Monday, December 11, 2017

President Gordon B. Hinckley on the wondrous and true story of Christmas

President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910-2008) was called to the Quorum of Twelve in 1961. He served as a counselor in the First Presidency from 1981-1995, then as Church President until his death in 2008.
"This is the wondrous and true story of Christmas. The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem of Judea is preface. The three-year ministry of the Master is prologue. The magnificent substance of the story is His sacrifice, the totally selfless act of dying in pain on the cross of Calvary to atone for the sins of all of us.
"The epilogue is the miracle of the Resurrection, bringing the assurance that 'as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive' (1 Cor. 15:22).
"There would be no Christmas if there had not been Easter. The babe Jesus of Bethlehem would be but another baby without the redeeming Christ of Gethsemane and Calvary, and the triumphant fact of the Resurrection.
"I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Eternal, Living God. None so great has ever walked the earth. None other has made a comparable sacrifice or granted a comparable blessing. He is the Savior and the Redeemer of the world. I believe in Him. I declare His divinity without equivocation or compromise. I love Him. I speak His name in reverence and wonder. I worship Him as I worship His Father, in spirit and in truth. I thank Him and kneel before His Beloved Son, who reached out long ago and said to each of us, 'Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest' (Matt. 11:28)."
- Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Wondrous and True Story of Christmas,” First Presidency Christmas Devotional, December 4, 1995
Click here to read a report of the devotional
Click here to read a later reprint of the message

To truly appreciate Christmas, President Hinckley suggests, we must see it in the context of the Savior's complete ministry. Each Christmas we commemorate the beginning; but without the rest of the story, the birth has no real significance:

What a beautiful testimony from a prophet of God! The Christmas Story truly is wondrous and powerful when we recognize all that followed. As we commemorate Christmas this year, we should take time to ponder and study the rest of the life of the Savior, and in particular, His atoning sacrifice and the healing power it offers to each of us.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland on the Christmas message and families

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland (born December 3, 1940) served as Church Commissioner of Education from 1976-1980, as the president of BYU from 1980-1989, as a Seventy from 1989-1994, and as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles since 1994.
"At this focal point of all human history, a point illuminated by a new star in the heavens revealed for just such a purpose, probably no other mortal watched—none but a poor young carpenter, a beautiful virgin mother, and silent stabled animals who had not the power to utter the sacredness they had seen.
"Shepherds would soon arrive and later, wise men from the East. Later yet the memory of that night would bring Santa Claus and Frosty and Rudolph—and all would be welcome. But first and forever there was just a little family, without toys or trees or tinsel. With a baby—that’s how Christmas began.
"It is for this baby that we shout in chorus: 'Hark! the herald angels sing Glory to the newborn king! ... Mild he lays his glory by, Born that man no more may die: Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.' (Hymns, no. 60.)"
- Jeffrey R. Holland, "Maybe Christmas Doesn’t Come from a Store," address given to the Religious Instruction faculty at BYU, December 12, 1976; see Ensign, Dec. 1977, pp. 63–65
Click here to read the full talk

In the midst of the many retellings of the Christmas story, it's easy to forget that based on the New Testament record, the actual event of the birth of the Savior was a very simple and solitary occurrence. Joseph and Mary were apparently alone in the stable as witnesses of one of the most important events of all history.

This is a beautiful summary: "First and forever there was just a little family, without toys or trees or tinsel. With a baby—that’s how Christmas began." And it's with family that we continue to find the greatest joys and blessings of the season as well.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Saturday, December 9, 2017

President Harold B. Lee on fiction vs. truth in Christmas stories

President Harold B. Lee (1899-1973) was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1941. He served as a counselor in the First Presidency from 1970-1972, then as Church president from July 1972 until his passing less than 18 months later in December 1973.
"Are you mindful of your dramatizations that you discard, ... fictitious incidents in the lives of sacred characters?  How careful must we be that we do not build in the child's concept of God a sort of a Santa Claus impression of Him.  We must, rather, take the position that the Apostle Paul did to the Hebrews when he said, in essence:  'For we have not an high priest that cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmity. For he was tempted in all points, even as we are, yet he was without sin. Let us, therefore, come boldly into his throne of grace and ask for his mercy and his grace to help us in our time of need.'  (See Hebrews 4:15-16.)
"May I plead with you teachers of children that you do not make fictitious reference to the Lord and Savior of the world.  May you stay with the context of the scripture and reduce it to understandable terms in order that the full reverence for sacred things might be impressed upon you.
"This may be something of almost hearsay to some, but let me ask you, last Christmas did none of you hear the reading of 'The Littlest Angel'?  Well, I would like to plead with you, if you did have it and you have it anywhere in your files, to bury it so deep before next Christmas that you cannot find it for the performance of children next Christmas.  There, again, we are doing something for the enjoyment of the children that subtracts from sacred things."
- Harold B. Lee, "Inspirational Guidance Year Round," Primary June Conference Address, 1948; see also THBL pp. 443-444

There seems to have always been a temptation to fictionalize the Christmas story. Since the scriptural account is somewhat sparse on details and descriptions, many have managed to embellish and expand the story in ways ranging from "The Little Drummer Boy" to "The Littlest Angel." President Lee's concern is mixing the fiction with the actual story of the Savior's birth, in ways that detract from the sacredness of the events, subtly turning God into Santa Claus:

There is enough power in the true story of the Savior's birth and life to satisfy any need, including little children., if taught appropriately. The caution is to not be "doing something for the enjoyment of the children that subtracts from sacred things."

