First Presidency Celebrates Christmas Season

Jesus Christ’s “has been the grandest of all gifts,” emphasized President Gordon B. Hinckley at the First Presidency Christmas Devotional held in the Conference Center on 1 December 2002. “He is our King of kings. He is our Lord of lords. He is the Son of God incarnate.”

The audience of more than 20,000 people joined other congregations in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central and South America who participated in the live broadcast through the Internet, local television stations, and the Church satellite system. Translated into 31 languages, the devotional was rebroadcast in Brazil, Europe, South Africa, Asia, and the Pacific a week later.

“Tonight, all together, we speak many tongues, but our voices are as one as we pay homage to our King, the Lord Immanuel,” President Hinckley declared.

Just as the star described by Matthew symbolizes Christmas, President Hinckley said, the ever-constant North Star is “as the God of heaven Himself, fixed and immovable, certain, sure, unchanging.”

“I have reflected much on this,” stated President Hinckley. “The heavens tell … the vastness of the universe over which He presides. And yet His great concern is with His children … of whom we are a few who worship together tonight.”

As members of the Church of Jesus Christ, President Hinckley declared, everything we do is “in His holy name and in tribute to Him,” and we pay “homage to Him by the goodness of our lives and the outreach of our service.”

President Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor in the First Presidency, urged listeners to “keep Christmas” by taking opportunities to serve. He learned that lesson as a boy when, after losing a drawing for a pony, he found Christmas joy by giving two nickels, which represented all he had, to a charity.

President Monson asked: “Are you willing to forget what you have done for other people and to remember what other people have done for you, … to look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness? … Then you can keep Christmas!”

“Christmas is many things,” said President James E. Faust, Second Counselor in the First Presidency. “It is a time when we have a joyful uplift. … It is a time to be our generous selves. It is a time when we push back for a short time our concerns and challenges and turn off unpleasantness.”

President Faust closed by urging all to “take the time … to do the kind deed … [that] can mean so much to those who may need a little lift in their lives.”

“People were anxious to come hear the prophet,” observed Sister Bonnie Allred, a Church-service missionary who ushered guests to their seats. Sam Castor from Provo, Utah, agreed. “Sometimes it seems there’s not much new to say about Christmas, but the Spirit was so sweet when President Hinckley talked about Jesus Christ.”

[photo] Testimonies of the Savior; music by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square; and evergreens, poinsettias, and lights filled the Conference Center during the First Presidency Christmas Devotional. (Photograph by Keith Johnson, Church News.)

[photo] “His has been the grandest of all gifts. He is our King of kings,” testified President Gordon B. Hinckley at the First Presidency Christmas Devotional. (Photograph by Keith Johnson, Church News.)

Church and World Leaders Speak at Lighting of D.C. Temple Grounds

It was a scene unimaginable a few years ago when Ukraine was part of the communist Soviet Union and had no freedom of religion—and no missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

But a Ukrainian diplomat told ambassadors from 45 countries at a Christmas lighting ceremony on 4 December 2002 at the Washington D.C. Temple that his country’s future hinges on restored freedom. He even openly hoped for a temple in Kiev—announced by the Church in 1998 but not yet under construction—to be built soon.

“I believe that a Mormon temple will soon be built in Kiev, and there will be even more opportunities of ensuring one of the fundamental human rights: freedom of conscience,” said Volodymyr Yatsenkivskyi, deputy chief of mission for the Ukraine embassy.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and other local and area Church leaders welcomed Mr. Yatsenkivskyi and more than 700 invited guests at the temple’s 25th annual Festival of Lights.

Mr. Yatsenkivskyi was a last-minute replacement speaker for Ukraine ambassador Kostyantyn Gryshchenko, who planned to help switch on the 300,000 Christmas lights on the temple grounds but had to return to Ukraine.

Mr. Yatsenkivskyi was an especially appropriate replacement since in a previous job as a professor he helped teach Russian to the first LDS missionaries sent to Ukraine. “It was a tremendous opportunity to meet very nice, spiritual people,” he said.

He compared the illumination and excitement evoked by the temple’s Christmas lights to the greater light that restored freedom has brought to his country. “Freedom opens [to] every nation the way to reach God and love,” Mr. Yatsenkivskyi said. “We are looking for light. … Light is life.”

Elder Maxwell also addressed the congregation. He told ambassadors that God, who created a universe of unimaginable wonders, still places His highest value on each person.

