of love within yourself. Our capacity to love is limitless, but we must do the hard work to draw from that bottomless well. Love yourself more. Be kinder and gentler to yourself. And then send that love out into the world – regift like crazy. Actively work to see the good in people. Be forgiving of others’ quirks, faults and annoyances. Be more patient, more understanding. Suppress the knee-jerk reaction to judge. Remember that everyone was once a precious babe, someone’s child, perhaps their dream come true, their every hope for the future. Remember that every human being is a child of our own beloved Heavenly Father, and entitled your personal offering of love, forgiveness and acceptance. I know that I need the love of others. And I know that I need to be giving out much more than I do.
On that singular perfect Christmas, the most perfect gift was given to all mankind: Love. None of us will ever be able to replicate that perfect day, nor is it possible for us to ever give a gift of the same magnitude. But we can honor that gift, every day that we are here. We can share love.
And perhaps, as President Uchtdorf has said, we can make “Christmas … 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.” Let us all celebrate love.