Thursday, December 31, 2015

M. Russell Ballard on covenants, goals, and progress

Elder M. Russell Ballard (1928- ) was called as a Seventy in 1976, and has served as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles since 1985.
"A periodic review of the covenants we have made with the Lord will help us with our priorities and with balance in our lives. This review will help us see where we need to repent and change our lives to ensure that we are worthy of the promises that accompany our covenants and sacred ordinances. Working out our own salvation requires good planning and a deliberate, valiant effort....
"Set short-term goals that you can reach. Set goals that are well balanced—not too many nor too few, and not too high nor too low. Write down your attainable goals and work on them according to their importance. Pray for divine guidance in your goal setting....
"Not long ago, one of my children said, 'Dad, sometimes I wonder if I will ever make it.' The answer I gave to her is the same as I would give to you if you have had similar feelings. Just do the very best you can each day. Do the basic things and, before you realize it, your life will be full of spiritual understanding that will confirm to you that your Heavenly Father loves you. When a person knows this, then life will be full of purpose and meaning, making balance easier to maintain."
- M. Russell Ballard, "Keeping Life's Demands in Balance," Ensign, May 1987, pp. 13-15
Click here to read the full talk

What a worthwhile consideration: to make a "periodic review" of our covenants and priorities. As we think of "new year resolutions," it would be especially appropriate to consider the things of greatest import in our lives and evaluate our standing and progress. A resolution can be a form of repentance, if done well and properly. In particular, as we "work out our own salvation" we would be wise to engage in such a review frequently—much more than once a year!

Elder Ballard gives encouragement on the process of self-review and progress:

The other valuable counsel Elder Ballard offers in this excerpt is to not be discouraged by the seeming magnitude of the task. One day at a time, doing our best with the tasks at hand—that's all we can do. But the promise is wonderful: as we do those basic things, life soon becomes "full of spiritual understanding" and we feel the depth of our Heavenly Father's love. That gives us "purpose and meaning" and helps us maintain balance and perspective.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Marvin J. Ashton on finding happiness in becoming, not obtaining

Elder Marvin J. Ashton (1915-1994) served as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles from 1971 until his death in 1994 at age 78.
"True happiness is not made in getting something. True happiness is becoming something. This can be done by being committed to lofty goals. We cannot become something without commitment.
"Commitment as a word cannot stand alone. We must always ask, 'Committed to what?' As all of us blend into the programs of the Church, it behooves us to set goals for ourselves in order to reap the blessings of self-improvement and excellent performance in given assignments.
"'Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;
"'For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.
"'But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned.' (D&C 58:27-29.) ...
"In setting our own goals we need to examine our own needs and abilities. The direction in which we are moving is more important than where we are at the moment. Goal setting should cause us to stretch as we make our way."
- Marvin J. Ashton, "The Word is Commitment," Ensign, November 1983, pp. 61-63
Click here to read the full talk

This is perhaps one of the key messages of the gospel of Jesus Christ: true happiness comes not in "getting something," but in "becoming something." Possessions are superficial and temporary, but what we become is lasting and eternal.

And the key to becoming is to recognize where we are through examining our lives, our needs, our abilities. Then using our God-given agency to set the goals that will bring improvement and change as we "stretch" along the way.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Joseph B. Wirthlin on the living water of the Gospel

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin (1917-2008) served as a Seventy from 1976 to 1986, then as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles from 1986 until his passing in 2008 at age 91.
"By living the gospel of Jesus Christ, we develop within ourselves a living spring that will quench eternally our thirst for happiness, peace, and everlasting life. The Lord explains clearly in the Doctrine and Covenants that only faithful obedience can tap the well of living water that refreshes and enlivens our souls: 'But unto him that keepeth my commandments I will give the mysteries of my kingdom, and the same shall be in him a well of living water, springing up unto everlasting life' (D&C 63:23) ....
"These latter days are a time of great spiritual thirst. Many in the world are searching, often intensely, for a source of refreshment that will quench their yearning for meaning and direction in their lives. They crave a cool, satisfying drink of insight and knowledge that will soothe their parched souls. Their spirits cry out for life-sustaining experiences of peace and calm to nourish and enliven their withering hearts....
"As at Jacob's well, so today the Lord Jesus Christ is the only source of living water. It will quench the thirst of those suffering from the drought of divine truth that so afflicts the world."
- Joseph B. Wirthlin, "Living Water to Quench Spiritual Thirst," Ensign, May 1995, p. 18
Click here to read the full talk

I like the concept of learning to "develop within ourselves a living spring that will quench eternally our thirst for happiness," What a glorious promise! And it comes from "faithful obedience," from truly living gospel principles.

