Merry Christmas, my dear brothers and sisters. I express appreciation to the First Presidency for this special opportunity to share my feelings about the sacred Christmas season and the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
I never tire of the messages of Christmas that began with the birth of the baby Jesus in Bethlehem in Judea.
Isaiah spoke of the event more than 700 years earlier: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”1
The prophet Nephi heard a voice saying, “On the morrow come I into the world.”3
The next day, oceans away, the Christ child was born. No question His mother, Mary, looked on in wonder at her newborn son, the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh.
On the hills of Judea surrounding Bethlehem, Luke tells us shepherds were abiding in their fields.4 These were not common shepherds but “just and holy men” who would bear witness of the Christ child.5
“And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. …
“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”6
Imagine that scene in Judea—the sky filled with the brilliance of a magnificent star and choruses from heaven marking this singular event. The shepherds then went “with haste”7 to see the babe lying in a manger. And later they “made known abroad”8 what they had seen.
Each year at Christmas we add our witness to that of the shepherds that Jesus Christ, the literal Son of the living God, came to a corner of the earth in what we call the Holy Land.
The shepherds reverently approached the stable to worship the King of kings. How will we worship Him this season? Endlessly shopping? Hustling about and adorning our homes? Will that be our tribute to our Savior? Or will we bring peace to troubled hearts, good will to those in need of higher purpose, glory to God in our willingness to do His bidding? Jesus put it simply: “Come, [and] follow me.”9
The gospel of Jesus Christ, restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith, has resonated with believers across the world. I have witnessed for myself the fervor of those who have embraced His sacred word from the isles of the sea to the enormity of Russia.
Some of our ancestors were among the early Saints who gathered to Zion. One woman, Hannah Last Cornaby, settled in Spanish Fork, Utah. In those difficult times Christmas was sometimes marked with a precious orange or a carved toy, or perhaps only a rag doll—but not always. Hannah wrote of December 25, 1856:
“Christmas Eve came and my darlings, with childish faith, hung up their stockings, wondering if [they] would [be filled]. With aching heart, which I concealed from them, I assured them they would not be forgotten; and they fell asleep with joyful anticipation for the morning.
“Not having a particle of sweetening, I knew not what to do. They must not, however, be disappointed. I then thought of some squash in the house which I boiled and then strained off the liquid, that, when simmered a few hours, made a sweet syrup. With this, and a little spice, I made gingerbread dough, which, when cut into every conceivable variety of design, and baked in a skillet (for I had no stove), filled their stockings and pleased them as much as would the most fancy confections.”10
In between the lines of this story is an account of a mother working through the night with not even a stove to ease her efforts. Yet she was committed to bring joy to her children, to reinforce their faith, to affirm in their home, “Happy day! All is well!”11 Isn’t this the message of Christmas?
President Monson teaches: “Our opportunities to give of ourselves are indeed limitless, but they are also perishable. There are hearts to gladden. There are kind words to say. There are gifts to be given.”12
Whenever we act in concert with the Lord—doing His bidding, lifting those around us—we are bearing witness that He lives and that He loves us, no matter our temporal challenges.
Another great soul in the history of the Church is Scottish convert John Menzies Macfarlane. He joined the Church with his widowed mother and brother, and the three of them journeyed to Salt Lake in 1852. He was 18 years old. Over the years, he became a surveyor, builder, even a district judge, but it was his music that distinguished him.
He organized his first choir in Cedar City and took his ensemble around southern Utah. After a performance in St. George, Elder Erastus Snow, an Apostle and leader of the colony, encouraged him to move to the southern Utah community and bring his family and music with him.
Times had been very hard in 1869, and Elder Snow asked Brother Macfarlane to stage a Christmas program that would lift the people’s spirits. Brother Macfarlane wanted a new and engaging musical piece for the event. No matter how hard he tried to compose, nothing came. He prayed for inspiration and prayed again. Then, one night, he woke his wife and exclaimed, “I have the words for a song, and I think I have the music too!” He hurried to the keyboard of their small parlor organ and played the tune, writing it down while his wife held before him the flickering light of a bit of flannel floating in a bowl of grease. The words and music flowed forth:
Far, far away on Judea’s plains,
Shepherds of old heard the joyous strains:
Glory to God,
Glory to God,
Glory to God in the highest;
Peace on earth, goodwill to men;
Peace on earth, goodwill to men!13
Brother Macfarlane had never been to Judea to see that the plains were more like rocky hillsides, but the inspired message of his music poured from his soul as a witness of the Savior’s birth in Bethlehem of Judea, a beginning that would change the world forever.14
I bear my witness that our Eternal Father lives. His plan of happiness profoundly blesses the lives of each of His children in all generations. I know that His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, the babe born in Bethlehem, is the Savior and Redeemer of the world and that dear President Thomas S. Monson is His prophet on the earth today. These words of praise speak truth in my ears: “Glory to God in the highest; peace on earth, good will to men.”15
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.