In church today I had the opportunity to give a Christmas talk. It was supposed to be a simple memory or story. I thought some of you might like you read it, too.
Disclaimer: I may have some of the facts wrong. Now that I think about it, wasn't Boisucunga (sp?) our first Christmas there? Oh well, I'm the youngest—I can't remember those things from when I was young. :)
When I was eight years old, my family lived in Brazil. For our first snow-less Christmas, we went to Florianopolis. I somehow contracted the Brazilian measles and had to stay in the hotel room. My mother stayed with me most of the time, but one evening, the hotel was putting on a fireworks show, and she decided to go outside and join the rest of the family. My family was already seated in the front row, but when my mom joined them she had a bad feeling about sitting there, and she felt they should move. So, the family moved to the back. Later during the fireworks show, one of the fireworks misfired and landed underneath one of the chairs my family had vacated. The clothes of the person sitting there caught fire. Because my mother listened to the inspiration she had felt, my family avoided that danger.
A few Christmases later, we were still in Brazil. My mom was a regular volunteer at a nearby orphanage that was very understaffed. For Christmas, my mom took all of us to the orphanage to where the infants were. This allowed the regular workers to go home and be with their families for a few hours. We changed a lot of diapers, fed a lot of babies, but mostly my mom told us we were just there to hold them. To hug them tight and let them feel our warmth. My mom asked us to love them, and I loved those babies the best I could.
About five years later, we were now spending our Christmas in Muncie, Indiana. I am the youngest, and at that point most of my siblings were gone away from home, and there were no little kids for whom we could do all of the Christmas things. I couldn't really feel the Christmas spirit that year. It bothered me, so I thought a lot about what to do to regain that Christmas spirit that feels so wonderful. I finally had an idea and I shared it with my family. They all agreed it was a good idea and would be wonderful to do. We ended up doing a sort of Secret Santa, where each of us only purchased one gift for one other family member. So we all only got one gift, and we kept it secret who had who. It has been a lot of fun, but the real point to it is that with the money we did not spend on Christmas gifts, we were to give to a charity instead. We were to choose any place and donate the money we didn't spend on gifts. My family has done that every year since, and Jeff and I have incorporated it into our new family's traditions.
What do these stories all have in common? Yes, they all have to do with Christmas, but I also think they exemplify what the true meaning of Christmas is: Christ. The fireworks story showed the importance of following the promptings we receive from the Spirit. The orphanage story demonstrated how we need to willingly give our love and charity to others. The last story represented service and generosity.
If we listen to the promptings we receive, then we too can follow Christ this Christmas season by sharing our love, time, money, and efforts with others.
Many of you have already done this through the Service Auction. I was blessed yesterday to witness the results of your generosity and love. You brought joy into a mother's heart, as we were able to fill her cupboards and the space under tree.
I encourage all of you to continue to follow Christ and help and serve others this Christmas season. As the choir sang last Sunday, this is a time for joy, a time for peace, and a time for love.
I know that Jesus was born of Mary and God over 2,000 years ago. I know He lived to do many wonderful miracles and acts of charity. He atoned for all of our sins and died for us so that we might live again. Please take the opportunity this season to grow a little closer to Him and our Father in Heaven. Your life will be blessed.
To close this portion, I would like to share a quote by President Benson: "Without Christ there would be no Christmas, and without Christ there can be no fullness of joy. . . . And now, my beloved brothers and sisters, what must we do this Christmas season—and always? Why, we must do the same as the Wise Men of old. They sought out the Christ and found Him. And so must we. Those who are wise still seek Him today.
To finish my talk, I would like to share a story my mother-in-law included in a book she compiled for Jeffrey. It is by Richard A. Robb and is called "Two Dimes and a Nickel."
During my first Christmas as bishop, a single mother with three small children lived in our ward. This young woman had a strong testimony of the gospel and lived it to the best of her ability. She cleaned homes and did sewing to try to make ends meet, but often she could not.
Single-handedly raising three boys under the age of eight was a real challenge. These active, energetic youngsters always seemed to be in some sort of trouble. I remember extricating them from more than one tussle with their classmates.
Several good people helped this struggling family. I'll never forget the brother who came into my office one Sunday just a couple of weeks before Christmas, asking to speak with me privately. He was concerned about the young mother and her family and wanted to do something for them. Would I accept his contribution and use it in the best way i could to help them? As we spoke, I hardly noticed his small son, who remained in the office with us.
The man explained that he did not know what the woman and her family needed. He just wanted to help and felt that I would be inspired to know what to do. He then entrusted me to quite a remarkable sum of money—not remarkable in the amount, but remarkable relative to his modest means, of which I was well aware. I knew that this gift meant a sacrifice of his own family's Christmas, at least in the temporal sense.
But this wise brother knew where real rewards come from. Seeing the resolve shining in his eyes, I protested only gently. Then I cleared my tightening throat, thanked him for his unselfish gift, and promised to do my best to make Christmas a little brighter for the young mother and her sons. I also agreed to honor his request for anonymity.
The story might well end here and still be memorable. But the event that has etched this experience in my mind had yet to occur. It wasn't the way I was able to help the family with the contribution . . . but rather what took place in my office one week following that brother's visit.
It was just a few days before Christmas, and I was between tithing settlement interviews when I heard a soft knock on the office door. I opened it to see, standing quite alone, the six-year-old boy who had sat quietly in my office while his dad and I had talked the Sunday before.
He asked politely if he could talk to me for just a minute. After we walked into the office—which I presume is always a bit of a frightening experience for youngsters—I invited him to sit down. He fidgeted with something in his pocket, and after some struggle, pulled out two dimes and a nickel and laid them on my desk. He apologized that the coins were all the money he had, and that they were a little old and dirty, since he had had them for quite a while. The money, he explained, was for me to use to help his three friends, like his dad was helping their mother.
As my heart swelled and my eyes became moist, he added that he felt I would know best how to divide his treasure among his friends and that he was sorry he did not have three dimes so that each could have one.
What lessons culminated in that moment! A father's unselfish example, the trust of a small boy in his bishop, and the humble, Christlike act of a child obviously without guile. Only a few weeks before I had pulled this boy from a scuffle involving the soon-to-be recipients of his forgiving love and charity.
I hugged him, partly to camouflage my now obvious tears and mostly to tell him how much I appreciated him and how much I knew his Father in Heaven loved him. I then walked him to the door, shook his hand, and assured him that I would do the best I could to help his friends this Christmas with his generous gift. As I turned to go back into my office, he whispered after me, "And remember, Bishop, don't ever tell anyone it was me."
Well, I never have told anyone until now, my young friend. I hope relating your special story in this way is all right so that others might feel a bit of the quiet Christmas spirit of love and charity that we felt that day. [end of story]
I hope you all take the time this season and all throughout the year to spread love and charity will all those you encounter.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.