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Christmas spirit celebrated

Christ gave laws to live by, Pres. Hinckley says

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As the traditional family comes under increasing attack, LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley says it was Jesus Christ, the Jehovah of the Old Testament, who set out the commandments upon which personal behavior and family relationships are based.

Speaking Sunday at the Conference Center during the annual First Presidency Christmas Devotional, President Hinckley said Christmas is a remembrance of both Christ's life and sacrifice, as well as the laws he prescribed for mankind's happiness.

A capacity crowd filled the 21,000-seat Conference Center, decorated for the season both inside and out, with thousands milling about colorfully lighted Temple Square and the church administration block before and after the services. Music was provided by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square.

In his centerpiece address, President Hinckley said, "It was Jehovah whose finger wrote on the tablets of stone the Ten Commandments which have become the foundation of much of the law which circumscribes our behavior and defines our relationships. The further teachings of the Old Testament become the safeguard of the traditional family" at a time when that institution is "under attack" and "seems to be falling apart all about us."

The biblical Sodom and Gomorrah "became examples of that which was evil and abominable in the sight of God," President Hinckley said. "It was Jehovah, speaking through his prophets, who decried evil and pleaded for righteousness. When there was no repentance, it was his withering hand that destroyed them."

Quoting Matthew from the New Testament, he said Christ prescribed marriage between a man and a woman, "and the twain shall be one flesh. . . . What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder."

His message comes just weeks after a ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Court ordering the state legislature there to provide for the establishment of same-sex unions. The move comes as Congress considers legislation that would define marriage nationally as a union between one man and one woman.

President Hinckley also lauded the faith's first latter-day prophet, Joseph Smith, saying "it is because of him, and his singular and remarkable experience" with a vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ "that we know the Savior as we do." Joseph Smith's birthday also falls in December.

"In that single, glorious vision, more knowledge was gained concerning the nature of Deity than had been obtained in all the endless discussions of men through the centuries."

Christ's birth in Bethlehem was central to God's "great plan of happiness" for humanity, he said, meaning the "greatest fear of all men's fears, the fear of death, could be set aside and the reality of eternal life was to come through a great act of redemption." No man fully understands the Atonement of Christ, yet each will be forever touched by it.

He assured the thousands in the Conference Center and countless others who tuned in via satellite, Internet and tape-delayed broadcast that the spirit of Christmas, which causes people to "reach out in love toward others, encouraging that goodness in the lives of men and women, is the spirit of Christ."

In another address, President Thomas S. Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, said it is that spirit that "makes our hearts glow in brotherly love and friendship and prompts us to kind deeds of service." Obedience to Christ's gospel "will bring peace on earth," he said, "because it means good will toward all men."

During this season, many "become more interested in people than things" and bring Christmas to full bloom through "giving, not getting. . . . Enemies are forgiven, friends remembered and God obeyed."

As the supreme example for all men, Jesus "increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. Do we have the determination to do likewise?"

Selflessness, said President James E. Faust, second counselor in the First Presidency, is the hallmark of those who seek to emulate Christ. "When the Savior sacrificed his life, he was thinking of all others who have ever lived or who will ever live on this earth. He was not thinking of himself when he went to Gethsemane, endured Golgotha and triumphed over the tomb."

That spirit was exemplified by a humble family during the Christmas of 1948, when President Faust joined his bishop in taking a sleigh full of food through record snow drifts to a family whose father had been out of work.

A proud family that would never ask for help, the parents were uneasy as a turkey and other food staples were carried into the kitchen. The father protested that "we are getting along all right. There are others who need this help more than we do."

"It touched my heart deeply to think that those parents, whose family was in such need, were thinking of others whose situation was worse than theirs," President Faust remembered. It has long since reminded him that "Christmas is more enjoyable when we think of the needs of others before we think of our own."

He urged listeners to set aside time during the modern busyness of the season to ponder the gifts brought to all mankind freely by the Son of God.

"The challenge is not only for us to know about the Savior, but to know Him. For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?"

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