Christmas Eve was always a fun time with our family, and in among our family traditions, our children would enact the Christmas story during their younger years. They dressed up as Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, some of the animals, the three wise men, and the angels. It was a fun activity which allowed us as a family to focus on the real reason for the season, and that is to celebrate the birth of our Saviour and Redeemer, Jesus Christ.
When Christmas morning arrived, the children were normally the first to wake up. They would scurry around the Christmas tree to see what gifts had been left there for them. Great excitement, laughter, joy and happiness abounded as they opened their presents – one by one – with smiles beaming from ear to ear. These were very happy and loving times that I remember with fondness as our children have grown up.
As I think of the gifts that we normally give and receive at Christmas, my thoughts turn to the first material gifts associated with our Saviour Jesus Christ, which are reflected scripturally in Matthew 2:10-11, “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts: gold, and frankincense, and myrrh”.
The giving and receiving of gifts at Christmas time is meant to remind all of us of the Magi’s gifts to Christ on the occasion of His birth.
However, nowadays, with the commercialization of Christmas, it is unfortunate that Christ is often left out of Christmas and our focus is then placed on the gift and not the giver of the gift. Perhaps we take the gifts that we receive from our loved ones for granted, and we run the risk of becoming more materialistic in our expectations, and then on top of it all, the material gifts that we buy and give to children sometimes do not last that long anyway – and are often discarded in the trash bin before the day is over.
In a very real spiritual sense, the greatest gift that we have received from Heavenly Father, is the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ – and His sacred Atonement was the supreme act of love and forgiveness.
Perhaps as we prayerfully contemplate the Christmas gifts that we would like to give to our family and friends at this time, there may be some to whom we should rather consider giving lasting gifts that do not cost money – and that do not need expensive wrapping and ribbons. All they need is the gift of our love, the gift of our tolerance, the gift of our heart, the gift of our understanding them, the gift of our charity, the gift of our good example, the gift of our kindness, the gift of our generosity, the gift of our speaking ‘good’ of them, the gift of us being more patient with them, the gift of not holding grudges, the gift of our time, the gift of selfless service with us lifting them up, the gift of our friendship, the gift of our caring, and the gift of our forgiveness to them. These are what I call ‘good and perfect gifts’ as mentioned in James 1:17, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning”.
There are many families and individuals out there in the world that will not be having a happy and joyous Christmas this year, because of a lack of love and forgiveness from a spouse, family member, or friend. The Saviour said: “Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.”. (D&C 64:9) He also said: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind”, Matt 22:37, and in verse 39, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”.
What better time would there be for us to give the gift of love and forgiveness to one who has wronged us than at Christmas time? What better time would there be for us to help heal a family with love and forgiveness, than at Christmas time – when it is so badly needed?
We must also remember that when we love and forgive others, we forgive them for the wrong that they did to us. We do not have the capacity or the ability to forgive them of their sins – only our Father in Heaven and the Saviour can do this. So, our forgiveness does not absolve the need for them to repent and to seek forgiveness from Father in Heaven, and for their Bishop to help them through this process if the transgression is serious.
President Gordon B. Hinckley reminded us of the following: “The cure for most marital troubles does not lie in divorce. It lies in repentance and forgiveness, in expressions of kindness, [love] and concern.”.
In Matthew 5:43-44 we read the following: “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy, But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you”.
This is probably one of the toughest commandments which our Saviour has given to each of us to live, and it is all about love and forgiveness!
To love and forgive someone who has hurt you deeply will probably be one of the hardest things you will ever do. The freedom that you will feel when you finally forgive, will be worth all the pain and effort it requires. This love and forgiveness can only come with the help of the Lord.
It was Ghandi who said: “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” The story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 is also a wonderful example of repentance from wrongdoing, forgiveness, love, and mercy, as the father welcomed home his son who was lost but was found again – he who was dead is made alive. The miracle of love and forgiveness!
Our spiritual capacity and ability to love and forgive others, no matter what wrongs they have caused us, will be powerfully magnified as we increase our love for, and attendance in The Lord’s Holy House. It is in the Temple where we receive personal revelation and strength from the Holy Spirit. It is in the Temple where we are ministered to by the Lord. It is in the Temple where we can become more like Him. It is in the Temple where we can learn to love. It is in the Temple where we can learn to forgive!
It was our Saviour Jesus Christ, whilst spending his last hours on this earth, who uttered those humble and powerful words of love and forgiveness on the cross at Calvary, that you and I will never forget: “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
As we celebrate the birth of our Saviour, let our focus be on Him, and may we pattern our lives after His. Let us also remember that Jesus Christ gave us the Atonement – the greatest of all gifts and of all giving!
May we love like He loves. May we forgive like He forgives.