I was asked to give a talk at the chuch I attend for the Christmas program (check out mormon.org) and decided to post it here in case anyone wants to read it.
Today I was asked to speak on the Savior’s birth and divinity. Christmas is a time filled with anticipation— anticipation of presents, good food, and celebrations. Sometimes it seems that the first 24 days in December are just too long to wait. Imagine if you had to wait for 1,000 years! The first Christmas—the Savior’s divine birth—had been prophesied for years, from Isaiah in the Old Testament to Samuel the Lamanite in the Book of Mormon. Isaiah prophesied the birth of the Messiah: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” Some six hundred years before Jesus was born, Nephi had a vision. He saw Mary and described her as “a virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins.” He then saw her “carried away in the Spirit; … for the space of a time.” When she returned she was bearing a child in her arms, “even the son of the Eternal Father!” God was His Father, Mary, his mortal mother. He is the only person born who rightfully deserves the title “the Only Begotten Son of God”.
For believers, Christ’s birth and death, are the two greatest events in the history of the earth or, for that matter, eternity. In the unknown years the universe has existed, its two greatest events occurred within a 33-year span. Elder Tadd R Callister explained “ That night, the Savior traded his heavenly home with all his celestial adornments for a mortal abode with all its primitive trappings. He, the king of heaven, the Lord Omnipotent, who reigenth left a throne to inherit a manger. He exchanged the wealth, power, dominion, and fullness of his glory for what? For taunting, mocking, humiliation and subjection. It was a trade of unparallel dimension, a condescension of incredible proportions, a descent of incalculable depth. And so, the great Jehovah, creator of worlds without number, infinite in virtue and power, made his entry intro this world in swaddling clothes and a manger”.
The gift of His great atoning sacrifice marks another sign of his divinity. Christmas means giving. The Father gave his Son, and the Son gave His life. Without giving there is no true Christmas. If sacrifice for others is the highest manifestation of love, then the Atonement of Jesus Christ is the greatest demonstration of love this world has ever known. Emerson helps put in perspective the value of this gift: “The only gift is a portion of thyself”. In this spirit, the Savior’s sacrifice was the noblest gift of all because he who possessed all gave all.
Through the atonement, we have been given the gift of repentence. Elder Holland has taught that “We thank our Father in Heaven we are allowed to change, we thank Jesus we can change, and ultimately we do so only with Their divine assistance. Certainly not everything we struggle with is a result of our actions. Often it is the result of the actions of others or just the mortal events of life. But anything we can change we should change, and we must forgive the rest. In this way our access to the Savior’s Atonement becomes as unimpeded as we, with our imperfections, can make it. He will take it from there.”
When we comtemplate the Savior’s birth and Atonement, it inspires in us a generous heart. This can come as we feel the needs of others more than our own and when we sense how generous God has been to us. President Eyring states that--It helps to see the kindness of others at Christmastime. How many times have you gone to leave a gift on a doorstep, hoping not to be noticed, only to find more than one unmarked gift already there? Have you felt, as I have, the impression to help someone only to find that what you were inspired to give was exactly what someone needed at that very moment? That is a wonderful assurance that God knows all of our needs and counts on us to fill the needs of others around us. God sends those messages to us with more confidence at Christmastime, knowing that we will respond because our hearts are more sensitive to the Savior’s example and to the words of His servants.
There are many things we can do to remember the Savior’s birth and serve others. Here are some suggestions ( ideas taken from this website).
1) Give God one very special gift just from you to him:
Let this gift be something personal that no one else needs to know about, and let it be a sacrifice. David said in 2 Samuel 24 that he would not offer a sacrifice to God that cost him nothing. Maybe your gift to God will be to forgive someone you've needed to forgive for a long time. You may discover that you've given a gift back to yourself. Corrie Ten Boom, a Christian who survived extreme brutality in a German concentration camp after rescuing many Jews from certain death during the Nazi Holocaust, was later able to say, "Forgiveness is to set a prisoner free, and to realize the prisoner was you." Perhaps your gift will be to commit to spending time with God daily. Or maybe there is something God has asked you to give up. Make this your most important gift of the season.
2) Set aside a special time to read the Christmas story in Luke 2.
3) Set up a Nativity scene in your home.
4) Plan a project of good will this Christmas.
5) Take a group Christmas caroling in a nursing home, children’s hospital, or just to a neighborhood. For instance, here is a story of four young missionaries. “It was our first Christmas away from home. Elders Heemeyer, Bright, Kehoe, Schulze, Westover, and I had all gathered in one apartment to share Christmas Eve. We hoped that spending the evening together as a missionary district might make it easier to be away from home. It was about 5:30 in the afternoon, and we were all a little discouraged. Setting up appointments with investigators and finding new people to teach had been difficult recently. “Come back after Christmas,” everyone said. After talking for a few minutes, Elder Schulze suggested we go caroling to the homes of our investigators and some of the members. We all thought it was a great idea, and we planned a short program. We would start with two hymns and a spiritual thought. Then we would conclude with another hymn and a prayer. The whole program would be only 20 minutes long, but we all felt pleased with it. Before we left, we knelt to pray. Then we set out into the cold night on the south side of Chicago. Our first stop was the apartment of a member whose daughter and two grandchildren were investigating the Church. We certainly weren’t the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but for six elders we sounded pretty good. After we shared our program, the family told us our “gift” was the best they had ever received. Soon we were at a different apartment presenting our program to another family. At every stop, our enthusiasm and joy grew. We kept hearing the same response: “This is the best gift ever. You really brought the Christmas spirit.” That night I came to better understand the true meaning of Christmas—that sharing and serving others are what Jesus Christ’s ministry is all about. And while we were busy in the service of others and of the Savior, home didn’t really seem so far away.
6) Give a surprise gift of service to each member of your family:.
7) Set aside a time of family devotions on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning.
8) If you are alone this Christmas or don't have family living near you, invite a friend or a neighbor to join you at church. Even if you aren’t alone, you can still do this.
9) Send Christmas cards that convey a spiritual message:
10) Write a Christmas letter to a missionary:
I believe that the true meaning of Christmas is spending the Christmas season with family and friends, remembering the birth of Christ, reliving old traditions, or giving service to those in need. I am thankful for the Savior’s birth. I know He lived a perfect life. I pray that we may remember Him and His love for us always, not just at Christmastime.