Last night was Christmas Eve, that holy night, that most holy of all nights. The stars were brightly shining. It was the night of our dear Savior’s birth. Long had lain the world in sin and error pining, till he appeared and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope, and the weary world rejoiced! For yonder broke a new and glorious morn. Fall on your knees, and hear the angel voices! It was a night divine, when Christ was borne. Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we, let all within us praise his holy name! Christ is the Lord, let ever, ever praise we. (1)
Our Christmas story started with the trumpeting of angels. “Glory to the newborn king!” They proclaimed. “Peace on earth, and mercy mild God and sinners reconciled. Joyful all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies with angelic hosts proclaim, Christ is born in Bethlehem!” (2)
Their audience was a group of lowly shepherds, guarding their flock of sheep in a field. While they watched their flock by night, far far away on Judea’s plains, those shepherds of old heard the joyous strains, “Glory to God! Glory to God! Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth good will toward men!” Those shepherds followed the star and it led them to the newborn babe. (3)
The little family so earnestly sought by the shepherds were in the town of Bethlehem because of a requirement to pay a tax in the city of their lineage. O dear little town of Bethlehem how still we see thee lie, above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by. Yet in thy dark streets shineth, the everlasting light! The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight. For Christ is born of Mary and gathered all above, while mortals sleep the angels keep their watch of wondering love. O morning stars together, proclaim the holy birth! And praises sing to God the king and peace to men on earth! (4)
Those seeking Him found the precious baby in that city lying in a manger, with no crib for his bed. The little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head. The stars in the heavens look down where he lay, the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay. The cattle are lowing, the poor baby wakes. But little Lord Jesus no crying he makes. (5)
When the shepherds entered the manger, they found Joseph watching steadfastly over his wife Mary, and her newborn son. The shepherds and Joseph watched Mary lovingly care for her newborn son, singing him sweet lullabies to soothe him back to sleep. Silent night, holy night, all is calm. All is bright. Round yon virgin mother and child, holy infant so tender and mild. Sleep in heavenly peace! Sleep in heavenly peace. (6)
And as she lulled her baby back to sleep, the earth itself rejoiced. Joy to the world! The Lord is come, let earth receive her king! Let every heart prepare him room, while saints and angels sing. Rejoice rejoice, when Jesus reigns, and Saints their songs employ! While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy! (7)
There was another group of righteous men who also saw the star, and understanding its meaning set out to seek the Christ child. With wondering awe the wise men saw the star in heaven springing, and with delight in peaceful night they heard the angels singing, “Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna to his name!” By light of star they travelled far to seek the lowly manger, a humble bed wherein was laid the humble little Stranger. And still is found the world around the old and hallowed story, and still is sung in every tongue the angels’ song of glory! (8)
And that is our miraculous, beautiful story, of once upon a time in Royal David’s city when there stood a lowly cattle shed, where a mother laid her baby in a manger for his bed. Mary was that mother mild, and Jesus Christ her little child. It is our job to come all ye faithful! Let us be joyful and triumphant! O come ye, o come ye to Bethlehem! Come and behold him, born the king of angels! Let us sing with choirs of angels and let us sing in exultation! Sing all ye citizens of heaven above, “Glory to God, glory to God in the highest” - o come let us adore Him! (9)
President Uchtdorf said, “[Let us] celebrate the birth of the Son of God, the Creator, our Messiah. [Let us] rejoice that the King of kings came to earth, was born in a manger, and lived a perfect life. When Jesus was born, the joy in heaven was so great it could not be contained, and angelic hosts parted the veil, proclaiming unto shepherds “good tidings of great joy, . . . praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Wise Men “rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when . . . they saw the young child with Mary his mother, [they] fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts.” It is only fitting that we—like the Wise Men, shepherds, and angels—take time to rejoice and celebrate that glorious first Christmas Day.” Close quote. (10)
President Uchtdorf also said about our modern Christmas celebrations, “We have in our minds a picture of how everything should be—the perfect tree, the perfect lights, the perfect gifts, and the perfect family events . . . nothing short of perfection will do. Sooner or later, something unpleasant occurs . . . the turkey burns, the sweater is the wrong size, the toys are missing batteries, the children quarrel, the pressure rises—and the picture-perfect Christmas we had imagined, the magic we had intended to create, shatters around us.
