The most familiar and beloved account of the Savior’s birth is found in the second chapter of Luke in the New Testament. I am filled with gratitude each time I read about Joseph and Mary traveling to Bethlehem, the lowly manger, the humble birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, and angels proclaiming “good tidings of great joy … to all people” (Luke 2:10).
The Restoration of the gospel in the latter days provides an important companion account of the Savior’s birth in the Book of Mormon. My message highlights this additional description of the first Christmas. As we consider this episode together, brothers and sisters, I invite you to visualize yourself in these events and not merely listen to the words.
I pray the Holy Ghost will help you liken these scriptures to you and your family (see 1 Nephi 19:23) and fill your hearts with the true spirit of Christmas.
Our account begins in the land of Zarahemla a few years before the birth of the Savior. Samuel the Lamanite came among the people to preach repentance and prophesy of Christ. Now please try to imagine that you are 10 years old and a member of the multitude listening to a prophet of God foretell future events.
Samuel declared: “Behold, I give unto you a sign; for five years more cometh, and behold, then cometh the Son of God to redeem all those who shall believe on his name.
“And behold, this will I give unto you for a sign at the time of his coming; for behold, there shall be great lights in heaven, insomuch that in the night before he cometh there shall be no darkness, insomuch that it shall appear unto man as if it was day.
“Therefore, there shall be one day and a night and a day, as if it were one day and there were no night; and this shall be unto you for a sign. …
“And behold, there shall a new star arise … ; and this also shall be a sign unto you” (Helaman 14:2–5).
As time passed, “the prophecies of the prophets began to be fulfilled more fully; for there began to be greater signs and greater miracles wrought among the people” (3 Nephi 1:4).
Please now imagine five years have passed and you are now approximately 15 years old. You can recall clearly the prophecies of Samuel as you consider the present circumstances in which you live.
“But there were some who began to say that the time was past for the words to be fulfilled, which were spoken by Samuel, the Lamanite.
“And they began to rejoice over their brethren, saying: Behold the time is past, and the words of Samuel are not fulfilled; therefore, your joy and your faith concerning this thing hath been vain.
“And it came to pass that they did make a great uproar throughout the land; and the people who believed began to be very sorrowful, lest by any means those things which had been spoken might not come to pass.
“But behold, they did watch steadfastly for that day and that night and that day which should be as one day as if there were no night, that they might know that their faith had not been vain.
“Now it came to pass that there was a day set apart by the unbelievers, that all those who believed in those traditions should be put to death except the sign should come to pass, which had been given by Samuel the prophet” (3 Nephi 1:5–9).
Brothers and sisters, can we even begin to understand what it might have been like to await the sign of His coming and also face the dire deadline of death? Would you and I stand firm and steadfast in the faith, or would we waver and shrink?
Then, indeed, the sign of Christ’s birth foretold by Samuel was given. In a climate of religious persecution and at the tender age of approximately 15, you marveled one evening as the sun went down but there was no darkness.
“And the people began to be astonished because there was no darkness when the night came. …
“And they began to know that the Son of God must shortly appear; yea, … all the people … were so exceedingly astonished that they fell to the earth. …
“And it came to pass that there was no darkness in all that night, but it was as light as though it was mid-day. And it came to pass that the sun did rise in the morning again, … and they knew that it was the day that the Lord should be born, because of the sign which had been given.
“And it had come to pass, yea, all things, every whit, according to the words of the prophets.
“And it came to pass also that a new star did appear, according to the word” (3 Nephi 1:15, 17, 19–21).
The day Jesus was born was a day of deliverance for the believers in the New World. Light as the sign of the Savior’s birth literally saved their lives.
Now, brothers and sisters, imagine that over 30 years have passed and you are now approaching the age of 50. You can still remember vividly the teachings of Samuel and your experiences as a teenager when the sign of the Lord’s birth was given.
“And it came to pass that there was thick darkness upon all the face of the land, insomuch that the inhabitants thereof who had not fallen could feel the vapor of darkness;
“And there could be no light, because of the darkness, neither candles, neither torches; neither could there be fire kindled … , so that there could not be any light at all;
“And there was not any light seen, neither fire, nor glimmer, neither the sun, nor the moon, nor the stars, for so great were the mists of darkness which were upon the face of the land.
“And it came to pass that it did last for the space of three days that there was no light seen” (3 Nephi 8:20–23).
What might it have been like to experience those three days of indescribable darkness and then, a short time later, gather with the multitude of 2,500 people at the temple in the land of Bountiful? Can you envision the majesty of the moment as the Savior descended from the heavens and declared, “Behold, I am Jesus Christ. … I am the light and the life of the world”? (3 Nephi 11:10–11; italics added).
To this special assembly at the temple, two of the first words the Savior used to describe Himself were “the light.” Samuel predicted a sign of light. The sign of light was given at the Savior’s birth. For the people in the assembled multitude, terrible darkness and fear had been dissipated by the true light, even Jesus Christ.
The account of the first Christmas in the Book of Mormon helps us to learn and more fully understand that Jesus Christ is the “light which shineth in darkness” (see D&C 10:57–61). In every season of our lives, in all of the circumstances we may encounter, and in each challenge we may face, Jesus Christ is the light that dispels fear, provides assurance and direction, and engenders enduring peace and joy.
Many of our memorable and enduring Christmas traditions include different kinds of lights—lights on trees, lights in and on our homes, candles on our tables. May the beautiful lights of every holiday season remind us of Him who is the source of all light.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light.
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.
(“O Little Town of Bethlehem,” Hymns, no. 208).
I witness that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, triumphantly fulfilled His mortal mission and ministry, and as our resurrected Lord, He lives today. I so testify in the sacred name of the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.