The Gifts of Christmas

Area Leadership Message

Elder Gary B. Sabin
Elder Gary B. Sabin First Counsellor, Europe Area Presidency

When Sister Sabin and I were newlywed students, we rented a little attic apartment in Provo, Utah. Unbelievably, part of the lease agreement was that the landlord’s little dog, Helga, came with the unit. It appeared that our main possession, at that point in life, was a borrowed dog! I did, however, notice that my wife, Valerie, had carefully hung a small plaque on the wall with the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, which read, “Rings and jewels are not gifts but apologies for gifts; the only true gift, is a gift of self.”

This truth is illustrated in the poem, “The Vision of Sir Launfal.” The tale of a determined knight who commenced a quest to find the holy grail or cup Christ supposedly drank from during the Last Supper. As Sir Launfal departed, he thoughtlessly tossed a coin to a beggar at the castle gates.

Years passed and Sir Launfal finally returned home having worn out his life in his search. As he approached the castle gates, he once again saw a leper begging for alms. This time, Sir Launfal stopped to offer a crust of bread and a drink of water from his old cup to the needy soul. The words of the poem reveal what followed:

“Thou hast spent thy life for the Holy Grail; Behold, it is here, —this cup which thou Didst fill at the stream let for me but now; This crust is my body broken for thee, This water His blood that died on the tree; The Holy Supper is kept, indeed, In whatso we share with another’s need,--- Not what we give, but what we share,--- For the gift without the giver is bare; Who bestows himself with his alms feeds three, Himself, his hungering neighbor, and me.”

Launfal’s old cup, sanctified by his thoughtful service, turned into the holy grail that he had spent his life seeking.

We often look beyond the mark in our own search for happiness. It can only truly be found through the service we render to others, a journey which begins within the walls of our own homes. The Savior revealed, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”[1]

The Mansion, by Henry Van Dyke, recounts the story of John Weightman who spent his life building monuments to himself. One night he dreamed that he died and traveled to the Celestial City to receive a mansion based on his treasure laid up in heaven. When John learned of the tiny place reserved for him he moaned, 'But how have I failed so wretchedly in …my life? …What is it that counts here?'

A silvery voice replied, 'Only that which is truly given, … that good which is done for the love of doing it, …those plans in which the welfare of others is the master thought…. Only those gifts in which the giver forgets himself.'[2]

The gift of self is an invaluable gift of love which ironically grows larger as we give it away. Perhaps this is what the Savior had in mind when he said, “Whosover will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”[3]

May we, at this special time of year, remember the supreme gift that we each received from our Heavenly Father; “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son.”[4] Our Father’s gift was made complete by the Son’s sacrificing gift of self as He prepared the way for each of us to return home. These unselfish gifts are the true gifts of Christmas.

President Monson lovingly guides our own giving; “There are hearts to gladden. There are kind words to say. There are gifts to be given. There are deeds to be done. There are souls to be saved.”[5]

[1] Matthew 25:40

[2] The Mansion by Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933)

[3]  Matthew 16:25

[4] John 3:16

[5] To The Rescue. The Biography of Thomas S. Monson