With all of you, I rejoice in this wonderful holiday season. I am old enough to have enjoyed many Christmases. As I get older, I seem to enjoy these special holidays more each year. Perhaps this is because there are many more than just our own families to love and be loved by.
Among the Christmas experiences that are etched most sharply in my memory are the ones spent away from home and loved ones while serving in the mission field or in military service. Each Christmas when I was in the military in World War II, I wondered when the terrible suffering and agony of war would end and we could all go home. And as we sang, “Peace on earth, goodwill to men,”1 I wondered if the Germans and the Japanese who were Christians were also singing this familiar refrain with the same yearnings in their hearts. Then it all ended 59 years ago after the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan. Mankind had never before seen such destructive power. There was a concern in our hearts about the beast that had been unleashed.
I would like to recount a story told by Kenneth J. Brown, who was serving as a U.S. Marine in Japan following the dropping of the bomb. His moving story about a Japanese Christian he met at Christmastime in Nagasaki is as follows.
“I watched him turn from the street and climb the path leading to our shelter. He was groping, hesitating. As he came near he folded his umbrella and stood quietly a long moment. His thin coat soon dampened from the cold rain that was falling from the same sky that had brought death to nearly half his townspeople three short months before. I concluded that it must take some special courage to confront one’s conquerors without invitation. It was little wonder that he hesitated.
“His polite bow to me was no bow of submission. Rather his squared shoulders and lifted head let me feel as if I were looking up at him even … though I towered over him a foot or more. I recall being disturbed that I hadn’t yet become used to the near sightless eyes of those who had looked heavenward that morning when the bomb dropped. …
“… I respectfully asked if I could be of service. [In his clear English] he introduced himself as Professor Iida. …
“‘I am Christian,’ he said. ‘I am told this is the head minister’s office. Are you a Christian? It is good to talk with a follower of Christ; there are so few Christian Japanese.’
“I took him to the inner office of the division chaplain and waited while the two men conversed. Professor Iida stated his request briefly. He was a teacher of music in a Christian girls’ college until it was closed by imperial command. … He had been imprisoned because of his professed Christianity. After being released he had returned to Nagasaki and continued his music instruction in his home even though it was forbidden. He had been able to continue a small chorus and would be pleased if … they [could] sing a concert for the American Marines.
“‘We know something of your American Christmases,’ he said. ‘We should like to do something to make your Christmas in Japan more enjoyable.’
“I felt sure the chaplain would give a negative reply. Our unit was one of hardened fighters, four years away from home, who had fought the enemy from Saipan to Iwo Jima. … Yet there was something about the man that bespoke sincere desire to do a good deed so that … permission was granted. The concert would be Christmas Eve.
“The rains had stopped and a calm settled over the atomic bowl reminiscent of the calm that night long ago. The concert was well attended; there was nothing else to do. The theater … had been cleared of its fallen roof and men were sitting on the jagged walls. The usual momentary hush fell over the audience as the performers filed on stage. …
“The first thing we noticed was that they were singing in English and we became aware that they didn’t understand the words but had memorized them for our benefit. Professor Iida had taught his students well; they sang beautifully. We sat enthralled as if a choir from heaven were singing for us. … It was as if Christ were being born anew that night.
“The closing number was a solo, an aria from ‘The Messiah.’ The girl sang with all the conviction of one who knew that Jesus was indeed the Savior of mankind and it brought tears. After that there was a full minute of silence followed by sustained applause as the small group took bow after bow.
“Later that night I helped Professor Iida take down the trimmings. I could not resist asking some questions that propriety forbade but curiosity demanded. I just had to know.
“‘How did your group manage to survive the bomb?’ I asked.
“‘This is only half my group,’ he said softly, but seemed unoffended at my recalling his grief so that I felt I could ask more.
“‘And what of the families of these?’
“‘They nearly all lost one or more members. Some are orphans.’
“‘What about the soloist? She must have the soul of an angel the way she sang.’
“‘Her mother, two of her brothers were taken. Yes, she did sing well; I am so proud of her. She is my daughter.’ …
“The next day was Christmas, the one I remember best. For that day I knew that Christianity had not failed in spite of people’s unwillingness to live His teachings. I had seen hatred give way to service, pain to rejoicing, sorrow to forgiveness. This was possible because a babe had been born in a manger [and] later taught love of God and fellowmen. We had caused them the greatest grief and yet we were their Christian brothers and as such they were willing to forget their grief and unite with us in singing ‘Peace on earth, goodwill to all men.’
“The words of Miss Iida’s song testimony would not be stilled, ‘Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.’ They seemed to echo and re-echo over the half-dead city that day.
“That day also I knew that there was a greater power on earth than the atomic bomb.”2
That power has influenced for good the hosts of His followers on the earth for more than 2,000 years. It is the power in the knowledge that Jesus Christ is our Redeemer, our Savior, our Advocate with the Father, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, and the Prince of Peace. It is the power by which, through faith and obedience to His teachings, we can find joy and happiness, peace and comfort.
It is the priesthood power by which the world was created and the plan of salvation and happiness was put in place to bless our lives eternally if we are true to our covenants. It is the power that was magnified by His agony on the cross, bringing the single most important blessing to mankind. The greatest of all acts in all history was the atoning sacrifice of our Savior and Redeemer.
We remember that sacrifice at this time of year when we celebrate His birth. It is only through the atoning sacrifice of the Prince of Peace that we may know the true power of peace in our own lives.
After prayerfully considering this message, choose a teaching method that will encourage participation by family members. Following are some examples:
Display a picture of the Savior praying in Gethsemane, of the Crucifixion, or of the resurrected Lord showing the wounds in His hands (see Gospel Art Picture Kit 227, 230, or 234). Ask family members what great gift Jesus gave us through His Atonement. How can this gift give us peace?
Point out the professor’s example of forgiveness, and ask family members to consider whether there is anyone they need to forgive. Then ask family members to consider whether they might be in need of another’s forgiveness and what they might do to receive this forgiveness.
Ask family members to consider seeking out an individual or family to bless this Christmas—as Professor Iida did.