My dear brothers and sisters, this has been a wonderful evening. Our spirits have been uplifted by the beautiful music and messages. Sister Craven has melted our hearts with her thoughts of heavenly hugs and blankets of comfort. Elder Nielson has moved us as he has recounted the life of his father, whose military duty deprived him of Christmas for three consecutive years. Elder Holland has inspired us while teaching about the life of the Savior of the world.
May I take this opportunity to thank you for your response to my recent invitation to flood the social media with expressions of gratitude for our many blessings. Millions responded. And I am especially grateful that you are continuing to pray daily to our Heavenly Father, to thank Him for His guidance, protection, inspiration, and, most of all, for the gift of His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ.
Christmas evokes wonderful memories. Just a year ago, Wendy and I had the opportunity to celebrate the season with an adorable little girl, Claire Crosby, who sang a beloved Christmas carol. May I share part of our recording made for the “Light the World” initiative.1
As Elder Holland reminded us, truly that blessed night more than two millennia ago was a night made holy by the birth of One who was foreordained to bring peace to this earth and to inspire goodwill among men.2 Jesus Christ was born to bless all humankind, past, present, and future.
Even as we sing “Silent Night,” we know the life of that Babe of Bethlehem did not begin there, nor did it end on Calvary. In a premortal realm, Jesus was anointed by His Father to be the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of all humankind. He was foreordained to atone for us. “He was wounded for our transgressions [and] bruised for our iniquities”.3 He came to make immortality a reality and eternal life a possibility for all who would ever live.4
That means every one of us will be resurrected—including those dear to you who have departed during this turbulent year, and who now live on the other side of the veil. It means each of us can continue to progress. It means we can hope for better things to come.
Have you ever wondered why the Lord chose to be born where He was? He could have been born anywhere on earth. Yet he chose the very land that He made holy.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem. That word in Hebrew, bet lehem, means “house of bread.” How appropriate that He, the “bread of life,”5 would come from the “house of bread.”
His birth occurred in humble circumstances among the animals. There the “Lamb of God”6 was born during Passover season among animals being prepared for paschal sacrifice. And one day, He would be “brought as a lamb to the slaughter.”7 He was both the Lamb and the Shepherd.
Jesus was baptized in the lowest body of fresh water on earth, symbolizing the depths to which He would go in order to save us and from which He would rise above all things—again, to save us.14 From His example, He taught that we, too, can arise from the depths of our individual challenges—our sadness, weakness, and worries—to reach the heights of our own glorious potential and divine destiny. All this is possible by virtue of His mercy and grace.
Amid the dry and dusty wilderness of a desert, the Savior taught lessons that could be fully appreciated only by those who knew what it was like to be parched with thirst.
To the woman at the well, Jesus taught:
“Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again:
“But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”15
This scripture reminds me of a tender experience I had with Elder Mark E. Petersen.16 He was then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and prior to my call to that quorum, I had the privilege of accompanying him to the Holy Land on what would prove to be his last trip in mortality.
Elder Petersen was suffering greatly from cancer. During a long and painful night for him, I tried my best to comfort him. I saw that he was able to eat and drink only a very little bit. The next day he was scheduled to give a major address.
Morning came. Bravely, Elder Petersen went to the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, where a large congregation awaited him. He chose to teach from the Savior’s Sermon on the Mount. When Elder Petersen recited the passage “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness,”17 tears welled in his eyes. He laid his notes aside, looked up, and asked, “Do you know what it is really like to hunger and to thirst?” I knew he really knew. Then he taught, “When you can really hunger and thirst after righteousness, then you can become more Christlike.” Elder Petersen was a living example of that. Not long thereafter, he graduated from this mortal life.18
Whenever I contemplate hungering and thirsting after righteousness, I think of this venerable Apostle devoting one of his final sermons to teach what it really means to seek after the Lord Jesus Christ, to hunger and thirst after righteousness, to become more like Him.
This year, Sister Nelson and I got an early start working on our Christmas errands of love for our family. In early November, Wendy announced that we were ready for Christmas. My instant response was, “Oh, good! Now we can focus on the Savior.”
During this unprecedented year, when virtually every person in the world has suffered the effects of a global pandemic, there is nothing more important we can do this Christmas than to rivet our focus on the Savior and on the gift of what His life really means to each of us.
Our loving Heavenly Father “so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”19
The Son of God then promised us that “whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” 20 What unspeakable, incomparable gifts from the Father and the Son!
I thank God for the gift of His Beloved Son. And I thank our Lord Jesus Christ for His incomparable sacrifice and mission. At His first coming, Jesus came almost in secret. But at His Second Coming, the Lord’s glory “shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”21 Then He shall “rule as King of Kings and reign as Lord of Lords.”22
Now, as an authorized servant of the Savior, I would like to invoke a blessing upon each of you, my beloved brothers and sisters. May you and your families be blessed with peace, with an increased ability to hear the voice of the Lord, and receive revelation with an enhanced capacity to feel how much our Father and His Son love you, care for you, and are ready to guide all who seek after Them. I join my words with those of Moroni and “commend you to seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written, that the grace of God the Father, and also the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, … may be and abide in you forever.”23 For this I pray, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.