Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Receiving Christmas

I gave a talk, copied and hyperlinked below, this last Sunday in church. 

I also sang the lullaby, the one I sing to Baby G every night entitled Mary's Lullaby (the one starting "All mine in your loveliness, baby all mine" as that's what I was most surprised by after bringing him home from the hospital - he was all mine, and no one was going to take him away!).  Were it not for the fact that Lance also spoke and there were six other musical numbers, I would have felt like a one-man band!

I.            Christmas is a time of giving. It is also a time of receiving.

Last Christmas in the First Presidency devotional, ElderUchtdorf told of a young girl who received a beautiful beading kit and who, with joy and excitement, made a special bracelet for an elderly, spinster aunt, with an “unhappy face and a harsh personality,” hoping to bring some happiness into her life.

Elder Uchtdorf recounted, “And so she carefully selected each bead and did her very best to make this a special gift for her aunt.  When she finally finished, she approached her aunt, handed her the bracelet, and told her she had designed it and made it just for her.  Silence descended on the room as the aunt picked up the bracelet with her finger and thumb as though she were holding a string of slimy snails.  She looked at the gift, squinte her eyes and scrunched up her nose, and dropped the bracelet back into the hands of the little girl.  She then turned away from her without saying one word and began talking to someone else.  The little girl blushed with embarrassment.  With deep disappointment she quietly walked out of the room.”

I related to this young girl, as I have been known to make many of my Christmas gifts, particularly when I was little, sewing or crafting up a storm.  Not everything I made fit nor was it quite right. Yet I designed and sewed and looked forward to Christmas Day, just to see the look of joy on the receiver’s face.  I didn’t always get it.

II.            Charity’s two sides

One thing I am still learning about giving is that I must do so without expectation of reward, even if the reward is kindness and gratitude in the recipient. 

I am also still learning how to be on the other end of charity – on the receiving side. (I still feel guilty for not having written thank you notes for those who made food for the cultural night in November!) 

Yet charity has two sides—both Christmas gifts and gifts of the Spirit require a giver and a receiver.  Charity “believethall things, hopeth all things, endureth all things,” and, I would add, “receiveth all things.” 

            III.            Required to Receive

We can use this Christmas to learn how to “receive all things with thankfulness” for all of us will have at least one time in our lives when we will be required to receive.  For some, this will come as a result of an illness, a new baby, or old age.  My dear mother-in-law recounted to me a situation when her own mother was required to receive as a result of old age.  I call it “The Parable of the Bath:”

She writes: 

“I am now living in the middle of your book [in the interest of full disclosure, I have written a book -a very short one - on the topic, which is why Lance as me to speak on this topic.]  This situation of living with my mother for a time is such a prime example of what you are talking about.  My mother is 92, and ever since she started reaching the age where she needed extra help from people, she has fought it.  I guess in her mind she is being ‘strong,’ ‘independent,’ and ‘self-reliant,’ when in reality all this proud attitude does is annoy us.  We truly wish that she would just humble herself and realize all this proud attitude does is annoy us.  We truly wish that she would just humble herself and realize that the same fate hit her that hits everyone, and she has to have help.  She keeps saying ‘I can do it; I can do it myself,’ and there are things she cannot do herself anymore.  We do appreciate the fact that she is spunky, that she is a fighter—that is probably one of the reasons she is still alive and doing as well as she is.  But when you are in the situation that my sisters and I are in, you just need a little humble cooperation so you can do your job.  We love to help her and do what we need to do for her; it is her constant fighting that makes it difficult.

“So I guess this is one practical example of the principles you teach in your book.  We are learning a ‘getting along with people’ principle—that when you need help it is time to admit that you really cannot do it all yourself and to ask for and accept help graciously.

“The prime example of this during the current visit with my mother is ‘The Bath.’ It is a drama, any way you look at it.  I find it to be significant in relation to your book.

“You talk of how Christ washed the feet of his disciples.  You say he was setting the example of humility by washing dirty feet that may have even walked through excrement, and that he was also teaching his disciples that they should humble themselves to accept his help.  Then you talk of putting the makeup on your [deceased] sister.

“Somewhere between those two classic examples of charity and humility is the example of a person reaching the time, sometime before death, when they have to be bathed by someone else.  I really cannot think of anything more humiliating, or humbling, than having to completely disrobe in front of your daughter and let her give you a bath.  Mother hates it, she fights it, but it has to be done, at least until her arm becomes strong again, but maybe thereafter also.

“Mother is quite verbal in the anguish and hurt pride that this bath brings about.  The other morning I said something that seemed to calm her more than anything said previously.  I said ‘Mother, this is an act of love of a daughter for her mother.’

