Christmas is about the heart– about the hearts of our Heavenly Parents, about their Son’s heart and about our hearts. It is also about Mary’s heart. Imagine what her heart must have felt when Gabriel announced: “Greetings, most favored one! The Lord is with you.” Seeing she is frightened by his appearance he says, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.” Sensing that she is still overwhelmed, he assures her, “God has been gracious to you. Behold, you will conceive in your womb, and give birth to a son whom you will name Jesus.”

The poet Luci Shaw imagines how Mary felt at this astonishing announcement. How her heart responded:

As if until that moment
nothing real
had happened since Creation

As if outside the world were empty
so that she and he were all
there was — he mover, she moved upon

As if her submission were the most
dynamic of all works: as if
no one had ever said Yes like that

As if one day the sun had no place
in all the universe to pour its gold
but into her small room.[i]

And we might add, Into her generous, receptive heart.

None of us remembers the very first Christmas our very first Christmas – – the night Jesus was born in Bethlehem. I say our first Christmas because I believe we were among the multitude of heavenly hosts looking down from the heavens that starlit night, our hearts turned to the manger where Mary had just given birth. And when we heard that baby’s first cry which entered  our ears and hearts with joy and which echoed among the stars, together, we exulted, “Glory to God in highest, and upon earth peace, Good News to all God’s children.” That’s a translation of the Aramaic language which Mary and Joseph spoke and which they later taught to Jesus. That Good News that entered our premortal hearts on that first Christmas can be in our hearts again—this Christmas, and whenever we choose to welcome it.

In speaking of that miraculous birth, in his poem, “The Gift,” William Carlos Williams says,

            . . . the imagination

                                    knows all stories

                                                before they are told

            and knows the truth of this one

                                    past all deflection[ii]

There is no story in all the annals of human history that has so captivated the heart and imagination as this simple story of a baby born in a manger. In story, in song, in dance, in sculpture and art, and in a wide array of graphic and visual expressions, from the time our ancient ancestors first heard this good news, they began giving it form—as we do this season and those who will come after us will continue to do as long as there is one person on earth to tell the story and one other to hear it.  As the Jewish poetic prayer says, “Were all the skies parchment, all the reeds quills, all the seas and waters made of ink, and every inhabitant of earth a scribe, the glories of God still could not be adequately described. Equally impossible, however, to maintain silence.”[iii] This is why, as we are told, the shepherds ran, not walked, to tell the news when the angel said, “For unto you is born this night, a savior who is Christ the Lord.”

This is a gift God gives to all of his children—the gift of imagination—never two alike in all of creation—the capacity to imagine his Son in infinite ways. It is with love that God made us in his image but it was with a special love that he created us to imagine him. Thus, to each of us he appears as we are capable of making him appear. As “Rabbi Levi said: God appeared to Israel in infinite images reflecting the appearance of each individual, and all felt personally addressed.”

The ways in which we bring the Christ child into our hearts and minds is a reflection of both our imaginative abilities and our devotion. Whatever gifts of imagination we are blessed to have, I believe that we each have the capacity to deepen and enrich them, especially at Christmas.

As we sang praises from the heavens on that star-lit night and shepherds knelt in wonder, Mary, we are told, realizing that she held Gabriel’s promise in her arms, “kept all of these things and pondered them in her heart.”  “Ponder” means “to estimate the worth of,”

“to weigh mentally,” and “to consider and reflect,” actions we normally associate with the mind but which become deeper and more profound when they happen in our hearts. Ponder is a kind of heart intelligence, which Gail Godwin speaks of as “a special kind of imaginative intelligence, which combines knowing and loving into a single function, It is a way of ‘seeing with the heart.’”[iv]

Christmas is about what the heart holds of Jesus and his miraculous birth. In his letter to the Ephesians Paul says, “I pray that . . .Christ may dwell in your hearts” (3:16-17), to the Galatians he says that because we are the children of God, God “hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into [our] hearts” (4:6), and to the Romans, “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost” (5:5).

The Hebrews believed that God had a heart like ours and that his heart is turned toward us: “While God’s face is above, his heart is down below.”[v] One rabbi proclaimed, “As one thinks of God in his heart, so does God think of her and him.”[vi]  When we worship God, our hearts speak to his heart. When we pray it is called “the service of the heart.”[vii]

In her book, Heart: A Personal Journey through its Myths and Meanings, Gail Godwin notes, “For the ancient Hebrews, [the word for] heart, lev, meant the seat of wisdom and understanding, the inner personality, the whole gamut of emotional life, as well as the collective mind, or mind-set, of the people: the mental as well as the fleshly heart.”[viii] A Jewish friend pointed out that the first syllable of the first word in the Torah and the last syllable of the last word together spell “Heart,” suggesting that the Torah or the Word of God is held within the heart.

The scriptures suggest that our hearts can become a-tuned to God’s heart and that the more we are in harmony with ourselves and with God the more we are able to love, and in this way the more our hearts become like his. It is interesting that when Jesus commanded us to love God completely, he put the heart first: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Matt. 22:37).  When we love God in this way, we become capable of loving other people with a similar kind of wholeness. One of the stories told about Abraham is a conversation he had with God in which God says, “Walk in my presence! And be wholehearted.”[ix]  I believe Christmas is a season that calls us to wholeheartedness.

It was with his whole heart that God gave the world his only begotten son. When we come to accept the miracle of his son’s birth, we are born again through him. In this way we are a fulfillment of the promise God made to the children of Israel when he said, “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a [new] heart” (Ezekiel 36:26-28). 

