Few could tell a Christmas story like President Thomas Monson. This one from many years ago touched my heart recently, and especially during this time of growing hardness and anger in our day (trust me) is worth repeating here in its entirety:
On a cold winter’s night in 1951 there was a knock at my door, and a German brother from Ogden, announced himself and said, “Are you Bishop Monson?” I answered in the affirmative. He began to weep and said, “My brother and his wife and family are coming here from Germany. They are going to live in your ward. Will you come with us to see the apartment we have rented for them?” On the way to the apartment, he told me he had not seen his brother for many years.
I looked at the apartment. It was cold and dreary. The paint was peeling, the wallpaper soiled, the cupboards empty. A forty-watt bulb hanging from the living room ceiling revealed a linoleum floor with a large hole in the center. I was heartsick. I thought, “What a dismal welcome for a family which has endured so much.”
My thoughts were interrupted by the brother’s statement, “It isn’t much, but it’s better than they have in Germany.” With that, the key was left with me, along with the information that the family would arrive in Salt Lake City in three weeks—just two days before Christmas.
Sleep was slow in coming to me that night. The next morning was Sunday. In our ward [leadership] meeting, one of my counselors said, “Bishop, you look worried. Is something wrong?” I recounted to those present my experience of the night before, the details of the uninviting apartment. There were a few moments of silence.
Then the group leader of the high priests said, “Bishop, did you say that apartment was inadequately lighted and that the kitchen appliances were in need of replacement?” I answered in the affirmative. He continued, “I am an electrical contractor. Would you permit the high priests of this ward to rewire that apartment? I would also like to invite my suppliers to contribute a new stove and a new refrigerator. Do I have your permission?” I answered with a glad “Certainly.”
Then [another leader] responded: “Bishop, as you know I’m in the carpet business. I would like to invite my suppliers to contribute some carpet, and the seventies can easily lay it and eliminate that worn linoleum.”
Then the president of the Elder’s quorum spoke up. He was a painting contractor. He said, “I’ll furnish the paint. May the elders paint and wallpaper that apartment?”
The Relief Society president was next to speak: “We in the Relief Society cannot stand the thought of empty cupboards. May we fill them?”
The next three weeks are ever to be remembered. It seemed that the entire ward joined in the project. The days passed, and at the appointed time the family arrived from Germany. Again at my door stood the brother from Ogden. With an emotion-filled voice, he introduced to me his brother, wife, and their family. Then he asked, “Could we go visit the apartment?” As we walked up the staircase to the apartment, he repeated to them, “It isn’t much, but it’s more than they have had in Germany.” Little did he know what a transformation had taken place, that many who participated were inside waiting for our arrival.
The door opened to reveal a newness of life. We were greeted by the aroma of freshly painted woodwork and newly papered walls. Gone was the forty-watt bulb, along with the worn linoleum it had illuminated. We stepped on carpet deep and beautiful. A walk to the kitchen presented to our view a new stove and refrigerator. The cupboard doors were still open; however, they now revealed that every shelf was filled with food. The Relief Society, as usual, had done its work.
”I feel better inside than I have ever felt before. Can you tell me why?”
In the living room we began to sing Christmas hymns. We sang “Silent night! Holy night! All is calm; all is bright.” We sang in English; they sang in German. At the conclusion, the father, realizing that all of this was his, took me by the hand to express his thanks. His emotion was too great. He buried his head in my shoulder and repeated the words, “Mein Bruder, mein Bruder, mein Bruder.”
As we walked down the stairs and out into the night air, it was snowing. Not a word was spoken. Then a young girl asked, “Bishop, I feel better inside than I have ever felt before. Can you tell me why?” I responded with the words of the Master: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:40).
I am sure that many of my own neighbors would have done the same thing for that family. They would have gone to work, helped and cleaned, and gathered resources.
Why do I know this? Because I’ve seen them all do it, time and time again. I have been so touched, and so humbled to see the people in my own community serve and give so generously to those in need.
Our own Christmas transformation. Today I’d like to write a message that God has placed in my heart. A reminder that—in addition to being generous with our time and talents—we also need to be generous in our thoughts and feelings and judgments of others. It is often the people who have hurt or offended us, those who are different than we are, or those who are sometimes just difficult to love who most need our generosity. Yes, these are the people “in need” far more than we realize.
While Satan seeks to divide us, Christ seeks to unite us. He encourages us to love and forgive others—even those who have offended us.
If I were to rewrite the story of that German family, to talk about the emotional and spiritual work we could give, it might sound like this:
- Instead of rewiring that apartment, we could rewire our perspective on the people that have hurt or offended us—letting go of grudges.
- Instead of tearing out old carpet, we could purge our hearts and minds of anger and resentment.
- Instead of replacing old appliances, we could replace the old feelings with new feelings of forgiveness and cease to dwell on the offenses.
- Instead of new wall coverings, we could cover ourselves with the purifying, healing, restoring love of Jesus Christ.
- Instead of filling the cupboards, we could fill ourselves with Christ’s peace, which will sustain us.
Satan is working very hard to ensure that people are divided and quarreling and stirred up to anger.
President Nelson has repeatedly hearkened to similar motifs of renovation in our own homes and hearts, encouraging believers in 2018 to “diligently work to remodel your home into a center of gospel learning.” In early 2021, he encouraged those who follow Christ to identify debris in their lives and “remove it.” And most recently this year, he said with great urgency, “it is now time that we each implement extraordinary measures—perhaps measures we have never taken before—to strengthen our personal spiritual foundations. Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures.”
It is my prayer, this Christmas, that we can seek not just to give physical, temporal gifts, but to give the gifts of forgiveness, love, and compassion. Let us mend fences, let go of grudges, and heal old wounds. Now is the perfect time to pick up the phone, reach out a hand, or simply say ‘I’m sorry.”
And just as that old forsaken apartment was transformed beautifully, we too can be transformed. Our relationships can be transformed. Our families can be transformed.
Christmas is a time for giving …
Give to your enemy forgiveness,
To your opponent tolerance,
To your friend your heart,
To all men charity, for the hands that help
are holier than lips that pray,
To every child a good example,
and to yourself—respect.
All of us need to follow the example of the Savior in giving these kinds of gifts. From a poem by Christina Rossetti, we read the touching words:
What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would give Him a lamb,
If I were a Wise Man,
I would do my part,
But what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.
This Christmas, mend a quarrel. Seek out a forgotten friend. Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust. Write a letter. Give a soft answer. Encourage youth. Manifest your loyalty in word and deed. Keep a promise. Forgo a grudge. Forgive an enemy. Apologize. Try to understand. Examine your demands on others. Think first of someone else. Be kind. Be gentle. Laugh a little more. Express your gratitude. Welcome a stranger. Gladden the heart of a child. Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth. Speak your love and then speak it again.
He concludes, “Christmas is a celebration, and there is no celebration that compares with the realization of its true meaning—with the sudden stirring of the heart that has extended itself unselfishly in the things that matter most.”
Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate, endured all and forgave all. My prayer is that we may strive to follow his perfect example. May we allow his peace to fill our hearts this Christmas.
To watch President Nelson’s short message, click below: