In each of us there is at Christmastime something of our childhood. We all revel in the fun of Christmas—of giving and receiving tinseled presents, of singing favorite carols, of feasting on goodies we never miss at other seasons, of gathering together as family and friends, all having a wonderful time.
But there is something else, something better, and that is to sit together as families and read again the fascinating story of the birth of Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem of Judea. It is a wondrous story told in language ever so simple and beautiful by the writers of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.
All of us have heard these readings since we were very young. They are a part of our lives, a very important part. Every child, certainly every child who regards himself or herself as Christian, should know and enjoy the story of our Lord, the Son of God, who came to earth and died for each of us.
That story has been told by many writers who have taken it from the accounts in the New Testament. It has been told with beauty and understanding by those who have written with love and respect. One of these was Charles Dickens, the most popular English author of his times. He lived from 1812 to 1870. He wrote such timeless books as A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol, Nicholas Nickleby, Oliver Twist, and David Copperfield. He was the father of ten children, and evidently was one to delight them with stories that came of a vast imagination.
He was also one who loved the Lord and who wanted his children to love the Lord. In 1849, while he was writing David Copperfield, he took time to write in his own hand The Life of Our Lord. It was not written for publication, but only for his own dear children. He would not permit its publication. It was a personal thing, a simple testimony from him to them. His children, when they grew, would not permit its publication. It remained a closely held family affair for 85 years. Then his youngest son died in 1933. With the passing of that generation, the family concluded that the work might be published.
I was a missionary in London in 1934, 60 years ago, and I vividly recall the advertisements of one of the popular newspapers that Dickens’s The Life of Our Lord would be published serially. I paid little attention to it. Following serialization, it was published as a book. There was a surge of interest, and then it seemed to fade.
Years later Sister Hinckley found a copy of the book and read it to our children. While there are some doctrinal matters in it with which we would disagree, it is a wonderful story, told in language beautiful and easily understood. At this Christmas season, may I share a few lines with you? I give them just as Dickens wrote them, without editing.
“My dear children, I am very anxious that you should know something about the History of Jesus Christ. For everybody ought to know about Him. No one ever lived, who was so good, so kind, so gentle, and so sorry for all people who did wrong, or were in any way ill or miserable, as he was. And as he is now in Heaven, where we hope to go, and all to meet each other after we are dead, and there be happy always together, you never can think what a good place Heaven is, without knowing who he was and what he did.
“He was born, a long long time ago—nearly Two Thousand years ago—at a place called Bethlehem. His father and mother lived in a city called Nazareth, but they were forced, by business to travel to Bethlehem. His father’s name was Joseph, and his mother’s name was Mary. And the town being very full of people, also brought there by business, there was no room for Joseph and Mary in the Inn or in any house; so they went into a Stable to lodge, and in this stable Jesus Christ was born. There was no cradle or anything of that kind there, so Mary laid her pretty little boy in what is called the Manger, which is the place the horses eat out of. And there he fell asleep.
“While he was asleep, some Shepherds who were watching Sheep in the Fields, saw an Angel from God, all light and beautiful, come moving over the grass towards Them. At first they were afraid and fell down and hid their faces. But it said ‘There is a child born today in the City of Bethlehem near here, who will grow up to be so good that God will love him as his own son; and he will teach men to love one another, and not to quarrel and hurt one another; and his name will be Jesus Christ; and people will put that name in their prayers, because they will know God loves it, and will know that they should love it too.’ And then the Angel told the Shepherds to go to that Stable, and look at that little child in the Manger. Which they did; and they kneeled down by it in its sleep, and said ‘God bless this child!’
“Now the great place of all that country was Jerusalem—just as London is the great place in England—and at Jerusalem the King lived, whose name was King Herod. Some wise men came one day, from a country a long way off in the East, and said to the King ‘We have seen a Star in the Sky, which teaches us to know that a child is born in Bethlehem who will live to be a man whom all people will love.’ When King Herod heard this, he was jealous, for he was a wicked man. But he pretended not to be, and said to the wise men, ‘Whereabouts is this child?’ And the wise men said ‘We don’t know. But we think the Star will shew us; for the Star has been moving on before us, all the way here, and is now standing still in the sky.’ Then Herod asked them to see if the Star would shew them where the child lived, and ordered them, if they found the child, to come back to him. So they went out, and the Star went on, over their heads a little way before them, until it stopped over the house where the child was. This was very wonderful, but God ordered it to be so.
