It is through giving rather than getting that the spirit of Christ - and thus the spirit of Christmas - becomes a part of members' lives, President Thomas S. Monson declared at the First Presidency Christmas Devotional Dec. 2.
President Monson, second counselor in the First Presidency, delivered the Christmas message at the devotional, which originated from the Tabernacle on Temple Square.
"Our opportunities to give of ourselves are indeed limitless," said President Monson, "but they are also perishable.
"There are hearts to gladden. There are kind words to say. There are gifts to be given. There are deeds to be done. There are souls to save."
The devotional, conducted by President Gordon B. Hinckley, first counselor in the First Presidency, was telecast to some 3,000 meetinghouses throughout the United States, Canada and the Caribbean.
President Ezra Taft Benson, making his first public appearance since surgery in September, attended the devotional. (See separate story on page 3.)
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, under the direction of Jerold Ottley, sang a variety of Christmas carols. The congregation joined in singing such favorites as "Silent Night" and "Joy to the World."
Colorful Christmas decorations added to the Christmas spirit felt in the Tabernacle. Red, pink and white poinsettias, a variety of greenery, wreaths and white lights adorned the Tabernacle. Garlands with red ribbons and yellow lights hung from every column.
In his welcoming remarks, President Hinckley said, "The shining lights and decorations of Christmas here on Temple Square remind us of the birth of our Lord on that holy night long ago and we express the hope that each of you will feel of our Savior's love this night and throughout the Christmas season."
In his address, President Monson encouraged all to carry with them a thankful heart as their gift to Christ. By giving to others, they show their gratitude to the Lord.
"Christmas is a glorious time of year. Simple in origin, deep in meaning, beautiful in tradition and custom, rich in memories and charitable in spirit, it has an attraction to which our hearts are readily drawn. Christmas is a time to remember. It is a time for families. It is a time for gratitude."
Reflecting on the past year, President Monson talked about the many changes in the world.
"Unfortunately armies are poised, weapons of destruction have been assembled and peace on earth, that hoped-for blessing, hangs by a thread in the Middle East. The price of freedom has ever been high.
"Our prayers go out to those whose families feel the absence of loved ones and who experience daily a concern for conflict. We unite in an earnest prayer to Almighty God that a pattern for peace may be found and that good will toward men may be our divinely bestowed blessing.
"On a brighter note, the good tidings of the gospel have penetrated political borders which were sealed shut and have sounded in the hearts of those who knew no freedom and waited in darkness for the light of truth," he noted.
The Berlin Wall is only a memory, and in many nations barbed wire fences and closed borders have vanished, he remarked.
Members of the Church should be grateful to know that new missions have been established in what was once the German Democratic Republic, in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Greece and Hungary, he said.
"Missionaries now proclaim the truth in each of these nations. In lesser numbers, these same messengers of glory - even the missionaries of the Lord's Church - also lift their voices in Yugoslavia, Estonia, Romania and Bulgaria.
"The work of the Lord moves forward. The gospel of Jesus Christ blesses countless lives. To Almighty God we acknowledge His watchful care, His welcome guidance and His heaven-sent gifts, supreme among these the gift of His precious Son and our Redeemer."
As gratitude becomes part of a person's life, giving and not getting brings to full bloom the Christmas spirit, President Monson added.
"We must not let the commercial aspects of the glorious Christmas season dominate our lives. What did you get for Christmas? . . . is the universal question among children for days following that most celebrated holiday of the year."
But material gifts are fleeting, he continued.
"If we change but one word in our Christmas question, the outcome is vastly different. What did you give for Christmas?"
Such a change prompts stimulating thought, causes tender feelings to well up and memory's fires to glow ever brighter, President Monson said.
"When we have the spirit of Christmas, we remember Him whose birth we commemorate at this season of the year.
"This child was to be the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the promised Messiah, even Jesus Christ, the son of God. Born in a stable, cradled in a manger, He came forth from heaven to live on earth as mortal man and to establish the kingdom of God."
During His earthly ministry He taught men the higher law, President Monson related. His gospel reshaped the thinking of the world.
"He blessed the sick. He caused the lame to walk, the blind to see, the deaf to hear. He even raised the dead to life."
A precious few appreciated His lessons of life and followed His example, President Monson explained. Down through the generations of time, the message from Jesus has been the same, `follow me.'
"If we but listen, we shall hear that same beckoning invitation - follow me. And as we follow in His steps today, we too will have an opportunity to bless the lives of others. Jesus invites us to give of ourselves."
Fortunately, the privilege to serve others can come to everyone, he continued. "If we but look, we too will see a bright, particular star which will lead us to our Christmas opportunity. God is ever mindful of those who need, who seek, who trust, who pray and who listen when He speaks."
There is still time this year to extend the helping hand and the loving heart and the willing spirit for the benefit of Heavenly Father's children, President Monson said.
"As we serve Him in this way, we shall surely find Him. May we seek Him, may we find Him, may we follow Him, not only during this Christmas season, but always."