In 1974, when my wife, Jane, and I were 16, we were in the same seminary class. About a month before Christmas, we found out that our teacher was having some financial challenges. We wanted to do something to help, so as a class we counseled together and determined to gather food, clothing and gifts to make sure his family had a good Christmas.
When Jane told her family about our plan, her mother was deeply touched. Together they searched their house for things they could donate. Her mother went to the freezer, pulled out a big turkey, and said, “They can’t have Christmas without a turkey dinner.”
To this day, Jane remembers how touched she was by her mother’s generosity. She had 10 children of her own, but she wanted to share what she had to help this good brother and his family.
Before making our delivery, we said a prayer of gratitude for the wonderful opportunity to give to others.
I will never forget seeing our seminary teacher and his wife when they answered the door, their children gathered around them as we handed out the gifts. It was a cold night, but we all felt warm inside.
The theme for the youth that year was Mosiah 2:17: “When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.” Every time I read that verse, I think about our seminary class and the Christmas of 1974.
Last month while I was in a presidency meeting in the Church Office Building, my secretary informed me that my seminary teacher from high school had called. He and his wife were now Church-service missionaries working at Church headquarters.
“He is wondering if you have a few minutes to visit with him,” she explained, adding, “He’s sitting in your office right now!”
I left my meeting and hurried to my office. My seminary teacher and I embraced and began to catch up on the last 42 years. He told me he still remembers that cold winter night when we brought the warmth of Christmas to his family. The food and gifts were certainly appreciated, but what warmed his heart that night was to see a group of teenagers who understood the Christmas spirit.
Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us that our fondest Christmas memories are almost always about a gift we gave or a person we served, rather than something we received. After all, we are celebrating the birth of He who “came not to be ministered unto, but to minister” (Mark 10:45) and who said, “Whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:25). In a way, our sincere and heartfelt gifts are a humble echo of God’s matchless gift to each of us — the gift of His Son, who gave His life that we might live.