Brothers and sisters, what a beautiful sight you are. It is a privilege each year to begin my Christmas season with you at this, the First Presidency Christmas Devotional. I express my love to all of you, whether you are present here in this building or listening to these proceedings through other means.
The Christmas season, with its special meaning and beauty, often prompts a tear, inspires a renewed commitment to God, and provides—borrowing the words from the lovely song “Calvary”—“rest to the weary and peace to the soul.”
However, it is easy to get caught up in the pressure of the season and perhaps lose the very spirit in our lives that we’re trying to gain. Overdoing it is especially common this time of the year for many of us. The causes for this might include too many Christmas activities to attend, too much to eat, too much money spent, too many expectations, and too much tension. Often our efforts at Christmastime result in our feeling stressed out, wrung out, and worn out during a time we should feel the simple joys of commemorating the birth of our Savior.
Finding the real joy of Christmas comes not in the hurrying and the scurrying to get more done, nor is it found in the purchasing of gifts. We find real joy when we make the Savior the focus of the season. We can keep Him in our thoughts and in our lives as we go about the work He would have us perform here on earth. At this time, particularly, let us follow His example as we love and serve our fellowman.
A segment of our society desperately yearning for an expression of love is found among those growing older, and particularly when they suffer from pangs of loneliness. The chill wind of dying hopes and vanished dreams whistles through the ranks of the elderly and those who approach the declining side of the summit of life.
Wrote Elder Richard L. Evans some years ago: “What they need in the loneliness of their older years, is in part at least, what we needed in the uncertain years of our youth: a sense of belonging, an assurance of being wanted, and the kindly ministrations of loving hearts and hands; not merely dutiful formality, nor merely a room in a building, but room in someone’s heart and life. …
“We cannot bring them back the morning hours of youth. But we can help them live in the warm glow of a sunset made more beautiful by our thoughtfulness, by our provision, and by our active and unfeigned love.”1
My brothers and sisters, true love is a reflection of the Savior’s love. In December of each year we call it the Christmas spirit. You can hear it. You can see it. You can feel it.
Recently I thought back to an experience from my boyhood—an experience I have related on another occasion or two. I was just 11. Our Primary president, Melissa, was an older and loving gray-haired lady. One day at Primary, Melissa asked me to stay behind and visit with her. There the two of us sat in the otherwise empty chapel. She placed her arm about my shoulder and began to cry. Surprised, I asked her why she was crying.
She replied, “I can’t seem to get the Trail Builder boys to be reverent during the opening exercises of Primary. Would you be willing to help me, Tommy?”
I promised Melissa that I would. Strangely to me, but not to Melissa, that ended any problem of reverence in Primary. She had gone to the source of the problem—me. The solution was love.
The years flew by. Marvelous Melissa, now in her 90s, lived in a nursing facility in the northwest part of Salt Lake City. Just before Christmas I determined to visit my beloved Primary president. Over the car radio I heard the song “Hark! The herald angels sing glory to the newborn King!”2 I reflected on the visit made by wise men those long years ago. They brought gifts of gold, of frankincense, and of myrrh. I brought only the gift of love and a desire to say thank you.
I found Melissa in the lunchroom. She was staring at her plate of food, teasing it with the fork she held in her aged hand. Not a bite did she eat. As I spoke to her, my words were met by a benign but blank stare. I took the fork in hand and began to feed Melissa, talking all the time I did so about her service to boys and girls as a Primary worker. There wasn’t so much as a glimmer of recognition, far less a spoken word. Two other residents of the nursing home gazed at me with puzzled expressions. At last one of them spoke, saying, “Don’t talk to her. She doesn’t know anyone—even her own family. She hasn’t said a word in all the time she’s been here.”
Luncheon ended. My one-sided conversation wound down. I stood to leave. I held her frail hand in mine, gazed into her wrinkled but beautiful countenance, and said, “God bless you, Melissa. Merry Christmas.” Without warning, she spoke the words, “I know you. You’re Tommy Monson, my Primary boy. How I love you.” She pressed my hand to her lips and bestowed on it a sweet kiss filled with love. Tears coursed down her cheeks and bathed our clasped hands. Those hands that day were hallowed by heaven and graced by God. The herald angels did sing. The words of the Master seemed to have a personal meaning never before fully felt: “Woman, behold thy son!” And to His disciple, “Behold thy mother!”3
From Bethlehem there seemed to echo the words:
How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is giv’n!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of his heav’n.
No ear may hear his coming;
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him, still
The dear Christ enters in.4
President David O. McKay said: “True happiness comes only by making others happy. … The [spirit of] Christmas … makes our hearts glow in brotherly love and friendship and prompts us to kind deeds of service. It is the spirit of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”5
There is no better time than now, this very Christmas season, for all of us to rededicate ourselves to the principles taught by Jesus the Christ. It is the time to love the Lord, our God, with all our heart—and our neighbors as ourselves. It is well to remember that he who gives money gives much; he who gives time gives more; but he who gives of himself gives all.
Let us make Christmas real. It isn’t just tinsel and ribbon, unless we have made it so in our lives. Christmas is the spirit of giving without a thought of getting. It is happiness because we see joy in people. It is forgetting self and finding time for others. It is discarding the meaningless and stressing the true values. It is peace because we have found peace in the Savior’s teachings. It is the time we realize most deeply that the more love is expended, the more there is of it for others.
There’s Christmas in the home and church,
There’s Christmas in the mart;
But you’ll not know what Christmas is
Unless it’s in your heart.
The bells may call across the snow,
And carols search the air,
But oh, the heart will miss the thrill
Unless it’s Christmas there.6
As the Christmas season envelops us with all its glory, may we, as did the Wise Men, seek a bright, particular star to guide us to our Christmas opportunity in service to our fellowman. May we all make the journey to Bethlehem in spirit, taking with us a tender, caring heart as our gift to the Savior. And may one and all have a joy-filled Christmas. In the sacred and blessed name of Jesus Christ, amen.