Good morning, Brothers and Sisters. I would like to ask before I begin, that your thoughts and your prayers be with me today that I might be able to convey these remarks to you in a manner pleasing unto the Lord.
While I was doing some last minute Christmas shopping recently, I was walking through the isle of a local department store and I heard a song which is very popular this time of year. "The Little Drummer Boy." I thought about the story that went to that song and it took on a new meaning for me. For those of you who aren't familiar with the story behind it, the three wise men were on their way to visit the Christ Child and on their way they stopped in a small village to water their camels and to rest for a while. A little boy with a drum stopped by and asked where they were going. One of the wise men pointed to the star in the east and said, "Do you see that star there?"
The little boy said, "Yeah."
"That is a sign that a king has been born and we're going to pay homage to that king."
The little boy asked if he could go with them.
The wise men said, "Certainly. You're free to come with us."
When they arrived in Bethlehem and saw the Christ Child, the little boy noticed that these three wise men were bringing that child gifts of gold, frankincense and Myrrh and he realized that he didn't have anything to give to the child... but he did have his drum. So he asked Mary if it would be okay if he could play a song for the newborn king.
This time of year is a time of giving, a time of sharing and it's not uncommon to look at the things that we give and realize that it's kind of a materialistic time of the year also. But, you know what, some of the greatest gifts that are given can't be measured with a dollar value.
One of my favorite authors once wrote, "Such as I have, that which I am, I share with you."
I would like to talk about talents. We all have talents or gifts that we have been blessed with. But where do these gifts come from? In The Book of Mormon, in Moroni chapter 10 verse 18, we read, "I would exhort you, my beloved brethren, that you remember that every good gift cometh of Christ." I would like to share with you an excerpt from a story entitled Serafina by Marie Alvarez, my Mom. This was a gift that she gave to her children. It's basically her narrative take on where our talents come from. The story takes place in the Celestial Nursery, where the spirit children of our Heavenly Father await their callings to Earth.
Lately, things seemed to be accelerating to a break-neck speed. [ . . . ]Some went out almost as quickly as they came in. Others seemed to wait forever for their call-ups, and Serafina was one of those. The Nursery seemed to have become one endless round of going away parties. There were hats, and decorations, and favorite foods-to-be.[ . . . ] And, of course, there were the gifts. Big talents, little talents, average talents, they were all needed down thereÐand there were plenty to go around. So everybody took extra care in wrapping the presents and practicing the presentation. -"This talent is yours to take and use as your heart guides you"- was the standard line.
Sometimes I wonder if we had these same talents in the preexistence. And though I do not speak from any doctrinal source on this matter, I think, "Why not?"
I can see myself as a spirit in Heaven telling stories to my little brothers and sister. Seeing their eyes light up as I spin a yarn about living our mortal lives on earth.
"Really, Joseph?" they might have said, "Will it really be like that on earth? With mortal parents and games to play and things to learn? With friends to make and trees to climb and puppies to play with?"
"Will you write about these things when it's your turn on earth, Joseph?" asks my little brother.
A little sister chimes in, "Joseph... will you write about us?"
Perhaps I had a little trouble keeping my audience seated... But I wasn't upset by it... They had their own talents and dreams to develop. Bobby is putting the finishing touches on a lamp he's making. Maggie is sewing a new dress. Josie is baking a cake. "Sorry, Joseph," said Jacob, "I'm painting today."
"No need to apologize," I reply. "And just where do you think you're going, young lady?"
"I'm late for choir practice," said Audri, apologetically.
One of my favorite parables from my youth is the parable of the talents. You can read it in Matthew 25. I'd like to summarize it, if I could,. The kingdom of heaven is compared to a man who is getting ready to go on a journey. Before he goes on his journey, he gathers three of his servants and gives each of them money, or talents. To the first servant he give five talents. To the second servant he gives two and to the last he gives one. When this man came back from his journey, he called his together and he asked them what they did with their talents. The first servant said, "I took my talents and I increased them and got five more."
The second servant said, "Master, you gave me two talents. I took those two talents and I got two more."
Then he asked the last servant what he did with his one talent.
"Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, [there] thou hast [that is] thine. His lord answered and said unto him, [Thou] wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and [then] at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. Take therefore the talent from him, and give [it] unto him which hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath."
