President Thomas S. Monson said no other time of the year yields as many poignant memories as does Christmas.
"The Christmases we remember best generally have little to do with worldly goods, but a lot to do with families, with love and with compassion and caring," he declared in his address during the First Presidency Christmas Devotional Sunday evening, Dec. 6.
"This thought provides hope for those of us who fear that the simple meaning of the holiday is diluted by commercialism, or by opposition from those with differing religious views, or just by getting so caught up in the pressures of the season that we lose that special spirit we could otherwise experience.
"For many people, 'overdoing it' is especially common at this time of the year. We take on too much for the time and energy we have. Perhaps we don't have enough money to spend for those things we feel we must purchase. Often our efforts at Christmastime result in feeling stressed out, wrung out and worn out during a time when instead we should feel the simple joys of commemorating the birth of the Babe in Bethlehem."
He said that usually, however, the special spirit of the season somehow finds its way into people's hearts and lives despite the difficulties and distractions that occupy their time and energy.
By way of illustration, he spoke of an incident that occurred in December 1970, when an ice storm caused thousands of travelers to become stranded in the airport in Atlanta, Ga., as flights were delayed for many hours, lessening the chances for them to get wherever they most wanted to be for Christmas --— "most likely home."
The midnight hour had tolled and passengers clustered around the ticket counters, conferring with ticket agents.
"When an occasional plane managed to break out, more travelers stayed behind than made it aboard. The words 'standby,' 'reservation confirmed' and 'first class passenger' settled priorities and bespoke money, power, influence, foresight – or lack thereof."
President Monson said Gate 67 in Atlanta was a microcosm of the whole cavernous airport. Except for a few passengers traveling in pairs, there was little conversation. A salesman stared into space, a young mother cradled an infant in her arms and a man in a finely tailored gray flannel suit seemed impervious to the collective suffering. A person observing this busy man might have identified him as an Ebenezer Scrooge.
"Suddenly the relative silence was broken by a commotion. A young man in military uniform, no more than 19 years old, was in animated conversation with the desk agent. The boy held a low-priority ticket. He pleaded with the agent to help him get to New Orleans so that he could take the bus to the obscure Louisiana village he called home.
"The agent wearily told him the prospects were poor for the next 24 hours, maybe longer. The boy grew frantic. Immediately after Christmas his unit was to be sent to Vietnam – where at that time war was raging – and if he didn't make this flight, he might never again spend Christmas at home."
President Monson said the agent was clearly moved but could only offer sympathy – not hope.
Finally, the agent announced that the flight was ready for boarding. Travelers, who had been waiting hours, shuffled onto the plane until there were no more seats. The agent turned to the frantic soldier and shrugged.
"Inexplicably the businessman had lingered behind. Now he stepped forward. 'I have a confirmed ticket,' he quietly told the agent. 'I'd like to give my seat to this young man.' The agent stared incredulously, then he motioned to the soldier. Unable to speak, tears streaming down his face, the boy in olive drab shook hands with the man in the gray flannel suit, who simply murmured, 'Good luck. Have a fine Christmas. Good luck.' "
President Monson said no more than a few among the thousands stranded at the Atlanta airport witnessed the drama at Gate 67. "But for those who did, the sullenness, the frustration, the hostility, all dissolved into a glow. That act of love and kindness between strangers had brought the spirit of Christmas into their hearts." (Taken from "Drama at Gate 67," by Ray Jenkins.)
President Monson added, "My brothers and sisters, finding the real joy of the season comes not in the hurrying and the scurrying to get more done or in the purchasing of obligatory gifts. Real joy comes as we show the love and compassion inspired by the Savior of the World, who said, 'Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto me' (Matthew 25:40).
"At this joyous season, may personal discords be forgotten and animosities healed. May enjoyment of the season include remembrance of the needy and afflicted. May our forgiveness reach out to those who have wronged us, even as we hope to be forgiven. May goodness abound in our hearts and love prevail in our homes.
"As we contemplate how we're going to spend our money to buy gifts this holiday season, let us plan also for how we will spend our time in order to help bring the true spirit of Christmas into the lives of others.
"The Savior gave freely to all, and His gifts were of value beyond measure. Throughout His ministry, He blessed the sick, restored sight to the blind, made the deaf to hear and the halt and lame to walk. He gave cleanliness to the unclean. He restored breath to the lifeless. He gave hope to the despairing and bestowed light in the darkness.
"He gave His love, His service and His life.
"What is the spirit we feel at Christmastime? It is His spirit – the spirit of Christ."