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)

Monday, December 4, 2017

President Gordon B. Hinckley on enhancing the Christmas season

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.
"He whose birth we commemorate this season is more than the symbol of a holiday. He is the Son of God, the Creator of the earth, the Jehovah of the Old Testament, the fulfillment of the Law of Moses, the Redeemer of mankind, the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace.
"I thank our Eternal Father that mankind in these latter-days has been so blessed to know of Christ with added certainty and added knowledge. I rejoice with thanksgiving that he has reaffirmed his matchless gospel truths in their fulness, and that he has restored his priesthood power and church to prepare a people and make ready for his eventual coming in great glory and power in the opening of the Millennial era.
"I rejoice at Christmas time that as a people, we Latter-day Saints know of his existence and reality, and receive certain direction from him....
"This is our testimony to all mankind. It is our gift and blessing to the world. He is our joy and our salvation, and we will find Christmas of greater meaning in our own lives as we share these truths with others.
"What shall we do with Jesus who is called Christ? Learn of him. Search the scriptures for they are they which testify of him. Ponder the miracle of his life and mission. Try a little more diligently to follow his example and observe his teachings. Bring the Christ back into Christmas."
- Gordon B. Hinckley, "What Shall I Do Then with Jesus Which Is Called Christ?," Ensign, Dec. 1983, 5
Click here to read or listen to the full article

President Hinckley introduces the holiday season for us by reminding us that Christmas is not just a typical commemoration; it's the special opportunity to remember the Son of God and all He represents in our lives. And the restored knowledge of the latter days enhances our ability to understand and to worship, if we allow it to; our understanding of the Savior is deepened by the insights of modern revelation.


This is a wonderful summary of our quest to know, to love, and to follow the Savior, at this season and always. As we learn more of Him and strive more diligently to follow His teachings, we will be blessed. And as President Hinckley notes, "we will find Christmas of greater meaning in our own lives as we share these truths with others."

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

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland on God's love for each one

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.
"Your Father in Heaven knows your name and knows your circumstance. He hears your prayers. He knows your hopes and dreams, including your fears and frustrations. And He knows what you can become through faith in Him. Because of this divine heritage you, along with all of your spiritual sisters and brothers, have full equality in His sight and are empowered through obedience to become a rightful heir in His eternal kingdom, an '[heir] of God, and joint-[heir] with Christ.' (Rom. 8:17.)
"Seek to comprehend the significance of these doctrines. Everything Christ taught He taught to women as well as men. Indeed, in the restored light of the gospel of Jesus Christ, a woman, including a young woman, occupies a majesty all her own in the divine design of the Creator. You are, as Elder James E. Talmage once phrased it, 'a sanctified investiture which none shall dare profane.' (James E. Talmage, 'The Eternity of Sex,' Young Woman’s Journal, Oct. 1914, 602.)"
- Jeffrey R. Holland, "To Young Women," General Conference October 2005
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

One of the great truths of the Restoration is the very personal nature of God. Joseph Smith discovered this truth in his First Vision: God knew his name, and knew his circumstances. Elder Holland testifies that we all have that same assurance of His individualized love and concern for us:


Because we are, truly, His daughters and sons, there are powerful promises that await us, even that we may each "become a rightful heir in His eternal kingdom." There is nothing greater we could hope for!

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

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Elder M. Russell Ballard on the things that matter most

Elder M. Russell Ballard (born October 8, 1928) was called as a Seventy in 1976, and has served as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles since 1985.
"Remember, you can be exalted without a college degree. You can be exalted without being slender and beautiful. You can be exalted without having a successful career. You can be exalted if you are not rich and famous. So focus the best that you can on those things in life that will lead you back to the presence of God—keeping all things in their proper balance. There are those who may never marry in mortality. But all of God’s blessings will ultimately come to those who are righteous and true to the gospel.
"Oh, my dear young brothers and sisters, these are the days of your probation. This time is a precious window of opportunity to prepare for your future. Do not waste this time away. Get out a paper and pencil and write down the things that matter most to you. List the goals that you hope to accomplish in life and what things are required if they are to become a reality for you. Plan and prepare and then do."
- M. Russell Ballard, "Be Strong in the Lord, and in the Power of His Might," BYU Devotional, March 3, 2002
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

Elder Ballard counseled students in this 2002 address about the challenges in their phase of life, including the expectation of always wanting more than they have, or wanting what others have. His message is applicable to all of us. It's important to remember what is essential, what is most important in our choices and priorities. When sometimes we don't achieve a goal we thought was important, it's good to consider the broader perspective of what really matters:


Elder Ballard gives some wise counsel about how precious time is, and a warning to not waste it away. It may have been important for young college-age people to establish priorities; but all of us, at any age, would benefit from the same practices of identifying "the things that matter most to you" and the establishing of specific goals to work towards them. "Plan and prepare and then do" is a great summary.

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

Friday, December 1, 2017

President Ezra Taft Benson on careful choices in personal reading

President Ezra Taft Benson (1899-1994) was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1943, and served as the 13th President of the Church from 1985 until his death in 1994 at age 94.
"Today, with the abundance of books available, it is the mark of a truly educated man to know what not to read. 'Of making many books there is no end' (Ecclesiastes 12:12). Feed only on the best. As John Wesley’s mother counseled him: 'Avoid whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, takes off your relish for spiritual things, ... increases the authority of the body over the mind.'
"The fact that a book is old does not necessarily make it of value. The fact that an author wrote one good work does not necessarily mean that all his books are worthy of your time. Do not make your mind a dumping ground for other people’s garbage. It is harder to purge the mind of rotten reading than to purge the body of rotten food, and it is more damaging to the soul....
"Let us summarize. The most vital knowledge you can learn is the saving truths of the gospel—the truths that will make the difference in your eternal welfare. The most vital words that you can read are those of the Presidents of the Church—particularly the living prophet—and those of the apostles and prophets. God encourages learning in many areas, and vocational skills will have increasing importance. There is much reading material that is available that is either time-wasting or corrupting. The best yardstick to use in discerning the worth of true knowledge and learning is to go first and foremost to the words of the Lord’s prophets."
- Ezra Taft Benson, "In His Steps," BYU Fireside, March 4, 1979
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

I was a student at BYU when President Benson gave this address. I remember his encouragement to walk in the Savior's steps: "The greatest yardstick of success is to see how much your daily walk can be like Christ’s—how closely you can walk each moment in His steps."

He used the words of the Savior as an invitation for us: "And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man" (Luke 2:52). This excerpt came as he encouraged students to "increase in wisdom"—to be learning and growing intellectually. While learning is crucial to our ongoing progress and growth, it's clear that not all learning is of equal importance; and that there are traps and pitfalls that we can encounter in our reading and studying.


How carefully we must choose what we put into our minds! We should filter carefully to make sure that the "garbage" of the world is kept out. One important way to do that, President Benson suggests, is to focus first on the teachings of the scriptures and prophets; and then to judge everything else by that standard.

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