Christmas invites feelings of tenderness, joy, and love. And as any parent will attest, similar feelings typically attend the birth of each newborn child. Of course, Christ’s birth was unlike any other. The precious details—the journey to Bethlehem, an overcrowded inn, a lowly manger, a newfound star, and ministering angels—make His a birth story for the ages. Yet the story of the Savior’s birth represents only a part of why we feel the Spirit during the Christmas season. Christmas is not only a celebration of how Jesus came into the world but also of knowing who He is—our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ—and of why He came.
President Thomas S. Monson has taught: “Because He came to earth, … we [can] have joy and happiness in our lives and peace each day of the year. … Because He came, there is meaning to our mortal existence.”1
This meaning becomes clearer when we consider the fulness of the Christmas story. As President Gordon B. Hinckley explained: “There would be no Christmas if there had not been Easter. The babe Jesus of Bethlehem would be but another baby without the redeeming Christ of Gethsemane and Calvary, and the triumphant fact of the Resurrection.”2
Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem is not the beginning of the story, and Calvary is not the end. The scriptures teach that He was “in the beginning … with God”3 in the premortal Council in Heaven. We also were there, where we knew Him as Jehovah, the Firstborn of our Eternal Father.4 We learned that He would perform the central role as Creator and Redeemer of the world. We shouted for joy as we embraced our Father’s great plan of happiness.5 Albeit there were some who rebelled against God’s plan, we are among those who placed our faith in Jesus Christ. We willingly accepted the perils of mortality because we had confidence that Jesus would accomplish the will of the Father—that through Him we would be saved.
Here on earth, the memory of our former life is covered by a veil of forgetfulness. Our purpose in coming to earth was to learn how to “walk by faith, not by sight.”6
To strengthen that faith, God sent prophets who foresaw and foretold of the coming of the promised Messiah. One of these prophets was Nephi, who saw in vision a tree that was exceedingly beautiful and white. When he asked to know the interpretation of his vision, he was shown the city of Nazareth and Mary, a virgin who was most beautiful and fair. The angel attending to Nephi then asked this most penetrating question: “Knowest thou the condescension of God?” In other words, “Do you understand why God Himself will come into the world, why He would condescend below all things?” Nephi’s response was somewhat tentative: “I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.”
The angel then said, “The virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God.” Nephi saw Mary holding a child in her arms, and in joy the angel cried out, “Behold the Lamb of God, … even the Son of the Eternal Father!” Suddenly, the meaning of the tree—and the reason we celebrate Christ’s birth—became clearer to Nephi. Said he, “It is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things.” “Yea,” the angel added, “and the most joyous to the soul.”7
Finally, nearly 600 years after Nephi’s vision, the long-awaited, long-prophesied day arrived. Jesus passed through the veil and entered the world as a helpless baby, though a baby unlike any other. God’s Firstborn Son in the spirit became His Only Begotten Son in the flesh. This child, born in the humblest of circumstances, would carry on His shoulders the salvation of God’s eternal family! Truly, “the hopes and fears of all the years” converged in the “little town of Bethlehem” that night.8
But the story, of course, does not end there. As miraculous as the Savior’s birth was, greater miracles were about to follow.
We know very little of Jesus’s early years. We are told that He “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.”9 By age 12, His expressed desire was to “be about [His] Father’s business.”10 That business was to manifest to the world the Father’s “great and wonderful love” for His children.11
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, … that the world through him might be saved.”12
His Father’s business was to “[go] about doing good.”13 It was a work of compassion—“healing the sick, raising the dead, causing the lame to walk, the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear.”14
His Father’s business was to open the eyes of our faith, to arouse our spiritual faculties, and to heal our pain, our pride, our sickness, and our sins. It was to “succor [us in our] infirmities.” And to accomplish this, Jesus willingly suffered pain, rejection, afflictions, and temptations of every kind.15
His Father’s business was to help us fulfill our purpose on earth—to “fit us for heaven,” that we might “live with [Him] there.”16 In other words, His Father’s business was—and is—“to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”17
Ultimately, the fulness of the story of Christmas culminates with the last three days of the Savior’s life. In that pivotal period, the Savior passed from the Garden of Gethsemane to the cross of Calvary to the Garden Tomb. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught, the “impact and efficacy” of that moment would “reach back … to the beginning of time, and forward … throughout all eternity.”18
With the fate of every human soul hanging in the balance, Jesus entered the Garden of Gethsemane virtually alone. There followed interrogation, scourging, and finally an excruciating death on the cross. With the same humility and submissiveness in which He declared from the beginning, “Here am I, send me,”19 he now said, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”20
The earth groaned, His friends grieved, and darkness covered the land. The Savior passed into the world of spirits, where “an innumerable company of the spirits of the just”—righteous souls who had died—awaited His coming. In striking similarity to what had happened in the beginning of time, the sons and daughters of God shouted for joy and bowed down to worship their Deliverer.21
Soon the time came for the Savior to take up His physical body again and complete His victory over death. Early in the morning on a spring day, the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene went to His tomb and found it empty. She was the first to hear His voice and see His beloved face. Jesus later appeared to His Apostles, inviting them to behold His hands and feet, to “handle [Him], and see”22 that it really was Him—that their Redeemer did indeed live again!
These are the “good tidings of great joy”23 we celebrate at Christmas—not only that Christ was born but that He lived among us, gave His life for us, was resurrected, and ultimately “finished the work which [His Father gave Him] to do.”24 We rejoice because the confusion and chaos of this world can be hushed by the promise made to us from the very beginning—a promise fulfilled by the Atonement of Jesus Christ. For this reason, the story of Christmas is not fully told without the story of Easter. It was the Savior’s atoning sacrifice that made holy the silent night in Bethlehem. It was His gift of redemption that caused us to shout for joy in the premortal world—this gift that heals our sickness, restores our sight, and wipes away all tears.25
The light we love at Christmas emanates from the Light of the World, Jesus Christ. The story we cherish at Christmas tells of our Father’s plan of happiness, which Christ made possible. The gift that makes the Christmas season sacred is His very life, which He gave that we might have everlasting life. May we receive this gift and share His love and His gospel with all the world, particularly during this wonderful season of the year, is my prayer in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.