By Todd Doty, POE Stake President
In my fifty-five years on this earth I have had several Christmases that stand out in mind. I would, however, tell you of two during which I came to an understanding of the love of Christ.
In 1973 I was sent to England as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In December of that year I was assigned to work in the industrial city of Watford. I was a young and very self-centered young man. I was living in the home of an inactive member. She had three little girls, all under the age of nine. The house was a Council house, meaning it was owned by the city and the city charged small amounts of rent for those who were poor. This family fell into these circumstances. They had about one or two lumps of coal to heat their home per day. The electricity was provided by a shilling box. You would deposit shillings in the box and receive a limited amount of electricity. This would run out at the most inopportune times.
I was homesick and very unsympathetic to the problems of the family we lived with. I often thought of my home and our own family traditions. I thought of Christmas dinner and the great feast I was going to miss. I thought of all the gifts around the tree and how I was not going to be there to take part as my family would sit around and open them all. I thought of me and what I was missing.
The mother of this family came home one day with a Christmas tree. It was about two feet tall. It reminded me of the tree Charlie Brown brought back to his friends and they all laughed at him. I thought how pitiful that she could not even provide a decent tree.
Christmas Eve came and there were three small gifts under the tree and nothing for me. My companion woke up Christmas morning at the normal time. We got dressed, had a small breakfast and exchanged a gift with each other. We then went downstairs. The family was up; the little girls were filled with excitement over the small little gifts they had received. To what I was accustomed to, they had nothing and I missed out. All I could think about was me and what I had missed by not being at home.
Our Christmas dinner was comprised of some fish and chips. I left the table hungry and disappointed.
Looking back, I missed Christmas that year because my heart was closed and my mind was thinking only of me. I did not see the joy in the eyes of the children, the love their mother had for them or how she had to save to provide the small gifts she gave them and the “large” meal she fed her guests, the missionaries. I missed it all.
The second Christmas was different. We were invited to spend Christmas day with a family in Gilford England. They lived in a Council house, just as the family I was with the prior year. They heated their home with coal and had very little, just as the last year. We arrived at their home and sat down in their living room. They had a small, poor looking tree, just as the last year. They gave us each a gift, small and inconsequential, but still something they could not afford.
We sat down for dinner; we had a small chicken and roasted potatoes. It was the best they could do and they were happy to provide it.
I felt something that Christmas, something I don’t think I had ever felt. I missed it the year before because I was all about me. This Christmas something had changed, and it had changed in me. I had gained a love of the people in England and for the work I was doing. As Christmas was coming I felt the love of Christ and his Atonement.
I came to the realization that Christmas was not about me, but about sharing the love of Christ with others. I was reminded of the heavenly choirs on the plains of Galilee as the shepherds received the announcement of the birth of Christ.
After dinner, I asked the family if I could share this scripture with them. We sat down and I read:
“AND it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Cæsar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judæa, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them”. (New Testament | Luke2:1 – 20)
From that day to this, the meaning of Christmas has taken on a much greater meaning to me. It’s not about me; it’s not about boxes all wrapped within paper or a great dinner or feast. It’s about a small child who came into this world to save the world and take upon Himself my sins.
It took me nearly two years to fully understand Christmas and now I have a perspective on it that has changed my life. I had two experiences. The circumstances of each were very close. The difference was my heart.
God bless you, and have a wonderful Christmas.
Photo source: LDS Media Library