Dad mentioned in an email that he was concerned about Tyler missing the point of Christmas. As I pondered on this issue, I was led to write my thoughts in the form of a Christmas Letter. I suppose that it is more for my benefit than anything else, but I thought I might share it anyways. Merry Christmas!
Part 1: The Spirit of Christmas
When it comes to feeling the Christmas Spirit, I’m sure that all of us have been told, “You need to think about others”. While this is seemingly great advice (as it holds true in every circumstance that I can imagine), it is not very useful. That is because when an individual truly is consumed by their own self-interest, the last thing that they want to hear is an annoying man dressed as an elf(supporting paganism I suppose) ringing a bell in their ears demanding so called “charity” in the form of money (which I find to be quite ironic-that money, a symbol of materialism, now represents charity “The True Love of Christ”. When compelled to consider others, we tend to allow our pride to get the best of us. We may ask “who are you to tell me that I need to think about others?” Perhaps we may differ in the ways that we offer up service to others-we may simply not make the same connection between clothing, food, televisions, gifts cards, iPods, socks and happiness. In the end I would guess that most of us either justify ourselves in someway, or simply conform to whatever it is the we are being persuaded to donate. I would propose that all of us, chiefly myself, ought to be more charitable. I do not say this in the sense of monetary donations, but rather to refer to a much greater offering. The offering of one’s time-perhaps even at a time when that time is most treasured-in the Christmas season. I suspect that there is nothing that pleased the Lord more than to see His children sacrificing a portion of their most valuable resource (which surely is time) by spending it in the service of their brothers and sisters who might otherwise be neglected.
It is not easy to “think more about others” when we live in a society that teaches us to “just believe in yourself”. (Matthew 15:8-9) I suppose that if we make ourselves the god of our own self-consumed universe, then it is only right that we spoil ourselves by indulging in the luxuries of Big Screen Televisions, Brand now video gaming systems, stylish clothing, and sweets galore. I don not wish to be bitter, I merely want to draw attention to our spiritual resemblance to Thanksgiving Turkeys preparing for the slaughter. We are setting ourselves up to be greatly disappointed once we discover on that great disillusioning day of Christmas that none of those things did in fact buy us the happiness with which we had associated them with. Each year we find ourselves mourning over broken knick knacks, shoes that don’t fit, and many other gifts that were less than what we had expected them to be. It has occurred to me that I must sound an awful lot like the Grinch. That is my intention. The Grinch had many valid points for despising Christmas-for it had become nothing more than a social gathering of “ME Monsters” (as Brian Regan might say). As missionaries we meet many Grinches-people who are excluded or feel like Christmas is nothing more than an inconvenience. Sometimes we may even feel this way. These are the people who we must focus on serving the most. I also want to point out that obviously the Grinch was wrong in regards to the way he handled the problem since his crazy scheme to steal Christmas was inspired by his own selfishness. However, I believe that if he had instead decided to help the Who’s change their ways in a constructive way, he might have become a Christ-figure. It is no surprise that Christ is often overshadowed and even forgotten on such a day as this. Yet, His name remains in the title-perhaps because once again, we must justify our selfishness by masking our real intentions with the name of a glorified being (either that or “Me-monsters doesn’t have the same ring as “Christmas”). Although His title remains as the excuse for our celebrations, the way in which we actually celebrate surely is not consistent with what He actually stood for. If we really do attempt to defend our cultural traditions as an accurate representation of Christ’s doctrine, are we not speaking out blasphemy against His teachings? Once more, I must apologize for my bitter and critical tone. It is not my intention to condemn anyone for their potentially selfish acts-for as I said before, I am just as guilty as anyone is when it comes to selfishness. However, I do wish to invite you to take a moment to look at Christmas from this horrible perspective. What is regarded as the most sacred time of the year suddenly becomes a hollow sepulcher seemingly offering us refuge from our otherwise miserable lives. Although it is an ugly picture to look at, there is some degree of truth in what I have described. the reason that I feel that it is necessary to introduce such a terrible outlook is because I wish to emphasize, thought contrast, the ultimate significance of the point that I am about to make. And that is that a closeness to Jesus Christ is absolutely essential to our happiness. And in order to be close to Him, we are required to heed his counsel “Come Follow Me”. Wherever He is, we must be also. (Matthew 4:19)
Part Two: The Character of Christ
Although I do not feel qualified to write about Jesus Christ, there are a few basic truths about the Savior which I have come to better understand through my missionary experiences and I feel inspired to share them at this time.
The prophet Isaiah taught that “it is not for his appearance that we should desire him”(Isaiah 53:2 see footnote “d”) Christ was never flashy or appealing and neither was His work. It was never meant for service to sound pleasant and enjoyable. Nor was it meant to be easy. For service was designed to bring us to our knees-level with the dust. It was designed to change our very natures, to rewrite our ver dignity- not just as a Child of God but as a servant of Him also. The gift of God’s son, Jesus The Christ, didn’t come in pretty wrapping paper but rather in the humblest form-within wall of a stable, placed in a food dish designed for animals (I often wonder if there is a connection between this scene and sacrament meeting-where we may find ourselves reduced to animals without partaking of the Atonement of Christ for He is truly the bread and the water-John 6:32-35). Our king did not live a life of luxury by any means(Matthew 8:20). Why then should luxury be a characteristic of our own lives? Why do we so often associate luxury with happiness?
Hugh B. Brown put it this way-he said, “In luxury a man can dwell as lonely as in a prison cell”(Father are you there?”-Hugh B. Brown) Should we not then strive to free ourselves from this distraction-this illusion of happiness that we envision to the solution to the emptiness within us? Aren’t Christmas lists merely some kind of formula for happiness which we have developed as a replacement for Christ? Christ was the gift that we didn’t think we wanted. We didn’t think that we would need Him. He didn’t even make the list. But God offered Him to us anyways-because he Knew that there was something so much better than a pile of toys beneath a decorated pine tree. God offered us happiness- but only if we wanted it. We would have to leave the toys behind if we chose God’s gift-for it meant that we would be required to leave the home altogether and lose ourselves in His service. (If we fill our hearts with toys, how can there be room for Christ? There will be no room in the Inn). The other day I found myself struggling to find the motivation to go outside and work. Then I began to consider my Savior Jesus Christ. As I thought about His life and His love, I was filled with the desire to be with Him. I was miserable, I didn’t want to be here anymore, I just wanted to be with Him. (I felt a sense of Celestial homesickness). Then everything clicked. I finally understood that I can be with Him-but I need to follow Him out into His vineyard. I need to join Him in His vineyard because that is where He will be-out there working, serving-while I would otherwise be relaxing in my home, mission out on the true meaning of the Christmas season. Because I love Him and desired to be with Him, I got up and went to work. The spirit of the Lord was with me that night, and I was happy. The Lord won my heart through love- not by persuasion or appeal.(Hymn 188). Work never sound appealing or pleasant, yet somehow it is the secret to our happiness.
For the individual who is trapped in the dilemma of whether or not it is worth it to choose to serve God, I would make mention of our Savior who “fell on his face and prayed, saying, O my father if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt”.(Matthew 26:39)
When I picture my Savior upon His face, praying on my behalf, I jump to my feet, for that is a man whom I will follow. I will serve others because it is God’s will. Through acting upon my love of Christ, I can learn to love my brothers and sisters.
Part 3: Listen to the Bell
In The Book of Mormon, the prophet Nephi warned us of a fallacy that the devil will use on us in these last days. Nephi warned that the devil will pacify and lull (us) away into carnal security, that (we) will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well- and thus the devil cheateth (our) souls”(2 Nephi 28:21). I believe that the Christmas season has become a form of carnal security. It has become an excuse to allow ourselves to believe that “all is well in zion” . It is pleasing to sing “carols...wild and sweet... of peace on earth, good will to men”, but let us not forget the following verses which remind that “hate is strong and mocks the song” (Hymn 214). If all we do is celebrate the possibility of “peace on earth” then surely we will “cheat (our) souls” of opportunities to actually go and do “good will to men”. Surely this is the “peace” that Christ spoke of when He said “peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let now your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14:27) Worldly peace is the kind that involves singing this Hymn in comfort and luxury while neglecting to labor in the Lord’s vineyard. The peace that Christ offers comes only through serving alongside Him as he ministers to others. Rather than only focusing on the good in life, let us acknowledge that bad. But once we acknowledge the bad, then let us not be troubled or afraid- but instead, let us get up and do something about it. It is not the effect of a frenzied or deranged mind to believe that we can in fact do something about the chaos we see in the world around us (Alma 30:16). For “God is not dead, nor doth he sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail.”(Hymn 214) These are the “words of truth and soberness”-of this I testify in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen. (Acts 26:24-25).
~Elder Kyle Jensen~