I love this summary of how this principle is particularly pertinent to our day:

Monday, December 28, 2015

Dallin H. Oaks on applying the teachings of the Savior

Elder Dallin H. Oaks (b. August 12, 1932) served as president of BYU from 1971-1980.  He was then appointed as a justice of the Utah Supreme Court, and resigned when he was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1984.
"Brigham Young gave us some practical advice on how to do this [better apply the teachings and example of Jesus Christ in our lives]. 'The difference between God and the Devil,' he said, 'is that God creates and organizes, while the whole study of the Devil is to destroy' (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 69). In that contrast we have an important example of the reality of 'opposition in all things' (2 Ne. 2:11).
"Remember, our Savior, Jesus Christ, always builds us up and never tears us down. We should apply the power of that example in the ways we use our time, including our recreation and diversions. Consider the themes of the books, magazines, movies, television, and music we make popular by our patronage. Do the purposes and actions portrayed in our chosen entertainment build up or tear down the children of God? During my lifetime I have seen a strong trend to displace what builds up and dignifies the children of God with portrayals and performances that are depressing, demeaning, and destructive.
"The powerful idea in this example is that whatever builds people up serves the cause of the Master, and whatever tears people down serves the cause of the adversary. We support one cause or the other every day by our patronage. This should remind us of our responsibility and motivate us toward fulfilling it in a way that would be pleasing to Him whose suffering offers us hope and whose example should give us direction."
- Dallin H. Oaks, "Powerful Ideas," Ensign, November 1995, pp. 25-27
Click here to read the full talk

Elder Oaks, in quoting Brigham Young, shares a fascinating summary of the difference between God and Satan: the motivation behind their actions.  God desires to create and organize; Satan tries always to pull down and destroy.

He encourages us to use this principle as we choose how to use our time, particularly our "free time" of recreation. Each activity we choose to participate in should be uplifting, should build up both ourselves and others. Elder Oaks cautions about the modern trend to things that are "depressing, demeaning, and destructive."

In looking ahead to a new year, it would be a good time to evaluate our lives and consider if our choices are in line with this wise counsel.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Neal A. Maxwell on the gifts of an unending Christmas

Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926-2004) served as a Seventy from 1976-1981, then as a member of the Quorum of Twelve until his death from cancer in 2004.
"God's gifts, unlike seasonal gifts, are eternal and unperishable, constituting a continuing Christmas which is never over! These infinite gifts are made possible by the 'infinite atonement' (2 Nephi 9:7; Alma 34:10-12). Without the 'infinte atonement' there would be no universal immortality, nor could there be given the greatest gift which even God can give—eternal life! (D&C 6:13; 14:7.)
"Meanwhile, if we cannot distinguish the eternal things from the things of the day, we are to be pitied. The first Christmas in the Middle East was met with massive, uncomprehending indifference. In both fact and symbol there was no room at the inn. People were busy, just as in the days of Noah, and just as they will be prior to the Second Coming....
"He before whom a few gifts were laid in that lowly manger has spread so many gifts before us, thereby providing an unending Christmas. In fact, from Him for whom there was no room at the inn there comes to the faithful so many blessings 'that there shall not be room enough to receive [them]'! (Malachi 3:10.)"
- Neal A. Maxwell, "The Christmas Scene," Bookcraft (1994), p. 4, 5

The concept of an "infinite gift" is foreign to most of our mortal interactions; so many of our gifts are temporary, disposable, non-lasting. How fortunate we are to be the recipients of such divine gifts—"eternal and unperishable."

I appreciated the description of that first Christmas night, and the gift that was met with "massive, uncomprehending indifference." That problem is widespread in our day, with the busy-ness of our lives and the confusion of priorities!

