By the time most Utahns read these words, they likely will have already opened their Christmas presents.

But it doesn't matter. The most important Christmas gifts are not the kind that come wrapped in bright paper and shining ribbons. Rather, it's a different kind of gift we want to talk about just now - the gift of peace and good will.In this respect, Christmas seems to have come a bit early this year. Despite the tragedies of earthquake and famine, the earth is starting to look kinder and gentler lately. Consider some of the more encouraging developments in recent months:

- An improvement in relations between the United States and Russia, with the prospect of even more progress in the coming year.

- The gradual withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, with all of them scheduled to be gone by mid-February.

- The recent agreement for the withdrawal of all Cuban troops from Angola by 1991 and independence for Namibia.

- A diplomatic breakthrough in the Middle East, with the United States now talking with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

- The cease-fire between Iran and Iraq after seven years of bloody fighting.

- Worldwide efforts to provide food, clothing, and medical assistance to earthquake victims in Armenia.

- Elections in South Korea, Chile, and Pakistan that have advanced hopes for democratic government.

- Continuing steps toward economic and political reform in Russia, China, and Eastern Europe.

Yes, there are still some worms in the apple. The recent improvements in East-West relations are only halting first steps that and could easily stop too short. There's still plenty of fanaticism and hatred in the world. Some foes have stopped fighting not because they have seen the folly of war but simply out of internal weakness or mutual exhaustion.

Even if the peace process continues, only a small downpayment has been made on this precious Christmas present. Plenty of installment payments have yet to be completed before the world can claim ownership.

But that's not the most important thing. What matters most is that there's far more apple than worm. The good far outweighs the evil - not only in the world as a whole but in most individuals.

What's more, even if peace continues to elude much of mankind, it's still within the grasp of the individual even under extremely adverse conditions. How so?

Because all people everywhere still have the gift that the Savior gave the world almost 2,000 years ago. It's the gift of his atoning sacrifice, the gift that made it possible to overcome all character flaws and heal all wounds. And it's the gift of Christ's own personal example of how to lead the good life - the life based on love of and service to others.

These are the gifts that can bring peace of mind even when peace among nations is lacking. It's a gift that is kept bright through righteous living. Merry Christmas - and peace to all!