SALT LAKE CITY — Despite many distractions, Christ can be the center of Christmas celebrations, said LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson on Sunday evening.
"I, with you, have witnessed during the past few days and weeks what has become over the years the annual commercialization of Christmas," President Monson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said during the annual First Presidency Christmas Devotional. "I am saddened to see Christmas becoming less and less about Christ and more and more about marketing and sales, parties and presents. And yet, Christmas is what we make of it."
President Monson offered the message of hope to more than 20,000 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 Latter-day Saints heard the devotional, which was translated and broadcast on the church's satellite system, and on various broadcast, cable, satellite and Internet sites throughout the world.
Music for the evening was provided by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square.
During his remarks, President Monson told the worldwide congregation that they can establish Christmas traditions for themselves and their families, which will help them capture and keep the spirit of Christmas.
"For almost as long as I can remember, I have had a particular tradition at Christmas time," he explained. "My family knows that just before Christmas I will read again my Christmas treasury of books and ponder the wondrous words of the authors. First will be the Gospel of Luke — even the Christmas story. This will be followed by a reading of "A Christmas Carol," by Charles Dickens and, lastly, rereading "The Mansion," by Henry Van Dyke."
Each of these inspired writings, he said, touches his inner soul and brings to him the spirit of the Savior.
For example, A Christmas Carol, tells the timeless tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and of the visits he receives from Jacob Marley, his deceased business partner and the ghosts of Christmas past, Christmas present, and Christmas yet to come.
"Scrooge is such an unpleasant soul that his name has become a universally accepted term for a mean or miserly person," President Monson explained. "During the course of the night before Christmas, Scrooge is shown what he once had in his life, what he has in the present, and what his life will be if he remains on the path he has thus far chosen.
"He is able to recognize the error of his ways. He learns that happiness can come to us if we forget self and worldly gain, concentrating instead on helping others and learning to embrace the love of family and friends."
During his remarks, President Eyring said one of the most beautiful symbols of the birth of Jesus Christ into this world is light.
"The appearance of the long-promised Messiah brought light to a darkened world," he said.
President Eyring spoke of new Bible videos produced by the church as a gift to the world from the First Presidency.
He then showed the congregation scenes from the videos which, he promised, "will bring you feelings of light."
"The lesson is simply that God knows our every need, that He loves us, and that He watches over us," said President Eyring. "He gave us the gift of a Savior, His perfect Son, the Lamb without blemish. ... He has called prophets and apostles to guide us to safety in this life and eternal life in the world to come. Jesus Christ was crucified and resurrected that we may live again and that we may be purified and cleansed from sin, prepared for the glorious light of eternal life.
"Those are gifts to us that we can offer to others for Him."
President Uchtdorf said "Christmas is really about Christ."
"It is Christmas and some of the cherished traditions of the season that remind us that we, like the Wise Men of old, should seek the Christ and lay before Him the most precious of gifts: a broken heart and a contrite spirit," he said.
President Uchtdorf said some people have an incomplete understanding of what Christmas really is.
"We have in our minds a picture of how everything should be — the perfect tree, the perfect lights, the perfect gifts and the perfect family events."
But sooner or later, something unpleasant occurs.
"As a result, the Christmas season is often a time of stress, anxiety, frustration and perhaps even disappointment," he said.
It is through opening theirs hearts and minds to the spirit of Christmas that people are able to recognize the wonderful things happening around them, directing their attention to the sublime, he said.
"In one way or another, the Spirit touches our hearts, and we see that Christmas, in its essence, is much more sturdy and enduring than the many minor things of life we too often use to adorn it."