The Promise

“The Promise,” New Era, Dec. 1990, 20

The Promise

A celebration of the Savior in word and song.

The text is intended for reading aloud. You may do that in private, all by yourself, or you may wish to involve family or friends in a group activity such as family home evening. One person may serve as narrator, or the text can be divided among several readers.

In addition to singing some or all of the suggested songs, you can substitute or add personal favorites as appropriate to the spirit of the text. You could also use recorded music for accompaniment.

The promise was made before Adam ever breathed the air of Eden—the promise of salvation and redemption. He who was promised was one of us, yet more. He was the Firstborn.

“Father,” he said, “thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever” (Moses 4:2). “Here am I, send me” (Abr. 3:27).

Secure in the promise that he would save, that they could return to their Father, the sons and daughters of God stepped one by one into mortality. Into forgetfulness. Into a world where, in spite of sun and moon, darkness would reign if there were no promise. And hope would not exist if the promise were not known to the children of God.

Like fire from heaven came revelation into the darkness. And like a flame passed from torch to torch, from Adam through Enoch the promise burned in righteous hearts. Whenever it flickered, died, the hearts of men were cold. Yet time after time, rekindled from heaven, it glowed in prophets and those who believed them.

Noah. Abraham. Moses. David. Isaiah, who saw in vision the Source of light coming in a future dark time:

“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. …

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: … and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:2, 6).

Half a world away, others also saw and prophesied. Ether. Lehi. Nephi. Alma, who foretold: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand, and the Son of God cometh upon the face of the earth. And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem” (Alma 7:9).

Lifted by prophecy, the faithful waited, faces turned forward to a promised day. Faces turned upward in prayer. Year upon year, generation after generation.

Until—it must have seemed as though the cosmic pendulum measuring time had paused at the peak of its swing. As though the entire universe hushed before the dawning of the Son of God. And out of the stillness he spoke to one in whom the flame of promise glowed. “Lift up your head and be of good cheer; for behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world” (3 Ne. 1:13).

SONG: “Silent Night” (Hymns, no. 204).

And thus it was, at the promised time, God spoke to a prophet pure. While much of the world, heedless, babbled in its self-important business. And blindly turned its eyes to Rome, to a ruler who now is dust, who thought himself a god.

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed” (Luke 2:1).

Yet if the eyes of much of the world were on Rome, the eyes of heaven were upon another city. The prophet Micah had prophesied of it. Nephi had seen it in vision.

Countless hosts waiting for their own mortality—you and I among them—may have watched that humble town in hushed anticipation, our hopes and fears centered upon it.

SONG: “O Little Town of Bethlehem” (Hymns, no. 208).

“And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

“And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

“To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

“And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

“And she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:3–7).

SONG: “Once in Royal David’s City” (Hymns, no. 205); or “Away in a Manger” (Hymns, no. 206).

To shepherds came the first glad tidings. Not to the mighty Augustus in Rome. Not to powerful King Herod. But to simple and lowly shepherds came news of the birth of the Good Shepherd.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

“And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

“And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:8–14).

SONG: “Angels We Have Heard on High” (Hymns, no. 203); or “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks” (Hymns, no. 211); or “It Came upon the Midnight Clear” (Hymns, no. 207).

Could even angels’ voices truly sing the joy of all creation? Was even heaven’s language adequate? How, then, can human voices sing the joy? Or human tongues express the glory?

Perhaps you and I were in those choirs. Perhaps we watched and saw firsthand the unsurpassed events. Yet now the veil is drawn for us; no vivid memories remain. Still, because the promise, Spirit-kindled, also burns in us, we strain with voice and tongue to sing and tell our thanks. Weeping, perhaps, because we cannot sing or tell the overflowing of our hearts.

SONG: “Joy to the World” (Hymns, no. 201).

So much the promise means to us. And more. For there is promise yet to be fulfilled.

As once before, the world will be unknowing, dark, its eyes upon its caesars and its Romes. Yet as before, the pure will hear his voice and know. And they will watch with upturned eyes and lifted hearts.

The promised One will come again to cleanse, to bless, to claim his own. And you and I, who have forgotten what we saw when first He came, will see again. And sing again. And praise again—some caught up to meet him in the sky, others, bright-descending like a comet’s tail from realms above. All in joy.

Look forward, then, with hope, for He has promised.

SONG: “When He Comes Again” (Children’s Songbook, pp. 82–83).

I wonder, when he comes again,

Will herald angels sing?

Will earth be white with drifted snow,

Or will the world know spring?

I wonder if one star will shine

Far brighter than the rest;

Will daylight stay the whole night through?

Will songbirds leave their nests?

I’m sure he’ll call his little ones

Together round his knee,

Because he said in days gone by,

“Suffer them to come to me.”

I wonder, when he comes again,

Will I be ready there

To look upon his loving face

And join with him in prayer?

Each day I’ll try to do his will

And let my light so shine

That others seeing me may seek

For greater light divine.

Then, when that blessed day is here,

He’ll love me and he’ll say,

“You’ve served me well, my little child;

Come unto my arms to stay.”

Mirla Greenwood Thayne. Used by permission.

Photography by Welden Andersen

Lettering by James Fedor

Christ the Consolator by Carl Heinrich Bloch/Superstock

The Annunciation to the Shepherds (detail) by Del Parson

The Birth of Jesus (detail) by Carl Heinrich Bloch; The Prophet Isaiah Foretells Christ’s birth (detail) by Harry Anderson

Head of Christ by Rembrandt van Rijn/Superstock; Wise Men from the East by Harry Anderson

Christ Appearing in the Western Hemisphere by Arnold Friberg; Nephi’s Vision by Clark Kelley Price

Rest on the Flight into Egypt (detail) by Caravaggio. Scala/Art Resource, NY; The Second Coming by Grant Romney Clawson