My dear brothers and sisters, Christmas in my childhood home was heavily influenced by the traditions of my parents’ homelands. My mother had immigrated to the United States from Sweden and my father from Finland.1 In preparation for Christmas, we decorated our Christmas tree with handmade ornaments, and my mother baked and baked and baked. For all I know, she was related to Sister Craig’s Grandmother Lundgren. Our Christmas Eve celebrations began with a fabulous smorgasbord of the traditional delicacies my mother had prepared—meatballs; rice pudding; and the plentiful breads, cakes, and cookies. The Christmas Eve festivities ended with the arrival of Jultomten—Santa Claus—who brought gifts for all the children. But before Jultomten came, my mother always gathered my brother, sisters, and me to listen as my father read the Christmas story from the New Testament.
My father was a quiet man, a man of few words in both his mother tongue and the English he learned as an adult. He was tactlessly honest and never effusive with praise. He was never fanciful, and he never embellished. On Christmas Eve he read from Luke 2. He read about Joseph and Mary traveling to Bethlehem, the angel’s appearance to the shepherds, the birth of Jesus, and Mary pondering all that had happened in her heart. But my father did not stop there in verse 19; he continued with the account of Mary and Joseph bringing the baby Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to make an offering in accordance with the Law of Moses.
My father read:
“And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon …
“And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.
“And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when [Mary and Joseph] brought in the child Jesus, …
“Then took [Simeon him] up in his arms, and blessed God, and said,
“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:
“For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
“Which thou has prepared before the face of all people.”2
At that point, my father always paused. Then he bore his testimony. Always in the same brief way, he declared in heavily accented English, “I may not be able to hold that little baby Jesus in my arms, but I know, just as well as Simeon knew, that that baby was the Son of God, my Savior and Redeemer. He is real, and He lives.” After this declaration, he looked at each of us with his piercing blue eyes and said with an emphatic nod, “And you can know it too.”
My father and mother knew who that babe in Bethlehem was and what He would grow up to accomplish. This knowledge transformed them. They desired not only that we children would believe on their words3 but that we would come to know for ourselves so that we could be transformed too. Prompted by my parents’ testimonies, I embarked on the covenant path with a desire to “know it too.”
When I was 11 years old, our family was living in Göteborg, Sweden. The mission president invited all the youth to read the Book of Mormon. I was technically not included in the invitation, but my brother was a deacon at the time, and he accepted the challenge. I always wanted to be like my brother and do what he did, so I joined in. My parents had given my siblings and me each our own set of scriptures, and I began reading every evening.
Some months later, President Gösta Malm, a counselor in the mission presidency,4 encouraged the youth who were reading the Book of Mormon to ask God about its truthfulness. I decided I would do just that. That night I waited until my brother had fallen asleep. I climbed out of bed, knelt on the cold floor, and I began to pray. I soon felt as if I were being told, “I have been telling you all along that it is true.” And with that, an indescribable peace came over me. I knew for myself by the power of the Holy Ghost that the Book of Mormon is true.5
Just as promised in the Introduction to the Book of Mormon, I also “[came] to know by the [power of the Holy Ghost] that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world, that Joseph Smith is His … prophet in these last days, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s kingdom once again established on the earth, preparatory to the Second Coming of the Messiah.”6 That knowledge, combined with subsequent witnesses, transformed me, just as it had my parents.
This knowledge—that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that He was crucified for the sins of the world—is a spiritual gift.7 This gift is not tied to a particular priesthood office nor to a particular gender; rather, it is available to all who qualify for it. We are not asked to bring the Savior gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to qualify for this beautiful spiritual gift. We are asked to give ourselves.8 The Book of Mormon prophet Amaleki pleaded with the people, saying, “And now … I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him … ; and as the Lord liveth ye will be saved.”9
As I grew older, I saw my parents serve others. I saw them keep covenants they had made with God. I saw them diligently perform home and visiting teaching, striving to minister to those they served. I saw them participate in temple ordinances and accept Church callings. And each year, on Christmas Eve, my father testified with Simeon of the Savior Jesus Christ. Over the years, my father extended his invitation to “know it too” to in-laws and grandchildren.
Decades after my boyhood experience with the Book of Mormon, I was called as a General Authority Seventy and assigned to speak in general conference. My sisters made sure that my 92-year-old father could watch the conference—and especially my talk. After general conference I went to his home. I asked, “Dad, did you watch conference?” He responded, “Ja.” I asked, “Did you hear me speak?” He responded, “Ja.” With some exasperation, I blurted out, “Well, Dad, what did you think?” He replied, “Oh, it was all right. I was almost proud.”
After a long moment he said, “Dale, I have something I need to tell you.” I then realized that while I was fishing for a compliment, my father was preoccupied with something far more important than giving me praise. He continued, “Last night I had a dream. I dreamed I died, and I saw the Savior. He took me in His arms and told me my sins were forgiven. And it felt so good.” That was all my father said out loud. But the look on his face spoke volumes; he knew Jesus Christ. He knew that the babe in Bethlehem, who had “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man,”10 was his salvation, that the Son of God had grown up and atoned for his sins. And my father knew it long before this dream. The dream was simply a tender mercy—a gift—from a loving Heavenly Father to an old man, who died two months later. Of all the Christmas gifts I ever received, I treasure most the gift of testimony and faith exemplified by my father and mother.
This Christmas, ask your Heavenly Father for the spiritual gift of knowing of the living reality of the Savior of the world. The Christmas season is a beautiful and natural time to study His life and to strive to emulate His character and attributes. As you do, you can know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that He atoned for your sins. This knowledge is better and longer lasting than any gift that Jultomten could ever bring you, because it can transform you. You will learn that the Savior loves to restore what you cannot restore, heal wounds you cannot heal, fix what has been irreparably broken, compensate for any unfairness you have experienced, and permanently mend even shattered hearts.
Just like my earthly father, I know that I will not be able to hold that little baby Jesus in my arms, but I know, just as well as Simeon knew, that that baby was the Son of God, my Savior and your Savior, my Redeemer and your Redeemer. He is real, and He lives. And you can know it too. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.