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December is a magical time of year. At this time of year, we turn our sights toward a transcendent event that shaped the lives of billions of people. We recently rewatched the Netflix movie “The Christmas Chronicles.” The movie follows a sleighwrecked Santa traveling the streets of Chicago with two kids in search of his bag of gifts, reindeer, and most importantly his magic hat. Immediately after the sleigh crashes Santa, played by Kurt Russell, explains to the two kids who stowed away on his sleigh why he’s vital and the importance of the spirit of Christmas. He says, “Christmas spirit is more powerful than you could ever imagine. People need Christmas to remind themselves of how good they can be. Without it… Christmas, simply must endure.”
What is the spirit of Christmas and why is it so important? President Thomas S. Monson answered this very question in his 2011 Christmas Devotional address. He stated, “When we keep the spirit of Christmas, we keep the Spirit of Christ, for the Christmas spirit is the Christ Spirit. It will block out all the distractions around us which can diminish Christmas and swallow up its true meaning.”
As our hearts and minds turn to the Savior and His birth during this season, we bring with it the Holy Ghost and its influence. This is one of the reasons that statement in the movie resonated so much with me. This time of year, we are all reminded of how good we can be and that there is more to life than politics, work, and material goods. Yes, those things still hold influence but they are lessened by the magic of the season as people think outside of themselves and look for opportunities to serve.
These experiences have been reflected throughout history. One such event occurred in December 1914 during World War I. On Christmas Day that year in the trenches in Belgium, the Christmas spirit made a surprising appearance in the midst of one of the deadliest wars in world history. British and German troops in many places up and down the line began an informal truce. It started with the singing of Christmas carols by the German troops, was followed by British troops singing, and culminated with troops from both sides meeting in No Man’s Land to exchange drinks and treats with each other. In a few places there were even soccer games played between the troops. While the truce didn’t last it gives a glance to what the Santa in the movie related: it reminds us of how good we can be, even in the midst of a terrible war.
When we celebrate Christmas, we focus on the birth of the Savior. The Church’s video to bring in the Christmas season, The Christ Child, represents this perfectly. The Christmas spirit is more than just the birth of the Son of God. As President Hinckley stated, “The babe Jesus of Bethlehem would be but another baby without the redeeming Christ of Gethsemane and Calvary, and the triumphant fact of the Resurrection.” It’s at this time of year we are reminded also of the Savior’s perfect example and acts of service and kindness. When else throughout the year do we spend four weeks looking for opportunities to serve others and be kind?
“For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:
“Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth:
“Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:
“Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.
“For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:21-15)
When we celebrate Christmas we celebrate the whole life of the Savior. “You can’t separate Bethlehem from Gethsemane or the hasty flight into Egypt from the slow journey to the summit of Calvary. It’s of one piece. It is a single plan. It considers ‘the fall and rising again of many in Israel,’ but always in that order,” Elder Holland explains. “Christmas is joyful not because it is a season or decade or lifetime without pain and privation, but precisely because life does hold those moments for us. And that baby, my son, my own beloved and Only Begotten Son in the flesh, born ‘away in a manger, [with] no crib for his bed,’ makes all the difference in the world, all the difference in time and eternity, all the difference everywhere, worlds without number, a lot farther than your eye can see.”
Elder Craig C. Christensen in a Christmas Devotional explained,
“Christmas invites feelings of tenderness, joy, and love. And as any parent will attest, similar feelings typically attend the birth of each newborn child. Of course, Christ’s birth was unlike any other. The precious details—the journey to Bethlehem, an overcrowded inn, a lowly manger, a newfound star, and ministering angels—make His a birth story for the ages. Yet the story of the Savior’s birth represents only a part of why we feel the Spirit during the Christmas season. Christmas is not only a celebration of how Jesus came into the world but also of knowing who He is—our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ—and of why He came.”
We’ve learned a lot about the Atonement this year. Through a series of trials we have drawn closer to the Savior and understood better how to more effectively utilize the Atonement in our daily lives. Elder Paul Dunn related the following parable in a BYU Devotional many years ago.
It seems a certain man went through the forest seeking any bird of interest he might find. He caught a young eagle, brought it home and put it among his fowls and ducks and turkeys and gave it chicken’s food to eat even though it was an eagle, the king of the birds.
Five years later a naturalist came to see him and after passing through his garden said, “That bird is an eagle, not a chicken.”
“Yes,” said the owner, “But I have trained it to be a chicken. It is no longer an eagle. It is a chicken, even though it measures fifteen feet from tip to tip of its wings.”
“No,” said the naturalist. “It is an eagle still; it has the heart of an eagle and I will make it soar high up to the heavens.”
“No,” said the owner, “it is a chicken, and it will never fly.”
They agreed to test it. The naturalist picked up the eagle. “Thou dost belong to the sky and not to this earth; stretch forth thy wings and fly.” The eagle turned this way and that and, then, looking down, saw the chickens eating their food and down he jumped.
The owner said, “I told you it was a chicken.”
“No,” said the naturalist, “it is an eagle. Give it another chance tomorrow.”
So the next day he took it to the top of the house and said, “Eagle, thou art an eagle; stretch forth thy wings and fly.” But again the eagle, seeing the chickens feeding, jumped down and fed with them.
Then the owner said, “I told you it was a chicken.”
“No,” asserted the naturalist, “it is an eagle and it still has the heart of an eagle. Only give it one more chance, and I will make it fly tomorrow.”
The next morning he rose early and took the eagle outside the city, away from the houses, to the foot of a high mountain. The sun was just rising, gilding the top of the mountain with gold, and every crag was glistening in the joy of that beautiful morning.
