I have been awake for the last hour and a half watching the day come alive through my bedroom window. It's peaceful, calm and beautiful outside with the white, pristine snow covering the grass, trees, road, sidewalk and roofs of my neighbor's houses. No one on my street has ventured outdoors yet and I can walk onto my front stoop in my pajamas and breath deeply of the crisp, invigorating air and twirl around with joy without fear of anyone seeing me. I would love to jump into the nearest pile of snow or form an angel with my body like I did as a child. But common sense tells me that a woman my age would not be able to get back on my feet as easily as I did sixty-five years ago.
Still those quiet moments free from all the confusion of the world today give me time to reflect on the pure joy of the Christmas season and the miraculous gift of my Savior, Jesus Christ, who taught his brothers and sisters the way to return home to God and gave his life freely as a ransom for every sin that would ever be committed, regardless of how heinous it might be. As I watch the atrocities being committed throughout our world today and the gross and unjust pain inflicted on the innocent, I have to admit that my finite mind cannot begin to understand the infinite love that allowed him to make such a selfless sacrifice. He knew that the majority of people who arrived on earth would not take his message seriously and would do everything in their power to stop others from using the gifts of faith, obedience, selfless love, overcoming temptations and trials, and going through the steps of true repentance when something was amiss that would enable his glorious gift to work for them.
But he did it because we needed a Savior--someone truly worthy of that role--for our Heavenly Father's great Plan of Redemption and Happiness to work. Without him, our bodies would simply decay in the ground and our spirits would have no place to go when our hearts quit beating. He won the victory over both physical and spiritual death that would allow us to live on through all eternity, and the only way I can show my gratitude is by trying to live as he taught. It's an overwhelming responsibility because humanness so often keeps me distracted from doing what is most valuable. Even in a very fallen world, there is so much beauty and numerous worthwhile ways to spend my time that it is often difficult to decide between the good, the better and the best.
I love the beautiful Christmas hymns that are sung this time of year in church meetings, by carolers, over the radio or at devotionals or special social gatherings. They reflect what my heart knows is true, and I feel great sorrow when I hear of a church being defiled, Christmas trees not being allowed in public libraries or people being ridicules for believing in the greatest miracle this world has ever known. I know I was watching from my vantage point in the premortal life that night when Mary and Joseph arrived at the inn and found no place for them to stay. And even though I was not given an even relatively pleasant singing voice, I know I was part of that heavenly choir praising God and proclaiming our Savior's birth because I knew my journey to earth would come. And when it did I would need the gift he freely gave as he prayed so fervently in the Garden of Gethsemane that blood seeped from every pour.
While Christ's birth and resurrection are indelibly linked, I love the time spent thinking about him as a newborn baby laying in the arms of his earthly parents. How overwhelmed and excited they must have been not fully understanding the critical role they would play, but trusting that God would help them and he did. My Christmas list this year is short, and there is nothing of a material nature on it. I simply want to share the light I have inside with others who appear to be stumbling around in the dark because they don't know where to find what they most need. I'll do that by baking goodies to take to my neighbors, sending off Christmas cards and texts, listening the the beautiful music of the season, wrapping meaningful gifts for family and close friends and offering service wherever I can.
I've always had what I needed most, regardless of my financial situation. It's the gift of knowing about and loving my Savior that was instilled by imperfect parents when I was a child. We never had much in the way of material possessions but there was always food on our table and a roof over our heads. And the small gifts we got were treasured. I still have my lady doll and the head of my baby doll that I finally put on a body I made myself, and the books I loved back them are still on my shelves. I tried to create the same atmosphere when my children were young. They didn't get a whole lot of expensive gifts either, but they could recite the story of the Savior's birth by heart.
Perhaps my most memorable Christmas was when my son was three. We were at his grandparents and there had been a gift exchange. All the little boy cousins his age got matchbook cars but his grandmother gave him crocheted chicken she had purchased at a church bazaar that pooped jelly beans. I watched as the excitement in his eyes went out as he unwrapped his gift. But instead of throwing a fit like others of his cousins had done because they didn't get what someone else did, he put his little arms around his grandmother's neck and told he loved his gift. I still get teary-eyed just thinking about that because he is that same wonderful, compassionate and loving man today. What greater gift could I be given as a mother?
