At this Christmas season, let us take time to ponder the significance of the birth, the life, and the death of the Savior of the world. Of all the pronouncements in sacred or profane literature, the announcement of the angel to the shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night was highly significant:
“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” (Luke 2:10–11).
After 2,000 years, in many countries—indeed even in so-called Christian nations—we still have not only internal and external wars but also hunger and neglect. In the war in which my father served on the western front, in the stillness of Christmas Eve there wafted over the trenches to the ears of the American soldiers the soft sound of the voices of their enemy singing, “Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht” (“Silent night! Holy night”; Hymns, number 204). Their enemy in turn could hear the American soldiers singing, “Peace on earth, goodwill to men” (“Far, Far Away on Judea’s Plains,” Hymns, number 212).
Twenty years later, in the war in which I served, the same area and the same enemies were involved. Although I did not serve on the western European front, on Christmas Eve the English and American soldiers could hear the Germans sing, “Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,” and the Germans could hear the Americans sing, “Peace on earth, goodwill to men.” Fortunately, our erstwhile enemies are now our friends.
You have heard it said that the Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.
At the heart of the message of the Savior of the world is a single, glorious, wonderful, still largely untried concept. In its simplest terms the message is that we should seek to overcome the selfishness we all seem to be born with, that we should overcome human nature and think of others before self. We should think of God and serve Him, and think of others and serve them.
It is not difficult to apply these principles in a family setting, especially to our children. Parenting is good training to become good Christians; occasionally children think of their parents in that context. Years ago, Jack Smith told of a poignant story of two young boys at Christmastime.
“I didn’t question Timmy, age nine, or his seven-year-old brother, Billy, about the brown wrapping paper they passed back and forth between them as we visited each store.
“Every year at Christmastime, our Service Club takes the children from poor families in our town on a personally conducted shopping tour. I was assigned Timmy and Billy, whose father was out of work. After giving them the allotted [U.S.] $4.00 each, we began our trip. At different stores I made suggestions, but always their answer was a solemn shake of the head, no. Finally, I asked, ‘Where would you suggest we look?’
“‘Could we go to a shoe store, Sir?’ answered Timmy. ‘We’d like a pair of shoes for our Daddy so he can go to work.’
“In the shoe store the clerk asked what the boys wanted. Out came the brown paper. ‘We want a pair of work shoes to fit this foot,’ they said. Billy explained that it was a pattern of their Daddy’s foot. They had drawn it while he was asleep in a chair.
“The clerk held the paper against a measuring stick, then walked away. Soon, he came with an open box. ‘Will these do?’ he asked. Timmy and Billy handled the shoes with great eagerness. ‘How much do they cost?’ asked Billy. Then Timmy saw the price on the box. ‘They’re $16.95,’ he said in dismay. ‘We only have $8.00.’
“I looked at the clerk and he cleared his throat. ‘That’s the regular price,’ he said, ‘but they’re on sale; $3.98, today only.’ Then, with shoes happily in hand the boys bought gifts for their mother and two little sisters. Not once did they think of themselves.
“The day after Christmas the boys’ father stopped me on the street. The new shoes were on his feet, gratitude was in his eyes. ‘I just thank Jesus for people who care,’ he said. ‘And I thank Jesus for your two sons,’ I replied. ‘They really taught me more about Christmas in one evening than I had learned in a lifetime.’”1
I do not wish to conclude without expressing the hope that is within me that the teachings of the risen Christ can be extended beyond family, to friends and neighbors, communities, states, and nations.
For many years I practiced law with a fine Christian gentleman who was not of our faith. He was a man of humble origins whose family had not long been in the United States. By hard work and faith, he worked his way through school and became successful and wealthy. But he never lost his interest and compassion for the poor of all faiths. At Thanksgiving and Christmas, he would take his family, load up the car with turkeys and groceries of all kinds, and go to the poorer sections of the city, where he would personally deliver food to the poor.
He would enlist my help in contacting bishops who lived in the less-affluent areas to identify people of our own faith who might be in need. Year after year he did this without any thought of recognition. He literally fulfilled the Lord’s admonition in the Doctrine and Covenants to “remember in all things the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted,” for, as that verse continues, “he that doeth not these things, the same is not my disciple” (D&C 52:40).
I leave you the witness of my soul that Jesus lives, that He loves us, that He is our redeeming Savior. This witness has come through the assurance of the Holy Spirit. It has come richly and fully and without reservations or doubts.
Though angels brought news of the gospel of peace—“good tidings of great joy”—people of the world continue to war with each other.
The great teachings of Christ have been judged difficult and thus basically left untried.
Peace and joy will come if we apply the Savior’s wonderful counsel for each of us to think of others before self.
Family life is a particularly good training ground for the application of the Lord’s teachings.
These teachings may also be extended beyond the family to friends, neighbors, communities, states, and nations.