Church leaders speak on hope, change, turning to Christ at Christmas devotional

The First Presidency sits on the stand at the Conference Center. Thousands of saints gathered to hear Church leaders deliver Christmas messages. (Emma Butler Price)

Saints gathered in the Conference Center and in their homes around the world to hear Church leaders deliver a Christmas devotional on Sunday Dec. 3.

Sister Tracy Y. Browning, second counselor of the primary general presidency, spoke of the light Christmas brings amidst an otherwise bleak time of year. 

Sister Browning spoke of the emblems of Christmas that draw people to the Savior, such as the acts of gift-giving and receiving. 

She said because of Jesus Christ, we receive gifts of the spirit, the gift of the Holy Ghost, the gift of eternal life and many other blessings that people enjoy.

“Maybe we can see ourselves as modern day wise men and women … rejoicing with great joy at the signs set before us to guide and direct our journey toward Jesus Christ,” Sister Browning said. 

She said disciples can, in turn, give gifts to the Savior, such as the gift of worship and the gift of a broken heart and a contrite spirit. 

Sister Browning said the Christmas season allows saints to gain a personal witness of the Savior and the reason He came to earth — to give us the gift of salvation and eternal life. She said that as we remember Him and His gift, we come to feel His love and love Him in return.

Following Sister Browning’s remarks, Elder Paul V. Johnson of the Seventy spoke of various Christmas customs and traditions that span cultures, families and individuals. 

He said considering these things helped him realize that Christmas is for everyone, regardless of what difficulties they may be experiencing.

Devotional speakers Elder Johnson, Sister Browning and Elder Gong join the First Presidency on the stand. The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra sit behind them. (Emma Butler Price)

“Christmas is for everyone because God sent His son for all of us, and for each of us,” he said. 

Elder Johnson said because Jesus Christ performed the Atonement for everyone, each person receives the gift of resurrection from the dead, peace in this world and eternal life for those who follow Him.

Elder Johnson testified that Jesus Christ came to the world to fulfill Heavenly Father’s plan for His children. 

“His birth can’t be separated from the reason He came to Earth,” he said.

He said saints everywhere, even small children, can help share His light with the world, helping others experience the “thrill of hope” that comes from knowing Jesus and following Him.

He spoke of blessings that come to those who choose to follow Him and believe in His atoning power amidst bleak circumstances.

“I don’t think it’s ever too late for miracles, for change, for peace,” he said. 

Elder Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve expressed his desire for all, wherever they are this Christmas season, to feel God’s love during this time.

He spoke of the importance of meaningful Christmas traditions that deepen conversion to Jesus Christ.

Elder Gong shared some favorite Gong family traditions, such as reading “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens as a family.

Using the novel’s main character Scrooge as an example, he spoke of the human tendency to remember people as who they were in the past rather than their new, repented selves. 

The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square perform the Hallelujiah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. This was one of five musical numbers they performed at the devotional. (Emma Butler Price)

“Are there those around us … who could be a different person if only we would stop typecasting or stereotyping them as their old self?” he said.

Elder Gong iterated that no person is perfect, and invited listeners to offer the gift of change, forgiving and forgetting this Christmas. He invited listeners to make peace with the past year and let go of the emotional angst and fixations that clutter their lives.

“Jesus Christ can redeem us from our self centered selves through rebirth in Him,” he said.

The devotional’s closing address was a prerecorded message from President Russel M. Nelson. 

He invited listeners to come and adore Christ, as did the shepherds, wisemen and angels of old. He testified of the truth of the Savior as the Son of God and His vital role in all of human history.

“Just think about the incomprehensible magnitude of what Jesus Christ accomplished, all according to the will of His Father … a feat that not one of us could do for ourselves,” he said.

He said his wish and prayer for members of the Church, and for all people this Christmas, is to feel the deep, eternal love the Savior has for them personally. 

“He knows and sees you now, He sees your joy and your sorrows. He has experienced each of them. He has perfect compassion for your struggles and rejoices every time you press forward in righteousness, during good times and bad,” he said.

Devotional attendees wave goodbye to the First Presidency as they exit the stand. Saints gathered from all over the world to hear the prophet and others speak. (Emma Butler Price)

President Nelson testified that God’s children never need to face life’s challenges alone because they have constant access to Christ’s power to help, strengthen and heal.

The prophet closed his message by testifying that God lives, Jesus is the Christ and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is His. 

Nick Lhamon, a senior in BYU’s accounting program who attended the devotional, said he felt most impressed by the performances of the Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square. 

The choir sang several Christmas songs, including “Joy to the World,” “O Come All ye Faithful,” “Hallelujah” from Handel’s “Messiah” and more.

“I really love hearing the Tabernacle Choir … the grandeur of the message and also the singing,” Lhamon said. 

Tatum Keck, a BYU student studying biology education who attended the devotional, said she loved President Nelson’s address. 

“It was amazing to just hear like three minutes straight of pure testimony from him of the Atonement of Jesus Christ,” she said.

Dalen Norman, another BYU student who attended, said he appreciated Elder Gong’s talk about remembering who people become rather than who they were in the past. 

“We should give other people in our lives the same chance to change and remember them as a person that they become, not as the person that they were,” he said. 

Many attendees donated at the Church’s giving machines as they left temple square. 

The recorded broadcast of the devotional is available on the Church’s website.

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