SALT LAKE CITY — Heralding the Christmas season during the final weeks of an unprecedented year, President Russell M. Nelson said there is nothing more important this December “than to rivet our focus on the Savior and on the gift of what his life really means to each of us.”
Speaking during the annual First Presidency Christmas Devotional of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Sunday night, President Nelson and other church leaders addressed a virtual audience about the love, peace, knowledge and joy that comes from following Jesus Christ.
President Nelson began his remarks, offered during this time “when virtually every person in the world has suffered the effects of a global pandemic,” by thanking all who heard and responded to his recent invitation to flood social media with expressions of gratitude.
“Millions responded,” said President Nelson, who on Nov. 20 invited all to #GiveThanks and unite in thanking God through daily prayer. “And I am especially grateful that you are continuing to pray daily to our Heavenly Father, to thank him for his guidance, protection, inspiration, and most of all, for the gift of his beloved son, Jesus Christ.”
In addition to President Nelson, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Brent H. Nielson of the Presidency of the Seventy, and Sister Rebecca L. Craven of the Young Women general presidency, addressed the remote global audience. Music for the event was recorded during previous Christmas devotionals by The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square.
President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, conducted the event. “We enter this beautiful Christmas season after a challenging and difficult year,” he said. “We sincerely pray that you will be blessed to experience the peace and hope that comes through the Atonement and redeeming love of our Savior.”
Offering the concluding address during the annual devotional, President Nelson spoke of God who gave his only begotten son so that “whosoever believeth in him should not perish,” and the Son who promised that “whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die.”
“What unspeakable, incomparable gifts from the Father and the Son,” said President Nelson.
Christmas evokes wonderful memories, he continued.
Recalling the Christmas season one year ago, President Nelson replayed a video he made with the young social media star Claire Crosby performing “Silent Night.”
“Truly, that blessed night more than two millennia ago was a night made holy by the birth of one who was foreordained to bring peace to this earth and to inspire good will among men. Jesus Christ was born to bless all humankind, past, present and future.”
Noting the significance of the Savior’s birth during his remarks, Elder Holland called the first Christmas a “night of wondering awe” when “‘the hopes and fears of all the years’ were met in the dreams of Bethlehem.”
The irony of the quiet, unpublicized scene was “the fact that no baby had ever been born about whom so much was already known, of whom so much had already been written, and regarding whom so much was already expected,” Elder Holland said.
The newborn babe was the firstborn of the Father in the world of spirits, foreordained to be the Lamb “slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8).
He would be the grand Jehovah of the Old Testament, Elder Holland continued, helping Noah in time of flood and Joseph in time of famine. His names would include “Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (2 Nephi 19:6).
“He was the Alpha and Omega in the great plan of mercy who would eventually ‘preach good tidings unto the meek; … bind up the brokenhearted, … proclaim liberty to the captives, and (open) the prison to them that are bound,’” (Revelation 21:6).
Elder Nielson spoke of his father, Norman Nielson, who wrote a bleak letter home on Christmas Day 1943. Living in the jungles of Papua New Guinea, Norman was in his second of four years fighting in the Pacific theater of World War II.
The young soldier described to his mother the events of the day and expressed his longing to be home and eat with family. Christmas packages had not yet arrived.
Quoting this letter, Elder Nielson said that through extremely trying times, his father found the true spirit of Christmas.
Recognizing that many this Christmas are isolated or away from family due to the present world conditions, Elder Nielson said, “No matter our circumstances, no matter where we are, and no matter how we may be separated from family or friends, we will remember that he, the Savior Jesus Christ, is the gift.”
In her remarks, Sister Craven spoke of a time a few years ago when her son-in-law underwent heart surgery. Her daughter sent a message to update her in-laws, who were living in a far away country. Her mother-in-law responded with the message, “Sending you heavenly hugs.”
As Sister Craven’s daughter sat alone in the hall of the hospital, a nurse stopped and, looking into her daughter’s tear-filled eyes, asked if she would like a blanket. Although she declined, the nurse returned and wrapped her tightly in a warm blanket. “I feel like you need a heavenly hug,” the nurse said.
After relating the above story, Sister Craven testified, “The Lamb of God, also known as the Good Shepherd, knows each of his flock. In our moments of need, he often sends earthly angels, like the compassionate nurse to our daughter, to wrap and encircle us in the arms of his love.”
Contributing: Rachel Sterzer Gibson, Sydney Walker