First Presidency Message

Our Greatest Gift—

By President N. Eldon Tanner

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    It is a special pleasure to share the joy of this sacred holiday season with you and your loved ones. I am reminded of the Savior’s reply to his parents, Joseph and Mary, when they found him teaching in the temple at the age of twelve. His mother expressed concern about having searched for him for three days. As she questioned, “Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing” (Luke 2:48). Her son’s dutiful response came, saying: “How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49).

    Does any other work offer a greater feeling of warmth and personal satisfaction than knowing that we are truly about our Father’s business?

    At this time of year, we concentrate on and celebrate the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament as revealed by Isaiah, Noah and Jeremiah among others and the fulfillment of the signs and prophecies foretold by the new world prophets including Lehi, Nephi, and King Benjamin. Luke recorded the simplicity of this blessed of all births:

    “And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

    “And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. …

    “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 this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

    “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.” (Luke 2:6–7, 9–14.)

    During this past year, our reflections turned toward observing the fulfillment of other prophecies—and the strides our Lord’s Church has made. The year 1980 marked the 150th anniversary celebration of the gospel with its many blessings to those people who will receive its great message. During this 150 years, the Church has grown from six members in 1830 to more than four million. The number of stakes has dramatically increased from the first stake in Kirtland, Ohio, to more than a thousand stakes worldwide. The number of missionaries has also grown from 16 in 1830 to more than thirty thousand today. The challenges experienced by the members of the Church since 1830 have prepared us for the future.

    The sacrifices on behalf of the Church made by our ancestors themselves and their posterity are noteworthy. In many instances, the blessings that we now share are the result of the commitment of our brothers and sisters in the early days of the restored Church. This commitment and sacrifice was evident as the Saints spent their first year residing in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake. There was little food to be shared during that time—the first winter. But there was an abundance of thanksgiving and commitment to serving the Lord.

    An account of the first Christmas in the Salt Lake Valley, December 25 1847, was shared by Brother Robert Bliss. “… the Snow is now nearly gone and the weather is fine; today we waked by the firing of Cannon, & the day was spent in Work by some & amusement by others. … I visited one of my Old neighbors who was driven out of Illinois with me & partook of a fine Christmas Dinner; but any joys were dampened when I think of my Family; they are more than a Thousand miles from me & there is no possible chance for me to go to them till Spring.” Brother Bliss continued and he indicated that he had faith in God. That He had protected them in all their trials and that He would support his family in every situation that they might be placed in.

    A young sister reported her observations of the first Christmas in the Great Salt Lake Valley as follows:

    “I remember our first Christmas in the valley. We all worked as usual. The men gathered sagebrush and some even plowed for though it had snowed, the ground was still soft, and the plows were used nearly the entire day. Christmas came on Saturday. We celebrated the day on the Sabbath, when we all gathered around the flag pole in the center of the fort, and there held meeting. And it was a great meeting. We sang praise to God, we all joined in the opening prayer, and the speaking that day has always been remembered. There were words of thanksgiving and cheer. Not an unkind word was uttered. The people were hopeful, and buoyant because of their faith in the great work that they were undertaking. After the meeting, we all shook hands with each other. Some wept with joy, the children played in the enclosure, and around the sagebrush fire that night, we gathered and sang:

    ‘Come, come, ye Saints,

    No toil nor labor fear,

    But with joy, wend your way.’

    (Hymns, No. 13.)

    “That day we had boiled rabbit and a little bread for our dinner. Father had shot some rabbits, and it was feast that we had. All had enough to eat. In the sense of perfect peace and good will, I never had a happier Christmas in all my life.”

    Christmas was both a time of peace and a time of challenge in the establishing of Zion. The winter of 1847 demonstrated the character of the pioneers, both the character of those in the Great Salt Lake Valley, and the character of those brothers and sisters who awaited an opportunity to move west. Two days before Christmas the general epistle from the Council of the Twelve Apostles was issued, which read:

    “Let all the Saints … gather immediately to the east bank of the (Missouri) river … or as soon as they can, bringing their money, goods, and effects with them; and, so far as they can consistently, gather young stock by the way which is much needed here, and which will be for sale: and when here, let all who can, go directly over the mountains; and those who cannot, let them go immediately to work making improvements, raising grain and stock on the lands recently vacated … and by industry … the young cattle will grow into teams; by interchange of labour they can raise their own grain and provisions, and build their own wagons … and thus speedily and comfortably procure a wagon, team of cattle and provisions.” (James R. Clark ed., Messages of the First Presidency. 1:329.)

    As we learn of the trials and sacrifices made by these brave and faithful Saints, can we be anything but greatly appreciative for the blessings that we now share? The message and the gift of Christmas are one and the same thing—it is no less than the gift of eternal life and the message that we can have the opportunity of living with our families in the presence of God throughout all time and all eternity. To be worthy of this valuable gift, we must be willing to give the gift of self. We must be willing to consecrate all that we possess in life to the building up of the kingdom of God. We must dedicate ourselves to the Lord, our families, and our communities in which we live.

    Most of us can recall the most memorable Christmas in our mortal lives. For many of us, that Christmas was not one of expensive gifts and far away vacations. It was a time that someone gave us something of themselves or a time when we gave something of ourselves. It may have been a child’s first attempt at painting, a neighbor’s Christmas card with a personalized note of appreciation, a grandfather’s handwritten letter of encouragement, a mother’s shared rocking chair and Christmas lullaby, or a father’s reading of the Savior’s own birth to his child. We can learn much from the Christmases of the past and from stories of our ancestor’s devotion to the Savior. We know that the Savior, whose birth we celebrate at this time of year continually sustains us in carrying on our efforts in his behalf. We must continually be aware that we live in a time of challenges to ourselves, our families, and our church. We can also know that the peace spoken of in the gospel comes not from material wealth but from the testimony of the mission of him whose birth we celebrate, even Jesus Christ. It is our prayer that each of you may understand and appreciate the meaning of Christmas. We want you to know that God lives and that he loves each of you for the willingness in which you serve him. We want you to know that you are about your Father’s business and that is the greatest gift that could be shared with him.

    I would like to bear my testimony to you, my brothers and sisters, that we are most fortunate to know that God lives, that we are his spirit children, and that he “so loved the world, that he gave his Only Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish; but have everlasting life” (John 3:16); and for the knowledge we have that Jesus Christ, the Son of God gave his life for you and me that we might enjoy immortality and eternal life. He said: “This is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39).

    I humbly pray that each and every one of us will realize just who we are and what sacrifice Jesus made for us. And as we go on through life, let us live each day so that we may be worthy of that great sacrifice which he made. May we have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. May the full meaning of the spirit of Christmas go with us throughout the year, I humbly pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.