“First Presidency Rejoices in Season and the Savior,” Ensign, Feb. 1996, 76–77
Christmas is a solemn reminder of the Lord Jesus Christ’s birth and atonement, said President Gordon B. Hinckley during the annual First Presidency Christmas devotional. President Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor in the First Presidency, and President James E. Faust, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, also spoke during the December 3 meeting.
“The story of Christmas is so much larger than the story of His birth in Bethlehem of Judea,” President Hinckley told the thousands gathered in the Tabernacle on Temple Square. The devotional was broadcast over the Church satellite system and KBYU. “It is the very core of the entire plan drawn and adopted for the salvation of the sons and daughters of God of all generations. His birth cannot be separated from His earthly ministry. Neither can it be detached from His divine sacrifice, the atonement made in behalf of each of us. At Christmas, we sing of His birth. I feel so profoundly grateful for that birth. But that birth would not be remembered but for the gift He made to all of us through His mortal ministry, followed by the terrible pain and suffering of His death, to rise glorious and triumphant as the Redeemer of the world.
“Christmas is a solemn reminder of all of this, and it has a wondrous effect upon our lives,” President Hinckley continued. “Somehow in the magic of this season, there is less of hate and more of love, there is less of greed and more of giving, there is less of indifference and more of gratitude. If only for a brief season, we are inclined to lay aside our selfishness and reach out to help others.”
Illustrating that inclination, President Hinckley related a story of two Canadian mounties who walked more than half a mile through knee-deep snow to deliver gifts and food to a needy family. The two almost turned back because of the cold and snow, but for some reason they continued. When they arrived at the home, the children were overjoyed and the mother burst into tears, telling the men that they were an answer to prayer.
Earlier in the evening she had tried to explain to the children that Santa would not be coming, but the children couldn’t believe it. One of her sons suggested they kneel down and pray. As they finished their prayer, the mounties arrived.
“That beautiful and touching story could be repeated in a variety of circumstances a thousand times at this season of the year when hearts reach out to others,” observed President Hinckley, who also thanked Church members around the world for their confidence and prayers since March 1995, when he became President of the Church.
“I know that I am not the head of this church,” he said. “The Lord Jesus Christ is its head. He is its living head. My mission, my chief responsibility, my greatest honor comes in bearing solemn testimony of His living reality. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, who condescended to come into this world of misery, struggle, and pain to touch men’s hearts for good, to teach the way of eternal life, and to give of Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of all mankind.”
In his remarks, President Monson observed that sometimes we expect too much of Christmas Day. “‘What did you get for Christmas?’ This is the universal question among children for days following that most celebrated holiday of the year,” he observed. “Newly acquired possessions are displayed and admired as Christmas day dawns, then departs.
“The gifts so acquired are fleeting. Dolls break, dresses wear out, and fun games become boring. Pocketknives are lost, basketballs lose their bounce, and trucks are abandoned when the batteries which power them dim and die.
“If we change but one word in our Christmas question, the outcome is vastly different,” President Monson continued. “‘What did you give for Christmas?’ prompts stimulating thought, causes tender feelings to well up, and memory’s fires to glow ever brighter. … Giving, not getting, brings to full bloom the Christmas spirit. It illuminates the picture window of the soul, and we look out upon the world’s busy life and become more interested in people than things. To catch the real meaning of the ‘spirit of Christmas,’ we need only drop the last syllable, and it becomes the ‘Spirit of Christ.’
“This is the spirit which marked that first Christmas day—a day foretold by the prophets of old.”
President Faust shared a story of a young man serving as a Marine in Japan following the dropping of the atomic bomb during World War II. While working in a chaplain’s office during the Christmas season, Brother Kenneth J. Brown met an older Japanese gentleman, Professor Iida, who came seeking permission for his small Christian choir to perform a concert for the American marines.
Permission for the concert was given, and the date was set—Christmas Eve. Hardened military personnel sat in the audience, perched on jagged walls, listening to the music, which was performed in English. The students probably had no idea what they were singing, President Faust explained, but they had memorized the words beautifully. The closing number was a solo from The Messiah, and the young performer sang it with all the conviction of one who knew that Jesus was the Savior of mankind. Her performance brought tears and a full minute of silence, followed by thundering applause.
Brother Brown helped Professor Iida clean up after the concert and asked the Japanese man how his group survived the bomb. He was informed that this was only half the group, and that most members had lost one or more family members. The soloist had lost a mother and two brothers, Professor Iida explained, and then quietly explained that she was his daughter.
The young marine was touched as he reflected on the hatred he had seen during the war and then realized that these Japanese Christians from their point of view had reason to hate the American troops. Yet their love for the Savior taught them to forget their grief and serve others.
“That power has influenced for good the hosts of His followers on the earth for almost two thousand years,” President Faust reflected. “It is the power in the knowledge that Jesus Christ is our Redeemer, our Savior, our advocate with the Father, the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and the Prince of Peace. It is the power by which, through faith and obedience to His teachings, we can find joy and happiness, peace and comfort.”