Make your resolutions early; make new friends
We at FAIR would like to take some time at the end of this eventful and exciting year to leave you with some words to ponder over the Christmas season.
Some years ago, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland gave a talk to the Religious Instruction faculty at Brigham Young University shortly before Christmas.1 Now you might think that Elder Holland would have something very deep and profound-sounding for such an august group of scholars, but instead he related the Dr. Suess tale, “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.” As most readers probably recall, this is a story about a mean “grinch” who thinks he can “steal” Christmas from Who-ville by taking away all their Christmas presents, only to find that Christmas was really in the hearts of the little Who-ville people.
The earthly demands the season places on us can be distracting, to say the least: the cooking, the travel, finding a bed that’s comfortable enough for Uncle Jack (or finding the most comfortable way for you to sleep on Uncle Jack’s lumpy old couch!). Then comes January when the bills come in.
An Original Christmas Perspective
Members of the Church (as well as many other Christians) feel an additional burden in that Christmas has been commercialized; as the saying goes: they’ve taken the Christ out of Christmas. Elder Holland provides us with a few thoughts about the first Christmas that might help us remember the reason for this season.
The wise men did come later bearing gifts, adding some splendor and wealth to this occasion, but it is important to note that they came from a distance, probably Persia, a trip of several hundred miles at the very least. Unless they started long before the star appeared, it is highly unlikely that they arrived on the night of the babe’s birth. Indeed, Matthew records that when they came Jesus was “a young child,” and the family was living in “a house.” (Matt. 2:11.)
Perhaps this provides an important distinction we should remember in our own holiday season. Maybe the purchasing and the making and the wrapping and the decorating–those delightfully generous and important expressions of our love at Christmas–should be separated, if only slightly, from the more quiet, personal moments when we consider the meaning of the Baby (and his birth) who prompts the giving of such gifts.
As happens so often if we are not careful, the symbols can cover that which is symbolized. In some of our lives the manger has already been torn down to allow for a discount store running three-for-a-dollar specials on gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Jeffrey R. Holland, Ensign, December, 1977)
Perhaps we can consider the perspective of Joseph to help us gain a better appreciation for the conditions of that humble birth of our Redeemer and Lord,
As a father I have recently begun to think more often of Joseph, that strong, silent, almost unknown man…I was a student at BYU just finishing my first year of graduate work when our first child, a son, was born. We were very poor, though not so poor as Joseph and Mary…when I realized that our own night of nights was coming, I believe I would have done any honorable thing in this world, and mortgaged any future I had, to make sure my wife had the clean sheets, the sterile utensils, the attentive nurses, and the skilled doctors who brought forth our firstborn son. If she or that child had needed special care at the Mayo Clinic, I believe I would have ransomed my very life to get it.
I compare those feelings (which I have had with each succeeding child) with what Joseph must have felt as he moved through the streets of a city not his own, with not a friend or kinsman in sight, nor anyone willing to extend a helping hand. In these very last and most painful hours of her “confinement,” Mary had ridden or walked approximately 100 miles from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea. Surely Joseph must have wept at her silent courage. Now, alone and unnoticed, they had to descend from human company to a stable, a grotto full of animals, there to bring forth the Son of God.
I wonder what emotions Joseph might have had as he cleared away the dung and debris. I wonder if he felt the sting of tears as he hurriedly tried to find the cleanest straw and hold the animals back. I wonder if he wondered: “Could there be a more unhealthy, a more disease-ridden, a more despicable circumstance in which a child could be born? Is this a place fit for a king? Should the mother of the Son of God be asked to enter the valley of the shadow of death in such a foul and unfamiliar place as this? Is it wrong to wish her some comfort? Is it right He should be born here?” (Ibid.)
And what about Mary? That chosen vessel highly favored of God? What might we learn looking from her eyes on the Bethlehem scenario?
It is here I stumble, here that I grasp for the feelings a mother has when she knows she has conceived a living soul, feels life quicken and grow within her womb, and carries a child to delivery…I have wondered if this young woman, something of a child herself, here bearing her first baby, might have wished her mother, or an aunt, or her sister, or a friend, to be near her through the labor. Surely the birth of such a son as this should command the aid and attention of every midwife in Judea! We all might wish that someone could have held her hand, cooled her brow, and when the ordeal was over, given her rest in crisp, cool linen.
