Giving

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As a father at Christmas time there are two things that particularly fill me with joy – 1) Giving gifts to my children and seeing their joy over those gifts and 2) seeing my children give gifts to each other and express gratitude for those gifts.

Perhaps all parents love giving gifts to their children, especially when they are young. There is little in life more rewarding than seeing expressions of joy and wonder on the faces of children when receiving gifts. There is little more rewarding than spending time figuring out what gifts children will like. Christmas time in particular gives me a glimpse into how our Heavenly Father feels towards us. All the joy I receive in giving gifts to my children is a reflection of the joy He must feel as He gives us gifts. Do we recognize those gifts and express gratitude for them? How must He feel when we abuse or do not acknowledge the gifts we receive from Him?

Last night, so as not to have them lost in the shuffle of opening other presents, my wife and I had our children open the gifts they had for and from each other. My oldest daughter spent many hours making gifts for her siblings. She sewed by hand stuffed animals for her sister and brother, making their favorite animals. That was touching enough to see how much time she spent on the gifts (they turned out quite well and cute). Even better was seeing the reaction of my other daughter upon opening the present; she pulled it out, looked at it, gave it a hug and said, “I love it!” Seeing the joy and the gratitude on my younger daughter’s face for the gift that had been made with a lot of love and time and a little stuffing brought tears to my eyes. I thought about how much Heavenly Father must love seeing His children do kind things for each other and be touched when gratitude and joy are shown in response.

I thought of the Sermon on the Mount when Christ taught, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matt. 7:7-11).

Our Father wants to give us gifts and He does! He blesses us many times and in many ways we will never know in this life. This is one reason we are commanded to be grateful in all things. This Christmas season is a particular time of giving. May we we experience the joy and wonder that comes as give freely with love to those around us! May we express gratitude to those who give so much to us – parents, family, friends, strangers, and God.

Remembering the True Meaning of Christmas

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In the midst of the Civil War, following the news that his son had been injured in fighting, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned the following words:

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound the carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn, the households born
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

These words still resonate strongly today in our tumultuous world. People cry for peace but peace is rarely found. Nations strive against nations. Brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers strive against one another. Hate, mistrust, abuse, and violence are rampant. It is enough to make people despair – and many do. Many feel that hope is lost; that “hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.” The answer for all this despair and darkness is not found in human philosophies. It is not found in worldly goods. The Answer once lay in a manger surrounded by animals and bathed in starlight.

In the most humble of circumstances, the Prince of Peace, the King of Heaven and Earth, was born. He came with no great fanfare, other than the witness of angels to shepherds and the witness of a star to those with eyes to see. This singular event was the start of the most important years – 33 of them – in the history of the world.

In contrast to the humble birth and life of the Savior, the Christmas season is full of frenetic shopping and greedy consumerism. However, there is much positive too; it is also a season full of giving, thanksgiving, love, family, and joy. At this Christmas time, I pray that we all might remember who Christmas really is about. The LDS Church has a webpage devoted to the True Meaning of Christmas.

Christmas should not be about getting, it should be about giving. It is a time that we celebrate the birth of the Savior Jesus Christ. He gave His life – His whole life – for us so that we could be saved. Just as wise men brought the young Jesus gifts, so too should we give gifts to others. The best gifts are not the ones that cost money. We should give of our time and our love. We should give our forgiveness unto others if we feel that they have wronged us. We should give service to those in need and even to those who do not think they are in need.

Pres. Thomas S. Monson said, “For a few moments, may we set aside the catalogs of Christmas, with their gifts of exotic description. Let’s even turn from the flowers for Mother, the special tie for Father, the cute doll, the train that whistles, the long-awaited bicycle—even the books and videos—and direct our thoughts to God-given gifts that endure” (Source).

The greatest gift we could give this Christmas time is the gift of our hearts, our souls, and our will to the Savior. We should rededicate ourselves to Him and to living His gospel. We should do the things that the Savior would do – help others, lift those who suffer, do good to those who spitefully use us, and share of our abundance (or even in our lack of abundance) with those around us.

Here is a beautiful video the LDS Church produced that explains the true meaning of Christmas.

I pray that in our world there will be peace this Christmas season. While we may not be able to bring an end to war, we can do our part in promoting peace by having peace in our families, our homes, and our hearts. May we keep the pealing of Christmas bells always in our hearts. May we always remember that “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;/ The wrong shall fail, the right prevail/ With peace on earth, good will to men!”