Service -- a gift to Savior that lasts the year around

One can truly understand Christmas by simply using a little subtraction, President Thomas S. Monson said.

"If we want to know the real 'spirit of Christmas,' all we need to do is take off the last syllable of 'Christmas' and it becomes 'the spirit of Christ'" said President Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, at the Dec. 12 Salt Lake Utah (Tongan) Stake Christmas Fireside.Speaking to some 6,000 Salt Lake-area Polynesians squeezed into the Tabernacle on Temple Square, President Monson encouraged his audience to give the Savior a year-round Christmas gift.

"We can give love, true and genuine love, to Him. We can give service in His holy name. We can give lives of obedience to the teachings of the Lord," he said.

President Monson praised the Tongan members as "a special people blessed with musical talent, song, promising youth and faith." He told them to remember the words found in the Book of Mormon: " 'I, the Lord . . . remember those who are upon the isles of the sea.' " (2 Ne. 29:7.)

Following God's footsteps will lead to exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom, "but we must stay focused," President Monson emphasized.

He encouraged the congregation to remember that "precious Christmas of long ago" and Christ's special gift to the world. "He shall save His people from their sins," President Monson said, echoing the words of Samuel the Lamanite.

President Monson told of several cherished, personal memories of Tonga -- including historic visits to organize the island's first stake, dedicate several Tongan chapels and feast with faithful members.

"The Lord loves you," he said. "Your faith is real and He knows it."

President Monson recalled a time when Elder John H. Groberg of the Seventy was serving on a Church assignment in Tonga. Elder Groberg's son, John Enoch, was critically ill -- prompting members throughout the island to fast and pray for his health.

Elder Groberg's son recovered and is a stalwart today in the Church "largely because of the faith of the Tongan people," President Monson said.

"Let us determine to be better people," President Monson urged, "and remember the words of Paul, 'I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation.' "

Elder Groberg, former president of the mission in Tonga, also spoke at the fireside, offering most of his comments in Tongan.

"I hope all of us know that we truly have a friend in our Savior, Jesus Christ," Elder Groberg said. "He came to earth because he wanted to help us."

Seek to live a Christlike life, he added. People try to gather more means, better cars and more money, yet the Savior never knew wealth or fame, "and lived a perfect life," he said.

"All of us can spend our lives blessing and helping others."

Elder Cecil O. Samuelson, a member of the Seventy and president of the Utah North Area, called the gathering in the Tabernacle "a wonderful sight." He welcomed Church members and non-members alike to the fireside -- and the opportunity to "unitedly celebrate the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ."

Musical numbers flavored the evening, including several hymns sung by the Salt Lake Tongan Stake Choir, and selections by the Langi and Fie'eiki families and soloist Ta'u Pupu'a, who sang "O Holy Night."

Sister Sela Leolani Tulimafua of the Riverside 2nd Ward shared a Christmas poem.

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