Sharing joyful memories of Christmases he experienced in the lean years during his boyhood in Germany, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf encouraged “greater generosity and increasing love” as he spoke at the annual First Presidency’s Christmas Devotional Sunday evening, Dec. 3.
Elder Kevin R. Duncan, General Authority Seventy, and Sister Cristina B. Franco, second counselor in the Primary General Presidency, also spoke at the devotional, which was broadcast from the Conference Center. President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency, conducted the devotional.
The meeting included several Christmas selections performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square.
President Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, said Christmases during his early childhood almost never included a “picture-perfect winter,” but instead were marked by foggy skies, slushy snow or even rain.
“Nevertheless, on Christmas Eve, my mother would bundle us up in warm winter clothing, and our father would walk with us through the streets of our town,” he recollected.
“We children knew the real reason for this annual walk — Mother needed time to decorate the Christmas tree, put the gifts under the tree and prepare our living room for the Holy Night. We tried every trick to make this walk as short as possible. But our father was extremely creative in adding another loop or one more turn to give Mother the needed time.”
The streets of Zwickau, East Germany, he said, were quite dark in the evenings, this being just after World War II. But the Uctdorf children enjoyed one part of the walk a lot: a stop at the cathedral in midtown, where Christmas music was played on a majestic organ.
“Somehow, this music made the humble lights of our city appear suddenly so much brighter — almost like sparkling stars — and filled our young hearts with a wonderful spirit of anticipation,” he said.
He described the pleasure of returning home to behold the freshly decorated Tannenbaum, and the thrill of exchanging presents, often homemade. “One year when I was very young, my present to my brother was a picture of him I had drawn. I was very proud of my masterpiece. And he was very kind and gracious in his words of gratitude and praise.”
Christmas traditions around the world are beautiful and remarkable — and very different he observed. “But they all have a common feeling, a common spirit that always seems to be present when we celebrate the birth of Christ the King; our Comforter and Confidence; the Consolation of Israel!”
Though many words, he said, might be used to describe the Christmas spirit, to him the one word that best describes it is love. “Touched by that love, hearts soften. We feel a tenderness that causes us to reach out to others in kindness and compassion. Christmas inspires us to love better.”
He acknowledged that in English as in many other languages, the word love has many meanings. He clarified that the love he spoke of is more profound, a divine love that “transcends differences in personality, culture or creed.”
“It refuses to allow bias or prejudice to stand in the way of imparting comfort, compassion and understanding,” he said. “It is completely devoid of bullying, discrimination or arrogance. This is the kind of love we strive for. It should be our defining characteristic as a people.”
He related the story of a Salt Lake City commissioner who, while inspecting roads during a winter storm, spotted a boy with no coat, gloves or boots. In the warmth of his car, he asked the boy about his family circumstances, and learned they would have no Christmas because the father had died three months earlier. The commissioner happened to be a stake president, and he saw to it that the family was provided for at Christmas. The stake president was Harold B. Lee, who 40 years later became a Church president.
“My family also lived in very modest circumstances at times,” President Uchtdorf said, describing their condition as refugees in West Germany living in a rented attic in an old farm building. “I still remember those days with both heartache and joy. My parents did the best they could to provide for us, and we knew they loved us. Yes, these were times of great need, but I consider them happy times, because I could feel the love we had for each other, for the Lord and for His Church.”
He said there is no shame in being poor, noting that the Savior of the world was born in a stable and laid in a manger and that His family shortly became refugees fleeing to Egypt to seek protection from the murderous Herod.
“During His public ministry, Jesus walked among the broken, the hungry and the sick,” he said. “His days were filled with ministering to them.”
President Uchtdorf recited a portion of a poem, “Scatter Your Crumbs,” written by Alfred Crowquill. It tells of a robin who comes in the freezing sleet and snow. The poem enjoins, “In pity drive him not away, But scatter out your crumbs.”
“Regardless of our position in life, every one of us is a timid robin — a beggar — before God,” President Uchtdorf said. “Even if all we have is a handful of crumbs, we gladly share them with those in need as an expression of our gratitude for the spiritual feast God has prepared for us.”
He concluded, “May the contemplation of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem inspire us to be more like Him. May Christ’s mission and example cause our hearts to swell with divine love for God and deep compassion for our fellowmen. And may we ever scatter our crumbs with greater generosity and unceasing love.”
Under the direction of Mack Wilberg and Ryan Murphy, with Clay Christansen at the organ, the choir and orchestra performed “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing,” “What Shall We Give?” “Glory to God,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “Silent Night” with the congregation joining in on the third verse.
Sister Reyna Isabel Aburto, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, gave the opening prayer, and Brother Brian K. Ashton, second counselor in the Sunday School general presidency, gave the closing prayer.