President's Pen 12-19-16 (Your Gift)

As missionaries in the Texas Houston South Mission, we know our purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ, by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end. We do this through our constant efforts to find, teach, invite, retain, and activate God’s children; we love it, we live it, and we do it! We begin with the “End in Mind”, and see God’s children as he does. We are Disciples of Jesus Christ and the best missionaries in the world!

Elders & Sisters,

We love ya!  We are in the home stretch of our opportunity to #LIGHTtheWORLD this Christmas Season.  Talk to everyone this week and share the glad tidings of great joy that only come because the Savior was born. 

The receiving and giving of gifts during the Christmas Season brings excitement and joy.  I still recall as a young boy getting up way too early to see if presents had arrived under the tree.  I couldn’t wait for my parents to finally join us in the living room and give us the approval to open our presents.  We then had to patiently wait as my six siblings and I rotated opening presents one at a time.  Sister Hall and I have loved our experience as parents as we have watched our own children anxiously wait to open their presents.    

In our family we have several gift giving stories that have become part of our family history.  When my parents were first married they served a year long humanitarian mission in Itajuipe, Brazil for the Peace Corps.  The Christmas story of gift giving in their first year of marriage is one that we loved to hear.  They earned a total of 11 cents a day and had no money to spend on Christmas gifts.  My mom converted a wash basin into the base of a Christmas tree and with chicken wire fashioned a Christmas tree made of green paper and candles.  With the meager money they were able to save, the big gifts given that humble Christmas were a pair of flip flops and a collapsible lawn chair to use in their small cinder block home. 

From their humble experience in Brazil, they came to love and and then share the classic Christmas story “Gift of the Magi”, written by O. Henry.  This wonderful short story tells the sad tale of a young married couple, James, known as Jim, and Della Dillingham. The couple, like my parents, had very little money and lived in a modest apartment. Between them, they have only two possessions that they considered their treasures: Jim's gold pocket watch that belonged to his father and his grandfather, and Della's lustrous, long hair that falls almost to her knees.

On Christmas Eve Della finds herself running out of time to buy Jim a Christmas present. After paying all of the bills, all Della has left is $1.87 to put toward Jim's Christmas present. Desperate to find him the perfect gift, out she goes into the cold December day, looking in shop windows for something she can afford.

She wants to buy Jim a chain for his pocket watch, but they're all out of her price range. Rushing home, Della pulls down her beautiful hair and stands in front of the mirror, admiring it and thinking. After a sudden inspiration, she rushes out again and has her hair cut to sell. Della receives $20.00 for selling her hair, just enough to buy the platinum chain she saw in a shop window for $21.00.

When Jim comes home from work, he stares at Della, trying to figure out what's different about her. She admits that she sold her hair to buy his present. Before she can give it to him, however, Jim casually pulls a package out of his overcoat pocket and hands it to her. Inside, Della finds a pair of costly decorative hair combs that she'd long admired, but are now completely useless since she's cut off her hair. Hiding her tears, she jumps up and holds out her gift for Jim: the watch chain. Jim shrugs, flops down onto the old sofa, puts his hands behind his head and tells Della flatly that he sold his watch to buy her combs.

This wonderful story relates that gifts given out of love and self-sacrifice are truly wise because the value of self-giving will far outweigh giving or receiving anything of material value.  It is ultimately in the giving of gifts that bring us the greatest joy…

Our favorite gift giving tradition as a family is on Christmas Eve.  We will again find families in need this year and anonymously show up on their door step to help them celebrate Christmas as a family.  Of all things I do during Christmas, I most look forward to dressing as Santa Claus and going out with our kids to bless someone in need.

We all know the wonderful story of gift giving as the Three Wise Men or Magi honored the Savior.  Some Bible scholars believe that Three Wise Men presented Jesus with gold, frankincense and myrrh because these were traditional gifts to give a king or deity. The Three Wise Men also may have given these gifts because of their underlying symbolic significance. The gift of gold to the Christ child was symbolic of His divinity.  The gift of frankincense to the Christ child was symbolic of His willingness to become a sacrifice, wholly giving Himself up for all of us.  Myrrh symbolizes bitterness, suffering, and affliction. The baby Jesus would grow to suffer greatly as a man and would pay the ultimate price by Atoning for us in Gethsemane and on the cross.

We know the greatest gift ever given was the gift of love offered by the Father and the Son on our behalf, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) The greatest gift we can receive and hope for is that of eternal life; given to us as we have faith on the Savior and His Atonement, repent, make and keep sacred ordinances, and endure to the end.  We serve as missionaries to make all aware of this most prized and desired gift.

So the question is what gift will you give?  I love the counsel offered by Elder Neil A Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve, “The submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. The many other things we “give,” brothers and sisters, are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us. However, when you and I finally submit ourselves, by letting our individual wills be swallowed up in God’s will, then we are really giving something to Him! It is the only possession which is truly ours to give!”

Elders & Sisters, the true test of life and the best gift we can ever offer the Father and Son is to do what they ask of us.  To do so we must follow their commandments, love them, serve them, and point our lives towards them.  As Elder Maxwell states, “our will is the only true thing we have to give.”  As an offering to the Father and Son, let us all give the only gift that they most desire of us, by serving them with all our heart, might, mind and strength. We love you and wish you a Merry Christmas! You are each a great and wonderful gift to us!

President Hall