So Jesus provides to us "an unending Christmas" of gifts and blessings—more than we have room to receive! How He must love us! How we should love Him!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Ezra Taft Benson on the blessings of the Christmas season

President Ezra Taft Benson (1899-1994) was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1943, and served as the 13th President of the Church from 1985 until his death in 1994 at age 94.
"Perhaps one of the greatest things about this wonderful Christmas season we celebrate is that it increases our sensitivity to things spiritual, to things of God. It causes us to contemplate our relationship with our Father and the degree of devotion we have for God.
"It prompts us to be more tolerant and giving, more conscious of others, more generous and genuine, more filled with hope and charity and love—all Christlike attributes. No wonder the spirit of Christmas is such that it touches the hearts of people the world over. Because for at least a time, increased attention and devotion is turned toward our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
"This Christmas, as we reflect upon the wonderful memories of the past, let us commit to give a most meaningful gift to the Lord. Let us give Him our lives, our sacrifices. Those who do so will discover that He can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. Whoever will lose his life in the service of God will find eternal life.
"Without Christ there would be no Christmas, and without Christ there can be no fulness of joy. It is my testimony that the Babe of Bethlehem, Jesus the Christ, is the one perfect guide, the one perfect example. Only by emulating Him and adhering to His eternal truth can we realize peace on earth and good will toward all. There is no other way. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Light."
- Ezra Taft Benson, Ezra Taft Benson Remembers the Joy of Christmas [Deseret 2009], pp. 1-13
Click here to read the full article

Christmas Day may have passed, but the Christmas season is still in full force, and the spirit of Christmas should linger for a long time. If we've been watching this season, we've felt how the spirit "increases our sensitivity to things spiritual" and are better individuals than we were. The very act of having "increased attention and devotion... turned toward our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ" truly does make a difference.  Therefore, what should we do as Christmas moves into the past?

I truly believe, as President Benson testifies, that "without Christ there can be no fulness of joy." May we seek to include him more in our lives as we "give him our lives" and as we strive to emulate Him and adhere to his Gospel truths.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Thomas S. Monson on rededication during the Christmas season

President Thomas S. Monson (b. August 21, 1927) was sustained to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1963. He served as a counselor in the First Presidency with Presidents Benson, Hunter, and Hinckley until becoming Church president in 2008.
"There is no better time than now, this very Christmas season, for all of us to rededicate ourselves to the principles taught by Jesus the Christ. It is the time to love the Lord, our God, with all our heart—and our neighbors as ourselves. It is well to remember that he who gives money gives much; he who gives time gives more; but he who gives of himself gives all.
"Let us make Christmas real. It isn't just tinsel and ribbon, unless we have made it so in our lives. Christmas is the spirit of giving without a thought of getting. It is happiness because we see joy in people. It is forgetting self and finding time for others. It is discarding the meaningless and stressing the true values. It is peace because we have found peace in the Savior's teachings. It is the time we realize most deeply that the more love is expended, the more there is of it for others....
"As the Christmas season envelops us with all its glory, may we, as did the Wise Men, seek a bright, particular star to guide us to our Christmas opportunity in service to our fellowman. May we all make the journey to Bethlehem in spirit, taking with us a tender, caring heart as our gift to the Savior. And may one and all have a joy-filled Christmas."
- Thomas S. Monson, "Christmas is Love," First Presidency Christmas Devotional, December 2012
Click here to read the full article

Among the many wonderful reminders of the Christmas season is this invitation to "rededicate ourselves to the principles taught by Jesus the Christ." What better activity could we engage in on this special day, than to solemnly consider where we might do better as disciples of Jesus Christ, and then commit to do it?

President Monson believes this would "make Christmas real" — much more so than the outward decorations or celebrations. It happens when we forget ourselves, when we discard the things that are "meanlingless" and replace them with "true values." So this is the grand invitation:

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Dieter F. Uchtdorf on simplifying and focusing on the Savior

