My beloved brothers and sisters, it’s somewhat amazing to realize that an entire year has passed since the First Presidency Christmas Devotional of 2009. It seems that time goes by ever faster as the years pass.
As we have approached this special and sacred season, I have contemplated past Christmases. In looking back over the years, I find it is obvious that the Christmases I remember best, the Christmases which touched my heart the most, are Christmases filled with love and giving and the Spirit of the Savior. I believe that such would be true for all of us as we reminisce concerning our best-remembered Christmases. Bringing the Christmas spirit into our hearts and homes takes conscious effort and planning but can surely be accomplished.
My Christmas reading each year helps bring to me the spirit of the season. I always read the same three texts and have done so for more years than I can remember. I read once again a very small volume entitled The Mansion, by Henry Van Dyke. Its message always touches my heart. Also, I read the timeless Dickens classic A Christmas Carol. Who could fail to be inspired and taught by the changes which come to Ebenezer Scrooge as he is instructed by the ghosts of Christmas past, Christmas present, and Christmas future? Finally, I read from the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke, where the birth of the Savior of the world is recounted.
This year, as I was glancing through my extensive collection of Christmas stories, poems, and songs, I reread an account by John B. Matheson Jr., wherein he told of an experience he had 65 years ago, indicating that it was his most memorable Christmas. My heart was touched as I read of his poignant experience, and so I have felt to share it with you tonight, hoping that it will engender the Christmas spirit in you as well.
During Christmas 1945, John Matheson found himself serving in the army of occupation in Frankfurt, Germany. World War II had ended about seven months earlier, but during the conflict the city of Frankfurt had suffered much destruction. Most of the city was rubble. Many of the homes which had been left unscathed were taken over for housing the United States military. John and two other officers lived in a three-story house that easily could have served as a home for three families.
Each weekday, John and the other two officers would go to their office and return in the evening to find the beds made and the house spotlessly cleaned by an elderly German woman who was hired by the United States Army to be housekeeper for a number of houses in the area. Only occasionally would they see this frail little lady as she busily engaged in her tasks. Their conversations with her were limited, for she spoke no English and their German was poor; but through a sort of sign language and through smiles, they indicated satisfaction with her work.
Weekly, John went to the post exchange to get his ration of candy bars, soap, and incidentals. Though he sometimes grumbled about the poor selection available, he always purchased all he was allowed and put the excess into his footlocker.
As Christmas approached, John thought he should give some gift to the housekeeper; so from the abundance of his footlocker, he filled a large cardboard box with candy bars, soap, and cans of fruit juice. He knew that in the system of barter among the Germans, his gift to her was worth many, many dollars, but the cost to him was negligible.
Knowing she would not work on Christmas Day, as John left for the office on December 24th, he placed on the table where it would be seen his gift box and a Christmas greeting. All day he felt rather smug as he thought of his generous gift. The housekeeper would be like an heiress in the poverty of her neighborhood. How lucky she was, he thought. How beholden she would be to him—to the generous American. And yet his gift was not given in compassion but merely out of pity and for self-satisfaction.
As he approached the house in the darkness of the December evening, he saw the dim glow of the lamp filtering through the window. The house was still. He entered the home and saw that his gift and the recipient were gone. However, in the glow of that lamp, he saw on the table her Christmas note and her gift to him. He had expected no gift, but there it was—all she could afford and given in the spirit of Christmas.
What could a poor little old lady give? She could give from her poverty and from her heart her fondest memories of her beloved city of yesteryear, and she could give the Christmas star.
On that dimly lit table, along with her painstakingly written “Merry Christmas,” were 10 old and dog-eared picture postcard scenes of Frankfurt as it had appeared before the war had so devastated it. The housekeeper had placed each card on edge and fastened them together so that every 2 cards formed a point and all 10 together formed the Christmas star.
She had little to give. In fact, it was all she had. Though John Matheson lived to see many more Christmases, that little housekeeper’s Christmas star shone brightly throughout his life. He said that her “star of Bethlehem” implanted within him the Christmas spirit and taught him the true meaning of love and giving.1
Brothers and sisters, this joyful season brings to all of us a measure of happiness that corresponds to the degree to which we have turned our minds, feelings, and actions to the Savior, whose birth we celebrate.
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. Let it be a time that lights the eyes of children and puts laughter on their lips. Let it be a time for lifting the lives of those who live in loneliness. Let it be a time for calling our families together, for feeling a closeness to those who are near to us and a closeness also to those who are absent.
Let it be a time of prayers for peace, for the preservation of free principles, and for the protection of those who are far from us. Let it be a time of forgetting self and finding time for others. Let it be a time for discarding the meaningless and for stressing the true values. Let it be a time of peace because we have found peace in His teachings.
Most of all, let it be a time to remember the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, that we may share in the song of the angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and the worship of the Wise Men.
My brothers and sisters, may the spirit of love which comes at Christmastime fill our homes and our lives and linger there long after the tree is down and the lights are put away for another year. This is my prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, the Lord, amen.