“Christmas with a Minister,” Ensign, Dec. 2003, 60–61
It was 1967, and I was serving as a missionary in Hildesheim, Germany. Christmas was fast approaching, and I was excited because Christmas Eve was a Sunday, and a wonderful meeting and other appropriate and special celebrations were planned.
Two weeks before Christmas, however, I received a transfer to Rendsburg. My companion, Elder Fadel, and I would be new there, and I wondered what the members would be like and how we would celebrate Christmas.
We soon came to know that the Rendsburg Branch had few members and little was being planned for Christmas Eve other than a special sacrament meeting. Our landlady, a Church member, invited us to join her for dinner on Christmas Day. I thought that would be the extent of my Christmas. But things soon changed.
The preceding missionaries had left us a tracting book including the names of several people who said they would like the missionaries to call back. Because people were so busy, finding new contacts at Christmastime was not very successful, so we thought these names might be a good place to start. We began visiting people on the list. When we visited the home of Frau Lübbert, we were greeted by a wonderful, cheery lady. She invited us in, and we learned that she was the widow of a Lutheran minister, who had passed away earlier that year. Her son was also a minister. He would be home for Christmas, and it would be just the two of them sharing their first Christmas without their husband and father. Then, with a sparkle in her eyes, she asked if we would join them for Christmas Eve. Having no other plans, we consented.
Christmas Eve arrived, and we had a lovely sacrament meeting in which we talked about the Savior and listened to the Christmas story. As my companion and I helped administer the sacrament, we pondered on the life the Savior had given for us.
After the meeting we were to meet the Lübberts at the Lutheran church. As we walked through the park, the snow was just beginning to fall, and we stopped to watch children and parents skating on a frozen pond. We saw Christmas lights here and there and heard church bells announcing Christmas Eve services.
The Lübberts were waiting for us at their church. We enjoyed a wonderful spirit as we listened to the minister and as we sang Christmas carols in a church older than some of the carols. Singing “Silent Night” in its original language made the occasion even more special.
After the service, we got into Reverend Lübbert’s car and drove to their home. Frau Lübbert had prepared a goose for dinner, and as she put the finishing touches on the meal, my companion and I sat with Reverend Lübbert and asked him about his ministry. He talked of how he was active in a movement trying to bring Christian churches together. Many shared that dream, but others were antagonistic and fought the movement.
We then talked about our ministry. We told him of the Book of Mormon and how the Church had been restored. We told him of living prophets, and we talked about Jesus Christ and bore witness of Him as our Savior. No animosity existed among us. There was no belittling of one another’s beliefs. As I think upon it now, the words of 2 Nephi 25:26 come to mind. We literally “talk[ed] of Christ, we rejoice[d] in Christ” on that Christmas Eve. He was the center of our attention. He was the purpose of our being together.
As we bowed our heads for a prayer on the food, Reverend Lübbert asked a blessing on his fellow servants in Christ, that we would be led to those who sought Jesus. The meal was wonderful—roasted goose with all the trimmings and special German desserts.
German tradition is for parents to retire to a separate room where the tree has been newly decorated and to light the candles on the tree. The children are then allowed to enter and see the tree and their presents. So Frau Lübbert retired to the living room and closed the large sliding doors. In a moment she opened the doors and invited her “sons” to come in.
As we entered the room, where the only light was the soft light coming from the candles on the Christmas tree, Frau Lübbert handed my companion and me our gifts: some candies and a souvenir book about Rendsburg. She then gave her son his presents, and they paused a moment to remember their husband and father. We then opened the Bible to Luke and read the Christmas story. The Spirit touched each of us and witnessed again of the divine message in those verses. As we sang Christmas carols, the words bore testimony to each of us of the love we shared for Jesus Christ, His life, His teachings, and the most precious of gifts—His atoning sacrifice.
I don’t believe my feet touched the ground that night as we made our way to the bus stop. Santa Claus hadn’t come. I hadn’t been rushing around buying presents. I hadn’t attended any concerts or seen the traditional Christmas movies. My family was far away, and my packages from home were delayed because of the transfer. But I was the happiest I had ever been on Christmas Eve. For the first time in my life, Christmas had been totally focused on Christ. And the only gift I had given was my witness of Him.