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf (b. 1940) served as a Seventy from 1994-2004, when he was called as a member of the Quorum of Twelve.  He has served as second counselor in the First Presidency since 2008.
"Sometimes the most precious and sacred things are right in front of us—in plain sight, so to speak—but we cannot or will not see them.
"This may be especially true during the blessed and precious season of Christmas....
"Sometimes, despite our best intentions, we become so preoccupied with responsibilities, commitments, and the stress of our many tasks that we fail to see with our hearts that which is essential and most sacred....
"Sometimes when we read about people who could not see the Savior for who He was, we marvel at their blindness. But do we also let distractions obstruct our view of the Savior—during this Christmas season and throughout the year? Some are external distractions—the gifts we worry about, the decorations, or the clamorous advertising—but often it is what is inside us that blinds us from seeing the Christ....
"This is a season of rejoicing! A season of celebration! A wonderful time when we acknowledge that our Almighty God sent His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to redeem the world! To redeem us!
"It is a season of charitable acts of kindness and brotherly love. It is a season of being more reflective about our own lives and about the many blessing that are ours. It is a season of forgiving and being forgiven.
"But perhaps most of all, let it be a season of seeking the Lamb of God, the King of Glory, the Everlasting Light of the World, the Great Hope of Mankind, the Savior and Redeemer of our souls.
"I promise that if we unclutter our lives a little bit and in sincerity and humility seek the pure and gentle Christ with our hearts, we will see Him, we will find Him—on Christmas and throughout the year."
- Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "How to See the Christ in Christmas," First Presidency Christmas Devotional, December 6, 2009
Click here to read the full article

President Uchtdorf warns us of something that has become one of the great traps or pitfalls of our time: the tendency to "become so preoccupied with responsibilities, commitments, and the stress of our many tasks that we fail to see with our hearts that which is essential and most sacred." We miss seeing, and experiencing, some of the most precious and blessed aspects of life when that occurs. And it often happens during "the blessed and precious season of Christmas"!

His counsel is to "unclutter our lives a little bit." I think that applies not to the physical things we accumulate, though they can be very distracting; but moreso to the commitments, the priorities, the choices. We must be careful to focus on "the things that matter most" particularly at this time of year.

Christmastime would be the right time to establish the pattern to bless our lives throughout the coming year!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Howard W. Hunter on true Christmas giving

President Howard W. Hunter (1907-1995) was called to the Quorum of Twelve in 1959.  He served as Church President for only nine months, from June 5, 1994 to his death on March 3, 1995.
"Never did the Savior give in expectation of receiving. He gave freely and lovingly, and his gifts were of inestimable value. He gave eyes to the blind, ears to the deaf, and legs to the lame; cleanliness to the unclean, wholeness to the infirm, and breath to the lifeless. His gifts were opportunity to the downtrodden, freedom to the oppressed, forgiveness to the repentant, hope to the despairing, and light in the darkness. He gave us his love, his service, his life. And most important, he gave us and all mortals resurrection, salvation, and eternal life....
"This Christmas, mend a quarrel. Seek out a forgotten friend. Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust. Write a letter. Give a soft answer. Encourage youth. Manifest your loyalty in word and deed. Keep a promise. Forgo a grudge. Forgive an enemy. Apologize. Try to understand. Examine your demands on others. Think first of someone else. Be kind. Be gentle. Laugh a little more. Express your gratitude. Welcome a stranger. Gladden the heart of a child. Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth. Speak your love and then speak it again.
"Christmas is a celebration, and there is no celebration that compares with the realization of its true meaning—with the sudden stirring of the heart that has extended itself unselfishly in the things that matter most (see McCalls Magazine, Dec. 1959, pp. 82-83).
"A life filled with unselfish service will also be filled with peace that surpasses understanding. This peace can come only through living the principles of the gospel. These principles constitute the program of the Prince of Peace, who is also the Prince of Glory and the Prince of Eternal Progress."
- Howard W. Hunter, First Presidency Christmas Devotional, December 4, 1994; see Ensign Feb. 1995, p. 77
Click here to read a report of the talk

I've always loved this excerpt from gentle President Hunter. It provides some of the most memorable and powerful thoughts of Christmas that can bless and change lives. First, he ponders about the example of the Savior in giving gifts—the One who never gave "in expectation of receiving" but instead devoted his life to serving and teaching.