I suppose I could say, "Your talents, my friends, use 'm or lose 'em." But this parable warrants a finer explanation. These servants were given these talents for the purpose of increasing them just as we are blessed with certain talents and are expected to use and improve them. It's not just a matter of being given a talent, but of embracing it and encouraging it's growth and development in our lives. When we recognize talent in ourselves and our children and in our friends, we should encourage it to grow.
The Prophet Joseph Smith in a letter to Nancy Rigdon date 19 august 1842 said, "Blessings offered but rejected are no longer blessings but become like the talents hid in the earth by the wicked and slothful servant. The proffered good returns to the giver. The blessing is bestowed on those who would receive and occupy for unto him that hath shall be given and he shall have abundantly but from his that hath not...or will not receive...shall be taken away that which he hath or might have had."
Brothers and Sisters, I have a confession to make. this year I have been guilty of neglecting my talents. Of hiding them up in the earth and forgetting about them all because of a nasty little habit called low self esteem.
Several weeks ago I learned something very interesting about the Holy Spirit and what can drive him away. A list of items was read to me. It included such things as profanity, misused well, contention and, to my surprise, low self esteem.
"Low self esteem," I said. "Why?"
And I was told, "What do you mean, 'Why?' Why should you have low self esteem? You are a child of God. The offspring of deity. You are the purpose of all creation. Basically, you've got no business feeling like you're not worth anything."
So, I thought, "Hey, yeah, that's right." So I grabbed a shovel and I dug out my talent from the earth and I started to embrace it again and I started to realize what I had been missing out on.
My particular talent is writing. I really enjoy writing very much. I write short stories and essays and I've even written a few novels. I got to work on some old projects that I had been neglecting for a long time. Things that I knew I should have been working on and when I started working on them again, Wow. What a feeling. It was so great to be able to write again. to be able to feel that creative energy again. It was incredible. This is a gift from God. I believe if you don't use a gift that God gives you, that he finds that a little bit offensive. A lot of people might come out and say, "Gee, I'm not a writer or a singer or what have you. I don't have any talents." Well, that's not true. We all have a talent. When we think of talents we usually think of things like that. Writing and singing but there are a lot of unsung talents too. Did you ever stop to consider that it is a talent to be a good listener. I'm lucky. I've got a lot of friends who are outstanding listeners. I wish I was as good a listener as they were. There's a talent in caring. There is a talent in being a good friend. There is a talent in serving.
We are counseled by doctrine and common sense not to be so preoccupied with seeking out worldly things but, like Bridget(The previous speaker) said , the getting seems pretty cool at Christmas too, that's pretty awesome, sure but there are some gifts that it's okay to desire. In fact we are encouraged to desire them. These gifts are the gifts of the Spirit.
In Doctrine and Covenants, Section 46, we have a neat definition of what the gifts of the spirit are. It reads in part:
"And again, verily I say unto you, I would that ye should always remember, and always retain in your minds what those gifts are, that are given unto the church. For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God. To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby. To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucifies for the sins of the world. To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful. [...] And again, verily I say unto you, to some is given, by the Spirit of God, the word of wisdom. To another is given the word of knowledge, that all may be taught to be wise and to have knowledge. And again, to some it is given to have faith to be healed; And to others it is given to have faith to heal. And again, to some it is given the working of miracles; And to other it is given to prophesy; And to others the discerning of spirits. And again, it is given to some to speak with tongues; And to another is given the interpretation of tongues. And all these gifts come from God, for the benefit of the children of God." (Emphasis Added)
As I looked through the New Testament in preparation for this talk, I read of these wonderful gifts and their manifestations upon the lives of the saints of the primitive church. They were the same gifts described by the passage from the Doctrine and Covenants that I just read. We can read of Christ and the Apostles healing the sick, causing the lame to walk, the blind to see. We read of these saints speaking in tongues and prophesying. We see how the ancient church was guided by revelation. All of these were and are gifts of the Spirit. The same gifts which guide The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today.
When I think of all these gifts, sometimes I ask the question, "Of all the gifts that our Heavenly Father has given us, which one is his greatest?"
I'm going to read a verse from the New Testament. It is a verse that we are all very familiar with and we've heard it many, many times but I would like you to take a special moment as I read it to you to really try and comprehend the power behind this statement:
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life."