Since the sun is now coming up and my mind is drifting to the activities of the day, I want to end by sharing three poems. The first is my reflections on my Savior, the second a letter my grandfather once sent when I was alone at Christmas, and the third about Christmas at my house when I was a child. I hope each of you reading this will think about the true meaning of the season and feel the peace and joy our Savior wants us to experience the year round as we remember who we are and from where all our blessings come.
In this world of modern marvels,
one seldom takes time to think
of the creator of both heaven and earth,
Jesus Christ, the Savior of all mankind.
But who is this man?
born in a stable in the village of Bethlehem.
reared as a carpenter in Nazareth.
of a conquered and subdued nation.
whose mortal footsteps never went beyond a 150 mile radius.
who never received a school degree.
who never spoke from a great pulpit.
who never owned a home.
who moved about on foot, without money.
He is Jesus Christ,
author of our salvation.
His life, brought light and understanding
of things eternal and divine.
His teachings, influenced the behavior
of unaccounted millions.
His matchless example became the greatest power
for goodness and peace in all the world.
Grandpa's Christmas Letter
I am not yearning for a white Christmas
as well you may have guessed.
The white stuff that so delights you
can stay in the mountains in drifts.
Christmas, as other holiday, is just another day.
My parents who were not into gift exchange,
but gave more to the needy than anyone else in the valley,
being liberal with us when they sensed the need.
I understand their viewpoint now that I am older.
Too much money is wasted on throwaway gift giving.
So, granddaughter dear, do not send me things
I do not need or have any particular desire for.
The things people need more of
in this country of ours are
appreciation, and just plain love.
When I was a child, Christmas meant anticipation,
taking our pennies and dimes
to Kresses or Woolworths
to buy simple, well thought-out presents.
We were poor, and the six of us children shared
one basement bedroom and a couple of cots in the hall.
We didn’t know just how poor we really were until we
went to church or school and saw what others wore.
We’d read the story of our Savior’s birth
from the book of Luke on Christmas Eve,
then open one specific present,
homemade flannel pajamas from our parents.
We would hurry off to bed as soon as we were wearing them,
all thoughts of sleep gone until we knew Santa had been there.
That meant creeping up the stairs as many times as we dared
tiptoeing on the edges so they wouldn’t crackle or creak.
But we never saw if the jolly old elf had arrived.
An old Army blanket, suspended in the living room doorway
was too formidable an object to either push aside or crawl under
when we knew what would happen if our parents found out.
At five in the morning, Daddy hurried out to the barn,
Mom called Grandma and Uncle Douglas, saying it was time.
We would warm ourselves by the old coal stove trying to keep
our excitement down so we wouldn’t explode.
The morning would still be dark when the magical barrier
came down and we kids rushed to find our pile of presents.
There was never much to look at, for money was not,
a doll, a book, plastic animals for the boys.
A new pair of shoes and a homemade dress or shirt,
an orange, peanuts and hard candy for our stockings.
They were simple holidays, but happy ones.
Dad played with us and Mom fixed the traditional meal.
After Daddy died, leaving seven little children alone,
the real joy of the Christmas season was gone.
We still got gifts and kept the blanket in front of the door,
and Grandma and Uncle Douglas came to spend the day.
But Daddy wasn’t there to make the holiday special,
to play with us or to hold us tight in his protective arms.
The hole in our family was so immense we went through
motions but were never really happy and smiling again.
That was also the time when the real meaning of Christmas
made more sense for death is part of life just as birth is.
Christ walked the earth, by example showing the way,
atoning for sins, dying so we can be a complete family again.
I have seen many Christmas’ since I was a child but
none have been more meaningful than those of early days,
except for the Christmas’ I shared with my own children
when they were young and starry-eyed and still believed.
I played the magical elf, and my son and daughter
climbed the stairs to see if Santa had been there.
There were more gifts purchased from stores but homemade ones
still played a significant part along with a festive meal.
They were glorious times, but life moves on, children grow,
have children of their own, and our part in the celebration changes.
But the meaning for the day is always clear, and the gift Christ gave
can only be repaid by faithful, humble and complete devotion.