My beloved brothers and sisters, how grateful I am to be here with you this evening. I, with you, have been inspired and edified by the messages of President Eyring and President Uchtdorf, as well as by the glorious music provided by the choir and orchestra.
Truth is found in a phrase we sing in one of our hymns: “Time flies on wings of lightning.”1 Another year has flown by, bringing us once again to the Christmas season.
Recently, as I’ve reminisced concerning past Christmases, I’ve realized that probably no other time of the year yields as many poignant memories as does Christmas. The Christmases we remember best generally have little to do with worldly goods, but a lot to do with families, with love, and with compassion and caring. This thought provides hope for those of us who fear that the simple meaning of the holiday is diluted by commercialism, or by opposition from those with differing religious views, or just by getting so caught up in the pressures of the season that we lose that special spirit we could otherwise experience.
For many people, “overdoing it” is especially common at this time of the year. We may take on too much for the time and energy we have. Perhaps we don’t have enough money to spend for those things we feel we must purchase. Often our efforts at Christmastime result in feeling stressed out, wrung out, and worn out during a time when instead we should feel the simple joys of commemorating the birth of the Babe in Bethlehem.
Usually, however, the special spirit of the season somehow finds its way into our hearts and into our lives despite the difficulties and distractions which may occupy our time and energy.
Many years ago I read of an experience at Christmastime which took place when thousands of weary travelers were stranded in the congested Atlanta, Georgia, airport. An ice storm had seriously delayed air travel as these people were trying to get wherever they most wanted to be for Christmas—most likely home.
It happened in December of 1970. As the midnight hour tolled, unhappy passengers clustered around ticket counters, conferring anxiously with agents whose cheerfulness had long since evaporated. They, too, wanted to be home. A few people managed to doze in uncomfortable seats. Others gathered at the newsstands to thumb silently through paperback books.
If there was a common bond among this diverse throng, it was loneliness—pervasive, inescapable, suffocating loneliness. But airport decorum required that each traveler maintain his invisible barrier against all the others. Better to be lonely than to be involved, which inevitably meant listening to the complaints of gloomy and disheartened fellow travelers.
The fact of the matter was that there were more passengers than there were available seats on any of the planes. When an occasional plane managed to break out, more travelers stayed behind than made it aboard. The words “Standby,” “Reservation confirmed,” and “First-class passenger” settled priorities and bespoke money, power, influence, foresight—or the lack thereof.
Gate 67 in Atlanta was a microcosm of the whole cavernous airport. Scarcely more than a glassed-in cubicle, it was jammed with travelers hoping to fly to New Orleans, Dallas, and points west. Except for the fortunate few traveling in pairs, there was little conversation at Gate 67. A salesman stared absently into space, as if resigned. A young mother cradled an infant in her arms, gently rocking in a vain effort to soothe the soft whimpering.
Then there was a man in a finely tailored grey flannel suit who somehow seemed impervious to the collective suffering. There was a certain indifference about his manner. He was absorbed in paperwork—figuring the year-end corporate profits, perhaps. A nerve-frayed traveler sitting nearby, observing this busy man, might have identified him as an Ebenezer Scrooge.
Suddenly, the relative silence was broken by a commotion. A young man in military uniform, no more than 19 years old, was in animated conversation with the desk agent. The boy held a low-priority ticket. He pleaded with the agent to help him get to New Orleans so that he could take the bus to the obscure Louisiana village he called home.
The agent wearily told him the prospects were poor for the next 24 hours, maybe longer. The boy grew frantic. Immediately after Christmas his unit was to be sent to Vietnam—where at that time war was raging—and if he didn’t make this flight, he might never again spend Christmas at home. Even the businessman looked up from his cryptic computations to show a guarded interest. The agent clearly was moved, even a bit embarrassed. But he could only offer sympathy—not hope. The boy stood at the departure desk, casting anxious looks around the crowded room as if seeking just one friendly face.
Finally the agent announced that the flight was ready for boarding. The travelers, who had been waiting long hours, heaved themselves up, gathered their belongings, and shuffled down the small corridor to the waiting aircraft: twenty, thirty, a hundred—until there were no more seats. The agent turned to the frantic young soldier and shrugged.
Inexplicably, the businessman had lingered behind. Now he stepped forward. “I have a confirmed ticket,” he quietly told the agent. “I’d like to give my seat to this young man.” The agent stared incredulously; then he motioned to the soldier. Unable to speak, tears streaming down his face, the boy in olive drab shook hands with the man in the gray flannel suit, who simply murmured, “Good luck. Have a fine Christmas. Good luck.”
As the plane door closed and the engines began their rising whine, the businessman turned away, clutching his briefcase, and trudged toward the all-night restaurant.
No more than a few among the thousands stranded there at the Atlanta airport witnessed the drama at Gate 67. But for those who did, the sullenness, the frustration, the hostility—all dissolved into a glow. That act of love and kindness between strangers had brought the spirit of Christmas into their hearts.
The lights of the departing plane blinked, starlike, as the craft moved off into the darkness. The infant slept silently now in the lap of the young mother. Perhaps another flight would be leaving before many more hours. But those who witnessed the interchange were less impatient. The glow lingered, gently, pervasively, in that small glass and plastic stable at Gate 67.2
My brothers and sisters, finding the real joy of the season comes not in the hurrying and the scurrying to get more done or in the purchasing of obligatory gifts. Real joy comes as we show the love and compassion inspired by the Savior of the World, who said, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these … ye have done it unto me.”3
At this joyous season, may personal discords be forgotten and animosities healed. May enjoyment of the season include remembrance of the needy and afflicted. May our forgiveness reach out to those who have wronged us, even as we hope to be forgiven. May goodness abound in our hearts and love prevail in our homes.
As we contemplate how we’re going to spend our money to buy gifts this holiday season, let us plan also for how we will spend our time in order to help bring the true spirit of Christmas into the lives of others.
The Savior gave freely to all, and His gifts were of value beyond measure. Throughout His ministry, He blessed the sick, restored sight to the blind, made the deaf to hear, and the halt and the lame to walk. He gave cleanliness to the unclean. He restored breath to the lifeless. He gave hope to the despairing and bestowed light in the darkness.
He gave us His love, His service, and His life.
What is the spirit we feel at Christmastime? It is His spirit—the Spirit of Christ.
With the pure love of Christ, let us walk in His footsteps as we approach the season celebrating His birth. As we do so, let us remember that He still lives and continues to be the Light of the World, who promised, “He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”5
To each of you, my brothers and sisters, I extend my love and blessing. May you have a wonderful Christmas. May there be love and kindness and peace within your hearts and homes. May even those whose hearts are heavy rise with the healing which comes alone from Him who comforts and assures.
With the Spirit of Christ in our lives, we will have goodwill and love toward all mankind, not only during this season, but throughout the year as well.
May this be our experience and our blessing, I pray, in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer, amen.