I gave a talk in church a week ago. I made a lot of notes over the two weeks prior, and I asked the Lord to help me know what he wanted me to say. But it just never came together. The more I wrote down, the more it sounded like rambling to me. And then, the very weekend of my talk, something terrible happened to a class of little children in Newtown, Connecticut.
With less than twenty-four hours to go, I threw out all my notes. I had no idea what I was going to talk about, except that my topic was Christmas. What I came up with is probably going to seem a little unconventional for a Christmas talk, but this was an unconventional kind of weekend. So here's my talk, in full.
Let's All Hug.
Christmas is a joyful time of year. Not just because there are presents and food and everything turns colored and sparkly; lots of holidays are that way. Christmas remains the most popular holiday of the year because its foundation is the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. That deep meaning makes everything that is cheery about it even more blessed. Nobody needs to tell you that Christmas is a happy time. That’s a given. However, the arrival of December doesn’t make life’s problems go away—not even just for December.
Most people have been touched by tragedy or sorrow in some meaningful way. Times like Christmas, when we gather to celebrate, can really punctuate that sorrow-- the sorrow of problems that must be managed but cannot be solved in this lifetime. There are people in this room who may feel very alone at this time of year. Some are alone, and some will be surrounded by people and yet feel very alone, enduring "sorrows that the eye can't see" (Lord, I Would Follow Thee). There are pains that we suffer individually, in secret, and pains that we suffer with humanity at large. Whatever wounds inflicted upon us in this life, and among whom, there’s a commonality in all our suffering-- the ever-advancing sense of isolation.
We've all been taught that there's opposition in all things. We expect to have to endure a certain level of inconvenience. A car will break down, a job will be lost, one of our children will make a mistake, we will make a mistake. We accept the superficial oppositions we face every day and consider ourselves pretty noble for doing so.
But most of us can expect at some point to suffer a trial that easily breaches that superficial opposition. Our hearts may be deeply pierced, maybe through no fault of our own. We'll be separated from people we love, sometimes for the rest of our lives. We'll have a chronic illness or injury that will never fully heal. The healing power of the Atonement may be able to reach our hearts and make life manageable, even joyful, but a fully-mended life might be beyond reach until the Resurrection.
I’m not saying this to be depressing, and I don’t think it should be. Sometimes your heart hurts, even when you’re supposed to feel the happiest. Sometimes, maybe, you’re not sure you have permission to admit that. But it’s okay. I just want to tell you, from my heart to yours, that it’s okay. Johnny Mathis may disagree with me, but I'm pretty sure the Lord agrees. Sometimes, it's not the most wonderful time of the year, at least not in the way you were hoping.
Managing a lifelong problem can be especially difficult at Christmastime. This is the final dispensation of earth, and its pains are many, varied, and acute. I think, when we open up to him, the Lord can utilize this time of year (the time when we give him the most thought) to bear us up and lighten the weight on our shoulders. “He knows our needs. To our weakness, he’s no stranger” (O Holy Night). Along with his support, you have the people around you, the people sitting in this room. Today, the world needs a flood of angels to bear up the weak, and I think we're getting that, both literally and figuratively. We are the Lord's hands. We are the angels the world needs.
Gift-Love and Need-Love (from The Four Loves)
C.S. Lewis describes two loves that encompass all other kinds of love-- gift-love and need-love. "The typical example of Gift-love would be that love which moves a man to work and plan and save for the future well-being of his family which he will die without sharing or seeing ... the second, [need-love, is] that which sends a lonely or frightened child to its mother's arms.
“There was no doubt which was more like [God] Himself. Divine Love is Gift-love. The Father gives all He is and has to the Son. The Son gives Himself back to the Father, and gives Himself to the world, and for the world … and thus gives the world … back to the Father, too.”
The Lord lacks nothing, but we experience 'need-love.' "We are born helpless. As soon as we are fully conscious we discover loneliness. We need others physically, emotionally, intellectually; we need them if we are to know anything, even ourselves.
"...Our whole being by its very nature is one vast need; incomplete, preparatory, empty yet cluttered, crying out for Him who can untie things that are now knotted together, and tie up things that are still dangling loose.
“Need-love cries to God from our poverty; Gift-love longs to serve, or even to suffer for, God; Appreciative-love says: 'We give thanks to thee for thy great glory.'"
So, love is the perfect bond that is fused when one of us with a humble need is met by another of us with the capacity and generosity to fill it. From that bond is born 'appreciation-love,' the point at which both hearts rejoice and thank the Lord.
This process of ‘gift meeting need’ is true of every kind of love. It's easy to say "I love you," if in saying it you mean, "You fulfill my need." But to really love people is to seek out a way to fill their needs, even at the expense of your own gratification. To love is to serve as well as receive service. To love is to sacrifice as well as joyfully receive another's sacrifice in your behalf.
Love is Consecration
We all need each other, and in different ways. We all have gifts and strengths to offer each other, and many different kinds of gifts. The one sure thing about love is that its full fruition requires the right need matched to the right gift. The right need matched to the right gift is called the Law of Consecration.