The new heart that God gives us allows us to create our own Zion within, for Zion, as we are told in modern scripture is the pure in heart (D&C 97:21).  The bible suggests that there is such a thing as a communal heart, a place where all who dwell there create a unifying heart-field.[x] In a way, this is something we have the possibility of approaching each sacrament service as our hearts are turned to Jesus and his gift of atonement. We might speculate that the reason Enoch’s city of Zion was taken into the heavens is that all who lived there had attuned their hearts to God’s heart.

At Christmastime we sing a carol set to Christina Rosetti ‘s poem “In the Bleak Mid-winter.” In this carol, Christians ponder what gift they can give the Christ-child:

             What can I give him, poor as I am? 
             If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; 
             if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; 
             yet what I can, I give him:  I’ll give my heart.[xi]

Thus, one gift each of us we can give to the Lord is our heart, a clean heart, a faithful heart, a generous and a loving heart. Angelus Sibelius, the seventeenth-century German poet and priest, expressed this idea in the following words, suggesting that if our hearts are as humble an abode as the manger in which Jesus was born then he will come there as he did in Bethlehem:

                                                If in your heart you make

                                                            a manger of his birth
                                                then God will once again

                                                            become a child on earth.[xii]

In other words, just as we can be reborn through him, so he can be reborn through us.  As Luci Shaw writes,

            I’ll wrap him with love,

            Well as I’m able

            In my heart’s stable.[xiii]

We can open our hearts to see what the shepherds saw when they ran to the stable to find him; we can open our hearts to hear again the song we sang when we were pre-existent angels looking down from the skies, and we can open our hearts to feel what Mary must have felt as she held her divine baby in her arms.

            Gerard Manley Hopkins says that Christ’s birth through Mary

Let all God’s glory through.
[like the swaddling clothes
that bound his infant body,
Hopkins says] that we are wound
With mercy round and round . . .
[Christ] . . . makes, O marvelous,
New Nazareths in us . . .
New Bethle[le]ms, and be born
There, evening, noon and morn.[xiv]

By reversing the order of the day, from evening to noon to morning, Hopkins suggests that by making room in our hearts for Jesus, we move from darkness to light and from death to birth, and by using all three periods of the day, he is also suggesting that Christ can be reborn in our hearts at all the seasons of the day and the year. Or as Stephen Mitchell puts it, “[The gospel of Jesus Christ is simply this:] that the love we all long for in our innermost heart[s] is already present, beyond all longing. . . . [It is a joy] so vast that it [is] no longer inside us, but we [are] inside it. . . . It is real.  It is . . . more intimate than anything we can see or touch, . . . , ‘yet nearer than breath, than heartbeat.’”[xv]

The words of one of Bach’s arias exclaims, “Open wide my heart its portals, let Jesus enter in.”[xvi] In the Christmas hymn, “Joy to the World,” we exclaim, “Let every heart prepare him room.”  In commenting on this hymn during his 2003 Christmas Devotional address, President Hinckley said, “I pray that the true spirit of Christmas will abide in the hearts of all.”  At this season we each can prepare room in our hearts for him, each open wide the doors and windows of our hearts to let him enter our lives more fully than we ever have before. In return for his great heart-gift, let us give him the gift of a broken heart, an open heart, a generous heart, and, especially, a thankful and loving heart.

Elder Marion D. Hanks tells the story of driving home at Christmastime with one of his young daughters. After singing “O Come All Ye Faithful,” she asked, “Daddy, what does it mean to adore him?” Elder Hanks says he tried to explain all of the possible meanings of “adore” but without much satisfaction either to him or his daughter. After a long silence she said, “Daddy, I think to adore him just means to love him.”[xvii]

I bear personal witness that he lives. Lives, not in some metaphorical sense, but as a real person, a glorified resurrected Lord who, having been born at Bethlehem for our sakes, now awaits each of us to be born again . . . and again through him, born anew in our hearts. I have believed this story from the first time I heard it as a ten-year-old boy. 

Someone has spoken of Christ’s birth as God’s “extravagant gift.” It is my prayer that, like Mary, we might hold the love manifested through God’s extravagant gift of his son in our hearts and ponder it throughout the year and that, like her, we too will let our souls magnify the Lord.  May we always remember Him who gave and continues to his whole heart to us, even our Savior, Christ the Lord. 


[i] Accompanied by Angels: Poems of the Incarnation (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2006).

[ii] “The Gift of the Magi,” The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams Volume II 1939-1962 (New York: New Directions: 2001).

[iii] “Akdamut Millan,” an 11th century Hebrew poem written by Rabbi Meir Ben Isaac Nehora, Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer (Plymouth, U.K.: Jason Aronson, 1993), p. 14.

[iv] Heart: A Personal Journey through its Myths and Meanings (New York: William Morrow, 2001), 89.

[v] “Song of Songs Rabbah 4, 4:9, as cited by David Wolpe, The Healer of Shattered Hearts (New York: Henry Holt, 1990), 56. 

[vi] Ibid., 64.

[vii] Ibid., 98.

[viii] Heart: 35.

[ix] Godwin cites Fox’s translation of Genesis 17:1–“walk before me and be blameless”– as “Walk before me and be wholehearted,” Heart, 35.

[x] Godwin, 86.

[xi] www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/i/n/intbleak.htm

[xii] “It Depends On You,” Mitchell, The Enlightened Heart, 88.

[xiii] Accompanied by Angels: Poems of the Incarnation (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2006)

[xiv] “The Blessed Virgin compared to the Air We Breathe,” www.dundee.ac.uk/english/wics/gmh/gmh7.htm.  Accessed 14 December 2004.

[xv] The Gospel According to Jesus (New York: HarperPerennial, 1991), 10.

[xvi] Cantata 61.

[xvii] Reported to me in private conversation with Elder Hanks.