... And I beheld the city of Nazareth; and in the city of Nazareth I beheld a [young woman] and she was exceedingly [beautiful] and [pure].
And ... I saw the heavens open; and an angel came down and stood before me; and ... said unto me, "Nephi, what beholdest thou?"
And I said, "... A [young woman], most beautiful and fair above all other [women]..."
And he said unto me, "... the [young woman] whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God..."
And ... I beheld that she was carried away in the Spirit ... for the space of a time [then] the angel spake unto me, saying, "Look!" And I looked and beheld the [young woman] again, bearing a child in her arms. And the angel said unto me, "Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! [Now] knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?"
And I answered him, saying, "Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things."
(Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 11: 13-15, 18-22)
The spirit of Christmas is, as Nephi said: "... the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; it is the most desirable above all things.”
Another term for it is "unconditional love" or "God's love." It is the kind of love that is always there no matter what, that is not dependent on behavior, that does not come and go, but stays, constant forever. It’s the love that Jesus commanded his Apostles to feel for each other when he said to them,
"A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another. As I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another."
(New Testament, John 13:34-35)
The Prophet Moroni gave us a definition of Charity - in other words, of celestial love, or unconditional love. Before we look at what he said, let me share a more recent quote from the Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley. Specifically referring to building a celestial marriage, he said,
"It takes effort, it takes self control, it takes unselfishness. It requires the true essence of love, which is an anxious concern for the well-being and happiness of one’s companion. I could wish nothing better for all of you than this."
(Ensign, Nov. 1991)
Let me repeat part of that again, changing it slightly. Pres. Hinckley said that the true essence of celestial love is an anxious concern for the well-being and happiness of another. “Anxious concern” for the well-being and happiness of others. These words define the measure we might use to evaluate our own ability to love unconditionally.
Now to Moroni's checklist. Beginning in verse 45, Moroni said:
- Charity suffereth long [she is patient]
- Charity is kind
- Charity envieth not
- Charity is not puffed up
- Charity seeketh not her own [praise]
- Charity is not easily provoked
- Charity thinketh no evil
- Charity rejoiceth not in iniquity
- Charity rejoiceth in truth
- Charity beareth all things
- Charity believeth all things
- Charity hopeth all things
- Charity endureth all things [to the end]
- Charity never faileth [it is eternal]
- Charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever
- Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest [gift] of all
(Book of Mormon, Moroni 7:45-48)
The greatest gift of all! The greatest gift from God. There is a song which begins, "Of all they gifts, oh God, give unto me Charity, for my soul desireth thy pure love."
Every soul desires love. It is as important to us as food, water, and shelter. Not only is it the greatest gift we can receive, it is also the greatest gift we can give. Not just at this season, but forever. It can't be put into a box and tied with a ribbon. It can be spoken, but it only becomes real when what we do matches what we say.
Some who have not experienced feeling unconditional love don't trust any level of love for a long time. They have to test it, see if the will still be there when they do something wrong. The trust may take years to develop for those who have been deprived of love or damaged by pseudo-love.
We best learn about love in our own families. In fact, by the time we are about five years old, we know whether or not we are loved, whether or not we can trust those who are our caretakers to truly care for us, whether or not what people say matches what they do. Actions trump words every time. If our words and our actions don't match, our words will be ignored and our actions will be believed.
Parents, the greatest gift you can give your family is your charity, your unconditional love. Strive to be a type and shadow of our heavenly parents. Let not your children doubt the eternal love of God because of your mis-behavior. Children who do not know love at home search for it in other places, frequently with disastrous results. Children who find only conditional love at home have difficulty trusting others, including their Savior. Children who live in criticism often feel they can never be good enough to earn their parents' love and by extension, their Savior's love, so they "drop out" in many ways. As examples, let me refer to a couple of well known Christmas characters.
The Grinch, particularly the movie version of him which came out a few years ago. His story was elaborated in the movie, and we learned what had made his heart "two sizes too small." What eventually made the difference in his life? Love, unconditional love from a child. She could share that love with him because she had known it in her home from her birth.
And Ebenezer Scrooge. He had been abandoned early in his life, had never known love, couldn't recognize it when it was offered, kept the rest of humanity at arms length, lest he be hurt again. What changed him? A ghostly - or one might say a spiritual - experience. He was given the opportunity to repent and to receive the love offered to him, and he accepted it. He became a new man in the best sense. He received the love of God, his family, those around him, and then shared it with all of mankind.
Blessed is the child who is raised by two parents who love each other, who love their children, who love the Lord, and whose behavior demonstrates that love. These parents understand Moroni 7: 45-48 and strive each day to parent by Moroni's teachings. That child will grow to understand the love of the Savior and the love of Father in Heaven. That child will recognize in his family the earthly version of the love he felt in the pre-existence. Repentance is easier for such a child. He or she has no doubt that any trespass or sin will be forgiven by Christ, when it is lovingly dealt with and forgiven by earthly parents.
The spirit of Christ, the spirit of Christmas, charity, pure love, unconditional love, anxious concern for the well-being of others, celestial love - these are all synonyms describing the same gift from God. The symbol of the gift is that baby in that manger on that night in that town on the other side of the world. Many other things have become symbols of Christmas, but when we trace the meanings those symbols, they all lead us back to that baby in that manger.
At this season we all feel rushed, and stressed, and worried about forgetting something important. That's the world crowding in on us, doing it's best to make us focus on other things, things that may be opposite to the characteristics in Moroni's list. Our Grinch side or our Scrooge side begins to show, then some little thing happens that brings us back to reality. We remember why this is the most important holiday of the year.
If I were in charge, I would have Christmas always celebrated on Monday. That would mean that Christmas Eve would always be on Sunday. That would mean that all preparations would be finished by Saturday night, because no stores would be open the next day. Christmas Eve Sunday would become a true Sabbath - a day of rest devoted to remembrance and worship of Our Savior. Monday would then be a day of gift giving and celebrating with the family, showing love one to another.
Until they put me in charge, we will keep Christmas with the rest of the world, but each of us can choose to focus a little more on love. There is a Christmas song entitled "The Secret of Christmas." I'm going to change the title to "The Spirit of Christmas" then quote the lyrics:
It's not the glow you feel, when snow appears.
It's not the Christmas card you've sent for years.
Not the joyful sound when sleigh bells ring,
Or the merry songs children sing.
The little gift you send on Christmas day
Will not bring back the friend you turned away.
So may I suggest, the Spirit of Christmas
Is not the things you do at Christmas time,
But the Christmas things you do all year through.
This Christmas, may we recognize the greatest gift of all, Charity, the pure love of Christ; and may all men know that we are Christ's disciples by seeing the love we have one for another, not just at Christmas time, but all year through.