First Presidency Christmas Devotional: 2012 Report
Contributed by By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer, and Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News assistant editor
Carrying forward a tradition of many years, the First Presidency presented their annual Christmas devotional broadcast December 2 before a congregation in the Conference Center and to a worldwide audience tuned in via satellite, over-the-air, cable, and Internet transmission.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square, directed by Mack Wilberg and Ryan Murphy, with Richard Elliott at the organ, performed an assortment of Christmas hymns.
Outside the United States and Canada, the program will be available via DVD or audio recording to Church units that did not receive the satellite or Internet broadcasts.
Each member of the First Presidency spoke. Here are summary reports of their addresses.
President Thomas S. Monson
Acknowledging that the Christmas season with its special meaning and beauty brings “rest to the weary soul,” President Thomas S. Monson in his First Presidency Christmas Devotional message Dec. 2 observed, “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 year for many of us,” the Church president observed. “The causes for this might include too many Christmas activities to attend, too much to eat, too many expectations and too much tension. Often our efforts at Christmas time 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.”
The real joy of Christmas is found from making the Savior Jesus Christ the focus of the season, President Monson affirmed. “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.”
President Monson spoke of the elderly as “a segment of our society desperately yearning for an expression of love.”
“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,” he mused.
He declared that 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.”
President Monson recalled an experience he had as an 11-year-old boy attending Primary. One day, the Primary president, a gray-haired lady named Melissa, asked him to stay behind to converse with her.
“She placed her arm about my shoulder and began to cry,” he related. “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?’
He promised that he would, and soon found that his promise ended any problem of reverence in Primary.
“She had gone to the source of the problem – me,” he said. “The solution was love.”
Years later, Melissa, who was in her 90s, was living in a Salt Lake City nursing home.
“Just before Christmas I determined to visit my beloved Primary president,” President Monson recounted. While driving to the destination, he heard on the car radio the song “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.” He thought of the wise men who brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Christ child.
“I brought only the gift of love and a desire to say thank you,” he said.
He found Melissa in the lunch room of the nursing home staring at her plate of food. As he spoke to her there was no response, only a blank stare. He took her fork in his hand and began to feed her, talking all the time about her service to boys and girls as a Primary worker.
Two other residents of the nursing home gazed in puzzlement at him, and one said, “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.”
As the lunch ended and he stood to leave, he held her hand 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.”
President Monson urged, “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. 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.”
Christmas “isn’t just tinsel and ribbon, unless we have made it so in our lives,” President Monson remarked. “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.”
President Monson concluded with this wish: “May we, as did the Wise Men, seek a bright, particular star to guide us to our Christmas opportunity in service to our fellow man. 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.”
President Henry B. Eyring
One Christmas, President Henry B. Eyring decided to design and build a wooden chest for his wife. To complete the project, he needed the generous help of many others who had the tools and the skills he lacked.
“I worked with them for weeks,” recalled President Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency. “I also needed the help of the Holy Ghost to discover ways to convey love and faith in the gospel in that gift.”
On the lid he carved his family monogram. On the front he placed two panels — one carved with his initial, the other with his wife’s initial. The box could be unlocked only by using two different keys, one to open the lock by his initial and the other the lock by his wife’s initial.
Speaking during the First Presidency Christmas Devotional on Dec. 2, President Eyring said he and his wife now use that gift as a family treasure box. “So on the Christmas when it was under the tree, and on all the days since, seeing the box has filled our minds and hearts with love for each other and for the Savior’s sacrifice that makes eternal families possible. The box, now filled with family pictures and sheets of Christmas music, rests near the old piano in our living room. Creating that gift brought a feeling of love for family and the Master.”
President Eyring said at Christmastime Latter-day Saints celebrate their Heavenly Father’s perfect gift of His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World. “In token of this greatest of gifts, the Christmas season becomes for most of us a time of finding joy in giving to others,” he said. “You and I have learned from experience how challenging that can be.”
Success in giving joy to others usually requires help from others, he explained. “And joining your efforts with the generosity of other people both spreads the joy and makes it more lasting.”
President Eyring said from time to time he still sees and thanks the people who helped him create the box for his wife. “When I see them again I can feel the joy we shared in creating a gift of love for a family and a token of the love we share for the Savior,” he recalled.
Such shared joy can come from creating and offering simple gifts of love, he explained.
“For instance, many of you have helped a child to take plates of cookies to those who feel especially alone at Christmas,” he said. “To the person receiving this modest gift from a child, it can appear as precious as frankincense. And a child bringing such a gift can remind them of the magi bringing gifts from the East to the Savior. Both giver and recipient can remember Christ and feel love and gratitude.”
Young men and young women in the Church, together with their leaders, can offer gifts of love and testimony in the baptismal fonts of the temples, he said. “Having more temples closer to the young people makes that experience of giving possible for more and more of them, and more often.”
And an increasing number of missionaries participate with the Savior and their companions to offer the gift of eternal life. “With the change in age of eligibility for missionary service, many more will feel the joy of offering that priceless gift.”
