Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas: What Do You Remember?

Once again, someone sent me a marvelous post for Christmas.  I've protected the identities here for obvious reasons, but the message is more important than the identities:

Isaiah 9:6:   “For unto a child is born, unto us a son is given: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”

Take a journey with me for a moment.  

Think back to a childhood Christmas…what do you remember?   Where was your focus?   What did your testimony of the Savior consist of?   Did you know what that meant, for Jesus Christ to be your personal Savior?  

As a child, Christmas was a magical time in our home.   My mom would knock herself out to provide a perfect celebration.   We made caramels and toffee, decorated gingerbread houses, picked a different Christmas pillowcase each week of December, she made Christmas pj’s which we opened Christmas Eve, and every night we would gather together as a family and burn our advent candle and read a scripture story about Jesus and his character so we could come to know him better and understand who He is and what He has done for us.

Now move on to your teenage years…what were your Christmases like then?   How did your testimony of the Savior deepen?   What was your foundation - rock or sand?   What trials were you experiencing?   Did that build your faith or tear it down?

As my family continued to grow each year –  I marveled at how my parents continued to uphold the righteous traditions we had started so many years before.   As a child we had a few Santa decorations which we would haul out every year, but as we got older, my parents’ focus shifted more and more to the Savior.   My mom started collecting and putting nativity scenes all over the house, everyone noticed and as all collections –  it grew exponentially.   She now probably has more than 100 nativities ranging from one you can cup in your palm to baby doll size and very diverse from many different countries.  

Our Christmas Eves were amazing experiences as well.   My parents knew that due to the excitement of so many children opening presents on Christmas morning, the true meaning of Christmas might be glossed over or lost completely.   So from a very young age, on Christmas Eve, after a fancy delicious meal, we would act out the nativity.   We always had plenty of people to play the parts and my mom would always find costumes that we could wear to make it seem more real.   I especially remember the years that I played the part of Mary and the angel coming to the shepherds to proclaim “glad tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.   For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord!”  

As a teenager I had read The Book of Mormon and my testimony was being strengthened as I participated in Seminary and Young Women.   I was realizing that it was all real, the Savior had died for me.   That gave me the faith to “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope.”  

When my youngest sister died a couple of weeks before Christmas, our testimonies were tried and miracles happened and peace came to support and sustain us.   Through that experience, we learned for ourselves that Families are Forever.   It was no longer just a song we sang, or a good idea, it was real.   We understood what Alma meant when he said “whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day.”

Now think about Christmas in your early 20s.   Maybe you were on a mission, in college, or a newlywed.   How did your testimony of the Savior grow as you started having children and became more selfless and aware of the needs of others?   How did your perspective change as you were heavy with child or had a new baby during the holiday season?   Did you relate to Mary and Joseph in a new and completely different way?

I remember reading my scriptures diligently, not wanting my missionary friends to come home so ahead of me.   I remember praying for guidance and confirmation to know if this boy I was dating was the “right one.”   And the answer was “YES!”

What a blessing in our lives to be able to receive revelation from our Heavenly Father.   Mary received revelation when the angel Gabriel appeared and said, “Blessed art thou among women, thou hast found favour with God and behold, thou shalt conceive and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.   He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest.”   Joseph received revelation when an angel appeared in a dream and told him “fear not to take unto thee Mary to wife: she shall bring forth a son and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.”

Jennie was born January 11, 2000.   So during December 1999, I was great with child and very uncomfortable.   On Christmas Eve, we drove to my parents an hour away and up a 2 ½ mile ice-rutted dirt road and the last thing I could imagine that night was riding on a donkey for days on end from Galilee to Bethlehem!   As we hold our little ones in our arms and are amazed with each new thing they learn and concept they grasp and master, we get a sense of their potential and realize what it must of meant when it says in Luke that “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.”   What an incredible experience it is to watch as our children “grow and wax strong in the spirit, increase in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” as Mary and Joseph observed in Jesus.

Now think about your life this past year 2010.   What was your Christmas like last year?   What was the best thing you did?   What memories do you have?   What have you learned this year about your Savior?   How has your testimony been strengthened through the experiences you’ve had?   What knowledge have you gained as you study the scriptures, and ponder, and pray?

I have been given a great blessing in my life this past year to teach Gospel Principles in Relief Society.   I have taught lessons on Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost, the Atonement, the Sacrament, and the Gift of the Holy Ghost among others.   It has truly blessed my life as I have studied the scriptures and words of the prophets in preparation for these lessons.   My testimony of simple truths has been strengthened.   My habits in scripture study have been more consistent.   I have received answers to prayers.   I have felt the promptings of the Spirit and been able to act on those more readily.   I have made progress on shortcomings that I have as I strive to make “weak things become strong.”

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf
I hope that as my little family celebrates Christmas each year the true meaning of Christmas will ring true for each one of them.   President Uchtdorf at the 1st Presidency Christmas Devotional two weeks ago said the Christmas “season ought to be a time of reflection on the birth of the Savior and his generosity.   If we look for the good this time of year, our hearts will change and open up to the miracle of the season.”

One of the best things about life, is if we don’t like how something is going in our lives, we can change it!   If our Christmas season isn’t feeling the way we want it to, change it, do something different.   We can make it more meaningful, more full of the Spirit of Christ.

I want to close with my testimony of my Savior, Jesus Christ.   I know he was chosen and we sustained him as our Savior before the foundation of the Earth.   I know Jesus Christ was born King of kings to Mary in a humble stable.   I know he was perfect and set the example for us to look to and follow.   I know he suffered both physically and spiritually in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross at Calvary for me and for you.   I know he arose on the third day as a perfected, glorified, and resurrected being having won the victory over death, both physical and spiritual.   I know that Jesus Christ came, “not to destroy, but to fulfill all righteousness.”   He did everything He promised us He would do.   I know as we apply the Atonement to our lives every day through repentance and diligence and as we worthily partake of the sacrament weekly we will be cleansed and strengthened to be able to fulfill our missions as well.

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