To further illustrate this point, I'd like to read you a story titled,
There was once a big turntable bridge which spanned a large river. During most of the day the bridge sat with it's length running up and down the river paralleled with the banks, allowing ships to pass through freely on both side of the bridge. But at certain times each day, a train would come along and the bridge would be turned sideways across the river allowing a train to cross it.
A switchman sat in a small shack on one side of the river where he operated the controls to turn the bridge and lock it into place as the train crossed. One evening as the switchman was waiting for the last train of the day to come, he looked off into the distance through the dimming twilight, and caught sight of the trains lights. He stepped to the controol and waited until the train was within a prescribed distance when he was to turn the bridge. He turned the bridge into position for the train to cross, and moved the lever to lock the bridge into postion, but, to his horror, he found the locking control didn't work. If the bridge was not securley in position it would wobble back and forth at the ends when the train came onto it, causing the train to jump the track and go crashing into the river. This would be a passenger train with many people aboard.
He left the bridge turned across the river, and huurried across the bridge to the other side of the river where there was a laver which he could hold to operate the lock manually. He would have to hold the lever back firmly as the train crossed. He could hear the rumble of the train now, and he took hold of the lever and leaned backward to apply his weight to it, locking the bridge. He kept applying the pressure to keep the mechanism lock. Many lives depended on this man's strength.
When coming across the bridge from the direction of his control shack, he heard a sound that made his blood run cold. "Daddy, where are you?" His four year old son was crossing the bridge to look for him. His first impulse was to cry out to the child, "Run! Run!" But the train was too close, the tiny legs would never make it across the bridge in time. The man almost left his lever to run and snatch up his son and carry him to safety. But he realized that he could not get back to the lever. Either the people on the train or his little son must die.
He took a moment to make his decision. The train sped safely and swiftly on its way, and no one aboard was even aware of the tiny broken body thrown mercilessly into the river by the onrushing train. Nor were they aware of the pitiful figure of a sobbing man, still clinging tightly to the locking lever long after the train had passed. They didn't see him walking home more slowly than he had ever walked - to tell his wife how he had sacrificed their son.
Now if you can comprehend the emotions which went through this man's heart, you can begin to understand the feelings of our Father in Heaven when he sacrificed His Son to bridge the gap between us and eternal life. Can there be any wonder that He caused the earth to tremble and the skies to darken when His Son died? How does He feel when we speed along through life without giving a thought to what was done for us through Jesus?
When was the last time you thanked him for the sacrifice of His Son?
During this holiday season, I hope we aren't like the passengers of that train. This is a time of sharing, a time to look out for those in need but it should not be just during the holidays that we have these things in mind, but always. We have many opportunities to serve and to use our talents in serving. The edification of the body of Christ is not limited to the weekly sacrament and Sunday school meetings that we attend. Consider the callings that we have like home teaching and visiting teaching. These are a wonderful opportunity to serve and a wonderful opportunity to share.
I remember as a youth when I was in Utah in high school. I would go home teaching with a friend of mine who was a return missionary. I took the opportunity on a couple of occasions to share some of my writing with the families that we home taught.
In the church film, The Mountain of the Lord, which is a picture about the building of the Temple in Salt Lake City, we see how following the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, the Latter-day Saints, under the inspired leadership of Brigham Young and the Twelve apostles, settled in the Salt Lake Valley. The first order of business when they got there was to pick a site for the temple. Throughout the film we see how the talents of the Latter-day Saints were used in building that temple. People that were carpenters and stone masons, artists, sculptors and painters. We know, whenever we visit the temple, that these temples are works of art.
Whenever I think of the gifts that I have given to family and friends over the years, those that I cared most about, those that meant the most to me as well as those I gave the gifts to, were those gifts that were of the heart and of the mind. Gifts of words and writing. Stories, poems, novels that I had written. Sharing my testimony of the gospel with a friend. Giving someone a Book of Mormon and sharing my testimony of that work with him or her.
Brothers and sisters, I wish to leave you with my testimony that I know this is the Lord's work and that it could not be done without the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the God given talents of all our members and I would exhort you to seek out the elect among you, for the spirit does manifest himself in others. The gifts of the Spirit are not limited to the membership of this church, though it is through the Priesthood that we may receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost, the manifestation of his power can be felt by all earnest seekers of the truth.