In our congregations at this time of year we sing of the wise men who, “with wondering awe,” saw and followed the star that signaled the birth of the Christ Child. We raise our voices to sing of the angels who heralded this sacred event. We preserve and pass along the story of “the little town of Bethlehem” where Jesus was born, and recount how, since there was no room in the inn, He “laid down his sweet head” in a manger. We sing of shepherds who, while watching their flocks by night, heard the angel’s proclamation of His birth.
This is a season of wonder.
Although not a Christmas carol or Christmas hymn per se, one hymn sums up the feelings of many:
I marvel that he would descend from his throne divine
To rescue a soul so rebellious and proud as mind.
That he should extend his great love unto such as I,
Sufficient to own, to redeem, and to justify.
Oh, it is wonderful that he should care of me, Enough to die for me!
Oh, it is wonderful, wonderful to me (Hymns, No. 193, second verse).
As Latter-day Saints commemorate the Savior’s birth, we remember also one who bore powerful witness of the Christ Child born in the little town of Bethlehem. On Dec. 23, 1805, Joseph Smith Jr. was born in an obscure village in Vermont’s Windsor County.
"Though the world didn't know it at the time, this 19th century birth would initiate what is arguably the greatest and most far-reaching chain of events in the history of Christianity since the Savior's mortal ministry itself.
“That infant would grow up to hold the apostolic office and thus be a special witness of Jesus Christ, the first mortal man on earth with such authority since the deaths of Peter, Paul and other New Testament figures. But Joseph's role would have further significance, he being the man who, under the direction of Jesus Christ, received the keys of the gospel's restoration in latter days and of the prophesied Dispensation of the Fulness of Times. It was a role with transcendent magnitude, fulfilling scriptural prophecy” (R. Scott Lloyd, Church News, Dec. 18, 2010).
On Dec. 23, 2005, President Gordon B. Hinckley delivered from the Church’s visitors’ center at Sharon, Vermont, an address that was transmitted to the Conference Center in Salt Lake City and meetinghouses worldwide.
“Two hundred years ago, on this very day, in this very place, there was born a child who was prophetically named Joseph, after the name of his father,” President Hinckley said. “He became the Prophet, Seer and Revelator of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He gave his life in testimony of the truth of all that he said concerning the work of the Lord restored through him in this dispensation.”
Further, President Hinckley said that at the time of year when the world celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, it could be said that no man has born a stronger witness to the reality of the Savior than did Joseph Smith.
“His written testimony is repeated, it is echoed and re-echoed in scores of languages throughout the world. In an age of skepticism and doubt, his witness is unequivocal and certain,” President Hinckley said.
We do not worship Joseph Smith. We honor him and revere his name and life’s work. Truths revealed through him enable us to have a better understanding of our Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer, who came to earth to minister among men and offer His own life as the atoning sacrifice that makes possible for everyone to have eternal life with our Heavenly Father. It is this Father and Son whom we worship.
In the Old Testament we read of Isaiah who foretold the birth of Jesus Christ centuries before He was born in Bethlehem of Judea: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
Isaiah seems to be quoted more often at this time of year than any other and for good reason: This is the season when Christendom commemorates the great event — the Holy birth — of which Isaiah prophesied.
“His birth was foretold by the prophets of old; His entry upon the stage of life was announced by an angel. His life and His ministry have transformed the world,” wrote President Thomas S. Monson in a First Presidency message (Ensign, August 2006).
“With the birth of the babe in Bethlehem, there emerged a great endowment, a power stronger than weapons, a wealth more lasting than the coins of Caesar. This child was to be the King of kings and Lord of lords, the Promised Messiah, even Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Born in a stable, cradled in a manger, He came forth from heaven to live on earth as mortal man and to establish the kingdom of God.”
Latter-day Saints join other Christians in celebrating the coming to earth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as the new-born King. As we ponder this grand event, our hearts are filled with gratitude.
We are grateful also for the Restoration of His gospel, and for the blessings we derive from the re-establishment of His Church through the Prophet Joseph Smith, who was born 210 years ago.