The opposite of love is its absence. Isolation-- a need unfilled, a soul left wanting, the unnatural condition of being an island, of being alone. Isolation is what Satan seeks for each of us. Isolation breeds despair and hopelessness. It suffocates faith. It propagates the grand illusion that the devil is winning and that a feeble human being cannot turn back the tide of his eventual triumph. Many elect spirits have been drawn away from the love of God because they allowed themselves to become isolated from the community of Christ, to become blind to his truths, or to just give up hope altogether.
But the triumph of evil really is an illusion. There is no true war between God and the devil. The outcome was decided before the plan ever began. And Jesus Christ's final words as he hung upon the cross declared the victory. "It is finished," he said. Death is overcome. Mankind's sins are atoned for, resurrection is available to all, and cleansing repentance is in play. God wins. And we win, if we stand with him.
Hugh Nibley said, "God does not fight Satan: a word from him and Satan is silenced and banished. There is no contest there; in fact we are expressly told that all the power which Satan enjoys here on earth is granted him by God. "We will allow Satan, our common enemy, to try man and to tempt him." It is man's strength that is being tested—not God's."
Jeffrey R. Holland said, "The future of this world has long been declared; the final outcome between good and evil is already known. There is absolutely no question as to who wins, because the victory has already been posted on the scoreboard. The only really strange thing in all of this is that we are still down here on the field trying to decide which team’s jersey we want to wear.”
What are we fighting for?
It is critically important to know what battle we're fighting. We aren't fighting to save this world, or nations, or governments, or the church from destruction. We're not here to lengthen or shorten our time on this earth. All those outcomes are already determined. Worldly entities will ripen for destruction and earth be renewed to a paradise; all of us will someday die according to the flesh, and the flame of the gospel will never again be extinguished. We play no role in those determinations.
What we are fighting for is the individual-- our own souls, the souls of our loved ones, and the individual, beloved spirit brothers and sisters we come into contact with in this mortal realm. Our battle is for the one, because the Lord loves his children-- every one of us. "And if it so be that ye should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father." (D&C 18:15) The battle is for the individual.
Agency, Our Only Authority
So how do we win this battle for the individual? By wielding the only weapon we arrive with at the beginning of our lives, the only thing that belongs to us through the incident of our birth-- free agency. Anything else we hope to bring into eternity-- relationships, family, experience, light and knowledge-- hinges on our use of that agency.
And the salvation of the person sitting next to you here, or at work, at school, on the street, the salvation of anyone whose life you touch, may be affected by your use of agency in that moment-- affected by your decision to either fill a need-love with your gift-love, or draw away in isolation; your decision to shine your light or hide it; your decision to either 'mourn with those that mourn, comfort those that stand in need of comfort,' or shrink from that valuable responsibility.
Dark times come to everyone. Don’t fear the night. The darker the night, the brighter the stars. Remember the wise men that came from the East seeking the newborn Messiah. "When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy." (Matt. 2:10) And they came to Jerusalem, "Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him." (Matt. 2:2) Samuel the Lamanite told the nation of Lehi, "There shall a new star arise, such an one as ye never have beheld; and this also shall be a sign unto you." (Hel. 14:5)
That new star was a horror to King Herod. He perceived this Savior as a threat to his reign. It was small-minded thinking, and he was afraid. But the believers understood the star. Their faith allowed them a broader view. As the poet Sarah Williams said, "Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light; / I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night."
Your life is not ordinary, and this is no ordinary Christmas. It's not the same as any Christmas two or three hundred years ago. This is the dispensation of the fulness of times, and we're in it. The darkness may seem darker, but those countless points of heavenly light are breathtaking. You may be the star by which some weary sailor will navigate to safety. You may be the star that causes lonely wanderers to exclaim, “Where is he?” Your brightness may bring them to the stable where their eternal salvation is peacefully sleeping.
And we don’t shine alone. “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” (Matt. 1:23) God is with us.
A few years ago, I gave a talk with a little metaphor that I think is very applicable here. We are all children in a very chaotic world. We're easily distracted, we get frantic and panicky, we scramble about trying to make sense of things that are completely nonsensical. We get scared. And we occasionally forget that our Father is standing nearby.
In the scheme of eternity, our present age makes no difference—we’re all still just children with a long way to go. And the frantic, chaotic, disorienting times are the times when your Father will reach for your face and hold it in his palms. He'll look into your eyes to get your attention. And he'll speak to you much the same way you would speak to one of your children. "Look at me. I'm right here. Hold on to me. Everything will be okay, as long as we stay together."
You and I need to do the same for one another. Hold a hand this Christmas. Say a prayer together. Hug a friend. Feed stomachs and souls. Fill needs and give gifts. Openly receive from other gift-givers. Bind yourself with the promise that not one of us will travel alone in this world-- not one.
Look to the Lord. He's right here. We won't get lost if we stay together.
"Keep all the commandments and covenants by which ye are bound; and I will cause the heavens to shake for your good, and Satan shall tremble and Zion shall rejoice upon the hills and flourish;
"And Israel shall be saved in mine own due time; and by the keys which I have given shall they be led, and no more be confounded at all.
"Lift up your hearts and be glad, your redemption draweth nigh.
"Fear not, little flock, the kingdom is yours until I come. Behold, I come quickly."