“When the Star stopped, the wise men went in, and saw the child with Mary his Mother. They loved him very much, and gave him some presents. Then they went away. But they did not go back to King Herod; for they thought he was jealous, though he had not said so. So they went away, by night, back into their own country” (The Life of Our Lord, London: Associated Newspapers, 1934; reprint, Philadelphia, Westminster Press, pages 11–17).
And so this beautiful story opens. Dickens wrote of Joseph as the father of Jesus. Joseph was so recognized by the people. But we know that Jesus’ father was God, the Eternal Father, and that Jesus Christ was His Only Begotten Son in the flesh.
Dickens continues to give his children the story of the life of the Master, who he speaks of as “Our Saviour.” He tells of His teachings, of the miracles He performed, of His death at the hands of wicked and evil men. And then he concludes his little book with these words:
“Remember!—It is christianity TO DO GOOD always—even to those who do evil to us. It is christianity to love our neighbour as ourself, and to do to all men as we would have them Do to us. It is christianity to be gentle, merciful, and forgiving, and to keep those qualities quiet in our own hearts, and never make a boast of them, or of our prayers or of our love of God, but always to shew that we love Him by humbly trying to do right in everything. If we do this, and remember the life and lessons of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and try to act up to them, we may confidently hope that God will forgive us our sins and mistakes, and enable us to live and die in Peace” (ibid., pages 124–127).
All of us love Dickens’s immortal A Christmas Carol. It is the story of the rich and selfish Ebenezer Scrooge, who is mean and unmerciful in his treatment of his employee, Bob Cratchit. And then in the night of Christmas Eve, Scrooge’s deceased partner, Jacob Marley, comes to visit him with visions of Christmas past, of Christmas present, and of Christmas future. This terrifying experience so shocks Scrooge that when he realizes that it was a dream, he is happy and changes his entire life. He reaches out to the Cratchit family. The story is a portrayal of the Spirit of Christ, which can turn men’s lives completely around. It is a story of selfishness being replaced by generosity. It is a story of unconcern being replaced by deep concern. It is a story of hate being replaced by love. It is a story of sweet benediction when the little crippled child, Tiny Tim, calls out, “God bless us every one.”
That is Dickens’s widely acclaimed masterpiece of Christmas. But his The Life of Our Lord, written in a very personal way, without adornment or flights of fancy, and written for the children he loved, carries with it not only a beautiful narrative but a compelling admonition: “Remember!—It is christianity TO DO GOOD always—even to those who do evil to us.”
Such is the simple telling of a beloved author. In his time and during the generations that have followed, his great novels have been read by millions upon millions. But his story of Jesus’ life, written with Dickens’s own pen, and without editing of any kind, was for 85 years a family treasure and secret. Printed with all of the editorial mistakes of the original writing, it has delighted many others beyond his family.
It is simply another of the countless testimonies of the birth, life, and death of the greatest man who ever walked the earth, the Son of the Almighty God, the Savior and Redeemer of the world, the Prince of Peace, the Holy One.
It was He of whom Isaiah spoke in prophecy: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6).
It was He of whom John said, “But one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose” (Luke 3:16).
It was He of whom the angel said, “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
It was He of whom Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon testified: “And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!
“For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—
“That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God” (D&C 76:22–24).
To which we, of our time, add our own testimony—that He lives, the Son of God, He who was the great Jehovah and condescended to be born in Bethlehem’s manger; He who went about doing good, blessing and healing the people; He who gave His life on Calvary’s cross in the great atoning sacrifice; He who rose from the dead the third day. He lives, and sits on the right hand of His father. He is our Lord, our Redeemer, our guide, our helper, and our friend, through whose atonement there has been opened the gate of immortality and eternal life.
This is a beautiful and blessed season. Let us rejoice in the Lord Jesus Christ and in His most basic of teachings—to do good always!
It is important at Christmastime to read individually or together as a family the scriptural accounts of the birth of Jesus.
At the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ is the commandment to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
The Christ child we read of at Christmastime is also the living, resurrected Christ, the Savior of the world, He who appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith, and He who directs His living church today.