Ron Simpson is our choir director at church. Yes, that Ron Simpson.
Every Christmas, he directs a beautiful 40-minute musical Christmas program. It is one of my favorite kinds of worship: song after song after song. Last year I was in the choir, but this year my schedule has not permitted my attendance at the practices, and I miss it.
For whatever reason, his program this year was a little shorter and 7 minutes of spoken thoughts on Christmas were needed. I was privileged to deliver those thoughts to our congregation. I share them here in the hope that they will benefit you.
“What makes Christmas warm? December may not be an accurate time of year for celebrating the Christ-child’s birth, but it still makes sense, doesn’t it? Where we live, there is an added benefit of contrast in the Christmas season. We feel cold, thus we recognize our need for warmth. It’s dark outside, thus we feel our need for light. The year has been full of our own daily trials of life, thus we welcome the opportunity at the end of the year to step away from ourselves and think of others. We even welcome the gifts others offer to us.
There are so many stories at Christmas time. Our family has a whole collection of books that only comes out in December and we read them together. We hear stories from our families, from our church leaders, on the news and all around us. And the greatest stories about Christmas are the stories about acts of love- people being good to other people, just like God is good to us.
Thirteen years ago, our little family lived in Turkey. They don’t really celebrate Christmas there – not the birth of the Savior, anyway. One day near Christmas, we were at a shopping mall and there was a man dressed as Santa Claus, selling lottery tickets. It struck me just how perfect that image was: if all you believe regarding Christmas is that Santa Claus brings presents, then you might as well be buying lottery tickets. How empty and uncertain. How far off the mark!
But you and I have heard myriad stories about the true meaning of Christmas: stories about sharing, giving, forgiveness, generosity, and sacrifice. Stories that warm us and fill us with the desire to be that generous. Stories of noticing the needs of another, giving anonymous gifts, and doing for another that which they cannot do for themselves. Stories of widows helping families and families helping widows. I remember, years ago, going with Quinn, his widowed mother, and his siblings as they brought wrapped gifts and a big box full of healthy food to a newly-emigrated family from Mexico. The family had very little in the way of furniture or luxuries, but they were so gracious and happy. The feeling of their gratitude stayed with me for a long time. Love is what makes Christmas warm.
Moroni 10:18 says, “And I would exhort you, my beloved brethren, that ye remember that every good gift cometh of Christ.” How could there be a good gift except it were somehow connected to Jesus Christ? He is the source of charity, altruism, generosity, love, and even fulfillment.
In First Nephi chapter 11, Nephi asked to know about the tree which his father saw. For an answer, he was taken up by the spirit to a high mountain and he experienced the following:
13 And it came to pass that I looked and beheld the great city of Jerusalem, and also other cities. And I beheld the city of Nazareth; and in the city of Nazareth I beheld a virgin, and she was exceedingly fair and white.
16 And he said unto me: Knowest thou the condescension of God?
17 And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.
18 And he said unto me: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.
19 And it came to pass that I beheld that she was carried away in the Spirit; and after she had been carried away in the Spirit for the space of a time the angel spake unto me, saying: Look!
20 And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms.
21 And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?
22 And I answered him, saying: Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things.
23 And he spake unto me, saying: Yea, and the most joyous to the soul.
So in order for Nephi to understand the love of God, what he needed to understand first was Christmas.
He needed to see what that child would do, and he needed to understand what Christ’s mission was all about. Christmas is all about the love of God.
The condescension of Jesus Christ meant that he came down to us. He waved the privileges of his rank. He came to us to bring us that which we most need: peace and healing in every way. His peace is nothing like what the world gives as peace- it is a unique variety that only He has the power to extend to us. Christmas is Peace on Earth. Peace begins deep within individuals; it ripples out to family members, friends, strangers, enemies, everyone. That is the scope of His peace. As the choir sings: “Truly He taught us to love one another. His law is love and His gospel is peace.” (O Holy Night)
When I think of that first Christmas I think of Christ’s parents: Mary and Joseph, whom we always consider in the Christmas story, but also our Heavenly Parents and what joy there must have been in heaven as the angels sang glorious jubilation and Christmas was celebrated across the heavens. Glory to God for the gift of His Son!
We read in James 1:17, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights.” The Father of lights sent His Son, Jesus Christ, down to us.
He is the gift. It is His perfect life, that loving example for us to follow; it is the peace that only He can give; it is the power in His healing and the mercy in His sacrifice- the sacrifice which allows us to go home again.
May these glorious gifts resonate in our hearts, bring us joy and peace, and inspire us to turn to others and share His love.”