One of the things we can give at Christmas time, that no one else can give, is our thanks. I would like to express my thanks to just a few of those who are so deserving.
I give thanks to my wonderful wife and our family for their constant support which I have always had over the years.
I am grateful for my loyal, able, and noble counselors; for the Twelve Apostles, for the Patriarch, for the First Quorum of the Seventy, who serve as special witnesses of the Savior of the world. My thanks, too, to the Presiding Bishopric who minister to the poor and needy as a part of their special temporal stewardship.
I am grateful for the members of the Church, and I give my thanks to them for their goodness and their generosity.
I am grateful for the Prophet Joseph Smith, born in this month so many years ago. We do not need the world to tell us how wonderful the Prophet Joseph Smith was, but it is interesting to note what Tolstoy said about the religion founded by the Prophet Joseph Smith under the direction of the Lord, Jesus Christ.
“The Mormon people teach … not only of Heaven and its attendant glories, but how to live so that their social and economic relations with each other are placed on a sound basis. If the people follow the teachings of this Church, nothing can stop their progress—it will be limitless. There have been great movements, started in the past, but they have died or been modified, before they reached maturity. If Mormonism is able to endure, unmodified, until it reaches the third and fourth generations, it is destined to become the greatest power the world has ever known.” (A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, p. 436.)
I am thankful, too, for the progress of the Kingdom. We have the largest number of full-time missionaries—around 26,000—we have ever had in all the history of the Church. Now, how fitting it is this Christmas to know that so many wonderful men and women are out in the world sharing the good news, not only that Jesus was born, but that he lives and directs his church and kingdom.
The good news of the gospel is bringing tens of thousands into the Kingdom who recognize the divine mission of Jesus Christ, around whom this Christmas season centers.
It is also gratifying to note the generosity of the Saints’ contributions in the form of fast offerings to care for the poor and needy. At Christmas time we recall that there was no room for Joseph and Mary in the inn. Now the Saints are seeing that the poor and the needy among us are not neglected. They are doing it in the Lord’s own way.
It is also a source of great satisfaction to note the number of our young men and women who are marrying for time and eternity in our temples. Temple marriages are at their highest level since the turn of the century.
The percentage of members of the Church attending sacrament meeting to hear the Savior’s doctrines and messages has also increased.
Thus, my brothers and sisters, there is so much to be grateful for. I give my thanks to our Heavenly Father and to all of you. This is a time when we ponder our blessings and when we also prepare for the new year, for which we should make new resolves and set new personal goals. This partial inventory of our collective blessings should help us to be ever more grateful and ever more determined. Please do the same within your families. Count your blessings, and express your gratitude to your eternal partners, to your children, and to your parents for all that they do.
In the midst of all this, brothers and sisters, if we live in a way that permits us to be more accepted of God, we should not be surprised if we are rejected by the world, or surprised if its ways seem more and more alien to us. The gospel offers us not only the prospect of eternal life, but provides us a whole way of life in mortality. Whereas so many in the world see death as the end and the loss of hope, we testify to the reality of the resurrection. Just as immortality and eternal life stand in such sharp contrast to the world’s lack of purpose, so the righteous way of life stands in sharp contrast to the ways of the world. Let us make certain there is oil in our own lamps. Let us live our lives so we can have the gift of the Holy Ghost operating evermore constantly in our lives.
Let us remember, too, that greatness is not always a matter of the scale of one’s life, but of the quality of one’s life. True greatness is not always tied to the scope of our tasks, but to the quality of how we carry out our tasks whatever they are. In that attitude, let us give our time, ourselves, and our talents to the things that really matter now, things which will still matter a thousand years from now.
Even though events and circumstances in the world at times become discouraging, our task, not alone in the Christmas season but always, is to be of good cheer. The Lord so often counsels us to have cheerfulness in our lives.
“And now, verily I say unto you, and what I say unto one I say unto all, be of good cheer, little children; for I am in your midst, and I have not forsaken you.” (D&C 61:36.)
“Wherefore, be of good cheer, and do not fear, for I the Lord am with you, and will stand by you; and ye shall bear record of me, even Jesus Christ, that I am the Son of the living God, that I was, that I am, and that I am to come.” (D&C 68:6.)
The Lord will be in our midst, he will be with us and stand by us and lead us.
We gladly join with so many of mankind in celebrating the birth of Jesus in this season, even though we know his birth really occurred in the spring. Spring is symbolic of the hope that it always brings with new life. Members of the Church, while joining with others in the celebration of this Christmas season, do not stop with accepting the reality of Jesus’ birth, but accept also the reality of his resurrection. We know that what Christ achieved did not end with the cross on Calvary, but continued through to the resurrection. One cannot be a true Christian and believe less.
While some dwell on the death and the suffering of Jesus and make that the point of it all, we know that the purposes of God were carried out, not frustrated. We know that the Ascension from the Mount of Olives, was as real as the birth in Bethlehem. We know, too, that Christ will come again in overwhelming power and majesty, in contrast to his first coming as a child in a manger.
As we contemplate, therefore, giving gifts now and in all seasons, let us remember that our Heavenly Father has given us the greatest of all gifts.
“And, if ye keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God.” (D&C 14:7.)
May God bless us with an increasing appreciation for that great gift, and may we witness our appreciation by giving ourselves wholly to his purposes.
“Follow me,” the Savior said. And we realize that to follow him is not impossible. The miles which he traveled, each of us can travel, for he took them one step at a time, one journey at a time. You could walk from Jerusalem to Nazareth. You could walk to the Sea of Galilee from Nazareth. You could follow Joseph and Mary and Jesus to Egypt. You could walk to the Mount of Transfiguration and back and forth from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, the Dead Sea, Bethany, the River Jordan. All these, you could do. But this is not the kind of following that he expected. He meant for us to follow his teachings and his example. Anyone with normal health can walk those miles and climb those hills and ford those streams. But it is quite another thing to be “even as I am,” (3 Ne. 27:27) as he said to the Nephites.
God bless you this joyous and happy Christmastide. And peace be with you.
“Behold, I am Jesus Christ,” he said, “the Son of God. I created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are. I was with the Father from the beginning. I am in the Father, and the Father in me; and in me hath the Father glorified his name.
“I came unto my own, and my own received me not. And the scriptures concerning my coming are fulfilled.
“I am the light and the life of the world. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.
“Therefore, whoso repenteth and cometh unto me as a little child, him will I receive, for of such is the kingdom of God. Behold, for such I have laid down my life, and have taken it up again; therefore repent, and come unto me ye ends of the earth, and be saved.” (3 Ne. 9:15, 16, 18, 22.)
I know that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, and that the gospel contains the divine truth of the ages. I express this testimony in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.