Posted by: 2thdocbob | 14 December 2014

Why we love Christmas

Merry Christmas, everyone! I am grateful for this opportunity to stand before you today.

I enjoy Christmas time. It is a wonderful time of year, filled with excitement and anticipation, with celebrations and singing. I particularly love the music of Christmas.

To me, there is something that makes Christmas very special: that is our traditions. One of the important Christmas traditions we have is Santa Claus. What do the Brethren say about Santa Claus?

Boyd K. Packer said: “I want to emphasize that I have no quarrel with that well-fed gentleman with the red suit and the white whiskers. He was very generous to me when I was a boy, and we are looking forward with great anticipation to his visit at our home. All of those things with reference to Christmas are appropriate and good, and all of them are for children–except, I suppose, the mistletoe.”

Howard W. Hunter said: “How is Christmas regarded today? The legend of Santa Claus, the Christmas tree, the decorations of tinsel and mistletoe, and the giving of gifts all express to us the spirit of the day we celebrate; but the true spirit of Christmas lies much deeper than these. It is found in the life of the Savior, in the principles He taught, in His atoning sacrifice—which become our great heritage.”

President David O. McKay stated: “It is a glorious thing to have old St. Nicholas in our hearts and in our homes today, whether he enters the latter through the open door or creeps down the chimney on Christmas Eve. To bring happiness to others without seeking personal honor or praise by publishing it is a most commendable virtue. . . .

Good old St. Nicholas has long since gone the way of all mortals, but the joy he experienced in doing kindly deeds is now shared by millions who are learning that true happiness comes only by making others happy—the practical application of the Savior’s doctrine of losing one’s life to gain it. In short, the Christmas spirit is the Christ spirit, that makes our hearts glow in brotherly love and friendship and prompts us to kind deeds of service.”

I would like to focus on two important points that were made. The first is that the true spirit of Christmas is found in the life of the Savior and his atoning sacrifice. Second, and equally important, and absolutely interconnected with the Savior’s life, is that the spirit of Christmas prompts us to kind deeds of service.

Unless we recognize and remember that this is a celebration of the Savior’s birth, Christmas is just a grossly commercial holiday where mankind revels in greed. Despite the influence of the world, we can and must remember the Savior during this season.

Just a few minutes ago, we partook of the sacrament and renewed our covenants to always remember him. Do we think of that after this meeting closes? If we are true to our covenants, we should remember him throughout the week. As we do this, we have the promise that we will always have his Spirit to be with us. That will fortify us to keep things in their proper perspective.

We should always remember that our Heavenly Father gave us the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ; and that Christ gave us the incredible gift of the atonement and resurrection. We should truly stand all amazed at these great gifts.

In the Netherlands, where I served my mission, Sinter Klaas comes on the night of December 5th. This is a time of gift-giving and celebrating. December 25th is dedicated to remembering the birth of Christ. I have always thought that this approach was very wise. The sacred and secular are separated by nearly three weeks, but the Dutch still enjoy both.

In our gift-giving, do we remember the Lord? Elder John A. Widtsoe taught: “How can we give to the Lord? What shall we give to him? Every kind word to our own, every help given them, is as a gift to God, whose chief concern is the welfare of his children. Every gentle deed to our neighbor, every kindness to the poor and suffering, is a gift to the Lord, before whom all mankind are equal. Every conformity to the Lord’s plan of salvation–and this is of first importance–is a direct gift to God, for thereby we fit ourselves more nearly for our divinely planned destiny.”

It is through service that we best celebrate Christmas. I remember as a boy, we did small acts of service for each other during December. They were simple things; I don’t recall what I or my siblings did for each other or for our parents, but they helped to create a spirit of love and harmony in our home that is often lacking in a world where the biggest concerns are what will I get for Christmas? and stressing over everything being absolutely perfect, from the decorations to the dinner.

We recall the wise words of King Benjamin in his farewell to his people:

“I say unto you that as I have been suffered to spend my days in your service, even up to this time, and have not sought gold nor silver nor any manner of riches of you; …

“Behold, I say unto you that because I said unto you that I had spent my days in your service, I do not desire to boast, for I have only been in the service of God.

“And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.

“Behold, ye have called me your king; and if I, whom ye call your king, do labor to serve you, then ought not ye to labor to serve one another?

