Rather than focusing on what gifts Christmas brings, those who focus on Jesus Christ will remember his gift of resurrection and life for all and seek to succor others as he would do, top LDS leaders said Sunday.
Speaking to thousands in the LDS Conference Center, and tens of thousands on local television during the annual Christmas devotional, President Gordon B. Hinckley of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said the holiday greeting, "Merry Christmas," may well be replaced with a question about need.
"'Merry' may be the wrong word. More appropriately, we might say, 'It is Christmastime. What can I do to help you? Are your burdens too heavy to carry? Is your sorrow too painful?' This world is full of sorrowful people. Many of them feel totally beaten down. They are sick. They are impoverished. Life seems hopeless. Even at this season they seem oppressed by these feelings."
President Hinckley said he often wonders what a different world it would be "if all people were treated as well as I am. How grateful I am for the kindness of people toward me."
Christmas is the embodiment of that kindness, he said, recalling the words of scripture that lauded Christ's birth with "good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord."
Though some are downtrodden, he said, Christmas is hope through Jesus Christ and his atoning sacrifice for all men.
Standing in the darkness of Shepherds' Field with the lights of Bethlehem in the distance, President Hinckley recalled the Savior's birth and wanted to lift his voice with that of the heavenly host, he said. "May heaven's blessings rest upon us. May the spirit of the Lord radiate from our hearts. May our love increase at this Christmas season. ... May the spirit of the babe of Bethlehem permeate our hearts with added love and peace."
The Conference Center set evoked the spirit of the season, with holiday trees, stained-glass windows, flickering lights and a fireplace setting for music provided by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square.
President Thomas S. Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, recalled a boyhood Christmas where giving became more important than receiving. Having told his parents he wished for an electric train not the wind-up kind he waited with anticipation to see if Santa made good on that wish.
Pleased to open the gift and admiring the devotion of parents who sacrificed much during the Depression to grant his wish, he prepared to go with his mother to the home of a neighbor boy who also wished for a train, which his mother had purchased. When he found that boy's less-expensive train had an oil tanker car that his did not, he pleaded with her to keep it, knowing the other boy wouldn't miss it. She reluctantly agreed but wasn't happy about it.
When they delivered the train, he watched the boy laugh with delight. "I began to realize just how selfish I had been. Asking my mother to wait for me, I ran home and picked up the oil tanker car, plus an additional car from my more expensive train set. When I returned to the boy's home, I handed him the two cars.
"The feelings I experienced as I watched his added joy are difficult to describe yet absolutely impossible to forget. I had learned that true happiness comes only by making others happy."
Christmas is a time for "lifting the lives of those who live in loneliness. ... Let it be a time of prayers for peace and for the protection of those who are far from us. Let it be a time for re-examining ourselves and for dedicating our lives to the values that endure."
President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, recalled hearing descriptions of the Savior as a boy when in the Salt Lake Tabernacle balcony listening to the music of George Frederick Handel.
"I can remember feeling something in my heart. I was young then. I am older now and I know what that feeling was. It was the Holy ghost, whose companionship I had been offered when I was eight years of age. The spirit confirmed to my heart that the words I heard sung that night, and other words we will hear sung tonight, are true."
Christ was sent to Earth as the babe of Bethlehem prophesied in scripture, "the Lamb of God, sent to break the bands of death. He came with the power to bear our sorrows and our grief that he might know how to succor us. And he was born to atone for all of our sins as only he could."
The feeling he had in the Tabernacle that night was faith and hope, he said, "hope that because of him I could follow and serve him and so be born to a newness of spiritual life. Because of the gift of his birth, my heart could be changed to become again like that of a little child, pure and clean."Though there is darkness and cruelty in the world, "yet there is the light and the love which the Savior has brought and is bringing into millions of heart. We can choose on this Christmas and all the days which will follow to feel that light and love."