Temple Square in Salt Lake City is always beautiful, but tonight it is particularly lovely. The newly fallen snow, the chill of a winter night, the twinkling lights, the singing of carols, the milling about of families all wrapped up in each other remind us that Christmas approaches.
So many signs of Christmas!
We see them everywhere.
There’s such a strange excitement;
We feel it in the air.1
In this historic Tabernacle, now more than 100 years old, Christmas colors and traditional decorations take us ever so gently back in memory’s treasure to a pioneer scene recorded in the diary of Mrs. Rebecca Riter, December 25, 1847, Great Salt Lake Valley: “The winter was cold. Christmas came and the children were hungry. I had brought a peck of wheat across the plains and hid it under a pile of wood. I thought I would cook a handful of wheat for the baby. Then I thought how we would need wheat for seed in the spring, so I left it alone.”
Faith, sacrifice, love, and tears were part of that first Christmas in the Salt Lake Valley. They continue down through the years and find their way to our homes and hearts. Indeed, they are a part of what we call the Christmas Spirit.
I am the Christmas Spirit.
I enter the home of poverty, causing pale-faced children to open their eyes wide in pleased wonder.
I cause the miser’s clutched hand to relax, and thus paint a bright spot on his soul.
I cause the aged to renew their youth and to laugh in the glad old way.
I keep romance alive in the hearts of childhood, and brighten sleep with dreams woven of magic.
I cause eager feet to climb dark stairways with filled baskets, leaving behind hearts amazed at the goodness of the world.
I cause the prodigal to pause a moment on his wild, wasteful way, and send to anxious love some little token that releases glad tears—tears which wash away the hard lines of sorrow.
I enter dark prison cells, reminding scarred manhood of what might have been and pointing forward to good days yet to come.
I come softly into the still, white home of pain, and lips that are too weak to speak just tremble in silent, eloquent gratitude.
In a thousand ways I cause the weary world to look into the face of God and for a little moment forget the things that are small or wretched.
I am the Christmas Spirit.2
President Hugh B. Brown counseled that the Spirit of Christmas illuminates the picture window of the soul, and we look out upon the world’s busy life and become more interested in people than in things. To catch the real meaning of the Spirit of Christmas, we need only drop the last syllable, and it becomes the Spirit of Christ.
This is the spirit which marked that first Christmas day—a day foretold by the prophets of old. You, with me, recall the words of Isaiah, when he said, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14). Again Isaiah declared: “For unto us a child is born, … and his name shall be called … The Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6).
On the American continent, the prophet said: “The time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent … shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay. … And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain. … And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mosiah 3:5, 7–8).
Then came that night of nights when the shepherds were abiding in the fields, and the angel of the Lord appeared to them, announcing, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy. … For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10–11). The shepherds went with haste to the manger to pay honor to Christ the Lord. Wise Men journeyed from the East to Jerusalem, “saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. … When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh” (Matt. 2:2, 10–11).
With the birth of the babe in Bethlehem, there emerged a great endowment, an endowment of power stronger than weapons, a wealth more lasting than the coins of Caesar. This child was to be the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the promised Messiah, even Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Since that time, the spirit of giving gifts has been present in the mind of each Christian as he commemorates the Christmas season. I wonder if we might profit today by asking ourselves, “What gift would God have me give to Him or to others at this precious season of the year?” We remember the words of Emerson: “Rings and other jewels are not gifts, but apologies for gifts. The only [true] gift is a portion of thyself.”3
“True happiness,” said President David O. McKay, “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. It is the spirit of the gospel of Jesus Christ, obedience to which will bring ‘peace on earth,’ because it means—good will toward all men.”4
As we remember that “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17), we will not find ourselves in the unenviable position of Jacob Marley’s ghost, who spoke to Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’s immortal A Christmas Carol. Scrooge noticed the large chains which entwined Marley’s body and remarked, “You are fettered. Tell me why?”
Marley replied, “I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it, link by link, and yard by yard.”
Scrooge attempted to console him by saying, “But you were always a good man of business, Jacob.”
“Business!” he replied. “Mankind was my business. … Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness. Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunities misused! Yet, such was I! Oh! such was I!”
Marley added, “Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode? Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!”5
Fortunately, the privilege to render service to others can come to each of us. If we but look, we too will see a bright, particular star which will guide us to our opportunity.
Let me share with you the beautiful message which appears on the Christmas card of Dick and Mary Headlee. It is entitled “A Modern Miracle.”
The Headlees wrote: “Our family and friends, working with Project Concern International, aided by the LDS Church’s Humanitarian Aid Relief, had been gathering food, clothing, medical supplies, blankets and toys for months. Finally the project deadline arrived, and the container had to be shipped from Salt Lake City that day. The last hour we sealed the 40-foot container for shipment to the Romanian orphanage was hectic. The 40,000 pounds of needed supplies were finally packed. A friend, Barbara Brinton, arrived from Provo literally at the last minute. She had several items, among them a child’s orthopedic walker. Her neighbor had heard of Barbara’s interests in our orphanage project and was inspired that they might need her child’s walker in Romania. Our daughter Kathy thanked her for the supplies and looked quizzically at the orthopedic walker. It wasn’t on the list of needs, but she thought, ‘Oh, well; it doesn’t weigh much. We’ll throw it on.’
“When our family arrived in Romania, they met a doctor who was working with a multiple-handicapped four-year-old orphan named Raymond. Raymond had been born with severe club feet and was blind. Recent orthopedic surgery had corrected the club feet, and Dr. Lynn Oborn was attempting to teach Raymond, who had never walked, how to use his legs. Dr. Oborn’s first words to us were, ‘Oh, you’re the people who have the container. I hope you brought me a child’s walker for Raymond.’ Kathy responded, ‘I can vaguely remember something like a walker, but I don’t know what size it is.’ She dispatched our son Bruce back into the container, and he crawled amongst all the bales of clothes and boxes of food searching for the walker. When he found it, he lifted it up and cried out, ‘It’s a little one!’ Cheers erupted—which quickly turned to tears, for they all knew they had been part of a modern-day miracle.
“There may be some who say, ‘We don’t have miracles today.’ But the doctor whose prayers were answered would respond, ‘Oh, yes, we do, and Raymond is walking!’ The neighbor who was inspired to give the walker was a willing vessel, and surely would also agree.
“Our family members, whose lives have been enriched by this entire experience, bear witness that God hears and answers prayers, and for this we give thanks.”
Perhaps Dick and Mary Headlee were thinking back to the day that the doctors gave Dick the pessimistic report following a heart attack. The prognosis was simply stated, “Your heart is beyond rescue. To live, you must have a new heart.” There followed abiding faith and earnest prayer, and the miracle came—a new heart, a restored life, a thankful soul filled with gratitude for the goodness of God.
Another line from Dickens personifies the Dick Headlees: “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”6
One penetrating lesson taught at Christmastime is the lament of the Lord: “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20).
“No room at the inn” dogged His footsteps and saddened His heart. Let us remember the supreme gift described by the Apostle Paul: “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). His promise is forever valid: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him” (Rev. 3:20).
The real spirit of Christmas lies in His assurance: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:25–26).
What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd,
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man,
I would do my part;
Yet what I can give him—
Give my heart.7
When we do so, the Spirit of Christmas shall be our gift. May we earn this precious gift and share it willingly.
Faith, sacrifice, love, and tears are part of what we call the Christmas Spirit.
We might profit today by asking ourselves, “What gift would God have me give to Him or to others at this precious season of the year?”
The privilege to render service to others can come to each of us. If we but look, we too will see a bright, particular star which will guide us to our opportunity.