The Gifts of Christmas


The following address was given at the First Presidency Christmas Devotional, broadcast by satellite to the worldwide membership of the Church on 4 December 1994. It was President Hunter’s last public address to the Church.
President Howard W. Hunter

Brothers and sisters, we extend to you our warmest holiday greetings. As followers of the Master, we desire to draw closer to Him as we remember during this season His wondrous birth two millennia ago.

We are all aware of the significance that a name or title can have in describing an important office. In foretelling the birth of Christ more than 700 years before it occurred, the prophet Isaiah used titles expressing great admiration: “Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father” (Isa. 9:6). Isaiah also used the titles Savior and Redeemer, expressing great faith in Christ and His mission (see Isa. 45:15; Isa. 47:4; Isa. 49:26; Isa. 60:16; Isa. 63:16). One of these titles that is of particular interest in our present world is “Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6). “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end,” Isaiah declared (Isa. 9:7). What a thrilling hope for a war-weary, sin-laden world!

A Prophecy Fulfilled

The Lamanite prophet Samuel foretold the birth of the Savior five years before it happened. The people would not let Samuel into Zarahemla to preach, so he stood on a city wall and proclaimed:

“Behold, I give unto you a sign; for five years more cometh, and behold, then cometh the Son of God to redeem all those who shall believe on his name.

“And behold, this will I give unto you for a sign at the time of his coming; for behold, there shall be great lights in heaven, insomuch that in the night before he cometh there shall be no darkness, insomuch that it shall appear unto man as if it was day. …

“And behold, there shall a new star arise, such an one as ye never have beheld; and this also shall be a sign unto you” (Hel. 14:2–3, 5).

Luke recorded the fulfillment of this prophecy:

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. …

“And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

“And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

“To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

“And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

“And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

“And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:1–14).

Such is the beautiful account of our Savior’s advent. In the words of Cecil Frances Alexander:

He came down to earth from heaven,
Who is God and Lord of all,
And his shelter was a stable
And his cradle was a stall.

id="30">(Hymns, no. 205)

In this humble way His life of selfless service began.

Giving As He Gave

The Savior dedicated His life to blessing other people. As expressed by His chief Apostle, Peter, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good” (Acts 10:38).

Never did the Savior give in expectation of receiving. He gave freely and lovingly, and His gifts were of inestimable value. He gave eyes to the blind, ears to the deaf, and legs to the lame; cleanliness to the unclean, wholeness to the infirm, and breath to the lifeless. His gifts were opportunity to the downtrodden, freedom to the oppressed, forgiveness to the repentant, hope to the despairing, and light in the darkness. He gave us His love, His service, and His life. And most important, He gave us and all mortals resurrection, salvation, and eternal life.

We should strive to give as He gave. To give of oneself is a holy gift. We give as a remembrance of all the Savior has given.

Christmas is a time for giving. Someone once said he couldn’t think of what to give for Christmas. The next day in the mail he received an anonymous list which read:

Give to your enemy forgiveness,
To your opponent tolerance,
To your friend your heart,
To all men charity, for the hands that help
are holier than lips that pray,
To every child a good example,
and to yourself—respect.

All of us need to follow the example of the Savior in giving these kinds of gifts. From Christina Rossetti we read:

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would give Him a lamb,
If I were a Wise Man,
I would do my part,—
But what I can I give Him,
Give my heart. 1

This Christmas, mend a quarrel. Seek out a forgotten friend. Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust. Write a letter. Give a soft answer. Encourage youth. Manifest your loyalty in word and deed. Keep a promise. Forgo a grudge. Forgive an enemy. Apologize. Try to understand. Examine your demands on others. Think first of someone else. Be kind. Be gentle. Laugh a little more. Express your gratitude. Welcome a stranger. Gladden the heart of a child. Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth. Speak your love and then speak it again.

Christmas is a celebration, and there is no celebration that compares with the realization of its true meaning—with the sudden stirring of the heart that has extended itself unselfishly in the things that matter most. 2

The Prince of Peace

A life filled with unselfish service will also be filled with peace that surpasses understanding. The Savior said: “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” (John 14:27). “Ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you … that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:1–3).

This peace can come only through living the principles of the gospel. These principles constitute the program of the Prince of Peace, who is also the prince of glory and the prince of eternal progress. May we be ever faithful in observance of our Savior’s teachings. Said He, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

I testify that as we follow the Savior with full purpose of heart, His promise to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well will be fulfilled in our own lives: “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:13–14).

May we find our spiritual thirst quenched by the living water of the Savior. May He become our focal point at this Christmas season and always. I testify that He lives today, the babe of Bethlehem—now the risen Lord. He and His Eternal Father love and care for each of us in a sacred and personal way.

As His special witness, I extend my love to you this evening and to all of our Heavenly Father’s children wherever they may be. My wish for you is a happy, joyous Christmas. May this season bring to you and yours the rich blessings of the gospel of the Savior, I pray, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

[illustration] Jairus’ Daughter, by Del Parson

[photos] Photos by Welden Andersen

Show References

    Notes

  1.   1.

    From “A Christmas Carol,” in James Dalton Morrison, ed., Masterpieces of Religious Verse (1948), 154.

  2.   2.

    See McCall’s magazine, Dec. 1959, 82–83.