He picked up the eagle and said to it, “Eagle, thou art an eagle. Thou dost belong to the sky and not to this earth. Stretch forth thy wings and fly.” The eagle looked around and trembled as if new life were coming to it. But it did not fly. The naturalist then made it look straight at the sun. Suddenly it stretched out its wings and, with the screech of an eagle, it flew.
I love this parable. I feel like it can apply to many of life’s situations. The Atonement is a glorious gift bestowed upon all who wish to partake. We are like the eagle. Often we feel trapped by previous mistakes, perceived failures, feelings of inadequacy, or maybe all three. We are like the eagle in this parable. We are made to feel like a chicken, but the reality is we are eagles, made to soar. I have struggled with this over the past decade as I struggled with underemployment, bad work situations, and an inability to find a career. Inside I felt like an eagle. I knew I had so much more to offer than I was allowed to do. Over time though this was beaten down and I began to believe I was just a chicken. Occasionally, feelings of divine discontent would blossom in my breast only to be beaten out again.
The farmer is Satan. He wants to beat us down and turn us into what he wants; never realizing our full potential and forgetting the divinity within us. The Naturalist is the Savior. He sees us for who we really are. He wants to remind us that we are eagles, not chickens. The sunlight that ultimately convinces the eagle that it is an eagle and not a chicken is the Atonement. This, the ultimate gift, is a bright light shining through centuries of life, giving hope to lives in darkness and reminding all who look upon it intently that we are majestic eagles meant to soar.
What does all this have to do with Christmas though? Is there another time of year when the life of Jesus Christ is as clearly celebrated as it is at this time? Yes, there is Easter, but Christmas has a special place in the hearts of people, believers and unbelievers. President Ezra Taft Benson stated,
“It [Christmas] 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 touches the hearts of people the world over. … For at least a time, increased attention and devotion are turned toward our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
The Savior understands all our pains; everything we suffer in this life. Alma taught,
11 And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
12 And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. (Alma 7:11-12)
This has brought me immense comfort over the past several years, especially recently. President Thomas S. Monson taught, “As we undertake our personal search for Jesus, aided and guided by the principle of prayer, it is fundamental that we have a clear concept of him whom we seek. The shepherds of old sought Jesus the child. But we seek Jesus the Christ, our Older Brother, our Mediator with the Father, our Redeemer, the Author of our salvation; he who was in the beginning with the Father; he who took upon himself the sins of the world and so willingly died that we might forever live. This is the Jesus whom we seek.”
I have pondered lately how I can better use the Atonement in my life. While this principle has brought me much hope and comfort over the years, I have struggled with understanding how to best place my burdens on the Lord. As we approached this Christmas season and the trial we are experiencing feels as though it is coming to a head, I have begun to understand how to place my burdens on the Savior and allow the power of the Atonement to wash over my life.
For me, the crucial change involved a shift in my perspective. I have struggled, for most of the last decade, with feelings of insecurity, wondering if I’m good enough, and feeling alone. I also struggled with the ideas of if I had done enough, was good enough, and was capable of receiving the blessings I sought then and continue to seek. After much thought and prayer, I learned that the key to placing my burden on the Lord was letting go. I was required to relinquish control. I needed to admit that I had done the best I could with my past and that it was over and in the past. Nothing I did now could change that. Rehashing it over and over again on sleepless nights or difficult days would not change it. I have to remind myself each day that I did my best and once again relinquish control that when the time is right the Savior will grant me the blessings I seek. I also can’t allow myself to focus on an unknowable future. Too often I found myself creating stories about my past, present, and future around events I could not change or had not yet happened. By ceding control to the Savior, He is able to take my burdens and allow His sinless sacrifice to overcome my fear, grief, and pain.
President Howard W. Hunter said, “The real Christmas comes to him who has taken Christ into his life as a moving, dynamic, vitalizing force. The real spirit of Christmas lies in the life and mission of the Master.” At this wonderful and magical time of year we have the opportunity to reflect not only on the birth, but the life of Son of God. We see His perfect example, his ministering to the poor, infirm, forgotten, and cast off and we desire to be like him. For a short period of time each year the world comes together to think of others and find opportunities to serve and show forth love.
“This Christmas,” President Hunter exhorted in another Christmas talk, “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.”
In Matthew 25, Jesus taught that “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (40). At this time of year, as we have this opportunity to ponder the ministry of the Savior and exemplify His teachings in ways we ofttimes forget throughout the rest of the year, embrace the Spirit of Christmas. Remember, for some, it’s the kindness shown during this time of year that helps and heals them for the year to come.
We’ve had the wonderful opportunity this year to study the New Testament for the first year of Come, Follow Me. What better way to start out this new program than to start by studying the life, the ministry, and the words of Jesus Christ. Have you taken the opportunity to let these words sink into your hearts? Has your life changed? Have you learned to better utilize the Atonement in your daily life? What are we doing with the precious gift He has given us?
Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught, “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 ‘infinite 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).”
- Subscribe to the daily Light the World prompts from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints here and take action.
- Watch The Christ Child with your family and discuss the roles and actions of the different people involved.
- Find a service project at justserve.org.
- Take cookies and a Christmas card to your neighbors.
- Go caroling.
- Start a Christmas Jar to collect spare change throughout the year to donate next Christmas.
- Read The Living Christ in a Family Home Evening and discuss how the Savior’s life and example has impacted your life and the way you live it.
- In a Family Home Evening list all the names of the Savior and answer the question why do we need Jesus Christ in our lives?
- Invite a friend to your ward’s Christmas program.
- Take time each to ponder the life of the Savior, His sacrifice, and what it means to you. How can you do better throughout the year to live as He did?