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Sunday, December 2, 2018

Report on the First Presidency's Christmas Devotional/Overview of Definite Projects Which Will Be Posted on This Blog Before 2018 Ends

Hello again, everyone! The First Presidency's Christmas Devotional concluded about 2 hours ago, and I am pleased to be able to bring you a report on what occurred during that event. As expected, music was provided by the Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square.

President Nelson asked President Oaks to conduct the devotional, which began with the Choir singing Joy to the World. An invocation was then offered by Brother Tad R. Callister, who serves as the Sunday School General President, after which the Choir sang "The First Noel". I should interject here that this year's devotional was more in line with previous traditions than the one held last year, with one speaker each from among the general officers of the Church, the Presidency of the Seventy, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and the First Presidency.

The first speaker at the devotional this year was Sister Sharon Eubank, First Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency, whose remarks are summarized here.

The next hymn the Choir performed was somewhat of a surprise to me. It has been a tradition for most of the last several years for the devotional to end with the Choir singing Silent Night (and with the congregation being asked to join in on the final verse), but that occurred following Sister Eubank's remarks. I should perhaps amend my previous statement. The surprising thing was not in the fact that this hymn should be part of the devotional (as that has been somewhat standard in recent years), but rather because it was performed in the midst of the devotional rather than at its' conclusion.

The second speaker was Elder Terence M. Vinson, whose call to the Presidency of the Seventy was announced in General Conference last April, and who formally began that assignment on August 1. As some of you may be aware, he was born in Australia and has lived in various surrounding nations. Prior to his call in the Presidency of the Seventy, he had been serving in the presidency of the Church's Africa West Area, to which service he referred during his remarks.

It appears that there were additional opportunities for the Choir to sing in this year's devotional than there have been in years past. Directly following Elder Vinson's address, the Choir sang "How Far is it to Bethlehem?" After that, Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (who was one of the Quorum members I projected might speak to us during this devotional) addressed us.

As anticipated, President Nelson was the concluding speaker. He talked about 4 gifts from the Savior. The Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square then concluded the meeting with the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah. The benediction was offered by Sister Becky L. Craven, Second Counselor in the Young Women General Presidency.

There were a few common themes I noticed in each of the four addresses which were given. Those themes included: memories of past Christmas experience, the life and mission of the Savior, how many Saints rose above hardships to make Christmas more meaningful in their lives, and the vital role of Christ as the reason for the Christmas season. But more than that, I continued to marvel at how energetic and awe-inspiring our beloved prophet really is, and how much he adds a gentle, grandfatherly, and very personal and personable tone to everything he says.

I am personally very happy to have the current group of 15 men whom we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators standing as special witnesses of Christ at this time. And although the passing of each apostle or prophet does cause some feelings of sadness and loss for so many of us, as was observed a few different times in last April's General Conference, the new apostles and prophets who are called in their stead  can and will become as equally beloved to each of us as were their predecessors.

It has been a great honor for me to pass along this summary of tonight's Christmas Devotional. One more observation, if I may, by way of reiterating something I have previously noted. For the last several years, this devotional has almost always been held on the first Sunday in December. Next year, that devotional has been set to be held on the second Sunday.

My theory as to why it will be held on the second Sunday of December 2019 is that the First Presidency may be potentially wanting to keep that first Sunday open next year for either a temple dedication or rededication, which would allow such an event to occur without distracting or detracting from the Church's emphasis on Christ as the reason for the season.

And in that regard, I should also mention that I have begun the preliminary process of updating my more specific estimates for those near-future temple events that will occur, which I hope to publish here within the next few days. Likewise in the works is, as previously noted, another post which will, if all goes well, be published within the next 12-15 hours (but hopefully less) in honor of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland's 78th birthday, which he will be observing tomorrow.