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Friday, December 8, 2017

Elder Bruce R. McConkie on our Christmas message to the world

Elder Bruce R. McConkie (July 29, 1915–April 19, 1985) served as a Seventy from 1946-1972 when he was called to the Quorum of Twelve.  He served in that assignment until his death from cancer at age 69.
"Now I think because of this revelation (Alma 7:9-10) and a host of related ones that have come to us, telling us in plainness and in perfection what is involved in the doctrine of our Lord's birth, I think we have an especial and particular obligation to stand as witnesses to the world in this day of the truth of this fact. We happen to live in a very perilous, treacherous era of the earth's history—an era when iniquity abounds, when the love that men should have for God has waxed cold in the hearts of people generally. We live in the great era of darkness, spiritual darkness and apostasy, that is to precede the second coming of the Son of Man. But in the midst of this darkness, God has restored for the last time on earth the fulness of his everlasting gospel. He has called us out of darkness into the marvelous light of Christ. He has given us the revelations of heaven, given us an understanding of what is involved in the plan of salvation—given it by latter-day revelations so that we do not need to rely on tradition and history or even on the biblical accounts....
"So I say, we have an obligation to testify of Christ, to have in our hearts at this season and at all times the spirit that goes with him and his work. I for one desire that spirit and in some measure have it, and as a consequence I bear witness to you, as we approach the Christmas season, that God has, in fact, restored his everlasting gospel, that the truths of heaven and the truths of salvation are here, that there are legal administrators on earth at this hour who have the power to bind on earth and have it sealed eternally in the heavens. The work of God is here. The plan of salvation has, in fact, been revealed. We know the doctrine of the Divine Sonship. We have the obligation accordingly, because of the light and knowledge that has been poured out upon us, to walk as becometh saints, to rise above the world, to overcome the world, to be living witnesses of the truth and the divinity of the work. Just as surely as we are, we shall reap for ourselves peace and joy and happiness in this life. We shall have the true spirit of Christmas at this season and at all seasons, and then in due course we shall go on to the fulness of the kingdom of our Father hereafter."
- Bruce R. McConkie, "Behold the Condescension of God," from a devotional address at BYU, December 16, 1969; reprinted in New Era Dec. 1984, p. 39
Click here to listen to the audio of the speech at BYU
Click here to read the article in the New Era

We often forget the uniqueness of our knowledge and the power of our position that comes from the revealed truth of the latter-day restoration. Elder McConkie suggests that we have a responsibility to "stand as witnesses to the world in this day" of the things we know. He spoke these words almost 50 years ago, suggesting that the world was struggling in iniquity and that "the love that men should have for God has waxed cold in the hearts of people generally." How much more true that concern is today!

Perhaps one of the benefits of the "Light the World" #LightTheWorld social media campaign suggested by the Church is to help accomplish that task, sharing our witness of the Savior and His divinity in a greater measure. But certainly each of us should feel the call "to walk as becometh saints, to rise above the world, to overcome the world, to be living witnesses of the truth and the divinity of the work." That, Elder McConkie suggests, will help to bring "the true spirit of Christmas" into the season.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Thursday, December 7, 2017

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf on gifts we can offer to the Savior

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf (born November 6, 1940) served as a Seventy from 1994-2004, when he was called as a member of the Quorum of Twelve.  He has served as second counselor in the First Presidency since 2008.
"If we are only willing to open our hearts and minds to the spirit of Christmas, we will recognize wonderful things happening around us that will direct or redirect our attention to the sublime. It is usually something small—we read a verse of scripture; we hear a sacred carol and really listen, perhaps for the first time, to its words; or we witness a sincere expression of love. In one way or another, the Spirit touches our hearts, and we see that Christmas, in its essence, is much more sturdy and enduring than the many minor things of life we too often use to adorn it.
"In these precious moments we realize what we feel and know in our heart—that Christmas is really about the Christ.
"Christmas and some of the cherished traditions of the season remind us that we, like the Wise Men of old, should seek the Christ and lay before Him the most precious of gifts: a broken heart and a contrite spirit. We should offer Him our love. We should give Him our willingness to take upon ourselves His name and walk in the path of discipleship. We should promise to remember Him always, to emulate His example, and to go about doing good. (See Acts 10:38; Doctrine and Covenants 20:77, 79.)
"We cannot offer Him the gift of perfection in all things because this is a gift beyond our capacity to give—at least for now. The Lord does not expect that we commit to move mountains. But He does require that we bring as gifts our best efforts to move ourselves, one foot in front of the other, walking in the ways He has prepared and taught."
- Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Of Curtains, Contentment, and Christmas," First Presidency Christmas Devotional, December 4, 2011
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

How do we find the "true spirit of Christmas"? President Uchtdorf suggests there are many things in the season that will direct our thoughts and hearts in that direction if we allow them to, including music, scriptures, and expressions of love. We must get past the external symbols and learn to focus on the Christ as the essence of Christmas.

