The Christmas story I have to share was told in the summer, but it had to do with gifts that, though they are appropriate for consideration at every time, have especial pertinence to that season wherein the birth of Christ our Lord is celebrated. The gifts were inspired by the love of Christ and his life.
Robert Allen was a young man who was killed last summer in a mountain climbing accident. His funeral was described by a young person who attended as a sorrowful but sublime experience, an occasion of introspection and rejoicing and edification, “one of the most marvelous experiences of my life.” Sad as it was to lose such a choice young man in a world greatly needing his quality and character, yet the Spirit had born witness of God’s wisdom and of his goodness and his love.
A young friend and companion spoke of the gifts Bob had given to him over the period of their association. They were beyond price to him.
One was the gift of sharing and serving. Possessions, time, talents, knowledge, loyalty, concern, all were freely, graciously given. The sharing was of self—the manner of giving that affects and enriches lives. Few things bring such sweet satisfactions as the knowledge that we have a friend who really loves us, who really cares. God loves every one of his children—of that we are absolutely assured, we know it in our hearts—but God needs instruments of his love. He needs those who can carry his love and make it meaningful and personal in the lives of others. The shepherd’s search for the lost sheep was a mission of grace and so was the joyful journey of the forgiving father when he ran to meet the penitent prodigal who had come to himself and had, with trepidation, started home.
Discipline of self was another gift mentioned at the funeral—the example of a young man seeking and expressing self-mastery, self-direction, self-reliance. The two friends used to go to the university stadium daily and run up and down the stairs until they were exhausted, and then they would try a few wind-sprints. Physical fitness was essential. Educational, cultural and spiritual challenges were approached with the same attitude and effort.
I read the words of Mahatma Gandhi again the other day: “Even for life itself,” he wrote, “we may not do certain things. There is only one course open to me: to die, but never to break my pledge. How can I control others if I cannot control myself?”
Commitment to excellence was one of the gifts celebrated. It was to be sought in every endeavor. Bob went to the institute of religion nearby his school to practice the piano early every morning. He was entering medical school in the fall and felt he wouldn’t have enough time to keep really sharp, and he wanted to do well.
To seek to achieve our best and improve it, to refuse a plausible second-level accomplishment below our possibilities, to be unwilling to settle for less than our strongest effort—this is to supply a vitally needed example to others of a quest for excellence, whether in playing a piece, running a race, fulfilling an assignment, or representing the Lord.
Moroni referred to the “more excellent way”: “Wherefore, by faith was the law of Moses given. But in the gift of his Son hath God prepared a more excellent way; and it is by faith that it hath been fulfilled.” (Ether 12:11.)
The Gift of his Son made available the more excellent way, and in that way all of us cannot only be accommodated, but can achieve.
Love was the final gift mentioned, and my mind turned to the newspaper account of a group of Christian missionaries in Ecuador who a few years ago were killed by members of a tribe they were trying to help and teach. They went to their deaths singing a great Christian hymn, the text of which is taken from 2 Chronicles 14 [2 Chr. 14]: “We rest on thee, and in thy name we go.” It has since been reported that the wives and families of those martyred men have returned to Ecuador to continue teaching the same tribe.
Recently at a stake conference a young man was called to the pulpit with only a few moments’ notice. He said he had been away to school and had come home to find a very dear friend in trouble. She had become enmeshed in the drug scene and had been tragically hurt. The young man sought the Lord in prayer, crying out for strength to help his friend. “For the first time in my life I truly forgot myself,” he said. “While I prayed I came to a consciousness I had never before possessed. My concern for her was honest and intense and without self-reference, and I knew as I prayed that the love and concern of Almighty God for me and for my friend were pure and real and very personal.”
Bob Allen loved his family and friends, the great people among whom he served as a missionary, the students from afar whom he befriended at school, and he loved the Lord.
The inspiring account of a young man’s life at the funeral taught all present once again the real meaning of gifts and of giving, and that now is the time to begin.
Christmas is a great season to show that we understand.