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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Members of the Tabernacle Choir sing during the First Presidency's Christmas Devotional Sunday, Dec., 2, 2012, in the Conference Center.

SALT LAKE CITY — Focusing on themes of love and giving, the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints presented its annual Christmas Devotional Sunday evening, carried from the Conference Center in Salt Lake City to a worldwide audience via satellite, the Internet, broadcast media and other means.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, accompanied by the Orchestra at Temple Square, highlighted the hour-long event with seasonal hymns and carols. The congregation in the 21,000-seat facility joined in on the closing selection "Silent Night."

Church President Thomas S. Monson remarked that the real joy of Christmas is found in making Jesus Christ the focus of the season.

"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," he said.

President Monson touched on a theme that has frequently been a part of his sermons and writings over the years: love, kindness and service to the elderly.

He recalled the wisdom of a gray-haired woman named Melissa, who was the president of the local Primary organization he attended as a boy growing up in the church. She elicited from him a promise to help her get his Primary class to be reverent during meetings. That resolved the situation.

"She had gone to the source of the problem – me," he said.

He told of visiting her at Christmas time many years later after she had grown old and gone to live in a Salt Lake City nursing home. He found her in the lunchroom, staring at her meal. She seemed unresponsive to his presence. But he took her fork in hand and began to feed her, talking all the while about her service to boys and girls as a Primary worker.

As he stood to leave, he said, "God bless you, Melissa. Merry Christmas." Suddenly, she responded, "I know you. You're Tommy Monson, my Primary boy. How I love you."

President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency, spoke of "the perfect gift," which he defined as Heavenly Father's 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," President Eyring said.

He spoke of the challenge of providing suitable gifts for loved ones and related his own experience in designing and building a wooden chest for his wife, an endeavor that required the generous help of others who had the tools and skills he lacked.

President Eyring said shared joy can come from creating and offering simple gifts of love.

"Both giver and recipient can remember Christ and feel love and gratitude," he said.

Gifts of love are offered by young men and young women in the church who are baptized in temples on behalf of those who have died; by church missionaries who offer the gift of eternal life and spiritual testimony to others; and by families who give gifts of love and testimony through music as well as words, President Eyring commented.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, said in his address that every gift offered at Christmas time – especially one that comes from the heart – is an opportunity to build or strengthen a bond of love.

"When we are good and grateful receivers, we open a door to deepen our relationship with the giver of the gift," President Uchtdorf 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."

He shared memories of his childhood in Germany, growing up in modest circumstances but with parents who wanted their children to experience joy and wonder at Christmas. He spoke of drawing a picture for his sister as a Christmas gift and of his brother, 12 years his senior, who carved a knife for him from a stick found at a nearby park. In each case, the recipient treasured the gift because it was given with love.

President Uchtdorf observed that as people grow older, their ability to receive gifts with the enthusiasm and grace that children display diminishes.

"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," he said.

He remarked that Jesus Christ is the perfect example not only of generous giving but also of gracious receiving.

Under the direction of Mack Wilberg and Ryan Murphy, with Richard Elliott at the organ, the choir and orchestra performed selections such as "O Come All Ye Faithful," "What Child Is This" and "O Little Town Of Bethlehem".

email: rscott@desnews.com