"Seeing Christmas through New Eyes," 2010 First Presidency Christmas Devotional, (December 5, 2010)
"Isn’t this a wonderful time of the year! So many things fill our hearts with the spirit of Christmas: the melody of Christmas carols, the lights, the decorations, and the happy greetings of “Merry Christmas!”
There are certain words that ring like bells in my soul and remind me of the beauty and meaning of Christmas—words such as “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus”1and, of course, “Joy to the World!” “Away in a Manger,” and “Silent Night.”
There are other words, more cautionary, that are worthy of our consideration as well—words such as:
The Grinch, that memorable character from a classic children’s story by Dr. Seuss, had a heart that “was two sizes too small,” and he hated everything about Christmas. Through the course of the story, however, he undergoes a dramatic transformation when he learns that there is more to Christmas than decorations and gifts.
Perhaps the Grinch’s story is so memorable because, if we are honest, we may be able to relate to him. Who among us has not felt concern over the commercialization and even greed of the Christmas season? Who hasn’t felt overwhelmed by the packed calendars, the stress of finding gifts, the pressure of planning meals and events? In fact, psychologists tell us that during this season of cheer and goodwill, many feel sorrow and depression.
We know what the Christmas season ought to be—we know it should be a time of reflection on the birth of the Savior, a time of celebration and of generosity. But sometimes our focus is so much on the things that annoy and overwhelm us that we can almost hear ourselves say in unison with the Grinch: “Why, for fifty-three years I’ve put up with it now! I MUST stop this Christmas from coming! . . . But HOW?”
While it’s true that we can find materialism and anxiety in Christmas, it is also true that if we have eyes to see, we can experience the powerful message of the birth of the Son of God and feel the hope and peace He brings to the world. We, like the Grinch, can see Christmas through new eyes.
Looking for Christ
As an old family tradition, our family has always celebrated the Advent of Christmas. Starting on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, we would get together on Sunday afternoons, light wax candles on a pine Advent wreath, enjoy delicious homemade cookies, and read passages of scriptures that center on the Christ.
We read accounts of ancient prophets who yearned for the coming of the Messiah. We read scriptures that proclaim the wondrous story of His birth. Each week by singing beautiful Christmas songs and having a fun time together, our family tried to refocus on the true meaning of the season. I must admit that delicious hot chocolate, hot apple cider, and tasty homemade cookies helped a lot to catch the joyful feeling of the Christmas season!
While celebrating the Advent of Christmas is not part of all cultures around the globe, there is something we can learn from this widespread Christian tradition. Perhaps even this year we might carve from our busy schedules some time to study and reflect on the true meaning of Christmas—personally and as families.
When we prepare for Christmas by pondering its real meaning, we prepare to experience the Christ and His message. May I suggest three things we may want to study, ponder, and apply in this season of preparation.
Rejoice in the Birth of Our Savior
First, rejoice in the birth of our Savior. We celebrate the birth of the Son of God, the Creator, our Messiah. We rejoice that the King of kings came to earth, was born in a manger, and lived a perfect life. When Jesus was born, the joy in heaven was so great it could not be contained, and angelic hosts parted the veil, proclaiming unto shepherds “good tidings of great joy, . . . praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”3
Wise Men “rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when . . . they saw the young child with Mary his mother, [they] fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts.”4
It is only fitting that we—like the Wise Men, shepherds, and angels—take time to rejoice and celebrate that glorious first Christmas Day.
Ponder His Influence in Our Lives Today
Second, ponder His influence in our lives today. The more commercialized and busy the Christmas season becomes, the easier it is for the sublime message of the Savior’s life to get lost along the way. If we notice that planning for parties and scrambling for presents begin to detract from the peaceable message of Jesus Christ and distance us from the gospel He preached, let us take a step back, slow down a little, and reconsider what matters most.
Christmas is a time for remembering the Son of God and renewing our determination to take upon us His name. It is a time to reassess our lives and examine our thoughts, feelings, and actions. Let this be a time of remembrance, of gratitude, and a time of forgiveness. Let it be a time to ponder the Atonement of Jesus Christ and its meaning for each of us personally. Let it especially be a time of renewal and recommitment to live by the word of God and to obey His commandments. By doing this, we honor Him far more than we ever could with lights, gifts, or parties.
Look Steadfastly for His Coming
Third, look steadfastly for His coming. The early disciples of Jesus Christ yearned for the time when He would come again. For them, mortality was a time of preparation and growth, of sifting and refining, a time for trimming their lamps and preparing for the return of their beloved Savior.
Brothers and sisters, 2,000 years later we also stand as His disciples. We are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The term latter-day is significant. We live and serve in a time prior to the Lord’s triumphant return. Our work is to prepare ourselves and the world for the coming of the Messiah in glory!
Not long after His mortal ministry, Christ said to the Apostle John, “Surely I come quickly.” And John answered, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”5
We live in the 11th hour before the coming of the day of our Lord. Let us therefore look forward to that blessed day when the King of kings descends with a shout,6 takes away death, dries up tears, and ushers in a new era of peace, joy, and learning.
While the Christmas season is typically a time for looking back and celebrating the birth of our Lord, it seems to me that it should also be a time of looking to the future. Let us look forward. Let us prepare for that blessed day when He will come again. Let us be as wise as those ancients who watched for His coming. As His disciples, let us have in our hearts and minds the words of John: “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”
Seeing Christmas with New Eyes
If we look for what is wrong with the Christmas season, we can surely find it. Like the Grinch, we can grumble and complain, becoming cold and cynical about what we see around us. Nevertheless, if we look for the good, we can see this time of year with new eyes—perhaps even with the eyes of a child.
The Grinch saw the good in Christmas when he learned to look past its worldly trappings. If we do the same, we can, with the Grinch, proclaim: “Maybe Christmas . . . doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas . . . perhaps . . . means a little bit more!”
Our heart may not grow three sizes as the Grinch’s did, but our heart will change. Our eyes will open to the miracles all around us—at Christmastime and throughout the year.
I pray that during this season and always, we will see the purity of the story of the Savior’s birth and feel sincere gratitude for His life, teachings, and saving sacrifice for us. May this gratitude cause us to renew our determination to follow Him. May it also lead us to draw closer to our family, our church, and our fellowmen. And may we look steadfastly forward to that blessed day when the resurrected Christ will walk the earth again as our Lord, our King, and our blessed Savior.
I pray that each and every one of you will have a wonderful and merry Christmas season. I leave you my love and blessings in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen."
I add my testimony to that of President Uchtdorf's. As we come to realize what the true reason for Christmas is we will lose some of the stress and a lot of the "modern-day grinches".