Christmas is a thousand things to as many people. But if there is a common denominator, perhaps it is this: Christmas is love, declared President Thomas S. Monson.
"To catch the real meaning of the Spirit of Christmas," said President Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, "we need only drop the last syllable, and it becomes the Spirit of Christ."
Speaking during the annual First Presidency Christmas Devotional Dec. 5, President Monson said that "with the birth of the Babe in Bethlehem, there emerged a great endowment, a power stronger than weapons, a wealth more lasting than the coins of Caesar."
President Monson continued, "At this blessed season of the year, as we follow in the Savior's footsteps, we, too, will have an opportunity to bless the lives of others."
He recounted the experience of Lee W. Maloy, who, in 1944, served as a United States Merchant Marine during World War II. On Christmas Eve, his ship was approaching the Straits of Gibraltar, bound for the North Atlantic, then the United States and home.
On that stormy night, with the sea covered in white caps, it was almost impossible to see the white plume that flowed behind a submarine's periscope.
Understandably, said President Monson, the men were thinking of home and Christmas.
Yet, the events that transpired next seemed to happen in an instant. Lee and others saw the plume of a periscope appear off the port side and knew the submarine couldn't be more than 100 yards away.
"There was no time to ready themselves for a fight or to protect themselves in any way," President Monson said. "The submarine was already on them, rising up out of that choppy sea. The enemy had them, without question. They awaited their doom.
"Lee reported that he would never forget what happened next," President Monson continued.
There was a flashing light as "Merry Christmas" was spelled in Morse code. Then it was over. Just as quickly as the U-boat had appeared, it sank back into the blackness of the sea and was gone.
"They all stood transfixed. . . . The spirit of love had prevailed the spirit of Christmas, the spirit of Christ," said President Monson.
Let Christmas be a time of forgetting self and finding time for others, he continued. "Let it be a time of peace because we have found peace in His teachings."