Bringing the Christmas spirit into people's hearts and homes takes conscious effort and planning, but can be accomplished, President Thomas S. Monson said Sunday evening.
"In looking back over the years, 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," President Monson, leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, told members. "I believe that such would be true for all of us as we reminisce concerning our best-remembered Christmases."
Speaking during the annual First Presidency Christmas Devotional, President Monson offered a message of peace and hope to thousands gathered in the Conference Center, which was adorned with Christmas lights, trees and poinsettias. His counselors in the First Presidency, President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor, and President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor, also offered holiday messages centered on the Savior.
Hundreds of thousands of LDS Church members around the world heard the devotional, broadcast on the church's satellite system, BYUTV and on KBYU in Utah.
Music for the evening was provided by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square.
During his remarks, President Monson said that he recently reread an account by John B. Matheson Jr., describing an experience during the 1945 U.S. Army occupation in Frankfurt, Germany. World War II had ended and Matheson was living in a three-story home cleaned by an elderly German woman who was hired by the army.
As Christmas approached, Matheson thought he should give a gift to the housekeeper. He filled a 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."
Matheson left the gift and a Christmas greeting for the elderly woman on Dec. 24. President Monson said it was a gift given out of pity and for self-satisfaction. "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."
But when he returned that evening his gift was gone and in its place was a gift for him. "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 two cards formed a point and all 10 together formed the Christmas star."
President Monson said the woman had little to give. "Though John Matheson lived to see many more Christmases, that little housekeeper's Christmas star shone brightly throughout his life. He said that star of Bethlehem implanted within him the Christmas spirit and taught him the true meaning of love and giving."
The Christmas season, President Monson continued, "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, he added, to rededicate ourselves to the principles taught by Jesus Christ.
"May the spirit of love which comes at Christmas time fill our homes and our lives and linger there long after the tree is down and the lights are put away for another year."
President Eyring said the spirit of Christmas puts in the hearts of people a desire to give joy to others.
"We feel a spirit of giving and gratitude for what we have been given," he said.
Each kind act to anyone, President Eyring continued, becomes a kindness to Jesus Christ. Many, he added, will find ways to give food to people who are hungry during the Christmas season.
"As you do you bring joy to the Lord. Yet he taught us that there is a way to give an even more priceless and lasting gift. ... With all the kindnesses we give for him, the greatest we can offer is to point those we love and serve toward him, the only source of eternal life."
President Eyring said the most precious gift he can give to others is his witness of the Savior. "I testify that he was born of Mary, the Son of God. He lived a perfect life."
President Uchtdorf told the worldwide congregation that they know what the Christmas season ought to be: "We know it should be a time of reflection on the birth of the Savior, a time of celebration and of generosity."
But, he added, sometimes the focus at Christmas time is on things that annoy and overwhelm — much like the Dr. Seuss' Grinch who vowed to stop Christmas from coming at all.
"While it's true we can find materialism and anxiety in Christmas, it is also true that if we have eyes to see, we can experience the powerful message of the birth of the Son of God and feel the hope and peace he brings to the world.
"We, like the Grinch, can see Christmas through new eyes."