Elder Maxwell showed pictures from the Hubble space telescope to help illustrate the vastness of space and demonstrate how millions of galaxies exist, each containing billions of stars similar to the sun and millions of earthlike planets.

“It should fill us with reverence and awe, especially those of us who may think that we—or what we do—are the center of the universe,” he said, receiving laughs from diplomats.

But “we are at the center of what He is doing,” Elder Maxwell told the crowd. “He has told us in the scriptures it is His work and His glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. We can’t even number His creations. He can. And He desires us to be happy.”

Elder Maxwell added: “Long ago when a special child lay in a manger, a special star appeared. It didn’t just show up that evening. It had to have been placed in its orbit centuries before in a trajectory that would make it appear at that special moment of time to announce the birth of a special child.”

He said, “Just as there is divine design in the universe, so each of us has been placed in our own orbits in this life to love, to serve, to help light the world.”

[photo] The Washington D.C. Temple shines amidst Christmas lights. Church and world leaders gathered for the lighting ceremony in December. (Photograph by R. Cole Goodwin, Church News.)

From Deseret News, 5 Dec. 2002. Reprinted with permission.

Walter Cronkite Joins Tabernacle Choir for Christmas Celebration

Walter Cronkite has fond memories of sitting with his parents around their radio listening to Music and the Spoken Word. It is a program he has respected throughout his life. So when the Mormon Tabernacle Choir staff called his office to invite him to join them for their Christmas concert, Mr. Cronkite was a little excited.

“They called my office and talked to my chief of staff, Marlene Adler. She excitedly called me on the phone and said, ‘Guess what!’” recalled Mr. Cronkite. There were some scheduling conflicts, he said, “but we got that settled pretty darn quickly by canceling everything else.”

On 14–15 December 2002, Mr. Cronkite—a veteran journalist who was once voted “the most trusted man in America”—was the special guest at the annual Christmas concert of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square.

“This is a thrill in a thrill-filled life,” Mr. Cronkite told the audience, which greeted him with a standing ovation. “I can’t tell you the goose pimples that run up my spine to stand in front of this choir.” And reflecting on his parents who introduced him to Music and the Spoken Word, he added, “I’d like to think tonight they are incredibly proud that Little Walter ended up in front of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.”

Set amongst flocked evergreens with twinkling lights, the choir and orchestra presented an evening of music and narration. The music included selections from traditional carols to modern favorites. Audience members held their breath for the delicate rendition of “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly” and nearly leaped to their feet when a bell choir joined for “I Saw Three Ships.”

The program concluded with an emotional tale of Christmas 1914, narrated by Mr. Cronkite. Europe was embroiled in World War I, and soldiers had dug in for battle. But on Christmas that year, the spirit and music of Christmas brought enemies out of the trenches, and soldiers stood side by side as brothers, singing the carols of their homelands to one another. As Christmas Day ended, the troops returned to their trenches, and the sweet strains of “Silent Night” wafted across the battlefield as night fell around them.

The choir gently sang “Silent Night” as performers respectfully reenacted scenes from the story and photographs of soldiers flashed on auditorium screens.

“It said a lot about human beings,” commented Mr. Cronkite of the text written by Steve Walkerly at Bonneville Communications. “It ought to awaken people here at Christmastime to the horror of men [at war], who otherwise should be of goodwill.”

The program concluded with a standing ovation and an encore chorus of “Angels from the Realms of Glory.”

While in town, Mr. Cronkite also joined the Tabernacle Choir for its weekly broadcast of Music and the Spoken Word, about to enter its 75th year.

[photo] Walter Cronkite shares memories of listening to Music and the Spoken Word as a child. Mr. Cronkite was a special guest for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s annual Christmas concert. (Photograph by Craig Dimond.)

[photo] The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square presented an evening of music and narration to celebrate the Christmas season. (Photograph by Craig Dimond.)

Adoption Commercial Receives National Award

An LDS Family Services television commercial promoting adoption was honored with a 2002 Gabriel Award on 19 October in Los Angeles, California. The public service announcement, written and produced by Bonneville Communications, depicts a conversation between a birth mother and her child’s future adoptive parents. The spot concludes with the sentiment, “I wasn’t giving my baby up; I was giving her more.”

Created in 1965, the Gabriel Award is sponsored by Unda-USA—the National Catholic Association for Communicators—and is designed to honor excellence in broadcasting that “uplifts and nourishes the human spirit.”

“This particular award and what it represents are a great honor,” says Fred Riley, commissioner of LDS Family Services. Only one public service announcement receives the award each year.

