PROVO, Utah — Speaking in a Christmas morning devotional at the Provo Missionary Training Center, Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles emphasized love — particularly loving and serving the Savior.
And apropos of the day, he also spoke of gifts — particularly the gifts from Jesus Christ.
“We humbly acknowledge the precious gifts the Savior has bestowed upon us,” said the Apostle, who also chairs the Church’s Missionary Executive Council. “We are grateful that missionaries and members are striving to love, share and invite others to come to Him — not just now, but through eternity.”
Elder Cook and his wife, Sister Mary Cook, spoke Monday, Dec. 25, to the 1,155 missionaries training at the Provo MTC, with the devotional livestreamed to other missionary training centers worldwide.
Before covering his primary message of loving the Savior, Elder Cook invited Sister Cook to lead the missionaries in singing the missionary anthem “Hark, All Ye Nations!” (Hymn No. 264) and had Broadway singer and actor Dallyn Vail Bayles sing “Bless This House” with the MTC missionary choir, a song Elder Cook explained is a memory from his first Christmas as a missionary in Great Britain.
Elder Cook first emphasized three other relationships “that are the heart and soul of missionary work” and need to be constantly reviewed. With the love for the Savior, the four are:
· “Love your companions.
· “Love the people where you are called to serve.
· “Love your mission president and his leader/wife.
· “Fourth, and most important, love the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Loving companions, the people, mission leaders
Elder Cook first underscored loving one’s companions “because it is essential as an emissary of the Savior to ‘be one’ (Doctrine and Covenants 38:27) in unity and harmony with each of your companions.”
He referenced experiences with several of his own companions when serving in the British Mission more than six decades earlier, including his time with one junior companion by the name of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, who later became his senior as members of the Twelve.
“He was incredible then and still is now,” Elder Cook said of the acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “We had a great mission experience and shared a great love and unity that has endured in a marvelous way over the 63 years since we started our missions together.”
He also reflected on the exceptional missionary service of the late President M. Russell Ballard, who served as the quorum’s acting president until his death Nov. 12. He spoke of how the trio of Apostles who had served full-time missions in Great Britain — President Ballard, President Holland and Elder Cook — journeyed there together two years ago to share memorable locations and experiences.
Of loving the people, Elder Cook decried the sophomoric practice of making fun of people and the circumstances in which they live.
“Emissaries of the Savior who are trying to develop Christlike attributes do not make fun of other people or put them down or attempt to create humor at their expense,” he said, adding: “It is wrong. Don’t do it. Be determined to love the people. They are our brothers and sisters and beloved children of our Father in Heaven.”
Of loving one’s mission leaders, Elder Cook told of how the Apostles assign newly called missionaries or reassigned missionaries, such as for visa issues, and the impressions of assigning missionaries to specific leaders and not just mission areas.
“We have the sense that these mission leaders will bless you during your mission. Their goal will be to assist in your lifelong conversion and guide you in your purpose to preach the gospel and baptize converts.”
Elder Cook focused the remainder of his remarks on loving the Lord — “the most important love.”
Calling “the love and the ‘light’ that our Savior has given us” a principal example of love, the Apostle spoke of how the Church emphasizes Christ’s “light” every December with the global Light the World and related Giving Machines initiatives.
He told of how he and Sister Cook were in New York City’s Times Square for this year’s Dec. 1 initiatives’ commencement, including the square’s digital billboards all turning to the depiction of Christ’s birth. He showed two videos — one of the Light the World moments at Times Square, which in the first 10 days was viewed more than 170 million times, and one from the other Light the World global series, with a collective 300 million views.
He also recalled seeing as a youth a series of Christmas window displays depicting individuals and families in various situations with a thematic question, “If Christ came tonight, to whom would He come?” After his initial reflections on the Second Coming, he thoughts of a better question — “If Christ came tonight, who would be prepared to greet Him?”
Citing Pilate’s statement to onlookers to look upon the Savior before His Crucifixion (John 19:5), Elder Cook asked his listeners to “Behold the Man” with five invitations.
‘First, let us consider His miraculous birth’
Said Elder Cook: “We know that He was the Only Begotten Son of the Father. He inherited the power of eternal life from His Father — the power to live. He inherited from His mortal mother the power to die. He was chosen from the beginning for His sacred mission.”