As time and circumstances allow, I will also be hard at work on finalizing my April 2019 General Conference predictions, which I am hoping to get published on this blog at some point before December 16, the day on which I have promised to bring you an update on the latest apostolic statistics and upcoming milestones. One week later (two days before Christmas, I will be posting the final apostolic birthday tribute for 2018 in honor of Elder Gerrit W. Gong, who will be marking his 65th birthday on that day.

And as per my usual tradition, 8 days after that, which will coincide with New Year's Eve 2018, I will be providing a look back at how much progress has been made on temples during this year. Of course, I will also do my level best to keep bringing word of any major Church news stories or temple developments. As you can see, I have my work cut out for me on this blog for the remainder of this year. And I would not in any way be shocked to find out about a few more breaking news updates which I am also committed to passing along to you all here as I become aware of them.

That does it for this post. Any and all comments are, as always, welcome and appreciated, on any post at any time, as long as such comments are in accordance with the established guidelines. Thank you for the privilege of your time. If you enjoyed what you read here and would like to stay informed of newly-added content, please feel free to subscribe. Until my next post, I wish each one of you all the best and pray that the Lord will bless you all in everything you do.

A Christmas Message for My Readers

Hello again, everyone! Although I do plan to provide coverage of the First Presidency's Christmas Devotional and to also post a birthday tribute to Elder Holland within the next 40 hours (but hopefully less, if all goes well), and will continue to do my best to provide ongoing coverage of all major Church news and significant temple developments as they occur, I feel I would be very remiss in my ongoing efforts to encourage, uplift, and inspire you, my readers, if I did not pause at the beginning of this month to share a Christmas message on this blog.

As we know, the mission of the Savior neither began with His birth as a baby in Bethlehem, nor concluded as He wrought the price of our atonement with His perfect blood in the Garden of Gethsemane and as He hung on Calvary's cross. In the great council in Heaven before any of us came to earth, our Father presented a plan whereby a Savior would be provided to atone for the sins and feel all the pain, illness and sorrow any of us would ever fill in this life.

Our brother, Lucifer, presented an alternate version of that plan, whereby he would eliminate our agency and force us to live good enough lives to return home to Heaven, for which efforts he wanted all the glory. Jesus Christ, as the oldest of all of our Father's offspring, said He would work out our salvation with a process of atonement, so that all who laid hold on that promise would be able to repent and learn from their mistakes, and would have the effects of that atonement come into play when (rather than if) we ever transgressed the laws or commandments of our Father.

There followed a war between two sides: those who accepted the Father's plan (including the recognition of a need for a Savior) and those who wanted Lucifer's plan to be utilized. The idea of agency and free will was so precious to our Father that He allowed Lucifer and his followers (which comprised roughly 1/3 of all of our Father's children) to be cast out.

For a period of roughly the next 4,000 years or so (as a result of the fall of Adam), prophets and those who heeded their words looked forward with great anticipation to the future birth of the Savior. The heavens then manifested the sign that the Savior had been born of a virgin, and shepherds (and later wise men) hastened to come and see for themselves that the prophecies of His coming had been fulfilled.

Even from a very early age, He knew exactly what He had been sent here to do. Aside from His experience at age 12 talking with the rabbis in the temple and answering their questions, pretty much everything we know about His life until His mortal ministry began is summed up in a single sentence: "And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature: in favor with God and man."

He began His mortal ministry when He was around the age of 30. The next three years or so were spent healing the sick, raising the dead, and bringing many miracles to pass. But as His ministry progressed, many people either did not see Him for who He was or took issue with the reports of what He had been doing. Although He was overwhelmed by the weight of our sins, sorrows, and suffering through His atonement, He was determined to see it through. He was then betrayed by one of His own disciples, after which He was subjected to inquiries by the governmental leaders of His day. Although they could "find now fault in this man", they gave in to the demands of an angry crowd, who were insistent as they said: "Crucify Him!"