This commercial is part of an effort by LDS Family Services to promote adoption as a loving option and to recognize the birth parent who selflessly and courageously chooses adoption.

LDS Family Services has won 16 national awards for this public service campaign since the campaign began in 2000. Bonneville Communications has won seven other Gabriel Awards for the Home Front commercials and the short feature Together Forever.

[photo] In a Family Services public service announcement, a birth mother meets with prospective adoptive parents. The commercial was recognized with a Gabriel Award for nourishing “the human spirit.”


Our New Look

From the Editors:

Many readers have wondered about the change in the format of Church magazines beginning with the January 2003 issue. The change reflects an effort to better serve readers throughout the world.

The changes in design allow Church magazines to bring the same spiritually uplifting material to readers in 51 different languages at the same time. In past years, the Liahona, Ensign, New Era, and Friend were published on separate editorial schedules. For instance, while the conference edition of the Ensign was published a month after conference, members who speak languages other than English had to wait three months to receive the general conference Liahona. Articles in other issues of the English magazines were also published in a different month in the Liahona.

Beginning in January, all articles in the Liahona—which serves adults, youth, and children—are published concurrently in the Ensign, New Era, and Friend, respectively. This change allows all readers of Church magazines to receive them at the same time. In addition, this past October, translation and production processes were streamlined so readers of the Ensign and Liahona worldwide received the same conference issue in November, regardless of the language. The general conference magazines will continue to be published concurrently.

“It is a blessing for members, and for the Church in general, that readers who speak many different languages now receive the words of the latter-day prophets all in the same month,” explained Elder Dennis B. Neuenschwander of the Presidency of the Seventy, editor of Church magazines.

The change in format of the magazines was necessary to accommodate the varying length of the text as it is translated into different languages. That text gain might be small in some languages—Spanish or Italian, for example—and quite large in others, notably Tongan and Finnish. Pages of the English-language magazines are now designed with extra white space between lines and surrounding text on the page. This makes it possible to accommodate all 51 languages while keeping the same page layouts for every language. The typeface was also standardized to help with efficiency in production.

About That New Format …

Please change the format/layout of the Ensign back to what it has been in the past. I find the wide margins at the tops of the pages, the titles of the articles in extra large fonts, and especially the double-spacing between lines to be quite distracting—as if we are now reading a children’s book instead of a magazine for adults. The fonts used on the cover of the magazine are not as attractive as they were previously.

I have always found the artwork in the Ensign to be tasteful and beautiful. Recently, however, it seems excessive and more like a picture book. My husband and I love reading the words of our leaders and have always found the Ensign to be an inspiration, but please return to the tasteful format used previously. Becky Fowkes Knoxville, Tennessee

Thanks for the Lift

I have so enjoyed the January 2003 issue of the Ensign. How beautiful it is! I love its new look.

The article “Two People Building for Eternity” touched my heart. I have a disability that prevents me from walking well. I do not have an eternal companion, but the words of the Hiatt family have given me hope that someday it will come to pass if I have faith and keep my thoughts positive and trust the Lord. Marie W. Stealey Paradise, California

Touching Painting

Thanks so much for showing the picture of Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus on page 2 of the December Ensign. That painting by Walter Rane is new to me, and it is so wonderfully natural. As I looked at that picture and pondered the significance of the scene, I was brought to tears—tears of gratitude not only for what Mary and Joseph endured but also for the tremendous gift Jesus gave. Being a mother and a grandmother myself, I tearfully reflected on the birth process and what Mary went through for us. I am really grateful for the tenderness expressed in the painting. Barbara Ashley Marysville, Washington

A Cloud of Witnesses

As I was sitting in the dentist’s chair waiting for the shots to deaden my mouth, I started reading “A Cloud of Witnesses” in the December 2002 Ensign. It gave account after account of testimonies of Christ. As I read, the witness came to me strongly that these accounts were true, and tears started running down my cheeks. The Spirit can testify to us in the most unusual places—even in a dentist’s chair. Nancy Goddard Little Rock, Arkansas

Family History: Changes Announced regarding Submissions to Ancestral File

In anticipation of a new system that will better handle family history data, the Family and Church History Department asks members to hold their corrections for FamilySearch™ Ancestral File until the new system is in place.

In the interim, new family history information should be submitted to the Pedigree Resource File. Submissions will not be accepted for Ancestral File.

Information in the Pedigree Resource File, Ancestral File, and unprocessed submissions and corrections to Ancestral File will be incorporated into the new system when it is launched.