“Then yesterday, as I was helping her get dressed after giving her a bath it all came on me so strong, and I felt the Spirit so intensely that I started to cry.  My sister Virginia had called a short time before to tell me she would be by to pick up Mother to get her hair done, then she would go to [the store] to get me the calling card I desperately needed.  She also said my niece Leslie would be by about 11:00 a.m. to pick up our grocery list to do the shopping for us.  So through my tears, as I helped get Mother dressed, I told her that I think now I knew why she was still alive (a question she often asks).  ‘You’ve always wanted your daughters to be close to each other, haven’t you? Look how close this is bringing us.  We’re all working together in harmony to do what needs to be done.  Mother, you need to know that this is a privilege and a blessing for us to be able to help you.’ I also think Mother is still alive because she needs these experiences to bring her to the point of humility before she passes on.’

As some of us in this congregation may wonder why we are still here, I hope this example of a family lovingly and willingly serving their aging mother helps us realize that service is not a chore, nor should receiving it be. 

            IV.            The Importance of Receiving

But we shouldn’t wait till we have to receive to learn the art.  “Blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble….” (Alma 32:16)

There are three reasons we should use this Christmas to learn to receive graciously regardless of life or circumstances:

1) In receiving, we become more like Christ
2) Receiving helps us be unified by allowing us to recognize our part in the Church, the body of Christ.
3) Receiving is essential to our salvation.

A.   Becoming more like Christ.

Christ’s life was one of continual giving and receiving.  Charity is defined as Christ’s love, and Christ’s exemplification of the two sides of charity is sometimes blurred.  It becomes hard to discern where one half of charity ends and where the other begins, a common occurrence for those with true charity. 

Yet we see Christ continually choosing reliance on the grace and kindness of others.  Perhaps he learned the art of receiving graciously from his sweet parents, who received the charity of an innkeeper in which to birth the Savior of the world, the adoration of the shepherds, the proclamation of Anna in the temple, and the wise man’s gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh—which certainly garishly adorned their humble Bethlehem home—with grace and gratitude, keeping all these things, and pondering them in their hearts.  

 We see at least two accounts in the scriptures of Christ's feet being washed—once at great expense—and He suffered it (Luke 7:38; John 12:3-8).  Christ had no home, but He received both bed and board as a perpetual guest (see Luke 9:58).  Even his tomb was borrowed (Matthew 27:57-60).  

B.    Being part of the body of Christ.

Simon and Garfunkel were wrong when they sang, “I am a rock, I am an island.”  We as a Church body are “fitly framed together,” designed for one another. (Ephesians 2:22)  We cannot, as members of the body of the Church, say we have no need of each other, even as “the eye cannotsay to the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet.”  (1 Cor. 12:21)  We need India to sing in the Primary program, Patriarch and Peggy to remind of us what faithfully enduring to the end looks like, Lawrence and Mikko to bless the sacrament, Ene to prepare it early on a Sunday, Ilaria to give us Disney Store discounts, Kathy to prepare the farewell and birthday cards, and Adrian to clean the chapel. 

Our covenants unite us together.  In the Washington, DC temple, our marriage sealing five years ago symbolically united Lance and myself together with the Savior on the cross, his sacrifice helping to bind us together through trials and the happy times.  During the Sacrament, the Aronic priesthood does not serve themselves, but one another.  When Lance and I went to Libya earlier this year and held our own private church services on Fridays, Lance waited for me to pass the sacrament back to him.  Each covenant requires one to give, and one to receive, the giver never able to give the covenant to himself.

C.    Receiving is Essential for Salvation

If we read in Moroni 7 or 2 Corinthians 13, charity is essential to gain, for we are “nothing” without it.  Yet charity cannot be developed or worked on.  No amount of effort on our part will produce charity within our hearts.   

I am learning this right now on a very personal level, as I have recently learned that though I have written a book about it, I do not yet have charity.  No, the only way to gain charity, as I am learning, is to receive.  Moroni describes the process of gaining charity as a passive one, as does the Lord in Doctrine and Covenants 121.  We are “filled” as we “let” our hearts be changed and made charitable.  We must pray, and praywith all the energy of our heart, that we may be filled with this love.  Receiving in other ways helps us learn to receive the greatest of all gifts, even charity, the pure love of Christ.

As we receive this Christmas, I hope we take the opportunity to do so graciously and allow the joy and peace of the season and Christ’s pure charity to fill and overflow within us.  Let earth and the London North Ward receive her King.

1 comment:

  1. Beautifully written. I will need some time to process this and relate it to the person I am most reluctant to receive kindness from -- myself. Thanks for sharing.