“How will we worship Him this season?” Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Presidency of the Seventy asked during the Christmas Devotional held in the Conference Center on Dec. 8.
“Endlessly shopping? Hustling about and adorning our homes? Will that be our tribute to our Savior? Or will we bring peace to troubled hearts, good will to those in need of higher purpose, glory to God in our willingness to do His bidding? Jesus put it simply, ‘Come, and follow me.’ ”
After reading accounts of the Savior’s birth from Isaiah in the Old Testament, the account of Luke in the New Testament and King Benjamin’s and the prophet Nephi’s accounts in the Book of Mormon, Elder Rasband shared his personal witness of the birth of the Savior.
“Imagine that scene in Judea,” he said. “The sky filled with the brilliance of a magnificent star and choruses from heaven marking this singular event. The shepherds then went ‘with haste’ to see the babe lying in a manger. And later they ‘made known abroad’ what they had seen.
“Each year at Christmas we add our witness to that of the shepherds; that Jesus Christ, the literal Son of the living God, came to a corner of the earth in what we call the Holy Land. The shepherds reverently approached the stable to worship the King of kings. How will we worship Him this season?”
The gospel of Jesus Christ, restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith, has resonated with believers across the world, he said. “I have witnesses for myself the fervor of those who have embraced His sacred word from the isles of the sea to the enormity of Russia.”
Elder Rasband spoke of some of his ancestors who were among the early Saints who gathered to Zion. Sharing a Christmas memory from Hannah Last Cornaby in 1856, Elder Rasband spoke of the difficult times many of the early settlers experienced.
It was Christmas Eve and Hannah’s children hung up their stockings in hopes of finding it filled in the morning. The mother concealed from her children her worry and aching heart as she assured them they would not be forgotten, allowing them to fall asleep with joyful anticipation for the morning. Worried and not knowing what to do, the mother didn’t want to disappoint her children.
Elder Rasband quoted from her words, “ ‘I then thought of some squash in the house which I boiled and then strained off the liquid, that, when simmered a few hours, made a sweet syrup. With this, and a little spice, I made gingerbread dough, which, when cut into every conceivable variety of design, and baked in a skillet, I had no stove, filled their stockings and pleased them as much as would the most fancy confections.’
“In between the lines of this story is an account of a mother working through the night with not even a stove to ease her efforts,” Elder Rasband said. “Yet she was committed to bring joy to her children, to reinforce their faith, to affirm in their home, ‘Happy day, all is well!’ Isn’t this the message of Christmas?”
Whenever someone acts in concert with the Lord by lifting those around them, they are bearing witness that He lives and that He loves all, no matter their temporal challenges, Elder Rasband said.
Sharing another story about the Scottish convert John Menzies Macfarlane, Elder Rasband spoke of how the young man, at age 18, joined the Church with his widowed mother and brother and journeyed to Salt Lake in 1852.
“Over the years, he became a surveyor, builder, even a district judge but it was his music that distinguished him,” Elder Rasband said. “He organized his first choir in Cedar City and took his ensemble around Southern Utah.”
It was during hard times in 1869 that an apostle, Elder Erastus Snow, asked Brother MacFarlane to stage a Christmas program that would lift people’s spirits.
“Brother Macfarlane wanted a new and engaging musical piece for the event,” Elder Rasband said. “No matter how hard he tried to compose, nothing came. He prayed for inspiration and prayed again. Then, one night, he woke his wife and exclaimed, ‘I have the words for a song and I think I have the music, too.’ He hurried to the keyboard of their small parlor organ and played the tune writing it down while his wife held before him the flickering light of a bit of flannel floating in a bowl of grease.”
The words and music flowed forth, to what is now Hymn No. 212, “Far, Far Away on Judea’s Plains.”
“Brother MacFarlane had never been to Judea to see that the plains were more like rocky hillsides, but the inspired message of his music poured from his soul as a witness of the Savior’s birth in Bethlehem of Judea, a beginning that would change the world forever.”
Elder Rasband said, “I bear my witness that our Eternal Father lives. His plan of happiness profoundly blesses the lives of each of His children in all generations. I know that His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, the babe born in Bethlehem, is the Savior and Redeemer of the world and that dear President Thomas S. Monson is His Prophet on the earth today. These words of praise speak truth in my ears, ‘Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, good will to men.’”