“First Presidency Extols Meaning of Christmas,” Ensign, Feb. 1995, 77–79
Christmas is a time for following the Savior and giving as he gave, said President Howard W. Hunter during the annual First Presidency Christmas devotional. “The Savior dedicated his life to blessing other people,” President Hunter said. “As expressed by his chief Apostle, Peter, ‘God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good’” (Acts 10:38).
President Hunter’s counselors, President Gordon B. Hinckley and President Thomas S. Monson, also addressed the thousands gathered in the Tabernacle and Assembly Hall on Temple Square at the December 4 service. The devotional was broadcast over the Church satellite system and KBYU.
“Never did the Savior give in expectation of receiving,” President Hunter observed. “He gave freely and lovingly, and his gifts were of inestimable value. He gave eyes to the blind, ears to the deaf, and legs to the lame; cleanliness to the unclean, wholeness to the infirm, and breath to the lifeless. His gifts were opportunity to the downtrodden, freedom to the oppressed, forgiveness to the repentant, hope to the despairing, and light in the darkness. He gave us his love, his service, his life. And most important, he gave us and all mortals resurrection, salvation, and eternal life.”
President Hunter shared a story of a man who couldn’t think of any gifts to give for Christmas. The next day he received an anonymous list in the mail.
Give to your enemy forgiveness,
To your opponent tolerance.
To your friend your heart,
To all men charity,
for the hands that help are holier than lips that pray,
To every child a good example,
and to yourself—respect.
“This Christmas, mend a quarrel,” President Hunter suggested. “Seek out a forgotten friend. Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust. Write a letter. Give a soft answer. Encourage youth. Manifest your loyalty in word and deed. Keep a promise. Forgo a grudge. Forgive an enemy. Apologize. Try to understand. Examine your demands on others. Think first of someone else. Be kind. Be gentle. Laugh a little more. Express your gratitude. Welcome a stranger. Gladden the heart of a child. Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth. Speak your love and then speak it again. Christmas is a celebration, and there is no celebration that compares with the realization of its true meaning—with the sudden stirring of the heart that has extended itself unselfishly in the things that matter most (see McCall’s Magazine, Dec. 1959, pp. 82–83).
“A life filled with unselfish service will also be filled with peace that surpasses understanding,” President Hunter continued. “This peace can come only through living the principles of the gospel. These principles constitute the program of the Prince of Peace, who is also the Prince of Glory and the Prince of Eternal Progress,” he said.
“May we find our spiritual thirst quenched by the living water of the Savior,” President Hunter concluded. “May he become our focal point at this Christmas season, and always in the future. I testify that he lives today, the Babe of Bethlehem—now the risen Lord. He and his Eternal Father love and care for each of us in a sacred and personal way.”
“What a glorious season is this time of Christmas,” President Hinckley said in his address. “Hearts are softened. Voices are raised in worship. Kindness and mercy are reenthroned as elements in our lives. There is an accelerated reaching out to those in distress. There is an aura of peace that comes into our homes. There is a measure of love that is not felt to the same extent at any other time of the year. …
“Marvelous is the chronicle that began with the singing of angels at Bethlehem and ended on Golgotha’s cruel cross. There is no other life to compare with His life. He was the one perfect man to walk the earth, the paragon of excellence, the singular example of perfection.
“I sense in a measure the meaning of his atonement. I cannot comprehend it all. It is so vast in its reach and yet so intimate in its effect that it defies comprehension.”
President Hinckley noted that earlier in the week he had spoken at the funeral of a friend “whose goodness caused me to reach a little higher.”
“I looked at his weeping widow and children,” he continued. “They knew, as I knew, that never again in mortality would they hear his voice. But a tender sweetness, indescribable in nature, brought peace and reassurance. It seemed to say: ‘Be still, and know that I am God’ (Ps. 46:10).