The, President Hunter shares one of the truly precious lists of suggestions to help us achieve that same spirit of Christmas love and giving. Surely there is something in this summary that each of us could choose that would make the holiday more blessed for us and for those around us:

And finally, this beautiful promise: "A life filled with unselfish service will also be filled with peace that surpasses understanding." What a treasure that would be!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

David A. Bednar on the light of Christmas

Elder David A. Bednar (b. 1952) was sustained as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 2004.
"The account of the first Christmas in the Book of Mormon helps us to learn and more fully understand that Jesus Christ is the 'light which shineth in darkness' (see D&C 10:57–61). In every season of our lives, in all of the circumstances we may encounter, and in each challenge we may face, Jesus Christ is the light that dispels fear, provides assurance and direction, and engenders enduring peace and joy.
"Many of our memorable and enduring Christmas traditions include different kinds of lights—lights on trees, lights in and on our homes, candles on our tables. May the beautiful lights of every holiday season remind us of Him who is the source of all light.
      "Yet in thy dark streets shineth
      The everlasting Light.
      The hopes and fears of all the years
      Are met in thee tonight.
      ('O Little Town of Bethlehem,' Hymns, no. 208).
"I witness that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, triumphantly fulfilled His mortal mission and ministry, and as our resurrected Lord, He lives today."
- David A. Bednar, "The Light and the Life of the World," First Presidency Christmas Devotional, December 6, 2015
Click here to read the full article

In this year's Christmas Devotional, Elder Bednar spoke about the symbolism of light and how it was accentuated during the Christmas season. It's always important to remember what the symbol stands for. so that we can be blessed by remembrance each time we experience the symbol!

That "light which shineth in darkness" is the last and only hope we have for true peace and security. Those "hopes and fears of all the years" are not only "met," but vanquished, in Him.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Henry B. Eyring on giving gifts to the Savior

President Henry B. Eyring (1933- ) served in the Presiding Bishopric from 1985-1992, as a Seventy from 1992-1995, then was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. He has served in the First Presidency since 2007.
"You may well want to give a gift to the Savior. But he seems to have everything, doesn't he? Well, not quite. He doesn't have all of us with him again, forever—not yet. I hope we are touched enough by the feelings of his heart to sense how much he wants to know each of us is coming home to him. We can't give that gift to him in one day, or in one Christmas. But we could show him today that we are on the way.
"If we have already done that, there is still something left to give. All around us are people he loves, and he wants to help them—through us.
"One of the sure signs of a person who has accepted the gift of the Savior's atonement is a willingness to give. The process of cleansing our lives seems to make us more sensitive, more generous, more pleased to share what means so much to us....
"I hope that each of us this Christmas season will be touched by the feelings of others and give freely, without compulsion or expectation of gain. I hope we experience the joy of sacrifice, of giving something of ourselves. If we do so, we will learn this final lesson about giving—that those gifts are truly great which are given simply for the joy they bring to another heart."
- Henry B. Eyring, "Giving with Joy," Ensign, Dec. 1982, pp. 9-11
Click here to read the full talk

President Eyring is always thoughtful and penetrating in his remarks. This is a fascinating thought; what does the Savior not possess that we can give to him? It starts with our own hearts, our commitment to His gospel plan:

But then the next step we can give is to help others around us do the same. In fact, as we draw nearer to Him and engage in "the process of cleansing our lives," we become "more sensitive, more generous, more pleased to share what means so much to us." We will want to sacrifice and share for His good and for the joy we will be spreading. What a beautiful Christmas thought!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Robert D. Hales on Christmas and the Covenants of the Sacrament

Elder Robert D. Hales (b. August 24, 1932) served as a Seventy from 1976 to 1985, when he was called as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles.
"Each week as we participate in the ordinance of the sacrament, we renew the promise of the Savior's birth in our own lives. We take His name upon us, and we renew our covenant of obedience and our promise that we will always remember Him.
"The gospel, as recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, is this:
"'That he came into the world, even Jesus, to be crucified for the world, and to bear the sins of the world, and to sanctify the world, and to cleanse it from all unrighteousness;
"'That through him all might be saved' (D&C 76:41-42).
"May we take time this Christmas season to renew our covenants to follow the Savior and to do His will, just as He did the will of our Heavenly Father. As we do so, the words of King Benjamin's people, recorded 125 years before the Savior's birth, will be fulfilled for us today: 'O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men' (Mosiah 4:2)."
- Robert D. Hales, "The Promise of Christmas," Ensign, Dec 2013, pp. 16-19
Click here to read the full article

I've never thought of the weekly partaking of the sacrament as a renewal of "the promise of the Savior's birth" in my life; that's an interesting perspective. It certainly helps make the holiday symbolism real and full of power in ongoing challenges and opportunities.