And then we are prepared to offer up our gifts to Him, precious gifts of love and service, of true discipleship as we remember Him and follow His example in doing good:

We can't yet offer the ultimate gift of perfect discipleship. But He doesn't expect that yet. He only asks "that we bring as gifts our best efforts to move ourselves, one foot in front of the other, walking in the ways He has prepared and taught." What a beautiful, encouraging thought.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

President Howard W. Hunter on giving to others in service

President Howard W. Hunter (1907-1995) was called to the Quorum of Twelve in 1959.  He served as Church President from June 5, 1994 to his death on March 3, 1995.
"If I were giving an assignment to the young people, it would be to give something to someone tomorrow—to make a gift. I don't mean a gift that we would go to the store to buy and have wrapped in colorful paper and ribbon, I am thinking of the gift we make when we give of ourselves—the greatest gift of all.
"If today's spirituality has meant anything to you, find someone tomorrow and do something for that person. It may be someone at home or it may be a friend. It's an interesting experience to find someone who has wronged us or who has been anything but friendly, and see the change that comes about when you give him a gift.
"The Lord said it is more blessed to give than to receive. We understand that principle. As little children we looked for the thing we were going to receive at Christmas time, but then came the time in our lives when we found more pleasure in giving to someone else. That was when maturity came into our lives and we stepped aside from being self-centered and found it was more blessed to do things for others as the Lord had indicated."
- Howard W. Hunter, "Spiritual Strength of Youth," Australia Area Conference, Sydney, Australia, 2 December 1979; see THWH 71

One of the most frequent reminders we have at Christmastime is the teaching of the Savior as reported by Paul, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (see Acts 20:35). As President Hunter notes, while we may not understand that principle as children, we do come to appreciate it as we mature; experiences of true giving bring such joy and peace, that we quickly understand the Savior's message.  And the additional qualifier is that the greatest gift is to give of the self.

The challenge of giving to someone who may not "deserve" it (in our eyes) is a particularly Christian one. When we learn to overcome the judgments and prejudices that hold us back in our true service and love, we will more nearly approach the level of discipleship that He invites us to follow.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Thomas S. Monson on the Christmas spirit of the Savior's loving service

President Thomas S. Monson (b. August 21, 1927) was sustained to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1963. He served as a counselor in the First Presidency with Presidents Benson, Hunter, and Hinckley until becoming Church president in 2008.
"With the birth of the babe in Bethlehem, there emerged a great endowment—a power stronger than weapons, a wealth more lasting than the coins of Caesar. This child was to become the King of kings and Lord of lords, the promised Messiah—Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
"Born in a stable, cradled in a manger, He came forth from heaven to live on earth as mortal man and to establish the kingdom of God. During His earthly ministry, He taught men the higher law. His glorious gospel reshaped the thinking of the world. He blessed the sick. He caused the lame to walk, the blind to see, the deaf to hear. He even raised the dead to life. To us He has said, 'Come, follow me.'
"As we seek Christ, as we find Him, as we follow Him, we shall have the Christmas spirit, not for one fleeting day each year, but as a companion always. We shall learn to forget ourselves. We shall turn our thoughts to the greater benefit of others....
"As we lift our eyes heavenward and then remember to look outward into the lives of others, as we remember that it is more blessed to give than to receive, we, during this Christmas season, will come to see a bright, particular star that will guide us to our precious opportunity."
- Thomas S. Monson, "In Search of the Christmas Spirit," Ensign, Dec 1987, p. 3
Click here to read the full message

President Monson speaks of "a great endowment" that emerged with the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. That endowment is the gift to the world that He represented, the gift given by both Himself and by His Father. It's a gift that includes the "glorious gospel" of teachings, but equally important, the example of His ministry of love, which He invites us to learn and follow.

We gain the Christmas Spirit as we learn to follow the Christ's example of true charity, manifest in forgetting ourselves and turning instead "to the greater benefit of others." As we follow His example and express that spirit, Christmas comes alive for us.

I like this suggestion. As we begin to emulate the Savior's example of perfect love, we will be guided in our efforts; divine help will appear to show us the way to serve, like a guiding star from the heavens..

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)
// Customization to close archive widget on first view - DK 3/15