SALT LAKE CITY — Although the name and program was slightly different than years past, the annual Christmas Devotional — formally known as the First Presidency Christmas Devotional — included a welcome to the Christmas season with messages from leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The event, held Sunday evening, reached thousands listening in the Conference Center, as well as those watching the broadcast throughout the world. Among the speakers were LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson; Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Presidency of the Seventy and Sister Rosemary M. Wixom, Primary general president.
President Monson's counselors in the First Presidency, President Henry B. Eyring and President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, sat with him on the stand. President Uchtdorf conducted the meeting. Like years past, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square performed carols and hymns praising the birth of the Savior.
“Christmas is a glorious season of the year,” President Monson said. “It is also a busy time for most of us. It is my hope and prayer that we may we not become so caught up in the pressures of the season that we place our emphasis on the wrong things and miss the simple joys of commemorating the birth of the Holy One of Bethlehem.”
President Monson said that finding the real joy of Christmas comes not in the hurrying and scurrying to get more done, rather, it is through making the Savior the focus of the season.
“Our celebration of Christmas should be a reflection of the love and selflessness taught by the Savior,” he said. “Giving, not getting, brings to full bloom the Christmas spirit. We feel more kindly one to another. We reach out in love to help those less fortunate. Our hearts are softened. Enemies are forgiven, friends remembered and God obeyed. The spirit of Christmas illuminates the picture window of the soul, and we look out upon the world’s busy life and become more interested in people than in things.”
Elder Nelson spoke of the peace that comes to all who earnestly seek the “Prince of Peace.”
“Focusing on the Lord and everlasting life can help us not only at Christmas, but through all the challenges of mortality,” he said.
Although life often brings challenges that cause individuals to worry, it is through turning to the Savior that they will find how to live, love and learn.
“He taught us how to care about others more than we care about ourselves,” Elder Nelson said. “He taught us about mercy and kindness — making real changes in our lives through his power. He taught us how to find peace of heart and mind.
"Peace can come to all who follow the Savior’s invitation to 'Come, follow me,' as they choose to walk in the ways of the Master,” he said.
After reading portions of the account of the Savior’s birth from Isaiah in the Old Testament, Luke in the New Testament and King Benjamin’s and the prophet Nephi’s accounts in the Book of Mormon, Elder Rasband shared his personal witness of the birth of the Savior.
“Each year at Christmas we add our witness to that of the shepherds; that Jesus Christ, the literal Son of the living God, came to a corner of the earth in what we call the Holy Land,” he said. “The shepherds reverently approached the stable to worship the King of kings. How will we worship him this season?”
After sharing experiences of early pioneers, who were able to have a wonderful Christmas despite difficult circumstances, Elder Rasband said that whenever someone acts in concert with the Lord by lifting those around them, they are bearing witness that he lives and the he loves all, no matter their temporal challenges.
Sister Wixom spoke of the magic children bring to the Christmas season.
“We miss something if we don’t see Christmas through a child’s eyes, for children see the light, they hear the music and they smell the fragrance of Christmas trees and candy canes with real anticipation,” she said.
Sister Wixom shared an experience of a Cub Scout leader in Gilbert, Ariz., who took the opportunity to teach a group of energetic 8-year-old boys about the birth of Jesus. One boy in particular listened to the story intently and kept asking, "what happened next?"
The question, "what happened next" has a real Christmas meaning, said Sister Wixom.
"After the season is over, the Christmas lights come down, the fragrance of pine dissipates into the air, and the Christmas music no longer plays on the radio, we like (the young boy), may ask, 'what happens next?'
"The wonder and awe of Christmas is just a beginning. Christmas reminds us that the babe born in Bethlehem has given us purpose for living and what happens next to us largely depends on how we embrace our Savior Jesus Christ, and follow him. Through childlike faith we seek him and we feel his influence.”
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company