While thousands of lights adorned Temple Square and Christmas decorations gave a sparkle of festivity to the interior of the Tabernacle, the Savior's own words, as recorded in the scriptures, were the focal point of the First Presidency Christmas Devotional Sunday evening, Dec. 5.
President Gordon B. Hinckley, first counselor in the First Presidency, presided over and addressed the gathering, which filled the Tabernacle and overflowed to the nearby Assembly Hall. In opening the meeting, President Hinckley said he had visited President Ezra Taft Benson an hour before the devotional. President Hinckley said he also paid a visit to President Thomas S. Monson, second counselor in the First Presidency, who was not feeling well and whose physician had advised him not to attend the devotional.Noting he was the lone member of the First Presidency at the First Presidency Devotional, President Hinckley quipped amid laughter from the congregation, "Somehow, I made it."
President Monson was scheduled to conduct the meeting and offer remarks. Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Council of the Twelve was called upon to speak in his absence. Other members of the Twelve and of the Quorums of the Seventy and the Presiding Bishopric attended the devotional, as did members of the general presidencies of the auxiliary organizations.
The meeting was carried on the Church satellite network to some 3,000 meetinghouses in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. It was televised on delayed basis by KBYU.
In his address, President Hinckley said, "As most of you know, I have spoken a number of times on these occasions concerning the Lord whom I love. Tonight I wish to let Him speak for Himself. I will set the scene and then read His own words which He spoke long ago to those to whom He said, `Come, follow me.' The words I read have been chosen from His entire ministry, for in celebrating His birth, we also remember His life and His atoning sacrifice for each of us. What He said, though familiar to all of you, and though it be only a sampling of His teachings, I feel will be worth repeating on this sacred occasion."
As President Hinckley read from the New Testament and the Book of Mormon, Tabernacle organist John Longhurst played Christmas music in the background.
President Hinckley turned first to the book of 3 Nephi, and read of the Savior's promise to come "on the morrow . . . to fulfill all things" He had made known to the children of men from the foundation of the world. (3 Ne. 1:13-14.)
Turning to the New Testament, President Hinckley said: "Of the circumstances of His birth in Bethlehem of Judea, all of you are familiar. You know of the flight to Egypt to escape the cruelty of Herod. You know of His boyhood in Nazareth, where He `grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.' " (Luke 2:40.)
President Hinckley spoke of and read the account of the Savior's youth (Luke 2:48-49, 52) and His baptism (Matt. 3:13-17). He spoke of how Jesus taught His followers, and then read Matt. 5:3-9, part of what is known as the Beatitudes. President Hinckley read of the Savior's promise to give rest to all that "labour and are heavy laden." (Matt. 11:28-30.) After saying that the Savior taught mercy, redemption, healing and love, President Hinckley read the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-24), and then told of Jesus' conversation with the woman at the well of Samaria, in which He promised, "whosoever drinketh of the water I shall give him shall never thirst." (John 4:13-14.)
President Hinckley read the account of Jesus calling Lazarus from the dead, and saying, "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
" `And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.' " (John 11:21-26.)
President Hinckley read the words Jesus spoke, knowing His death was near: " `Little children, (only) a little while I am with you. . . .
" `A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you. . . .
" `By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.' " (John 13:33-35.)
Additional words of farewell counsel by the Savior were read by President Hinckley: His declaration that in His Father's house are many mansions, and His promise that He would come again and receive His followers unto Himself (John 14:1-3, 6); His admonition, "Keep my commandments" (John 14:15.); and His comforting words, "Peace I leave with you, . . . Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." (John 14:27.)
President Hinckley described Jesus' arrest and trial before Pilate, and the scourging and mocking He endured before He "was crucified for us, for each one of us." He read of the Savior's plea on the cross: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34.)
Turning to the Book of Mormon, President Hinckley described how the voice of the Lord pierced to their very souls and multitudes gathered about the temple in the land Bountiful. He read 3 Ne. 11:1-11, which records the Father introducing His Son and admonishing the people to hear Him, and the Savior's affirmation He is "the light and life of the world."
President Hinckley then read Isa. 53:4-5: "Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows. . . .
" `He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.' "
President Hinckley then added: "And so at this Christmas season we reach out to all in a spirit of love and reconciliation, even to those who speak evil against us. We sing beautiful carols that tell of the night of His birth, that silent and holy night. In moments of quiet, we reflect upon His matchless life and His unconditional love for each of us. As unworthy recipients of His mercy, we thank Him for His redeeming sacrifice. . . .
" And now,' at this Christmas time,after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!' (D&C 76:22.)
"Glory and honor be to Him forever who is our Teacher, our Master, our Friend, and the Redeemer of all mankind."
Elder Packer related that President Spencer W. Kimball, when a member of the Council of the Twelve, gave him a book in which was a poem by Apostle Orson F. Whitney. Elder Packer described the poem, "Immanuel - a Christmas Idyl," as "a jewel, a Christmas present." He then read the poem, which has 144 lines in 18 stanzas.
One stanza from the poem:
Oh wondrous grace! Will Gods go down
Thus low that men may rise?
Imprisoned here that mighty One
Who reigned in yonder skies?
E'en so. Time's everlasting tongue
Now tolls the hour of noon;
A dying world is welcoming
The Godhead's gracious boon.
After he read the poem, Elder Packer said, "It is Christmas time, and all of the wonderful joys of Christmas now are before us."
He concluded with another poem, "Washed Clean." He made no mention that he had written the poem himself. Following are a few stanzas:
In ancient times the cry "Unclean!"
Would warn of lepers near.
"Unclean! Unclean!" the words rang out;
Then all drew back in fear, . . .
No soap, no balm, no medicine
Could stay disease or pain.
There was no salve, no cleansing bath
To make them well again.
But there was One, the record shows,
Whose touch could make them pure;
Could ease their awful suffering,
Their rotting flesh restore. . . .
He taught that justice will be stayed
Till mercy's claim be heard
If we repent and are baptized
And live by every word.
That is the never-ending gift
That came that Christmas day
When Mary first held close her son
And Shepherds came to pray.
If we could only understand
All we have heard and seen,
We'd know there is no greater gift
Than those two words - "Washed clean!"
Music for the devotional was provided by the Tabernacle Choir, with Jerold Ottley and Donald Ripplinger conducting, and John Longhurst and Richard Elliott at the organ. In addition to special selections performed by the choir, the congregation joined the choir in singing four Christmas carols.
Elder Richard G. Scott of the Council of the Twelve offered the invocation; Primary Gen. Pres. Michaelene P. Grassli gave the benediction.