Joseph Smith’s 214th birthday is today. Here’s a look at what Church leaders have said about the Prophet of the Restoration this year

In a small farmhouse in Sharon, Vermont, Joseph Smith Jr., the fifth of Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith’s 11 children, was born on Dec. 23, 1805. This year marks 214 years since his birth, and falls in between the 175th anniversary since Joseph and Hyrum Smith’s martyrdom (June 27, 1844) and the 200th anniversary of the First Vision, which will be celebrated in the spring of 2020.

To commemorate Joseph Smith’s birthday, the Church News is taking a look back at stories from this year about the Prophet and his life.

President Ballard, Elder Christofferson visit Joseph Smith’s birthplace

On Saturday, Oct. 19, President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles visited a quiet rustic location in rural Vermont. There they observed foundation stones marking the dimensions of Joseph Smith’s grandfather’s log home and the original hearthstone of the fireplace of the house where the Prophet was born.

“Here on Dec. 23, 1805, a baby with the responsibility of restoring to the earth the fullness of the everlasting gospel, was born,” said President Ballard, speaking of his great-great-great-uncle Joseph Smith Jr.

While visiting the Joseph Smith Birthplace Memorial, President Ballard and Elder Christofferson reflected with reverence and appreciation on the Prophet Joseph.

Displayed items in the visitors center at the Joseph Smith Birthplace Memorial in Sharon, Vt., on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019.
Displayed items in the visitors center at the Joseph Smith Birthplace Memorial in Sharon, Vt., on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“I can’t get anywhere near this birthplace without having deep affection and love for the Prophet Joseph Smith Jr.,” said President Ballard. “I feel obligated to do everything I can to declare and to teach that the gospel is once again on the earth.”

“Tucked back in these trees came to the earth the Prophet Joseph Smith,” Elder Christofferson said, speaking of the baby born in “humble circumstances” who would “change the course” of history.

In a member devotional in Sharon, Vermont, President Ballard testified that Joseph Smith “is everything we say he is, the prophet of this, the final dispensation of the fullness of times.”

President Ballard and Elder Christofferson also testified of Joseph Smith’s role as prophet in a Church News video filmed in Joseph Smith’s birthplace in Sharon.

175th anniversary of Joseph and Hyrum Smith’s martyrdom

The year 2019 marked the 175th anniversary of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith

A few months before visiting the Prophet’s birthplace, President Ballard spoke with the Church News about what he hopes Latter-day Saints will appreciate about the martyrdom of Hyrum Smith — the Apostle’s great-great-grandfather — and his brother Joseph Smith Jr.

President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints works in his office in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, March 13, 2018.
President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints works in his office in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, March 13, 2018. Credit: Ravell Call, Deseret News, Deseret News

“My feeling is we have to stand in awe, in reverence and deep appreciation for their courage, their spirituality, their integrity, and their love for the Lord Jesus Christ,” President Ballard said. “They were willing to give their lives, if required, to restore the gospel of Jesus Christ. So you are talking about two great men, perhaps as great of sons of God who have ever lived, with the exception of the Savior, of course, Who is the greatest of all. Every Church member should know and think about that.”

Today, visitors at the Church History Library can view an exhibit that covers details of what happened to the Prophet and his brother on June 27, 1844. On display is a pair of death masks, giving visitors a chance to see up close what these men looked like.

Elder Stevenson testifies of Joseph Smith’s role as Prophet of the Restoration

The Book of Mormon is filled with miracles for those who read it,” Elder Gary E. Stevenson said during the Joseph Smith Memorial Devotional in Logan, Utah on Jan. 27. “This is a book that brings faith, happiness and joy.”

Elder Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles invited the devotional audience to find more screen time with the Book of Mormon in order to make the book the cornerstone of their testimonies.

Elder Gary E. Stevenson speaks at the Joseph Smith Memorial Devotional, sponsored by the Logan, Utah, institute on Jan. 27, 2019.
Elder Gary E. Stevenson speaks at the Joseph Smith Memorial Devotional, sponsored by the Logan, Utah, institute on Jan. 27, 2019.

“As has been done for 75 years on this campus, I offer my witness of Joseph Smith,” he said, bearing testimony of Joseph Smith as a prophet of God.

Some months later, on Aug. 20, Elder Stevenson lead a ‘time travel’ review of the Restoration during a BYU Education Week devotional.

“It fills me with unspeakable joy to know that Jesus Christ stands at the head of this Church, that the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and is the word of God, and that Joseph Smith was the Prophet of this, the final dispensation,” he said.

Elder Gary E. Stevenson speaks at a BYU devotional, during Education Week, Tuesday, August 20 2019.
Elder Gary E. Stevenson speaks at a BYU devotional, during Education Week, Tuesday, August 20 2019. Credit: Rebekah Baker, BYU Photo

Joseph Smith Papers, ‘Documents, Vol. 9’

The latest Joseph Smith Papers Volume “Documents, Vol. 9: December 1841-April 1842” released in October gives insight into Joseph Smith’s many roles during the Nauvoo era, including Church president, mayor, judge and editor, among others. 

While a lot of books and articles have been written on Joseph Smith, the documents readers find in the new volume will help answer the question of “why” he was so involved in Nauvoo and the development of the Church at this time, said Alex D. Smith, an editor of “Documents, Vol. 9.”

“They provide what we hope will be enough context to really come to know who Joseph Smith was, not only as a leader of the Church and the people, but as a man,” he said.

Alex D. Smith, an editor with the Joseph Smith Papers project, shows a document from "Documents, Vol. 9: December 1841-April 1842."
Alex D. Smith, an editor with the Joseph Smith Papers project, shows a document from “Documents, Vol. 9: December 1841-April 1842.” Credit: Trent Toone, Deseret News

Commemorating the 200th anniversary of the First Vision

At the close of the October 2019 general conference, President Russell M. Nelson announced that 2020 would be designated as a bicentennial year, commemorating the 200th anniversary of the First Vision.

President Nelson described the event that occurred in the spring of 1820: “God the Father and His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to Joseph, a 14-year-old youth. That event marked the onset of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ in its fulness, precisely as foretold in the Holy Bible.”

President Russell M. Nelson, center, shakes hands with general authorities after the Sunday afternoon session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019. Following President Nelson is President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, and President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency.
President Russell M. Nelson, center, shakes hands with general authorities after the Sunday afternoon session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019. Following President Nelson is President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, and President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency. Credit: Laura Seitz, Deseret News

The April 2020 general conference “will be different from any previous conference,” he said. Already it has been announced that instead of a priesthood or women’s session, all Church members ages 11 and up will attend the Saturday evening session.

President Nelson invited everyone to prepare for the upcoming general conference by studying Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision, incorporating the Book of Mormon Videos into their scripture studies, and pondering questions such as, “How would my life be different if my knowledge gained from the Book of Mormon were suddenly taken away?” Or “How have the events that have followed the First Vision made a difference for me and my loved ones?”

“In the next six months, I hope that every member and every family will prepare for a unique conference that will commemorate the very foundations of the restored gospel.”

Also commemorating the 200th anniversary of the First Vision is a free BYU art exhibit. “A Pillar of Light: Celebrating 200 Years of the First Vision” is on display in the Harold B. Lee Library in the L. Tom Perry Special Collection section through June of 2020.

The exhibition "A Pillar of Light" at BYU's Harold B. Lee Library commemorates the upcoming 200th anniversary of the First Vision.
The exhibition “A Pillar of Light” at BYU’s Harold B. Lee Library commemorates the upcoming 200th anniversary of the First Vision. Credit: BYU Photo