“And behold also, if I, whom ye call your king, who has spent his days in your service, and yet has been in the service of God, do merit any thanks from you, O how you ought to thank your heavenly King!

“I say unto you, my brethren, that if you should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you, and has caused that ye should rejoice, and has granted that ye should live in peace one with another—

“I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.

“And behold, all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments; and he has promised you that if ye would keep his commandments ye should prosper in the land; and he never doth vary from that which he hath said; therefore, if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper you” (Mosiah 2:12, 16 – 22).

I read a few extra verses because I wanted to put the best-known verse in context. Compared to the great gift of His Son, and the gifts of the atonement and resurrection, anything we give is very small in comparison. And yet God is appreciative of all our service, and in his tender mercy, he doesn’t expect our gifts to compare to his.

There are opportunities for service all around us. In fact, I don’t think that there is anyone in this chapel today who would not appreciate some act of kindness or of service. And I don’t think that there is anyone here who is not able to offer service.

True service means giving of ourselves: it means doing for others rather than just giving gifts. Perhaps the most valuable gift we can give someone is the gift of our time. Start with those whom you have been asked to visit as home teachers and visiting teachers. Then you can also extend your reach and visit others.

Follow the promptings of the Spirit and you will know who most needs the gifts only you can give. As you do this, they, and you, will be blessed beyond expectations.

Remember also that if you talk about it too much, it doesn’t count. Your blessing is the attention of others rather than the blessings the Lord has in store for you.

There are many individuals in this ward who serve quietly in this manner all year long. They do it out of Christlike love for their fellow saints, and not for statistics or recognition. But what a great blessing their gifts of time and caring have been!

On my mission, I was hospitalized for a few weeks. Among my visitors were two of the sister missionaries who came by and read to me from the Ensign. I could have easily read the articles myself, but it touched me that they chose to visit and serve me in this manner.

Maybe you have experienced something like this yourself. In the midst of a trial that may be hidden to others, our Heavenly Father knows. He is aware, and he will send one of children to let you know that he has not forgotten you. That is how we serve both God and our fellow man.

I pray that we may live close to the Spirit so that we may be able to serve our brothers and sisters in need. As we do this, we become true disciples of Jesus Christ.

One writer said of the Christmas spirit: “it is a desire to sacrifice for others, to render service and to possess a feeling of universal brotherhood. It consists of a willingness to forget what you have done for others, and to remember what others have done for you; to ignore what the world owes you, and think only of your duties, … and your chance to do good and aid your fellow men … to see that your fellow men are just as good as you are, and try to look behind their faces [and into] their hearts, … and look … for a place to sow a few seeds of happiness, and go your way unobserved.” (Clarence Baird, “The Spirit of Christmas,” Improvement Era, 23:154, Dec. 1919)

Another writer has said “The most amazing thing about the Christmas story is its relevance. It is at home in every age and fits into every mood of life. It is not simply a lovely tale once told, but eternally [current]. It is as meaningful in our time as in that long-ago night when shepherds followed the light of the star to the manger of Bethlehem.” (Joseph R. Sizoo, Words of Life, p.33)

If we want to find the true spirit of Christmas and enjoy the sweetness of it, we can do a few simple but important things.

First, make time to turn your heart to God. Remember how merciful he has been to you and ponder it your heart. Then approach him in prayer and give thanks for the good things that have come to you; ask for his spirit to dwell in you as you strive to serve him and keep his commandments. He will take you by the hand and his promises will be kept.

Second, take time to study the scriptures, especially those that pertain to the life of Christ. Read with your spouse and your family, or with others who are close to you.

Third, take time to give of yourselves. Learn to love and serve Heavenly Father’s children.

As you do these things, your life will be enriched by the Holy Spirit, and you will be filled with love for your brothers and sisters, and for your Savior, Jesus Christ.

And you will have the best Christmas ever, enjoying gifts that will never break or wear out.

I testify that we have a kind, loving Heavenly Father. He wants us to be happy, but we must keep his commandments in order to do that. I know that his son, Jesus Christ, the Babe of Bethlehem, is our Savior and Redeemer. He atoned for our sins so that we can return to our Father in Heaven even though we make mistakes. He lives! He loves us!

May we find joy in celebrating his birth and his life, I pray, in his holy name, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

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