After the excruciating pain of hanging on His cross (with thieves on either side of Him), He commended His spirit unto the care of His Father. While His body lay entombed for three days, His spirit preached the gospel of repentance unto those who had passed away before that time. He was then resurrected, breaking the bands of death with the eternal promise that all who came unto Him would be saved from the effects of sin and death.

Roughly 1800 years or so following His ascension back to His Father, the two presented themselves to Joseph Smith, ushering in the last and the greatest of all dispensations. Among one of many tidbits the Lord has revealed as this dispensation has continued to unfold, it was made known that the Savior's birth occurred in April. But since much of the secular and religious leaders of the world mark the milestone of His birth near the end of each year (on December 25), that day has long been accepted as Christmas. And without Christ and His mission, there would be neither a Chrstimas or an Easter.

As recorded in scripture, we have the additional promise that He will come again. But as time has worn on, the Christmas season has become more commercialized, while the true reason for the season has in many ways been completely forgotten. While Christmas each year gives us the opportunity to gather with family and friends and exchange gifts, the greatest gift any of us ever have or ever will receive is that of a Savior.

It would be beneficial for all of us, in the midst of our celebrations of the season, to remember the true meaning of Christmas. The tragic reality of our modern age is that, over time, so many of us are so wrapped up in other things which have taken our focus away from the actual reason for the season, The promise of Christmas is not merely the hope for better things or the idea that we can and will be saved from our sins as we lay hold on the gift of His salvation , but also the covenant that He can and will come again.

So as this Christmas season continues to be celebrated, I hope none of us will forget the gifts of His birth, His ministry, and His atonement. I also hope and pray that we will likewise retain in remembrance the promise that He will come again. It is up to each of us to prepare ourselves for that future event. Will we be ready when that day arrives? I certainly hope so.

I have previously shared on this blog a copy of a poem which appeared in the ward newsletter one December while I was a young Aaronic Priesthood holder. The poem conveys the high importance of our being prepared for the day when He will come again. Here once again is a copy of that poem:

‘Twas the Night Before the Savior Came        

‘Twas the night before Our Savior came and all through the house,
Not a person was praying, not one in the house.
Their scriptures were lain on the shelf without care,
Thinking Our Savior would not come there.
And Mom in her rocker with baby on her lap
Was watching the late show, while I took a nap.
Where out of the East there arose such a clatter,
I sprang to my feet to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash!
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But angels proclaiming that our Savior was here!
With a light like the sun sending forth a bright ray,
I knew in a moment it must be the day!
The beauty of His face made me cover my head,
It was Our Savior returning just like he said....
And though I possessed worldly wisdom and wealth,
I cried when I saw Him in spite of myself.
In the Book of Life which He held in His hand,
Was written the names of every saved man.
He spoke not a word, as He searched for my name.
Then He said, “It’s not here.” My head hung in shame.
The people whose names had been written with love,
He gathered to take to His father above.
With those who were read, He rose without a sound,
While all the rest were left standing around.
I fell to my knees, but it was too late.
I had waited too long and thus sealed my fate.
I stood and cried as they rose out of sight,
“Oh, if only I’d been ready tonight.”
In the words of this poem, the meaning is clear,
The coming of Our Savior is drawing near.
There is only one life and when comes the last call,
We will find that the scriptures were true, after all.

It is my hope and prayer that all of us may keep the spirit and the true meaning of Christmas with us not just through this season when we celebrate that, but also all year round, and that we and our families may be able to make room in our hearts for Him. I likewise hope that each of us will take time away from the hustle and bustle of this season to make resolutions regarding how we will retain Him and His incomparable sacrifice ever in our memories. As we make the effort to put Christ back into Christmas, may His blessings continue to attend us all. I offer my witness that He lived and died and lives again for all of us, that He will come again, and that we need Him in our lives now more than ever before. Each of us has the choice as to whether or not we will let Him in. May each of us do so is my humble prayer for this Christmas season and all year round, which I gratefully offer in the name of Him who is the reason for the season, even Jesus Christ, Amen.