‘Second, ponder His perfect and sinless life and His example’
Though He suffered pains, afflictions and temptations of every kind, He successfully fulfilled His mission, Elder Cook said. “He was our Exemplar and laid out the path that we should follow. He devoted His life to the poor, the needy, the sick and the afflicted and the successful completion of the eternal plan for which He alone was qualified.”
‘Third, contemplate His death, Resurrection and Atonement’
Calling the Atonement of Jesus Christ “the greatest event that has ever occurred in the history of mankind” with the provision of the gift of resurrection to all, he added: “But only the repentant, the ones who bring a broken heart and a contrite spirit and are baptized, will be able to dwell in Heavenly Father’s presence. Not to be there is spiritual death. All of us have sinned, and it is only through the Atonement that we can obtain mercy and live with God.”
‘Fourth, anticipate His Second Coming’
Elder Cook recited “Prepare yourselves for the great day of the Lord,” (Doctrine and Covenants 43:20) and pointed his listeners to the second verse of the song “When He Comes Again” and the lines “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.”
‘Fifth, serve the Savior — be His hands’
Said Elder Cook: “The principal way we can show our gratitude to the Savior for what He has done for us is to be His servant — to in effect be His hands here on earth.”
Counseling the missionaries to be mindful of their individual spiritual conditions, the Apostle read Matthew 22:37 and 39 on the two great commandments — to love the Lord and to love one’s neighbor.
“Our love of God and our fellowmen is the ultimate test of the condition of our spirit,” he said. “If we love God, we will keep His commandments. And if we love our fellowmen, we will serve them.”
Elder Cook concluded: “As missionaries, we can be valiant in our testimonies of the Savior. I testify to you that He lives. That He is our Example, our Advocate with the Father. That He atoned for our sins and that we can joyously reenter His presence if we are worthy.”
‘Picture a Christmas’
In her remarks, Sister Cook referred to the song “Picture a Christmas” and the lyrics of Christ’s birth. She also invited missionaries to picture other instances of “picturing” the birth — Isaiah’s prophecies (Isaiah 9:6), Nephi’s vision (1 Nephi 11:20-21) and Samuel the Lamanite's foretelling from the wall at Zarahemla (Helaman 14:2).
She told her listeners that they will treasure their missions in showing others how to find Jesus and the completeness of His restored gospel. “You will probably never know the extent of your good work and message as it affects the lives of those you touch with your testimony,” she said. “I pray that you will live up to the responsibility of being an emissary of the Savior. Every step you take and mile that you walk in His service is a special gift to Him.”
What they said
What did attending missionaries learn from the Holy Spirit during the devotional with Elder and Sister Cook?
Sister Sarah Jane Underwood of Mandeville, Louisiana, assigned to serve in the Nevada Las Vegas Mission, said: “I learned that the work that I am doing on this earth is magnificent and so significant and I am more than honored to be able to be a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ and to teach people about this incredible gift, the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”
Her companion, Sister Emma Boyle of Holly Spring, North Carolina, going to the Arizona Tempe Mission, added: “It was made more apparent to me that while missionary work is for everybody, we are called and set apart to be the hands of the Lord in teaching His gospel and bringing it to all the people throughout the world.”
Elder Maximus Corwell of St. George, Utah, assigned to the Colombia Barranquilla Mission, said: “I learned that Jesus Christ’s birth is not just a fairy tale and not a bedtime story — that it actually happened. And it is something that can speak to everybody and can bring light to everybody.
His companion, Elder Joseph Turner, from Austin, Texas, and going to the Ecuador Guayaquil Mission, added: “Just as Pilate said, to “Behold the Man,” I am trying to look to Christ in every thought that I have and in every action I do.”
The devotional served as the key Christmas weekend event at the Provo MTC. The Sunday of Christmas Eve began with the weekly worship meetings and ended with a Christmas music program. Later after the devotional, Christmas Day at the MTC was to include a special dinner, Bayles returning for an afternoon concert, missionaries calling home to their families, an evening concert and missionaries gathering at night to sing hymns at the MTC campus’ Fountain Square.