Elder Holland at First Presidency Christmas Devotional: ‘The Dreams of Bethlehem’

On the night of the Savior’s birth, “the setting was as peaceful as nature could provide,” Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said during the First Presidency Christmas Devotional on Sunday, Dec. 6.

With the onset of night in early spring and stars appearing by the tens, hundreds and then thousands, the only unusual — but beautiful — element of the pastoral scene was in the hillside stable where two figures huddled over an infant lying in a manger, Elder Holland said.

In his remarks during the annual Christmas event, the member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles described the setting and circumstances surrounding the Christ Child’s nativity, “where truly, ‘the hopes and fears of all the years’ were met in the dreams of Bethlehem.”

The three human figures, who had found no willing host in the crowded Bethlehem town, included the beautiful young virgin mother Mary “whose courage and conspicuous faith are as striking as anything ever recorded in scripture,” Elder Holland said.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks during the First Presidency Christmas Devotional broadcast from the Conference Center Theater in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks during the First Presidency Christmas Devotional broadcast from the Conference Center Theater in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020. Credit: Screenshot ChurchofJesusChrist.org

Second was her husband, Joseph, “who by definition must have been the most worthy man on earth to raise a baby that was not Joseph’s physical son but who would, in time, become Joseph’s spiritual father.”

The last and most beautiful, Elder Holland said, was “the baby to be named Jesus, lying in swaddling clothes on the cleanest hay an anxious father could collect.”

The irony of the quiet, unpublicized scene was “the fact that no baby had ever been born about whom so much was already known, of whom so much had already been written, and regarding whom so much was already expected,” Elder Holland said.

The newborn babe was the Firstborn of the Father in the world of spirits, foreordained to be the Lamb “slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). 

He would be the grand Jehovah of the Old Testament, Elder Holland continued, helping Noah in time of flood and Joseph in time of famine. His names would include “Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (2 Nephi 19:6). 

“He was the Alpha and Omega (Revelation 21:6) in the great plan of mercy who would eventually ‘preach good tidings unto the meek; … bind up the brokenhearted, … proclaim liberty to the captives, and [open] the prison to them that are bound,’” (Isaiah 61:1).

To accomplish that mission, Elder Holland said, “He would tread the wine press of redemption utterly and entirely alone, with no mortal companion who would aid Him and no heavenly companion who could. In bearing all the sins and sorrows of mortality, He would bring the incomprehensible gift of salvation to the entire human family from Adam to the end of the world. In the full course of His journey, He would be the Shepherd and Bishop of our Souls (1 Peter 2:25), the Great High Priest of our Profession (Hebrews 3:1), the free-flowing Fountain of all Righteousness (Ether 8:26).”

All those duties and demands would be met. “But not this night,” Elder Holland said. “Here He was just a baby in the arms of a mother who adored Him, watched over by a father who was gentle and strong.”

The shepherds would come representing the poorest of men and their labors. Later, the Wise Men came from the east symbolizing the richest of men and their labors. 

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks during the First Presidency Christmas Devotional broadcast from the Conference Center Theater in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks during the First Presidency Christmas Devotional broadcast from the Conference Center Theater in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020. Credit: Screenshot ChurchofJesusChrist.org

A heavenly host came singing “Glory to God in the highest,” (Luke 2:14), to praise the little baby who had finally come to earth. Angels, Elder Holland noted, had marked the path to the manger for centuries. An angel had come to Mary to announce what she had been chosen to do. An angel appeared to Joseph to give him courage to marry the young woman who was already with child. 

An angel also appeared after the birth to tell the young couple to flee Herod’s slaughter of innocents and later when it was safe to return from Egypt. “Obviously, the angels in heaven knew far more than mortals on earth regarding what this birth meant and what this child’s mission was,” Elder Holland said, “namely ‘[to bear] our griefs, and [carry] our sorrows: … [to be] wounded for our transgressions, [and] bruised for our iniquities: [to make clear that] the chastisement of our peace [was] upon him; and [that] with his stripes we [would be] healed’” (Isaiah 53:4–5).

To him, Elder Holland said, it is significant that these events unfolded in the night, “when muscles relax and fatigue is laid to rest, when prayers are said, when revelation is anticipated, and divine beings are most likely to be near.”

Night is when children can hardly close their eyes for delight, knowing tomorrow will be Christmas. “Yes, however difficult our day has been, the sweet dreams of the night can make everything right,” he said.

Elder Holland concluded his remarks with a poem by Susie M. Best titled “The Miracle Dreams.”

That night when in the Judean skies
The mystic star dispensed its light,
A blind man [groped] in his sleep,
And dreamed [that] he had sight.

That night when shepherds heard the song
Of hosts angelic choiring near,
A deaf man stirred in slumber’s spell,
And dreamed [that] he could hear.

That night when in the cattle-stall
Slept Child and Mother [without talk] 
A cripple turned his twisted limbs,
And dreamed [that] he [could walk].

That night when o’er the new-born Babe
The tender Mary rose to lean,
A loathsome leper smiled in sleep,
And dreamed [that] he was clean.

That night when to his Mother’s breast
The little King was held secure,
A harlot slept a happy sleep,
And dreamed [that] she was pure.

That night when in the manger lay
The Sanctified, who came to save,
A man moved in the sleep of death,
And dreamed there was no grave.