Christmas! A very special time of the year when we celebrate—with all the world—the birth of our Savior. It is also a time of giving gifts to our loved ones and to those we appreciate. We may dread all the stress and effort that comes with shopping for presents, fearful of leaving anyone off the list and not wanting to offend anyone. We spend many hours wrapping the gifts. We do this out of love and appreciation for each individual family member and friend.
Christmas Eve was always a fun time with our family, including sometimes with friends, when our children would enact the Christmas story during their younger years. They dressed up as Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, some of the animals, the three wise men, and the angels. It was a fun activity which allowed us to focus on the real reason for the season, the birth of our Savior and Redeemer.
Then at last Christmas morning arrives, and the children are normally the first to wake up. They scurry around the Christmas tree to see which gifts are for them. Great excitement, laughter, joy, and happiness accompany them as they open their presents one by one, with smiles beaming from ear to ear. These are very happy times that I remember when our own children were growing up.
As I think of the gifts that we normally give and receive at Christmas, my thoughts reflect on the first material gifts associated with our Savior, Jesus Christ, which are reflected in Matthew 2:10-11: “When they [the three wise men]saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts: gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.” The giving and receiving of presents at Christmas time is meant to remind us of the Magi’s gifts to Christ on the occasion of His birth.
However, nowadays, with the commercialization of Christmas, it is unfortunate that oftentimes Christ is left out of Christmas….and our focus is then placed on the gift and not the giver of the gift. Perhaps we take the gifts that we receive from our loved ones for granted, and we run the risk of becoming more materialistic in our expectations. On top of it all, the material gifts that we buy and give to children sometimes do not last long and are often discarded to the trash bin before the day is over.
In a very real spiritual sense, the greatest gift that we have received from Heavenly Father is the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ. His sacred Atonement was the supreme act of forgiveness.
As we prayerfully contemplate the Christmas gifts that we want to give, there may be some to whom we should consider giving lasting gifts that do not cost money, nor need expensive wrapping or ribbons. All they need is the gift of our love, the gift of our tolerance, the gift of our heart, the gift of our understanding, the gift of our charity, the gift of our good example, the gift of our kindness, the gift of our generosity, the gift of our speaking well of them, the gift of our being more patient with them, the gift of not holding grudges, the gift of our time, the gift of selfless service in lifting them up, the gift of our friendship, the gift of our caring, and the gift of our forgiveness to them. These are what I call ”good and perfect gifts” as mentioned in James 1:17: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”
There are many families and individuals that will not be having a happy and joyous Christmas this year due to lack of forgiveness from an offended spouse, family member, or friend. The Savior said: “Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin” (Doctrine & Covenants 64:9).
No matter what the offense, it is a commandment that we forgive one another. Elder David E. Sorensen said: “This is not to say that forgiveness is easy. When someone has hurt us or those we care about, that pain can almost be overwhelming. It can feel as if the pain or the injustice is the most important thing in the world and that we have no choice but to seek vengeance. But Christ, the Prince of Peace, teaches us a better way. It can be very difficult to forgive someone the harm they have done us, but when we do, we open ourselves up to a better future. No longer does someone else’s wrongdoing control our course. When we forgive others, it frees us to choose how we will live our own lives. Forgiveness means that problems of the past no longer dictate our destinies. And we can focus on the future with God’s love in our hearts.”
What better time would there be to give the gift of forgiveness to one who has wronged us than at Christmas time? What better time would there be for us to heal a family with forgiveness than at Christmas time—when it is so badly needed?
“A happy marriage is a union of two good forgivers,” said Dr. Frank Fincham during the Marjorie Pay Hinckley lecture at BYU. “Forgiveness is a process, not an event. Unforgiveness—or lack of forgiveness—is nothing short of life threatening. So if you want to live a long and fulfilling life, I would encourage you to find forgiveness as a way of life.” He continued, “Forgiveness does not include a lack of consequence for the perpetrator, and forgiveness is not no longer feeling pain. If a victim waits until the pain is gone before granting forgiveness, it might take a very long time to ever forgive a person. It is not about pretending that unacceptable behavior is, in fact, acceptable. We do not condone the wrong. The wrong is a wrong, and we forgive in full knowledge that we have been wronged and that we deserve better treatment.”
President Gordon B. Hinckley reminded us of the following: “The cure for most marital troubles does not lie in divorce. It lies in repentance and forgiveness, in expressions of kindness and concern.”
