One of my earliest Christmas memories is from when I was about four or five years old, living in Oswego, New York. It was Christmas Eve, and after the festivities of the evening were over, I had been sent upstairs to bed. But I was restless, and in the excitement of the evening and what I hoped awaited in the morning, I couldn’t sleep.
After probably only a few minutes in bed, I crept out of my room and back toward the staircase. At the top of the stairs, through the wooden pillars holding up the bannister, I watched as my Mom and Dad busied themselves around the Christmas tree, apparently wrapping presents and listening to Christmas music on the stereo.
I must not have been a very good spy because my parents caught me quickly. In the aftermath, my mother helped me back to bed and then charged me that if I did not get to sleep, Santa would not be able to stop at our house.
As I remember it, I took that warning very seriously, as I remember feeling like I had to lay perfectly still on the bed, and not risk moving a muscle or even turning my head!
I think I fell asleep quickly, because the next thing I remember was my mother back in my bedroom, telling me that it was morning, and that Santa Claus had come!
Now, I could hardly tell you what I gifts I opened that morning, but I have never forgotten that feeling of waking up and sensing that the greatest hopes of my little heart had been fulfilled. That, for me, was a moment of pure joy!
I share that story with you because the way I felt that morning helps remind me, in the smallest degree, of the joy made possible through God's first Christmas gift to each of us: Jesus Christ and His Atonement.
10 And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God.
11 And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
12 And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.
13 Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me.
The joy I’m talking about this afternoon, for me, is the joy of remembering and feeling that He loves us, that we are His children, and that He cares so much about us that He numbers the very hairs of our heads (Luke 12:7).
It is the joy of feeling that in His care, regardless of circumstance, all good things are possible.
It is also the joy of His calming the recurring storms of forgetful discouragement and doubt that come, when sometimes no good thing feels possible.
For me, in the midst of difficulties, it is the joy of feeling His gentle, reassuring reminders to not be afraid (Mark 6:50). To be at peace (Luke 24:36). To be of good cheer (Matthew 14:27). To trust Him, do my best, and then leave the rest to Him (Joseph B. Worthlin, "Come What May and Love It," October 2008).
It is the joy, brothers and sisters, of feeling His forgiveness for my mistakes, including those I seem to keep making over and over again.
And it is the joy of feeling His pleasure when I try again (and again) to make even the smallest effort to move toward Him.
Jesus Christ is my Savior, for everything that that means. And His birth really was the "dawn of redeeming grace" ("Silent Night", words by Joseph Mohr, trans. by John F. Young). For each us.
I don't seem to remember that as often as I could. But sometimes I do, and sometimes those reminders of Him and His kindness are breathtaking and so much more profound than what I felt on that Christmas morning all those years ago.
It is the hope of my heart that you and I may more often remember Him and feel the joy of His best gifts to us, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.