Elder Hales suggests that we find a time during the Christmas season to "renew our covenants to follow the Savior and to do His will." What more valid and meaningful gift could we give to Him, than to repent and recommit to be more faithful disciples?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Russell M. Nelson on Christmas meaning - past, present, and future

President Russell M. Nelson (b. Sept 9, 1924) was an internationally-renowned heart surgeon when he was called to serve as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1984. He was set apart as president of the Quorum of Twelve on July 15, 2015.
"Through all of our various Christmas traditions, I hope that we are focused first upon the Lord Jesus Christ. Wise men still adore Him....
"I plead with you to rise above the tasks of the day and the hurdles ahead. You can do more than the deeds scheduled in your daily planners. You can take the name of the Lord upon you and become more like Him. You can rise to your great potential. You can prepare for the future with greater spiritual capacity.
"Remember that the fulness of Christ's ministry lies in the future. The prophecies of His Second Coming have yet to be fulfilled. At Christmas, of course, we focus upon His birth. But, He will come again. At His First Coming Jesus came almost in secret. Only a few mortals knew of His birth. At His Second Coming the whole of humankind will know of His return. Then He will come, not as 'a man traveling on the earth' (D&C 49:22), but His glory 'shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together' (Isaiah 40:5; see also D&C 101:23).
"As a special witness of His holy name, I testify that Jesus is the divine Son of the living God. He will love you, lift you, and manifest Himself unto you if you will love Him and keep His commandments. (See John 14:21.)"
- Russell M. Nelson, "Christ the Savior is Born," BYU Devotional, 10 December 2002
Click here to read the full talk

President Nelson reminds us how easy it is to get caught up in the rush of Christmas traditions, and encourages us to "rise above" the busy-ness and the required activities in order to focus on reaching our greater potential.

Christmas, and the almost secret and solitary first coming of the Savior, should also remind us of the future "second coming" when "the whole of humankind will know of His return." We should be motivated in this season to prepare; to feel His love, and allow that love to move and motivate our souls and our lives to greater service and faithfulness.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Gordon B. Hinckley on Christmas symbols and Christmas love

President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910-2008) was called to the Quorum of Twelve in 1961, served as a counselor in the First Presidency from 1981-1995, then as Church President until his death in 2008 at age 97.
"Christmas is more than trees and twinkling lights, more than toys and gifts and baubles of a hundred varieties. It is love. It is the love of the Son of God for all mankind. It reaches out beyond our power to comprehend. It is magnificent and beautiful.
"It is peace. It is the peace which comforts, which sustains, which blesses all who accept it.
"It is faith. It is faith in God and His Eternal Son. It is faith in His wondrous ways and message. It is faith in Him as our Redeemer and our Lord.
"We testify of His living reality. We testify of the divinity of His nature. In our times of grateful meditation, we acknowledge His priceless gift to us and pledge our love and faith . This is what Christmas is really about."
- Gordon B. Hinckley, "A Season for Gratitude," Ensign, Dec. 1997, pp. 2-5
Click here to read the full talk

In its final, deepest expression, "Christmas is love." It's the manifestation of the Savior's love for each of us. It's the peace that love creates when we accept it; it's the faith engendered as we follow Him.

We need more "times of grateful meditation" when we can "acknowledge His priceless gift to us and pledge our love and faith" to Him. May we each resolve to find those times in this busy season!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Spencer W. Kimball on the proper spirit of Christmas giving

President Spencer W. Kimball (1895-1985) was ordained an apostle in 1943 and served as President of the Church from 1973 to 1985.
"Like the wise men who opened their treasury and presented to Jesus gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh, we present to our loved ones things to eat and wear and enjoy.
"Though we make an effort to follow the pattern of gift giving, sometimes our program becomes an exchange—gift given for gift expected. Never did the Savior give in expectation. I know of no case in his life in which there was an exchange. He was always the giver, seldom the recipient. Never did he give shoes, hose, or a vehicle; never did he give perfume, a shirt, or a fur wrap. His gifts were of such a nature that the recipient could hardly exchange or return the value. His gifts were rare ones: eyes to the blind, ears to the deaf, and legs to the lame; cleanliness to the unclean, wholeness to the infirm, and breath to the lifeless. His gifts were opportunity to the downtrodden, freedom to the oppressed, light in the darkness, forgiveness to the repentant, hope to the despairing. His friends gave him shelter, food, and love. He gave them of himself, his love, his service, his life. The wise men brought him gold and frankincense. He gave them and all their fellow mortals resurrection, salvation, and eternal life. We should strive to give as he gave. To give of oneself is a holy gift."
- Spencer W. Kimball, "The Wondrous Gift," pamphlet, 1978; see also TSWK pp. 246-247

