People across the world look forward to Christmastime because it is a holiday steeped in the tradition of receiving gifts. Children and adults around the world look forward to Christmas with great anticipation. Many people can think of a beloved gift they received for a past Christmas that has tremendous meaning to them. Sometimes this meaning was not readily apparent at first but required a better understanding of the gift and the gift giver.
The ultimate gift of the Savior Jesus Christ to the world requires time and understanding to receive properly. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
By believing in and receiving the Christ, our Heavenly Father promises us eternal life. “If thou wilt do good, yea, and hold out faithful to the end, thou shalt be saved in the kingdom of God, which is the greatest of all the gifts of God” (D&C 6:13). Being a true recipient involves accepting the gift of Christ wholeheartedly and without conditions.
Webster’s dictionary includes additional definitions of the word receive that involve the receiver becoming a receptacle or container for the gift that was given or to assimilate the gift through the mind and senses.
It is heartbreaking for a gift giver to hear the words of a recipient, “That isn’t what I wanted at all.” It causes sadness and tension between the giver and the recipient. Our Heavenly Father must be disappointed and sorrowful when His children reject the precious gift of His Son. “For 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” (D&C 88:33).
On the topic of gift giving, Harvard psychology professor Ellen J. Langer told the New York Times, “If I don’t let you give me a gift, then I’m not encouraging you to think about me and think about things I like. I am preventing you from experiencing the joy of engaging in all those activities. You do people a disservice by not giving them the gift of giving” (New York Times, 2007).
Matthew writes about his concern for those who do not receive God’s messengers: “Why is it that ye receive not the preaching of him whom God hath sent? If ye receive not this in your hearts, ye receive not me; and if ye receive not me, ye receive not him of whom I am sent to bear record; and for your sins ye have no cloak” (Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 3:34).
In 1925, French anthropologist Marcel Mauss published an essay titled “The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies.” In it he stated, “To make a gift of something is to make a present of some part of oneself.” He identified three obligations people have when exchanging gifts: the first is giving, which he equates with the beginnings of a social relationship.
The second is receiving, which signifies that a person has accepted the invitation for a social relationship. The third step is reciprocating, which demonstrates the integrity of the recipient. If a gift is refused or unreciprocated, the relationship is threatened.
In building a great relationship with Deity, it is therefore imperative that one be humble and grateful enough to receive the gifts given by a loving Father. Even though one does not see the immediate value in the gift, one must desire, seek, and strive to understand its importance, especially when that gift comes from the divine.
Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave key insights to properly receiving God’s gifts by explaining the Gift of the Holy Ghost. He said, “The Holy Ghost does not become operative in our lives merely because hands are placed upon our heads and those four important words are spoken [“Receive the Holy Ghost”]. As we receive this ordinance, each of us accepts a sacred and ongoing responsibility to desire, to seek, to work, and to so live that we indeed ‘receive the Holy Ghost’ and its attendant spiritual gifts” (“Receive the Holy Ghost,” Oct. 2010 general conference).
To receive the gift of Christ, we must actively desire to have Him in our lives. We cannot be passive. We must seek in order to find. Heavenly gifts require an eager and ready receiver. For those willing to receive the gifts, life takes on a whole new meaning. It becomes deep, abiding, and fulfilling. The scriptures begin to unfold in new ways. Our eyes begin to open and see things we never saw before. “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6).
This Christmas season let us humbly accept the gift of Christ into our lives and be willing to receive what He has to offer. The life of a disciple is not easy. It requires meekness, humility, and submissiveness. It requires the bending of wills and the sacrificing for others. It requires faith in something greater than the world can offer and providing service to others. It requires hope that God will deliver on His promise to grant us eternal life, if we will believe and follow His Son, Jesus Christ.
President Thomas S. Monson said, “As we seek Christ, as we find Him, as we follow Him, we shall have the Christmas spirit, not for one fleeting day each year, but as a companion always. We shall learn to forget ourselves. We shall turn our thoughts to the greater benefit of others” (“In Search of the Christmas Spirit,” Ensign, Dec. 1987).