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Adam Fondren, Deseret News
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, speaks at the First Presidency's Christmas Devotional at the Conference Center in Salt Lake on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017.

SALT LAKE CITY — Relating his memories of boyhood Christmases as part of a refugee family in East Germany and later West Germany, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf encouraged “greater generosity and increasing love,” as he spoke Sunday during the annual First Presidency's Christmas Devotional.

The second counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recalled the circumstances of his childhood in bombed-out Zwickau, East Germany, just after World War II. Despite the darkness of the city from lack of street lighting, he and other family members felt joy as they passed a cathedral where Christmas music was being played from a majestic organ.

“Somehow, this music made the humble lights of our city appear suddenly so much brighter — almost like sparkling stars — and filled our young hearts with a wonderful spirit of anticipation,” President Uchtdorf said.

In West Germany, as refugees, they lived in a rented attic in an old farm building.

“I still remember those days with both heartache and joy,” he said. “My parents did the best they could to provide for us, and we knew they loved us. Yes, these were times of great need, but I consider them happy times, because I could feel the love we had for each other, for the Lord and for his church.”

He said there is no shame in being poor, noting that the Savior of the world was born in a stable and that his family shortly became refugees fleeing to Egypt to seek protection from the murderous Herod.

“May the contemplation of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem inspire us to be more like him,” President Uchtdorf said. “May Christ’s mission and example cause our hearts to swell with divine love for God and deep compassion for our fellowmen.”

President Uchtdorf was joined by two other speakers: Elder Kevin R. Duncan, a General Authority Seventy, and Sister Cristina B. Franco, second counselor in the Primary general presidency.

Elder Duncan drew upon his memories of Christmases as a farm boy, a missionary for the church, a young widower with an infant daughter, and later, a husband and father in a family with meager resources.

When he was a university student, his young wife was killed in a car accident. At Christmastime, he felt the need for a companion for himself and a mother for his daughter.

“I reasoned, ‘I might not be much of a catch, but what woman wouldn’t want a real live baby girl for Christmas? Not just a doll, but the real thing?’ And thankfully, if someone wanted the baby, well, I would be part of the package.”

His wish was fulfilled that year, when he spent Christmas Day with a classmate whom he had been dating, and they were married that summer.

A few years later, when they found themselves without funds to pay for Christmas presents for their growing family, they experienced Christmas miracles, he said. Neighbors and friends, without knowing of their circumstances, happened to bring by toys and a bicycle they no longer needed, and his son won, as a prize in a coloring contest, a video of a children’s movie.

To the congregation, he said, “Our Father and the Savior may direct us to help others and it will be our privilege to do so.”

Sister Franco spoke of growing up in Argentina. One Christmas, she was cleaning and repairing dolls to be donated to children who had to spend Christmas Day in the hospital. Her mother encouraged her to also give one of her nicer toys.

That year, she said, she understood a little better God’s gift of his son, Jesus Christ, “who lovingly and selflessly gave his life for us.”

Reading the account from the Bible of the birth of Christ, she said she had pondered the question, “How can we enjoy … peace and good will toward men?”

Three actions — or gifts — came to her mind: gifts of love, service and forgiveness.

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“At this Christmas season,” she said in conclusion, “let us all give the best gifts. Let us sacrifice with grateful hearts our favorite toys — not the ones we’ve worn out. And let us give the gift of love, the gift of service to those around us and the true gift of forgiveness.”

The devotional was broadcast from the LDS Conference Center live by satellite on television and over the internet, and featured performances of several Christmas selections by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square. President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency, conducted the devotional.