But it was not to be so. With only Joseph’s inexperienced assistance, she herself brought forth her firstborn son, wrapped him in the little clothes she had knowingly brought on her journey, and perhaps laid him on a pillow of hay. But I am certain Joseph did not mutter and Mary did not wail. They knew a great deal and did the best they could. (Ibid.)
Suggestions for This Christmas
With these humbling perspectives in mind, I have three suggestions that I hope might help readers who feel so busy living up to expectations during the holiday season.
First of all, I’m going to take it for granted that all readers already make a good effort at increasing spirituality in their homes by teaching their children the real reason for Christmas, and by moments of prayerful reflection.
The trick is to carry this spirit with us throughout the rest of the year. So my first suggestion is to move your New Year’s resolutions up to Christmas. Take advantage of the holiday spirit and you may find your resolutions take on a new perspective and are less petty. Learn how to set reasonable goals and achieve them. Remember to keep your goals on two levels: a “mission statement” and a “tactical plan.” A typical mission statement might be: to read more in the scriptures in 2003. A tactical plan for me–I’m a very detail-oriented person with a mathematical background–is to draw up nice charts that gauge my progress. You may remember similar things from seminary. If charts don’t work for you, try something else: write your plan in a journal, enlist your spouse’s help, etc. But note that you can’t have the mission statement without the tactical plan. For starters, it’s ill-defined as a goal, because there’s no measurement involved, and to paraphrase Thomas S. Monson, where there’s no measurement there’s no achievement. That’s where the tactical plan comes in.
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t attain your goal. Look at your tactical plan and see how well you did this time next year. And then adjust it, either to a more realistic goal, or identify obstacles that are within your power to deal with and address those. Remember that our Saviour’s love for us is unconditional. It’s not so important where we are as that we aremoving.
I happen to like poppies, and we have a variety in our garden that have lots more petals than traditional poppies, but retain the traditional red colour. Do I love poppies for what they do?No, I love poppies for what they are. I nourish my poppies with proper soil and watering. The Lord nourishes us through the words of his prophets, both past and present. The Lord loves us for what we are but we cannot achieve the full measure of what we are without proper spiritual nourishment.
The second suggestion is to “commit a random act of kindness.” Just one. Do something for a co-worker, a neighbour, a friend or a family member. Just some small thing, and do it in a way they won’t know it’s you, but leave a note that says something like: “You have just been the ‘victim’ of a random act of kindness. Please pass it along.” Such a simple idea, really. In fact, you may find you’re ingenious enough to figure out how to do this throughout the year, again without people finding out who their benefactor was.
The third suggestion might seem a bid odd, but in a way it ties in with the mission of FAIR. So many times we become so busy defending the gospel, sharing the gospel and studying the gospel, that we forget other important things. Learn something about the major holidays of another religion. Chanukkah, the Jewish holiday that falls roughly around the same time as Christmas, is the “festival of lights” which commemorates how the Jewish people threw off the oppressive yoke of Greek kings who had desecrated their temple. There’s a specialmenorah (candlestick holder) just for Chanukkah, you can buy Chanukkah cards at most gift card shops, and you can make dredels for your children (a dredel is a kind of spinning top).
Learn about Kwanzaa, which is a kind of “invented” holiday in a way, but it’s one which gives black people pride as they draw on ancient African traditions to commit themselves to a more spiritual life.
Learn about Islam’s holidays, especially Eid al-Fitr (pronounced eed ahl fitter), the feast period that ends Ramadan, the holy month of fasting and renewal that Moslems practice. As Eid al-Fitr approaches, you’ll amaze your Moslem acquaintances if you wish them an “Eid Mubarruk” (eed moo-BAHR-ik), which means “blessed/happy feast” It’s the Islamic cultural equivalent of wishing someone a Merry Christmas. There are Sikh holidays and Hindu holidays. There are other ways Christians celebrate Christmas, such as Advent calendars (we have kept one in our home ever since I served a mission in Catholic Bavaria in the 1970s).
By reaching out to others in service and friendship, you’ll not only learn more, gain more insight, and forge closer bonds with people of other faiths, but you’ll be a candle on a hill. A candle which can’t be hid, neither by a bushel basket nor by a tinsel and ribbon-bedecked box.
May you find the spirit of Christmas this year. May it find you. May we all remember our Savior, His Love, His example, and the gift He offers us. May we all receive it and accept it and be grateful for it. This is my prayer
1 Jeffrey R. Holland, “Maybe Christmas Doesn’t Come from a Store,” December 12, 1976.