Missionaries offer the Book of Mormon to everyone they meet, President Eyring explained. “It is a gift of love and a gift of testimony, created through God’s inspiration to faithful prophets over centuries. The Savior needed these prophets’ help to create gifts of testimony in the Book of Mormon, and He needs the missionaries’ help to share it.”
Families also offer priceless gifts of love and testimony at Christmastime through music as well as words, he added. “As a young boy, I would gather with my family around our ‘Winkler’ piano, now more than 100 years old and badly out of tune. That piano rests in our living room, near the treasure chest. ... The music filled our small home with a spirit of peace. I could feel not only the love of my mother and father and two brothers, but of my Heavenly Father and the Savior Jesus Christ.”
President Eyring said he sensed the love he felt then was something he had experienced before this life in the spirit world.
“I wanted more than anything else to feel it someday in a home of my own. And I wanted to live so that I could return with a family of my own to our heavenly home, where I knew Heavenly Father and the Savior would be waiting.”
He said when he sees the treasure box and that piano, memories of love, of family, and love from the Savior flood back to him.
“It is my prayer that the Spirit will bless us, this Christmas and in the years to come, with the power to offer others gifts of love and of the testimony of Jesus Christ and His restored gospel,” President Eyring said. “I know that the Spirit can lead each of us in many and simple ways to give love, faith and joy to others at this season of rejoicing.
“I testify that Jesus Christ was the literal Son of God and the Savior of the world. He was the perfect gift from our loving Father. At this and every season, our Savior invites us to join with Him and others to offer the priceless gift of joy.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Every gift that is offered at Christmastime — especially a gift that comes from the heart — is an opportunity to build or strengthen a bond of love, said President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency.
“When we are good and grateful receivers, we open a door to deepen our relationship with the giver of the gift,” he said. “But when we fail to appreciate or even reject a gift, we not only hurt those who extend themselves to us, but in some way, we harm ourselves as well.”
Speaking during the First Presidency Christmas Devotional on Dec. 2, President Uchtdorf remembered warm and vivid memories of Christmas from his childhood.
“Although I grew up in modest circumstances, my parents wanted Christmas to be a time of joy and wonder for their children,” he recalled.
The Uchtdorf children made gifts for each other. One year, he drew a picture for his sister; though it was not a work of great art, she treated it like a treasure. Another year his brother, who was 12 years older, carved for him a knife from a stick found at a nearby park. Although it was simple, young Dieter treasured the gift because it had come from his brother.
“Isn’t one of the great joys of Christmas seeing the excited faces of little children as they take in their hands a wrapped gift that is just for them?” asked Preisdent Uchtdorf. “As we get older, however, our ability to receive gifts with the same enthusiasm and grace seems to diminish. Sometimes people even get to the point where they can’t receive a gift or, for that matter, even a compliment without embarrassment or feelings of indebtedness. They mistakenly think that the only acceptable way to respond to receiving a gift is by giving back something of even greater value. Others simply fail to see the significance of a gift — focusing only on its outward appearance or its value and ignoring the deep meaning it has to the sincere giver.”
President Uchtdorf spoke of an event that took place during the last night of the Savior’s mortal life. “He gathered His beloved disciples around Him, broke bread with them, and gave them precious final instructions. Do you remember that as the meal progressed, Jesus rose from the table, poured water into a basin, and began to wash His disciples’ feet?”
When the Savior came to Simon Peter, the fisherman refused. “I’m sure Peter thought he had noble reasons for refusing this gift and felt he was doing the right thing. But at that moment, he clearly did not understand the spiritual significance of what Jesus was offering him.”
President Uchtdorf said at Christmastime people talk a lot about giving, “but I wonder if sometimes we disregard or even disparage the importance of being a good receiver.”
He recounted the story of a little girl who, on a Christmas day many years ago, received a beautiful beading kit. With the kit, she fashioned a bracelet for an elderly aunt, who refused the gift.
“Decades have passed, and the little girl, now an aunt herself, still remembers, with a bit of sadness, that day when her childlike gift was refused,” President Uchtdorf recalled.
He then asked the worldwide congregation “to rediscover and reclaim a precious and glorious attribute of children — the ability to receive graciously and with gratitude.”
He said the Savior is the perfect example not only of generous giving but also of gracious receiving. “My brothers and sisters, what kind of receivers are we? Do we, like the Savior, recognize gifts as expressions of love? … I hope that this Christmas and every day of the year we will consider, in particular, the many gifts we have been given by our loving Heavenly Father. I hope we will receive these gifts with the wonder, thankfulness and excitement of a child.”
President Uchtdorf asked the congregation to not forget the gifts Heavenly Father has given them — the gift of the Holy Ghost, the miracle of forgiveness, personal revelation and guidance, the Savior’s peace, the certainty and comfort that death is conquered and many more gifts. He counseled the congregation to remember, above all, that God has given the gift of His Only Begotten Son.
“This Christmas season and always, I pray that we will see the marvelous gift of the birth of the Son of God through the blessed eyes of a child. I pray that in addition to giving good gifts, we will strive to become good and grateful receivers. As we do so, the spirit of this season will enlarge our hearts and expand our joy beyond measure.”