“Commercial Christmas” starts too early, our consideration of the meaning of Christmas begins too late and our celebration of Christmas ends far too soon.

Some may question a Christmas column so early in December. I am of the opinion that our preparation for the “commercial Christmas” starts too early, our consideration of the meaning of Christmas begins too late and our celebration of Christmas ends far too soon.

As Christians around the world attempt to resist the onslaught of commercialized Christmas, I offer two gifts, to receive and to share, that might deepen the consideration of Christmas in the days ahead and extend the celebration of Christmas beyond noon on Dec. 25.

As with other faith traditions, Christian holidays (holy days) are centered on family and friends, neighbors and loved ones, and above all, the magic of children.

Christians unite in their celebration of the Savior Jesus Christ through music, word and prayer. There are Biblical accounts of the reality of the Christ-child being born in Bethlehem. Reflections on his holy life and ministry lead, ultimately, to Christ's infinite, yet individually applied, atoning sacrifice. Declarations of saints and angels down through the ages bear record of his mercy and divinity.

At Christmas time I turn to a favorite quote from President Howard W. Hunter, 14th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who declared, “We should live our lives with ever more attention to the life of our Savior Jesus Christ.” He then challenged, “We must know him better than we know him; we must remember him more often than we remember him.” And I would add that we must serve him more valiantly than we serve him so that those around us and those we love can come unto him.

The two Christmas offerings that we should both receive and share to consider Christmas early, celebrate Christmas longer and fulfill President Hunter's challenge are: first, the gift of Christ-like compassion and second, the blessing of believing.

The gift of compassion

Many years ago I boarded a very small plane on a flight from Palm Springs to Salt Lake City and took my seat in the exit row. Many on board were chatting about their relaxing weekend, refreshing spa treatments, rounds of golf and great restaurants. I had been there strictly on business and found myself a bit resentful as I seemed to be the only one on the entire plane who had been working. Tired and spent, I was hoping to retreat into the pages of my book as we prepared for take-off.

I soon noticed that the woman sitting in front of me was crying and was clearly having a difficult time trying to keep herself together. I admit that at first, I attempted to ignore her sobs. I stared out the window, struggled to focus on my book and tried to escape in thought.

Then, in an instant I can never forget, I had one of the most overpowering feelings of compassion I have ever experienced. Suddenly, I could feel the heaviness of her burden, I sensed the sting of her loss, I understood the cloud of confusion in her racing thoughts, and I could hear the echo of her silent pleadings for peace, strength and assurance. I found my eyes filling and spilling over with the tears of her sorrow.

As the woman got up to go to the restroom, I turned toward the window to hide my tears. I was then prompted, compelled really, to pull out a piece of paper to jot a quick note. My pen flew across the page as I began writing words that went something like:

“I know sometimes a good cry on a bad airplane can be a good thing and at other times it can be so horribly isolating that it can cause sadness to sink into despair.” I continued, “If talking would help, I did tell the flight attendant I was willing to assist all passengers in the event of an emergency.” (I was sitting in the exit row.) Then concluded, “If talking is not what you need then my prayer for you is that: In the quiet of today you may recognize the greatness of your spirit and the grandness of your soul; may your hopes rise on the wings of possibility and may you realize that you are not alone. Wishing you all the best, a fellow traveler.”

I folded the note and handed it to her as she returned to her seat. I turned back to my reading. Shortly before we landed, she handed me back a note filled with gratitude. We landed and taxied to the gate. As we stood to exit the aircraft she leaned over and softly said, “Thank you” and then, in an instant, she disappeared into the crowd and was gone.

As I walked out of the airport, I found that my energy had been restored, my hope had been renewed. I felt connected to the throngs of people I passed by. I discovered myself looking into peoples' eyes instead of down at my shoes. I had a new desire to reach out to others instead of focusing inward on my problems and challenges.

I am convinced that true joy and happiness are to be found in the ways we compassionately connect with one another. Two scribbled notes exchanged at 30,000 feet and two words — “thank you” — spoken on solid ground provided a soaring view of what we can compassionately become.

There is a renewing power to be found in compassion. Compassion is the essence of what makes Christmas, Christmas. Compassion is central to coming unto Christ. Compassion provides confidence that we do not walk alone here on Earth. Christianity contains within it a commitment to receive, share and reap the benefits of the gift of compassion.

The blessing of believing

The year has been filled with divisive rhetoric, dire predictions and dark and discouraging societal trends. There is a critical need for people everywhere to simply believe. More than ever we need to believe — in the goodness of people and the greatness of God.

Christmas is indeed a season for believing. The Bible tells of a believing Mary who said, “be it unto me according to they word,” when told of the blessed baby she would bring forth. Joseph believed and was not afraid to take Mary to be his wife. The shepherds believed and came. The wise men believed and followed the star.

Jesus Christ himself declared, “All things are possible to him that believes.” To paraphrase something I learned from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, a member the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “Notice that Christ didn't say, ‘All things are possible — unless you are missing a loved one or a limb.' Nor did he say, ‘All things are possible — except if you have a wayward child or wandering spouse.' He did not say, ‘All things are possible — unless you have a financial setback, a debilitating disease or feel discouraged and depressed.' He said, ‘All things are possible to them that believe.'"

I am a firm believer that all things are possible to them that believe. I can make such a statement, not because I have seen God or angels. I can declare all things are possible because of the people I see every day. I am continually in awe of human beings — ordinary people who selflessly share their talents and make a difference in their neighborhoods and communities.

Such magnificent mortals make it possible for a loving God to confirm on Christmas Day, and every day, that all things are possible to them that believe.

As we receive and share the gift of Christ-like compassion and the blessing of believing, we can truly light and transform the world. Fully considering the season, and prolonging the celebration, of Christmas – can lead the humble seeker to Jesus who compassionately carried our burdens and who first declared that, “all things are possible to them that believe.”