During the 53 years since he was sustained as a General Authority, President Thomas S. Monson has become known as one of the great orators of this dispensation. He has given hundreds of talks in general conferences, various leadership training seminars, stake conferences, devotionals, sacrament meetings and funerals, not to mention addresses to various civic and community gatherings.
One’s mind does not tend to wander when President Monson speaks. Reading texts of his addresses reveals one of his special talents: Distilling profound truths into simple statements that go to the heart of the matter.
To commemorate this Christmas season, we’re taking a look back at some of the “profoundly simple and eloquent teachings” of President Monson.
During the 2004 First Presidency Christmas Devotional, he said:
“Christmas, however old, is forever new. It is a thousand things to as many people. It is decorations and tinsel, singing and feasting, giving and receiving, visiting and worshiping. It is the eagerness of a child for a gift and the deep, spiritual thankfulness of the mature heart for the gift of the Savior. If there is a common denominator, perhaps it is this: Christmas is love.”
President Monson often has quoted poetry — from famous writers to anonymous contributors — to help solidify his message. He cited this stanza by an unknown poet:
Christmas is a gift
From Heaven above.
Christmas is peace;
Christmas is love.
Then President Monson added this commentary:
“Of course, that which prompts such feelings is the Spirit of Christmas, which illuminates the picture window of the soul, causing us to look out upon the world’s busy life and become more interested in people than in things. To catch the real meaning of the Spirit of Christmas, we need only drop the last syllable, and it becomes the Spirit of Christ.”
President Monson’s talks often contain anecdotes that drive home a particular point. In the devotional mentioned above, he told of Lee W. Maloy, who was the recipient of a special Christmas blessing:
“It was a special time in his life which took place when he served as a United States Merchant Marine. On Christmas Eve in 1944, Lee was on a ship traveling from the Mediterranean approaching the Straits of Gibraltar on its way to the North Atlantic. Following months — even years — of service in the war, the men on board were happily bound for the East Coast of the United States and home. It was a stormy night, and Lee was once again on watch at the bow of the ship.
“The past few days had been unremarkable, and the sights, sounds and smell of the ocean lulled Lee into a sense of well-being. The events which transpired next seemed to happen in an instant. Lee saw the plume of a periscope appear off the port side of his ship. He knew that it couldn’t be more than 100 yards away. Others had seen the plume, for the ship was suddenly alive with alarms and shouts of men scurrying to their battle stations.
“There was no time to ready themselves for a fight or to protect themselves in any way. The submarine was already on them, rising up out of that choppy sea. The enemy had them, without question. They awaited their doom.
“Lee reported that he would never forget what happened next.
“There was a flashing light. He mouthed the letters as he saw the German submarine blinking its Morse code message. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. M-E-R. Could he be reading it correctly? Another ‘R’ and then: dash dot dash dash — a ‘Y.’ The second word was rapidly flashed to them in the darkness. C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S. Then it was over. Just as quickly as the U-boat had appeared, it sank back into the blackness of the sea and was gone.
“They all stood transfixed. No one moved for several seconds as they recovered from their shock and surprise. They had escaped death several months earlier by a twist of fate or perhaps even luck. But on Christmas Eve 1944 they had been given a precious gift. As the reality of what had just transpired and the words ‘Merry Christmas’ took hold in their minds and their hearts, they unitedly sent up a cheer — a cheer of relief, and of joy and of true celebration.
“The spirit of love had prevailed — the spirit of Christmas, the spirit of Christ.” (President Monson noted that Lee Maloy was seated in the congregation in the Conference Center during the Christmas devotional.)
President Monson often asks questions that invite us to reflect. In the 2004 devotional, he asked: “Why does peace come closer to reality at this season than at any other? Why is it that more friends are remembered and more enemies forgiven at the Christmas season than at any other time?”
He then answered: “It is the Christmas Spirit. The miracle of Christmas weaves the magic of brotherhood, fills hearts with peace and causes a weary world to pause, to remember, and to hope.
“There is no better time than now, this very Christmas season, for all of us to rededicate ourselves to the principles taught by Jesus the Christ. It is the time to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and our neighbors as ourselves. It is well to remember that he who gives money gives much, he who gives time gives more, but he who gives of himself gives all.”
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