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy, But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44). This is probably one of the toughest commandments to live which our Savior has given to us, and it is all about forgiveness! President Brigham Young once compared being offended to a poisonous snakebite. He said that “there are two courses of action to follow when one is bitten by a rattlesnake. One may, in anger, fear, or vengefulness, pursue the creature and kill it. Or he may make full haste to get the venom out of his system. If we pursue the latter course we will likely survive, but if we attempt to follow the former, we may not be around long enough to finish it.”
Forgiving someone who has hurt you deeply will probably be one of the hardest things you will ever do. The freedom that you will feel when you finally forgive will be worth all the pain and effort it requires. This forgiveness can only come with the help of the Lord.
It was Ghandi that said: “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” The story of the Prodical Son in Luke 15 is a wonderful example of repentance from wrongdoing, forgiveness, and mercy, as the father welcomed home his son who “was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.” The miracle of forgiveness!
Let me share with you a true African story from South Sudan, as written by Josh Andersen, Samaritan’s Purse staff writer: “The first thing I noticed about young Khaja was her beautiful lavender headscarf; she was wearing it when she entered the grass hut where Samaritan’s Purse was conducting a trauma-counseling workshop in the Yida refugee camp. It looked like an accessory either of my two daughters would love to play dress-up with.
“Its vibrant color pierced the subdued atmosphere of the room, where about 20 refugees were sitting on makeshift benches. Each one feverishly jotted down some notes as they listened to a lesson on forgiveness. For the past week, men and women of all ages had been learning Biblical principles on how to overcome the atrocities that forced them to flee their homes in the Nuba Mountains.
“’Go back to your friend and forgive him if he does you wrong,’ said the workshop leader, Abdurahjim Adris Koji. ‘Like it says in the Lord’s Prayer.’ Many in the class and throughout the camp are victims of terror campaigns conducted by the Sudan government. Tens of thousands have crossed the border into South Sudan to escape horrific bombings, which have led to widespread starvation and death.
“Khaja was late to her class that day. She and a friend had entered through the back of the hut. After a quick look around, Khaja realized that the only seat available was in the front of the class. Awkwardly and shyly, the teenager made her way forward.
“Khaja’s scarf had caught my eye at first, but something else would soon break my heart. As she went by, I noticed that she was walking with crutches. Her left leg was missing. As a writer I wanted to know what happened; as a father I wanted to know why.
“One night Khaja and her family woke up to the sound of an Antonov plane circling overhead. The distinct roar of its engines was instantly recognizable. But the unknown remained: would a bomb drop? The explosive answer came soon enough, as shrapnel tore through homes and Khaja’s leg. Her life would never be the same.
“That was over a year ago. Her parents sent Khaja and her brother to live with relatives in Yida soon after the bombing. And yet, even after the horrors of that night, Khaja wants to return to the Nuba Mountains.
“’It’s my home,’ she said. ‘I want to go back if there is peace.’ For a 16 year old, Khaja has remarkable resolve; even more impressive is her faithful perspective about those who have hurt her and so many other Nubans.
“’God wants us to forgive and love one another,’ she said. I agree with that, and it is something I want to share with others.
Khaja said, 'God wants us to forgive and love one another.'
“As a father, I wanted to come to Khaja’s rescue, to get even with the cowards who had snuck in that night and shattered her innocence. But this girl, who has suffered so much, taught me that a real hero— one who fights for Jesus Christ—doesn’t seek revenge. A real hero offers his enemies the gift of forgiveness.”
It was our Savior Jesus Christ, whilst spending His last hours on this earth, who uttered those humble and powerful words of forgiveness on the cross at Calvary that you and I will never forget: “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
As we celebrate the birth of our Savior, let our focus be on Him, and may we pattern our lives after His. Let us also remember that God the Father gave His Son, and Jesus Christ gave us the Atonement – the greatest of all gifts and of all giving!
May God bless all of us at this Christmas time to take the opportunity to extend to those who may have offended or hurt us in any way our gift of forgiveness. May we also seek the gift of forgiveness from those whom we may have hurt or offended. As we do this, families will heal, relationships will mend, and miracles will happen. Let us all lighten each other’s load by sharing our gifts of forgiveness to all those in need of it. May we also feel the peace that will come to each of us as we sincerely hand out our gifts this Christmas time!