But then, 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.” Close quote. (11)
Today as we celebrate the birth of Christ I would like to encourage you to look past the minor things of life that we typically use to adorn the holiday, and focus more on the sturdy and enduring aspects of it: the message of Christ’s love for all of us. Do as Uchtdorf suggested and find a quiet moment to read the account in Luke, and ponder what it really might have been like for that little family on that night, and what it meant and still means to people all the world over. Play the sacred carols, and let their sweet melodies and joyful lyrics embed themselves in your heart. Don’t wait to witness a sincere expression of love—create a sincere expression of love! Smile, laugh, hug, play. Praise Heavenly Father and thank the Lord for the gifts they have given us this day, and every day. Renew commitments made to yourself, your family, and your Savior.
I know some of you are perhaps finding it difficult to feel the joy and happiness of this season. Life can be overwhelming sometimes, and pretty songs and lights don’t make problems vanish, as nice as that would be. The December issue of the Ensign has an article by David L. Frischknecht. In that article he tells of a time when he was Bishop and feeling weighed down by the burdens the members of his ward were carrying. He knelt to pray for them, and as he reviewed their individual troubles he felt the weight of their suffering literally pressing down on him. As he prayed he felt a clear and powerful answer that God was very aware of each individual and their needs. He felt comforted by the Holy Spirit, as if it said to him, “Bishop, let the Lord take these burdens. Rise up. Do the best you can. Things will work out for these people. You’ll be fine, too. Go be their bishop. The Lord will be their Savior.” I have spent a lot of time this month thinking about that. Christ’s sacrifice is for each of us, that precious baby who grew up to be our Savior knows us and our pains and troubles, and He loves us, and we need to remember to let Him be our Savior. (12)
And so, on this glorious Christmas day, and any other day, if you, like so many right now, are feeling lost, or concerned with difficulties in your life, I would just like to remind you, in the words of Brother Frischknecht, that “Before and after He was a baby in Bethlehem and a carpenter in Nazareth, He was and is the God of Israel and the God of the whole earth. He was and is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is the Holy and Only Begotten Son of the Living God. ... May we remember and believe that He has all wisdom and all power in heaven and in earth ... And may we have faith that He yet condescends to help and lift the least and the last, even you, even me.” (12)
There may be many things that you do not have this Christmas season. There may be things that have been taken from you due to the current economic situation, or a health situation, but there is something that can never be taken from you. This beautiful Christmas story is unlike any other story ever told: it has no ending, the characters are all real, and that precious baby lying so peaceful and sweet is our living Savior and Redeemer. When we know that, when that truth becomes real in our lives, no one can take it away from us, and it can compensate for all other losses if we allow it to.
I know he lives. I know he loves me and I know he loves each of you. I know that men are that they might have joy, and that Christ is the light which cannot be hid in darkness. (13) As today goes on and the sun sets, take a quiet moment to look at the lights on the tree, the lights on the houses, and let go your troubles, and let your heart be full of joy for Jesus Christ, he who is the light and the life of the world (14). Let him be a light in your darkest night.
(1) O Holy Night
(2) Angels We Have Heard on High
(3) Far, Far Away on Judea’s Plains
(4) O Little Town of Bethlehem
(5) Away In A Manger copyright 1980 Rosalee Elser
(6) Silent Night
(7) Joy To The World
(8) With Wondering Awe
(9) Once In Royal David’s City
(10) Uchtdorf, Dieter F., 2010 "Seeing Christmas through New Eyes," 2010 First Presidency Christmas Devotional, (December 5, 2010)
(11) Uchtdorf, Dieter F., 2011 “Of Curtains, Contentment and Christmas, “ 2011 First Presidency Christmas Devotional, (December 4, 2011)
(12) Fricshknecht, David L. “The Condesscension of Jesus Christ,” 2011 Ensign, December 2011
(13) Doctrine and Covenants 14:9
(14) Mosiah 16:9