Most of us have Christmas traditions that are at the same time similar yet distinct. Those traditions usually reflect our ancestral heritage. My parents immigrated to the United States from Sweden. Because we lived in humble circumstances, the gifts we received at Christmas were simple, frequently handmade, and personal.
In keeping with Swedish tradition, Santa Claus (Jultomtem) came on Christmas Eve bringing gifts for the children. My brother, two sisters and I were excited and anxious wondering what we would receive. But, before Jultomtem came, my father would read to us the Christmas story from Luke, chapter 2. Since he spoke in heavily accented English, the pronunciation was never perfect. Year after year he would read the story the same way, reading past the part of the birth of the Savior, past the part about Mary pondering the events in her heart (verse 19), ending with the story of Simeon.
My father would read:
“And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon… and it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought the child Jesus … then took he [Simeon] him [Jesus] up in his arms and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou has prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of thy people Israel.” (Luke 2:25-32)
Then, he would pause and say, “I may not be able to hold the little baby Jesus in my arms, but I know, just as well as Simeon knew, that that baby was the Son of God, my Savior and Redeemer.”
My Father’s Testimony- his greatest gift
Of all the Christmas gifts I ever received, the gift I remember most was the gift of testimony my father gave me. I knew that he knew the reality of Christ’s birth. He knew who that babe in Bethlehem was and what He would accomplish. This gift was better than any gift that Jultomten ever brought or could ever bring.
Gift-giving at Christmas is usually part of celebrating the season. These Christmas gifts help us remember the gift of gifts – that the Father’s gift of His Son and of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The only true gift we have to give them is to use Their gifts as They intended. As the Savior said, “For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.” (D&C 88:33)
Gifts from Our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ
The gifts Our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ gave us are not one time gifts. Before the creation of the world, Heavenly Father established a plan that would enable all of His spirit children to progress, to come to earth, to obtain bodies, to resurrect, and to return to live with Him again. This plan required that an infinite and eternal atonement be made by someone who was without sin, someone who could break the bands of mortal death, someone who could shoulder the pains, afflictions, temptations, sins, infirmities, illnesses, and transgressions of the whole human family. This would be someone who would experience the entire range of human emotions, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief…” (Isaiah 53:3; Alma 7:11-12). As Isaiah prophesied, he would bear our griefs, carry our sorrows, he would be wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities; and he would be whipped so that with his stripes we could be healed.
That someone, in the premortal realms said, “Here am I, send me.” (Abraham 3:27) This was Jehovah, the firstborn spirit son of God. This was He who would be the only Begotten Son of Heavenly Father in the flesh. His gift would be Himself. After His birth in mortality, He would be known as Jesus. His life, which is central to all human history, neither began in Bethlehem nor concluded on Calvary. He rose from the grave to break the bands of death. Resurrection would be an unconditional gift to all who had lived or would ever live on the earth. (See, the Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, January 1, 2000) If we keep His commandments and endure to the end, we will have eternal life, to live forever in God’s presence, the greatest of all the gifts of God. (D&C 132:19-20, 24, 55; D&C 14:7). Our Heavenly Father has so declared. (2 Nephi9 31:15)
Come Unto Christ- Our gift to Him
But the gift, in part, is conditional on accepting our Heavenly Father’s plan and accepting Jesus Christ as our Redeemer. Acceptance must develop into trust in order for the Savior's gift to be realized in our own lives. So it is, that with faith, repentance, baptism, and receiving the Holy Ghost we accept the atoning sacrifice which the Savior made.
Nearly 2000 years ago, wise men followed a star in order to come to Christ. Wise men today still come unto Christ. Let us be wise. He does not ask gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. He desires that we come unto Him. Amalek in the Book of Mormon states this plainly:
“And now my beloved brethren, I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him and continue in fasting and praying and endure to the end; and as the Lord liveth ye will be saved." (Omni 1:26)
His premortal Godhood, His birth, His divine Son-ship and the Atonement are celebrated jointly at Christmas. Let us give gifts this Christmas that mirror Christ’s gift to us - love, testimony, and devotion to our Heavenly Father. Like my earthly father, I too know that, “I may not be able to hold the little baby Jesus in my arms, but I know, just as well as Simeon knew, that that baby was the Son of God, my Savior and Redeemer.”