Before I express my prepared remarks, I should like to use two words. Someone said they are the most important words in the English language. I’d like to say thank you to all of you who have made a great effort to attend this evening. I’d like to say thank you to all of you who are listening in. I’d like to say thank you to all of the employees of the Church and to those in the offices of the General Authorities, who are so helpful to us and who give us such devoted attention and skilled work.
I truly believe the Spirit of the Lord is here tonight. And I would testify to you that in all the world, I had the responsibility to choose counselors. I prayed mightily. There were many who could serve; all had ability. I knew some better than others, but I waited until the Lord told me in Spirit who should serve by my side. And I thank them—and all who work with them—and all of you who are participating this evening.
Tonight we are once again gathered as brothers and sisters in what has become our traditional Christmas devotional. We have truly been touched as we’ve listened to heavenly music and inspiring messages. What a beautiful depiction of the Savior’s birth we have seen on video.
I, with you, have witnessed during the past few days and weeks what has become over the years the annual commercialization of Christmas. I am saddened to see Christmas becoming less and less about Christ and more and more about marketing and sales, parties and presents.
And yet, Christmas is what we make of it. Despite all the distractions, we can see to it that Christ is at the center of our celebration. If we have not already done so, we can establish Christmas traditions for ourselves and for our families which will help us capture and keep the spirit of Christmas.
For almost as long as I can remember, I have had a particular tradition at Christmastime. My family knows that just before Christmas I will read again my Christmas treasury of books and ponder the wondrous words of the authors. First will be the Gospel of Luke—even the Christmas story. This will be followed by a reading of A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens and, lastly, rereading The Mansion, by Henry Van Dyke.
I always must wipe my eyes when reading these inspired writings. They touch my inner soul and bring to me the Spirit of our Savior.
In A Christmas Carol, we read the timeless tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and of the visits he receives from Jacob Marley, his deceased business partner, and the ghosts of Christmas past, Christmas present, and Christmas yet to come. Scrooge is such an unpleasant soul that his name has become a universally accepted term for a mean or miserly person.
During the course of the night before Christmas, Scrooge is shown what he once had in his life, what he has in the present, and what his life will be if he remains on the path he has thus far chosen. He is able to recognize the error of his ways. He learns that happiness can come to us if we will forget self and worldly gain, concentrating instead on helping others and learning to embrace the love of family and friends. Now converted to a life of selflessness and service, Scrooge declares at the last: “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”1 This touching account never fails to inspire me.
The last of my reading—The Mansion, by Henry Van Dyke—is similar in nature to the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, but featured is one John Weightman, a man of fortune, a dispenser of political power, a successful citizen.
One evening John sat in his library in a comfortable chair contemplating his wealth. Before him were spread descriptions and pictures of the Weightman wing of the hospital and the Weightman Chair of Political Jurisprudence, as well as an account of the opening of the Weightman Grammar School. John Weightman felt satisfied. He had built a large fortune, and when he gave, he wanted to be recognized. His philosophy toward giving could be summed up in his own statement: “No pennies in beggars’ hats! … Try to put your gifts where they can be identified.”
He picked up the family Bible which lay on the table, turned to a passage, and read to himself the words:
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
“But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:19–20).
The book seemed to float away from him. He leaned forward upon the table, his head resting on his folded hands. He slipped into a deep sleep.
As he dreamed, John Weightman was transported to the heavenly city. A guide met him and others whom he had known in life and advised that he would conduct them to their heavenly homes.
A devoted husband of an invalid wife was shown a lovely mansion, as was a mother, early widowed, who reared an outstanding family. A paralyzed young woman who had lain for 30 years upon her bed—“helpless but not hopeless”—received a lovely mansion. She had succeeded “by a miracle of courage in her single aim, never to complain, but always to impart a bit of her joy and peace to everyone who came near her.”
Pausing before a beautiful mansion, the guide said, “This is [the home] for you, [Dr. McLean.] Go in; there is no more [sickness] here, no more death, nor sorrow, nor [pain]; for your old enemies are all conquered. But all the good that you have done for others, all the help that you have given, all the comfort that you have brought, all the strength and love that you bestowed upon the suffering, are here; for we have built them all into this mansion for you.”
One after another the travelers were led to their own mansions and went in gladly; and from within, through the open doorways, came sweet voices of welcome.
By this time, John Weightman was impatient to see what mansion awaited him. As he and the guide walked on, the homes became smaller. At last they reached an open field, bare and lonely looking. In the center of the field was a tiny hut. Said the guide, “This is your mansion, John Weightman.”
Shocked, John Weightman told the guide that he must have confused him with some other John Weightman. With resentment in his voice, he cried, “Is this a suitable mansion for one so well known and devoted? Why is it so pitifully small and mean? Why have you not built it large and fair, like the others?”
Replied the guide, “That is all the material you sent us.”
John Weightman was mortified. “Have you not heard that I have built a school-house; the wing of a hospital; … three … churches.”
“Wait,” the guide cautioned. “… They were not ill done. But they were all marked and used as foundations for the name and mansion of John Weightman in the world. … Verily, you have had your reward for them. Would you be paid twice?”
A sadder but wiser John Weightman posed a sincere question: “What is it that counts here?”
Came the reply: “Only that which is truly given. … Only that good which is done for the love of doing it. Only those plans in which the welfare of others is the master thought. Only those labors in which the sacrifice is greater than the reward. Only those gifts in which the giver forgets himself.”
The voice trailed off as John Weightman was awakened by the sound of the clock chiming the hour. “Thin, pale strips of the city morning were falling into the room through the narrow partings of the heavy curtains.” He had slept the night through. Changed by the message of his dream, he yet had a life to live, love to share, and gifts to give.2
These readings never fail to bring to me the spirit of Christmas. The spirit of Christmas is the spirit of love and of generosity and of goodness. It illuminates the picture window of the soul, and we look out upon the world’s busy life and become more interested in people than in things.
The spirit of Christmas is something I hope all of us would have within our hearts and within our lives, not only at this particular season but also throughout the years.
A wise Christian once urged, “Let us not spend Christmas … but let us keep Christmas in our hearts and in our lives.”3
This is my plea tonight, because when we keep the spirit of Christmas, we keep the Spirit of Christ, for the Christmas spirit is the Christ Spirit.4 It will block out all the distractions around us which can diminish Christmas and swallow up its true meaning.
There is no better time than now, this very Christmas season, for all of us to rededicate ourselves to the principles taught by Jesus Christ.
Because He came to earth, we have a perfect example to follow. As we strive to become more like Him, we will have joy and happiness in our lives and peace each day of the year. It is His example which, if followed, stirs within us more kindness and love, more respect and concern for others.
Because He came, there is meaning to our mortal existence.
Because He came, we know how to reach out to those in trouble or distress, wherever they may be.
Because He came, death has lost its sting, the grave its victory. We will live again because He came.
Because He came and paid for our sins, we have the opportunity to gain eternal life.
Because He came, we are gathered tonight to worship Him, in bonds of brotherhood and love.
May His precious Spirit be with us, and may He ever be the center of our celebrations and indeed of our very lives, I pray in His holy name, amen.