'To give of oneself is a holy gift,' prophet tells Christmas gathering

"Christmas is a celebration," President Howard W. Hunter said during the First Presidency Christmas Devotional Sunday evening, Dec. 4.

"And," he continued, "there is no celebration that compares with the realization of the true meaning of Christmas - with the sudden stirring of the heart that has extended itself unselfishly in the things that matter most."President Hunter and his counselors in the First Presidency, President Gordon B. Hinckley and President Thomas S. Monson, addressed the gathering, which filled the Tabernacle on Temple Square and overflowed into the nearby Assembly Hall.

Despite the briskness of the winter evening, a feeling of warmth pervaded the atmosphere as thousands listened to the members of the First Presidency speak about Christ's birth and ministry and relate heartwarming stories of compassion. The festivity of the occasion was enhanced by myriad Christmas lights ablaze on Temple Square and holiday decorations adorning the inside of the Tabernacle.

President Monson conducted the annual devotional, which was telecast live via the Church's satellite network to more than 3,000 meetinghouses in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica. The devotional was rebroadcast later

the same evening over KBYU-TV.

Performing Christmas music for the devotional was the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, with Jerold Ottley and Donald Ripplinger taking turns directing. John Longhurst accompanied on the organ. The congregation joined with the choir for three songs, including a stirring rendition of "Angels We Have Heard on High."

Elder David B. Haight of the Council of the Twelve offered the invocation. Janette C. Hales, Young Women general president, gave the benediction.

In his address, President Hunter, speaking from a podium adorned with white and red poinsettias, told the congregation: "We are all aware of the significance that a name or title can have in describing an important office. In foretelling the birth of Christ more than 700 years before it occurred, the prophet Isaiah used titles expressing great admiration: `Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father.' (Isa. 9:6.)

"Isaiah also used the titles Savior and Redeemer, expressing great faith in Christ and His mission. One of these titles that is of particular interest in our present world is Prince of Peace.' (Isa. 9:6.)Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end,' Isaiah declared. (v. 10.) What a thrilling hope for a war-weary, sin-laden world!"

President Hunter explained that Jesus Christ dedicated His life to blessing other people. "Never did the Savior give in expectation of receiving. He gave freely and lovingly, and His gifts were of inestimable value. He gave eyes to the blind, ears to the deaf and legs to the lame; cleanliness to the unclean, wholeness to the infirm and breath to the lifeless.

"His gifts were opportunity to the downtrodden, freedom to the oppressed, forgiveness to the repentant, hope to the despairing and light in the darkness. He gave us His love, His service and His life. And most important, He gave us and all mortals resurrection, salvation and eternal life.

"We should strive to give as He gave," President Hunter continued. "To give of oneself is a holy gift. We give as a remembrance of all the Savior has given. Christmas is a time for giving."

The prophet admonished: "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.

"A life filled with unselfish service will also be filled with peace that surpasses understanding. The Savior said: `Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled: neither let it be afraid.' (John 14:27.)

"This peace can come only through living the principles of the gospel. These principles constitute the program of the Prince of Peace, who is also the prince of glory and the prince of eternal progress. May we be ever faithful in observance of our Savior's teachings.

"I testify that as we follow the Savior with full purpose of heart, His promise to the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well will be fulfilled in our own lives: `Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.' (John 4:13-14.)

"May we find our spiritual thirst quenched by the living water of the Savior. May He become our focal point at this Christmas season, and always in the future. I testify that He lives today, the babe of Bethlehem - now the risen Lord. He and His Eternal Father love and care for each of us in a sacred and personal way."

President Hunter concluded, "As His special witness, I extend my love to you this evening and to all of our Heavenly Father's children wherever they may be."

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