Christmas is a time of contrasts, even contradictions. It is a season of joy to the world, but sadness in it; goodwill toward men, but not enough to fill the most basic needs of men, women, and children who are homeless or friendless or abused. Against the backdrop of seasonal good cheer, the sorrows, poverty, and violence in our world stand out in especially bold relief.
At this time of year, all of us have probably been tempted to say to an unhappy child—and perhaps to ourselves—“Oh, don’t be sad. It’s Christmas!” But the child knows, until he or she learns to pretend otherwise, that sadness does not vanish when we decorate the tree. Nor is Christmas a time for brushing all the darkness in our lives under the rug, pretending for a season that it doesn’t exist. For Christ and his gospel do not intend to merely hide the darkness, but to banish it forever. Thus, Christmas is not an anesthetic for our sorrows and ills but a celebration of the only antidote, the very cure.
What is it about the Savior and his life that can reconcile, rather than merely hide, our problems? For me, the Lord’s gifts of reconciliation are embodied in some of my favorite Christmas symbols.
First is the tree—evergreen, it is growing and greening through all the seasons of death in the natural world, embodying the promise that for every death, there will be a rebirth; for every loss, a finding again; for every parting, a reuniting. We are promised that Christ “will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces.” (Isa. 25:8.)
The tree also reminds us that just as it must be rooted to stay alive, so we must be connected to Christ to live eternally. “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
“He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.
“These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life.” (1 Jn. 5:11–13.)
Second, the star—an emblem reminding us that in the deepest darkness, there is an everlasting light. And that light is most brilliant in our darkest hours. What is the light that can dispel darkness almost as deep as death? It is the light emanating from our Savior. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” (Eph. 5:14.)
Third, the shepherd’s crook—a pastoral reminder that for every wandering person, for every lost soul, there is a loving, merciful shepherd who watches, willing at any moment to guide us to safety. He knows our name, and we know his voice. Friends and loved ones may offer guidance, too; but when they disappoint us, he still stretches forth his guiding arm. Especially is he mindful of those who are widowed and orphaned—physically or in spirit.
Sometimes, we may feel abandoned even by him, or isolated by our own errors, but he reminds us that any estrangement need only be temporary: “For a small moment have I forsaken thee, but with great mercies will I gather thee.
“In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment, but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer. …
“For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.” (3 Ne. 22:7–8, 10.)
Fourth, at the very center of our celebration, the infant Jesus himself, the babe in a manger—a reminder of the simple, yet astonishing, truth that good is more real, more enduring, and more powerful than evil; that the very most fragile and helpless of creatures—a newborn child—was more powerful than Herod with all his royal armies and ambitions. The Christ child assures us that we need not fear the world with all its evil, when he is with us. “Fear not, little children, for you are mine, and I have overcome the world, and you are of them that my Father hath given me.” (D&C 50:41.)
Fifth, a beautifully wrapped gift. At this birthday celebration, the Savior, the guest of honor, brings all the best gifts to us. But we, too, have gifts to bring, and the finest we can bring will always be homemade.
I can give him my trust in him, my faith in his wisdom. I can give him my heaviest burdens—my greatest weaknesses, my most stubborn fears, my profoundest griefs—for he will accept even these and transform them for my good. And I can give him my everlasting gratitude in the form of a merciful, forgiving heart and willing hands in the service of others.
May we more fully accept the gifts the Savior offers us and have our lives reconciled and transformed by them.