Church Leaders Share Messages of Christ During Devotional
Contributed By By Marianne Holman, Church News staff writer
Thousands of guests filled the Conference Center on December 8 to hear the words of the prophet and other Church leaders during the annual Christmas devotional, formally known as the First Presidency Christmas Devotional. Although the name and program for the annual event has changed slightly, the messages of Christmas from Church leaders and music performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square remained the same.
The speakers this year included President Thomas S. Monson, Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Presidency of the Seventy, and Sister Rosemary M. Wixom, Primary general president.
President Monson, who was joined by his counselors in the First Presidency, President Henry B. Eyring and President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, greeted guests and spoke of the joy it was for him to be gathered with others to celebrate, through word and song, the birth of the Savior and Redeemer—even Jesus Christ, the Lord.
“Christmas is a glorious season of the year,” he said. “It is also a busy time for most of us. It is my hope and prayer that we may not become so caught up in the pressures of the season that we place our emphasis on the wrong things and miss the simple joys of commemorating the birth of the Holy One of Bethlehem.”
He said that finding the real joy of Christmas comes not in the hurrying and the scurrying to get more done; rather, individuals find the real joy of Christmas as they make the Savior the focus of the season.
“Born in a stable, cradled in a manger, He came forth from heaven to live on earth as mortal man and to establish the kingdom of God,” President Monson said. “His glorious gospel reshaped the thinking of the world. He lived for us, and He died for us. What can we, in return, give to Him?”
The celebration of Christmas should be a reflection of the love and selflessness taught by the Savior, he said.
“Giving, not getting, brings to full bloom the Christmas spirit. We feel more kindly one to another. We reach out in love to help those less fortunate. Our hearts are softened. Enemies are forgiven, friends remembered, and God obeyed. The spirit of Christmas illuminates the picture window of the soul, and we look out upon the world’s busy life and become more interested in people than in things.”
To catch the real meaning of the spirit of Christmas, individuals need only drop the last syllable of the word, and it becomes the Spirit of Christ.
“May we give as the Savior gave,” said President Monson. “To give of oneself is a holy gift. We give as a remembrance of all the Savior has given. May we also give gifts that have eternal value, along with our gifts that eventually break or are forgotten. How much better the world would be if we all gave gifts of understanding and compassion, of service and friendship, of kindness and gentleness.”
Elder Nelson spoke of the peace that comes to all who earnestly seek the Prince of Peace.
“Focusing on the Lord and everlasting life can help us not only at Christmas, but through all the challenges of mortality,” he said.
As personal challenges come and often bring worry—as a father losing his job, a young mother learning of a grave illness, a son or daughter who has gone astray—individuals yearn for inner peace.
“My message tonight pertains to the only source of true and lasting peace, Jesus the Christ—our Prince of Peace,” he said. “This title He bore in addition to others for which He was foreordained.
As the great Exemplar, Jesus taught how to live, to love, and to learn. He taught how to pray, forgive, and endure to the end.
“He taught us how to care about others more than we care about ourselves,” Elder Nelson said. “He taught us about mercy and kindness—making real changes in our lives through His power. He taught us how to find peace of heart and mind.”
Peace can come to all who follow the Savior’s invitation to “Come, follow me,” as they choose to walk in the ways of the Master, he said.
After reading portions of the account of the Savior’s birth from Isaiah in the Old Testament, Luke in the New Testament, and King Benjamin’s and the prophet Nephi’s accounts in the Book of Mormon, Elder Rasband shared his personal witness of the birth of the Savior.
“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,” he said. “The shepherds reverently approached the stable to worship the King of kings. How will we worship Him this season?”
After sharing experiences of early pioneers who were able to have a wonderful Christmas despite difficult circumstances, Elder Rasband said that whenever someone acts in concert with the Lord by lifting those around them, they are bearing witness that He lives and that He loves all, no matter their temporal challenges.
Sister Rosemary M. Wixom spoke of the magic children bring to the Christmas season.
“We miss something if we don’t see Christmas through a child’s eyes, for children see the light, they hear the music, and they smell the fragrance of Christmas trees and candy canes with real anticipation,” she said.
Sister Wixom shared an experience of a Cub Scout leader in Gilbert, Arizona, who took the opportunity to teach a group of energetic eight-year-old boys about the birth of Jesus. One boy in particular listened to the story intently and kept asking, “What happened next?”
The question “What happened next?” has a real Christmas meaning, said Sister Wixom.
“After the season is over, the Christmas lights come down, the fragrance of pine dissipates into the air, and the Christmas music no longer plays on the radio, we, like [the young boy], may ask, ‘What happens next?’
“The wonder and awe of Christmas is just a beginning. Christmas reminds us that the babe born in Bethlehem has given us purpose for living, and what happens next to us largely depends on how we embrace our Savior, Jesus Christ, and follow Him. … Through childlike faith we seek Him and we feel His influence.”
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing during the 2013 Christmas Devotional at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City,
Sunday, December 8, 2013. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.