The spirit of the Christmas season permeated the Marriott Center on Tuesday, Dec. 7, as Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles joined with students at Brigham Young University in celebrating the birth of the Savior Jesus Christ.
“Let us always be valiant in the simple faith that He is who we claim Him to be — the Creator, the long-awaited Messiah, the Prince of Peace, the King of kings, our Savior and Redeemer,” the Apostle declared.
Several tall, lighted Christmas trees flanked the stage, and groupings of red, white and green poinsettias occupied the spaces around the speakers and singers. Students filled the large arena to the top row for the last devotional before the Christmas break.
In his introduction for the Apostle, BYU President Kevin J Worthen noted that Elder Andersen and his wife, Sister Kathy Andersen, love Christmas. Students cheered when President Worthen mentioned how the two became engaged during Christmas of 1974 while attending BYU.
Elder Andersen stood in the center of the stage as he shared a conversational message with the students. Behind him were the BYU Singers; Sister Andersen; Elder Clark G. Gilbert, commissioner of the Church Educational System, and Sister Christine Gilbert; and President Worthen and Sister Peggy Worthen.
The devotional was punctuated with several Christmas hymns, where Elder Andersen paused his remarks to invite the congregation to sing “with much enthusiasm.” The arena filled with the lyrics of “Joy to the World,” “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” and “Angels We Have Heard On High” as thousands of voices joined together to sing the hymns. The BYU Singers also performed a rendition of “Silent Night.”
Sister Andersen added to the Christmas spirit by reading selections from the Luke 2 account of the Savior’s birth.
Prior to the devotional, Elder Andersen posted on his social media accounts a challenge to BYU students and his social media followers to accept President Russell M. Nelson’s request to “make time for the Lord.”
During his remarks from the Marriott Center on Tuesday, the Apostle thanked those who responded to the Prophet’s appeal made during the conclusion of general conference. “This is a pattern that will strengthen your spiritual foundation not only at Christmastime, but during all of your life,” Elder Andersen promised.
A hypothetical conversation
Elder Andersen began his remarks by inviting students to imagine a hypothetical conversation they might have after “graduating from mortality.”
After passing through the veil, a student could chat with a group of faithful individuals who lived in different centuries, in various conditions and circumstances. The group would be amazed at the student’s good fortune at attending the Lord’s university where he or she was able to study with thousands of other disciples of Jesus Christ.
“While you accept that it was a beautiful time to be on Earth, you try to put it into perspective,” Elder Andersen said. The student tries to explain that it was not an easy time to follow Jesus Christ.
In describing the distractions and confusion of the day, the student notes that on Amazon Marketplace there were 354 million products available, and 81,000 Alexa skills. There were 60 million songs to choose from on iTunes and 21,000 TV shows and 65,000 films.
“You point out that the entertainment often did not point toward unselfishness, but rather pushed toward indulging in one’s own pleasures,” Elder Andersen said.
The student tells the group from past eras, “Do you remember when John referred to the word as Jesus Christ? There were so many distractions, so many temptations, so much confusion and commotion, so many seductive voices all around us, we had to be vigilant to not let it choke the word, choke our faith in Jesus Christ and our desire to be valiant to Him.”
When asked how they survived, the student responds by recalling President Nelson’s plea from October 2021 general conference where he said, “I plead with you today to counter the lure of the world by making time for the Lord in your life — each and every day. … Make your own spiritual foundation firm and able to stand the test of time by doing those things that allow the Holy Ghost to be with you always.”
President Nelson then promised: “[The Savior] will lead and guide you in your personal life if you will make time for Him in your life — each and every day.”
The student is asked by the group from past centuries, “How did you make time for the Lord?”
How students make time for the Lord
Elder Andersen then showed a video featuring Brother Brad R. Wilcox, a BYU professor and member of the Young Men general presidency, asking dozens of BYU students how they make time for the Lord.
The crowd in the Marriott Center reacted with laughter and smiles and nodded in agreement as they watched Brother Wilcox’s man-on-the-street-type interviews on campus.
One young woman spoke of making time to study the Book of Mormon every day “because nothing’s brought me closer to the Savior than the Book of Mormon,” she said.
Another young man said he is trying to memorize “The Living Christ” document. Other students noted that listening to music, attending the temple, saying a kneeling prayer and connecting with family are ways they try to make time for the Lord every day.
Microphone in hand, Brother Wilcox even popped up at the office of the university president, who said he won’t even look at his phone until he’s had his morning scripture study and personal prayer. “I don’t want to know about texts, I don’t want to know about email, I don’t want to know about social media. I want to get grounded in my relationship with Christ first,” President Worthen said.
What can be learned from the students in the video? Elder Andersen asked.
“We learn that in our world of distractions, complexities and temptations, where we have influences pulling us in every direction, we take responsibility for the person we want to become. Desiring to be a lifelong disciple of Jesus Christ is very important to each of us, and to chart our course we make time for the Lord each and every day,” he said.
Daily prayer and scripture study, more time in the temple and curbing social media can help individuals prepare to be instruments in the hands of the Lord. “Christmastime is a wonderful time to solidify the habits we seek for all of our lives,” Elder Andersen noted.
Those willing to do their very best to make time for the Lord will see President Nelson’s words fulfilled, Elder Andersen promised.
As an Apostle of the Lord, he blessed listeners that as they shape their daily habits to include the Lord, they will feel the Savior’s love and approval. “I bless you that as you increase your efforts from now through Christmas, the desire to continue these habits beyond Christmas will stay with you, and your progress as one of the Savior’s disciples will grow.”
He concluded with his testimony of Jesus Christ as the Creator, Savior and Redeemer. “As has been said many times before, without Easter, there would be no Christmas. But because He rose from the tomb, we joyfully celebrate His miraculous birth. Merry Christmas to you, my fellow disciples.”
What students learned
It is natural to talk about Christmas in December, said Tim Jafek, a senior majoring in math education from San Diego, California. He appreciated that Elder Andersen focused his remarks on the spirit of Christmas — “of service and bringing Christ into your life.” He “also really liked that we were able to sing, too. It brought us all together in the spirit of Christmas.”
Nimbe Juarez, a freshman from Houston, Texas, helped Brother Wilcox make the videos with students on campus.
“As I followed Brother Wilcox and heard people’s responses, I know my testimony was strengthened,” she told the Church News. “It was an amazing and beautiful experience to see the way our generation is following the Prophet and doing what he is asking us to do is really inspiring.”
Talking about the videos, sophomore Raymond Kelly from Houston, Texas, said: “It was encouraging to think of doing something simple each day. I liked how the responses weren’t to do this extravagant thing or if you don’t do this specific thing, you are doing it wrong. But if you simplify it like they were saying in the videos, it’s a lot more personal.”
Raymond also appreciated the music during the devotional. “You could see on the conductor’s face he loved the Savior and loved music.”
Elijah Pearce, a freshman from Oskaloosa, Iowa, majoring in editing and publishing, said he was impressed by Elder Andersen’s promise that as individuals make time for the Lord, those habits will stick with them long beyond the Christmas season.
That message “was meaningful and relevant. It was perfect,” Pearce said.