“It seemed to further say, ‘Don’t worry. All of this is part of my plan. None can escape death. Even my Beloved Son died upon the cross. But through so doing he became the glorious first fruits of the Resurrection. He took from death its sting and from the grave its victory.’ …
“When all is said and done,” President Hinckley concluded, “when all of history is examined, when the deepest depths of the human mind have been explored, there is nothing so wonderful, so majestic, so tremendous as this act of grace when the Son of the Almighty, the Prince of his Father’s royal household, he who had once spoken as Jehovah, he who had condescended to come to earth as a babe born in Bethlehem, gave his life in ignominy and pain so that all of the sons and daughters of God, of all generations of time, every one of whom must die, might walk again and live eternally.
“This is the wondrous and true story of Christmas. The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem of Judea is preface. The three-year ministry of the Master is prologue. The magnificent substance of the story is his sacrifice, the totally selfless act of dying in pain and dishonor on the cross of Calvary to atone for the sins of all of us.
“The epilogue is the miracle of the Resurrection, bringing the assurance that ‘as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive’ (1 Cor. 15:22).
“There would be no Christmas if there had not been Easter,” concluded President Hinckley. “The babe Jesus of Bethlehem would be but another babe without the redeeming Christ of Gethsemane and Calvary, and the triumphant face of the Resurrection.”
President Monson related a touching story of a young man from Idaho. “Gene was ten years old; World War II was raging, and times were difficult,” he began. “His mother would go each year into the potato fields in Jerome, Idaho, to make extra money so that her children might have a Christmas—not an extravagant one, but one where each of her three children could have one special gift.”
Also an annual tradition, explained President Monson, was the drawing of names in the local school for gift giving. “That year, as the names were drawn as usual, Gene knew he would be happy with any name as long as it wasn’t Charlotte’s. No one wanted to draw her name. She was not as cute as the other girls, and her clothes were torn and dirty. All of the children tried to avoid her.
“As Gene walked to the front of the room to pick a name, his heart was full of anticipation. However, as he reached in and pulled out the slip of paper, his heart sank and he couldn’t believe what he saw. The name Charlotte was written there in big, bold letters.”
Mortified, Gene determined not to tell anyone whose name he had drawn. Later that evening during supper, it took urging from his mother before he grudgingly whispered the truth. “A hush fell around the table,” President Monson said. “Then with great enthusiasm, Gene’s mother said, ‘How wonderful!’
“Gene’s mother knew everyone in Jerome and knew of Charlotte’s family. They lived in a very humble home with no indoor plumbing, and life was difficult for them. Gene’s mother also knew that this year, as in years past, Charlotte would have no Christmas at all. She knew as well that year after year, as the children of the school would pick her name, Charlotte never once received a present.”
Gene’s mother worked extra hard in the potato fields that year so that Charlotte could have a special present. Anger filled his heart when his mother showed him the beautiful porcelain doll she had purchased. “He knew that even his own sister had never received anything quite so special. This was surely too good for Charlotte!” President Monson continued.
“The following day the children took their gifts to school and placed them carefully under the tree. Gene went early so no one would see that his gift was for Charlotte. The hour approached, and the children were called to sit around the tree. Each one came except for Charlotte, who knew that once again she would receive no gift. She sat silently at her desk.”
Each of the gifts was opened until only Charlotte’s was left. The teacher picked up the gift and took it to Charlotte. “As she carefully began to open the present, Charlotte’s hands shook.
All eyes were on her. As she reached into the box and carefully lifted out the doll, tears began to fall from her eyes. She held the porcelain doll to her heart and caressed it and rocked back and forth, back and forth. Charlotte felt loved! Gene had to choke back the tears, as did everyone else in the class that day. Each one felt the true Christmas spirit,” said President Monson.
“There is no better time than now, this very Christmas season, for all of us to rededicate ourselves to the principles taught by the Savior,” concluded President Monson. “It is the time to love the Lord with all our heart and our neighbors as ourselves. We must make Christmas real.”