In the gift-giving of this Christmas season, it's very easy to lose focus on the meaning of the action. Even if we're not giving "in expectation" of a return, or in response to a previous gift, we can still give just to impress or just because we feel it's expected. I love President Kimball's analysis of the meaning of our gifts in light of the Savior's example.

This is a beautiful conclusion and a sacred reminder:
"We should strive to give as he gave.
To give of oneself is a holy gift."

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Harold B. Lee on Jesus and Christmas

President Harold B. Lee (1899-1973) was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1941. He served as a counselor in the First Presidency from 1970-1972, then as Church president from July 1972 until his passing less than 18 months later in December 1973.

The following message, written and published just before President Lee's untimely passing, was addressed to the children of the Church all around the world.
"Christmas will soon be here once again—Christmas, that joyous time of year when everyone thinks about giving and receiving gifts.
"As your eyes sparkle with the excitement of this happy season and as you sing the lovely Christmas carols, may you remember the beautiful story of the Baby Jesus, who was born in a lowly manger in Bethlehem while shepherds watched their flocks by night on the plains of Judea. This was God’s gift to the world.
"When the angel Gabriel first visited young Mary in Nazareth, he told her she had been chosen to become the mother of the Son of God and that she should call his name Jesus, a special name meaning Savior.
"Down through the ages, Jesus has been known by many other names that tell of His greatness and of His work. Among these names are Christ, Holy One, Redeemer, Immanuel, Son of God, Teacher, Messiah, Almighty, and, of course, Savior.
"The first letters of these sacred titles spell the name of this season when we celebrate the wondrous birth of the Baby Jesus. As you think about gifts this Christmas, we hope you will think of the meaning of these names given to Jesus by those who knew and loved Him. Then you will be reminded of the blessings of this special holiday.
"A few miles from Bethlehem where Jesus was born is the city of Jerusalem where He died for us. This too is part of the Christmas story.
"Jesus gave not only His life but His gospel for each of us. His gift of the gospel was freely given to the world. But just as a gift is of little value if you put it on a shelf and never use it, the fulness of the gospel cannot bring the greatest happiness unless you understand its message of hope and gladly live its teachings.
"You can make the gospel a wonderful part of your life by listening to your parents and obeying them, by giving thanks to our Heavenly Father for all of your blessings, and by showing your love for Him through caring for and sharing with others all through the year.
"When you do this, then in your own small way you too are giving the greatest possible gift—the gift of yourself. And as you do, the sweet spirit of Christmas will glow and grow in your heart long after exciting new games and presents are lost or worn out.
"No matter who you are or where you live, we give you at this Christmastime—and always—our blessing. Each one of you is special in our sight, and we know you are precious to our Heavenly Father and to His Beloved Son, whose birth on that first Christmas long ago was the greatest of all gifts."
- Harold B. Lee, N. Eldon Tanner, Marion G. Romney - The First Presidency, "A Christmas Message to Children of the Church in Every Land," Friend, December 1973
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There were several interesting thoughts in this excerpt. The importance of the Savior's name, as given by an angel to his mother, is the first of those. President Lee considers various names given, and arranges them creatively to show a linkage to the word "Christmas."

President Lee talks about gifts, and how the gift the Savior's life and death were both parts of the Christmas message. There is also the gift of the Gospel — the teachings, the path He showed. This thought is beautiful: "But just as a gift is of little value if you put it on a shelf and never use it, the fulness of the gospel cannot bring the greatest happiness unless you understand its message of hope and gladly live its teachings."

And finally, as we receive the gift of the gospel, we give the gift of ourselves back to Him. What a perfect symmetry!
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