The wondrous gift is given: Christmas, 1951

On a cold winter’s night in 1951 there was a knock at my door, and a German brother from Ogden, Utah, announced himself and said, “Are you Bishop Monson?” I answered in the affirmative. He began to weep and said, “My brother and his wife and family are coming here from Germany. They are going to live in your ward. Will you come with us to see the apartment we have rented for them?” On the way to the apartment, he told me he had not seen his brother for many years. Yet all through the holocaust of World War II, his brother had been faithful to the Church, serving as a branch president before the war took him to the Russian front.

I looked at the apartment. It was cold and dreary. The paint was peeling, the wallpaper soiled, the cupboards empty. A forty-watt bulb hanging from the living room ceiling revealed a linoleum floor covering with a large hole in the center. I was heartsick. I thought, “What a dismal welcome for a family which has endured so much.”

My thoughts were interrupted by the brother’s statement, “It isn’t much, but it’s better than they have in Germany.” With that, the key was left with me, along with the information that the family would arrive in Salt Lake City in three weeks—just two days before Christmas.

Sleep was slow in coming to me that night. The next morning was Sunday. In our ward welfare committee meeting, one of my counselors said, “Bishop, you look worried. Is something wrong?” I recounted to those present my experience of the night before, the details of the uninviting apartment. There were a few moments of silence. Then the group leader of the high priests said, “Bishop, did you say that apartment was inadequately lighted and that the kitchen appliances were in need of replacement?” I answered in the affirmative. He continued, “I am an electrical contractor. Would you permit the high priests of this ward to rewire that apartment? I would also like to invite my suppliers to contribute a new stove and a new refrigerator. Do I have your permission?” I answered with a glad “Certainly.”

Then the seventies president responded: “Bishop, as you know I’m in the carpet business. I would like to invite my suppliers to contribute some carpet, and the seventies can easily lay it and eliminate that worn linoleum.”

Then the president of the elders quorum spoke up. He was a painting contractor. He said, “I’ll furnish the paint. May the elders paint and wallpaper that apartment?”

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The condescension of God

It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes many terrible mistakes: yet, with all that, God Himself gloried in becoming a member of the human race. A member of the human race! To think that such a commonplace realization should suddenly seem like news that one holds the winning ticket in a cosmic sweepstake.

Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (1966)

Abandon a doubt, gain a truth; have the best Christmas ever

If we are to have the very best Christmas ever, we must listen for the sound of sandaled feet. We must reach out for the Carpenter’s hand. With every step we take in His footsteps, we abandon a doubt and gain a truth.

It was said of Jesus of Nazareth that He “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” Do we have the determination to do likewise? One line of holy writ contains a tribute to our Lord and Savior, of whom it was said, He “went about doing good … ; for God was with him.”

My prayer is that at this Christmas season and all the Christmastimes to come, we may follow in His footsteps. Then each Christmas will be the best Christmas ever.

Thomas S. Monson, “The Best Christmas Ever,” Liahona, Dec 2008, 2–6

"The Atonement is the central thing in the whole gospel system."

Elder Bruce R. McConkie gave a BYU Devotional at Christmas time in 1969 which was later printed in the New Era in 1984. In it he talked about the Atonement being “the central thing in the whole gospel system.” Here are selections of his talk, each prefaced by part of a verse from 3 Nephi 27.

I CAME INTO THE WORLD TO DO THE WILL OF MY FATHER
Christ elected, chose, and volunteered to come into the world and be born as God’s Son, undergo the mortal probation and ministry assigned him, and then climax it with the working out of the infinite and eternal atoning sacrifice.

AND MY FATHER SENT ME THAT I MIGHT BE LIFTED UP UPON THE CROSS
And by virtue of this atonement, all things pertaining to life and immortality, to existence, to glory and salvation, to honor and rewards hereafter, all things are given full force and efficacy and virtue.

THE WORKS WHICH YE HAVE SEEN ME DO THAT SHALL YE ALSO DO
We have the obligation accordingly, because of the light and knowledge that has been poured out upon us, to walk as becometh saints, to rise above the world, to overcome the world, to be living witnesses of the truth and the divinity of the work.

IF YE DO THESE THINGS BLESSED ARE YE, FOR YE SHALL BE LIFTED UP AT THE LAST DAY
Just as surely as we are, we shall reap for ourselves peace and joy and happiness in this life. We shall have the true spirit of Christmas at this season and at all seasons, and then in due course we shall go on to the fulness of the kingdom of our Father hereafter.

3 Nephi 27:13, 14, 21, 22
Elder Bruce R. McConkie, “Behold the Condescension of God,” New Era, Dec. 1984, 35.

Speak your love this Christmas

Howard W. Hunter“This Christmas, ‘Mend a quarrel. Seek out a forgotten friend. Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust. Write a letter. Give a soft answer. Encourage youth. Manifest your loyalty in word and deed. Keep a promise. Forgo a grudge. Forgive an enemy. Apologize. Try to understand. Examine your demands on others. Think first of someone else. Be kind. Be gentle. Laugh a little more. Express your gratitude. Welcome a stranger. Gladden the heart of a child. Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth. Speak your love and then speak it again.’”

(Adapted from an unknown author.) The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, ed. Clyde J. Williams [1997], 270–71).

A Christmas of 1862

“I remember the Christmas of 1862. All of us children hung up our stockings. We jumped up early in the morning to see what Santa had brought, but there was not a thing in them. Mother wept bitterly. She went to her box and got a little apple and cut it in little tiny pieces and that was our Christmas, but I have never forgotten to this day how I loved her dear little hands as she was cutting that apple.”

Hannah Daphne Smith Dalton, quoted by Gordon B. Hinckley, Conference Report, April 1959, p. 119