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Christmas Devotional 2019

Christmas 2019 Devotional


Good morning, brothers and sisters. Thank you for choosing to be here. I'm grateful for the opportunity to spend just a few moments at this Christmas devotional and share some remarks. Thank you, first of all, to the choir and the musicians, to Brother Decker who's on our Institute faculty. The many hours that go into practicing music, planning it, shouldn't be undervalued. I'm appreciative of the choir and the sacrifice that they've made and I would invite you if you have any inklings to potentially join the choir to do so, it would bless your life.  

In the few moments that I do have I'd like to maybe just first of all wish you all a Merry Christmas, and on behalf of the Institute faculty at the College, let you know how much we love and appreciate you. It's our privilege at the Institute to get to know virtually every student at the College because of the religion requirement as part of your academic pursuits. What a blessing it is to be here at the College and to deepen your faith and testimony in the Lord Jesus Christ, whom we celebrate His birth at this time of year. And really His life, for indeed, Bethlehem wouldn't mean much without Calvary in disseminate. And of that I bear witness, that His life and His sacrifice made His birth celebratory. You know that and we feel that at this time of year. It's always interesting to sit on the stand in a meeting and see who is feeling the Spirit or who's just enduring maybe a meeting. You get to sense that a little bit with some experience of sitting on the stand.  

I would hope that as you open your heart this Christmas season, that the spirit of Jesus Christ might permeate your soul. The choir just concluded with “He will Bring Joy.” Do you feel joy in your life? Are you genuinely joyful? It was interesting, a couple of years ago we decided in our state to take a survey of the youth to see how they define joy and peace.  

We were curious knowing that there were some hardships and trials going on, and in all of our lives, but in particular, some challenging things happening with the youth, and we wanted to know how they define joy and peace. Overwhelmingly, brothers and sisters, overwhelmingly, most young people surveyed said that joy and peace is the absence of trial and suffering. That got me thinking quite a bit and really sorrowful, actually, to think that that's how most people define joy and peace. If that's what they're waiting for, they're never going to be joyful, or at peace.  

We're reminded in The Book of Mormon this great truth: This is the account of Ammon and his brethren, their journeyings in the land of Nephi, their sufferings in the land, their sorrows and their afflictions, and their incomprehensible joy. 

If there's one truth that you and I could learn that would benefit our lives, it would be that joy in Jesus Christ comes simultaneously with trial and suffering. If we try and separate the two, or wait for one to end so the other can take its place, we often are waiting in vain. Trial and joy travel simultaneously together in our life experience. Might I share just with you two experiences in my life of people that have taught me this lesson.  

One is a girl named Katie. This young lady I knew at the beginning of age 17, And for four months, Katie, it seemed, everything in her life was going well. Things seemed to be transpiring just fine. And then one day, literally from one day to the next, she went from being able to hear to being completely deaf. Can you imagine that? One day being able to hear beautiful music such as this and the next day nothing. She couldn't read lips. She certainly didn't know sign. And so her whole world came crumbling down at 17-years old. And for a while it showed in Katie's face and countenance. She literally didn't know what to do. The doctors were baffled as to why she lost her hearing.  

As time went on, Katie began to rely more and more upon the Lord Jesus Christ. Her hope, her peace and her joy started to come back. This is a young lady that before this particular trial in her life was certainly full of life - bubbly, outgoing and genuinely joyful.  

Over time that started to come back, and it wasn't long thereafter that she wrote me this, “Dear Brother Rowland. Life for me is good. I can't remember when I've been happier. My testimony is so strong. It burns inside of me.” Mind you, she's still completely deaf trying to learn sign, trying to read lips, trying to have the accommodations that would help her fit in with that world. “I wish I could tell everyone the wonderful experiences I've had, and I wish I could tell people of how the Lord has shown me pure love and joy, and how they can have these experiences in joy too. It's hard to believe that I've lost my hearing.” And then notice this line, “But I think I'm starting to really hear spiritually. Stuff that I never heard before. I'm frustrated some days, but every night I thank the Lord for giving me this opportunity, however extreme, to grow closer to Him. Not many people will experience what I am. I'm excited…” notice her hope, “I'm excited for my hearing to come back. I'm looking forward to that. I think about all the things I will share with generations to come in my family. I know it probably won't make a huge impression on people, but it's made a huge impression in my life.” 

On the day that I received this letter from Katie, I recognized that she had come to the understanding that joy and trial travel simultaneously together. And that one can choose joy in the face of adversity and trial. She had great hope that her hearing would come back. A year went by and Katie miraculously received her hearing. Doctors still to this day do not know why she lost her hearing or why it ever came back.  

I know why. To help her grow closer to Jesus Christ and to start to hear things she never would have heard with her actual hearing. In the middle of all that, she started to correspond with a deaf speaking missionary in up-state New York, who later would become her husband.  

The Lord works in mysterious ways, brothers and sisters. I invite you not to bemoan the trials and sufferings in your life. Instead, I invite you to consider what joy He might have you experience while you're going through that.  

On an even more personal level, I'm grateful my wife Jennifer is with me today. As some of you that have been in my class know, over the last year-plus we've been experiencing a particular trial in our life as we found out over a year ago that Jennifer had cancer. In fact, very serious cancer. Almost stage four, and we were looking at a long road ahead of trial and suffering. Not knowing what would lie before us, and when facing the C-word, the dreaded C-word, one can choose to either wallow in that spot or they can choose to rely upon Jesus Christ and experience real joy.  

You see even the babe of Bethlehem grew up and one night walked into a garden not knowing fully what He was going to experience and even feeling more weighed down than He ever thought He would. So much so that he asked His father, "if it be possible, wilt thou remove this cup from me?” And then the greatest word in scripture, “Nevertheless, not my will, but Thine be done.” And you and I, in our collective pre-mortal seats, jumped up for joy. Celebrating that He was willing to pursue that path.  

No matter the outcome for my wife, and I'm happy to report at this date, she's cancer-free. After much trial and testing and drugs and radiation and all kinds of horrendous nights, which I'll spare you the detail of, I stand as a witness to you today that through the midst of that and various questions over and over and over again from students, stake members, friends and complete strangers. How do you continue on? The answer is always the same. When you rely upon Jesus Christ and you walk with Him, all things truly are possible with God.  

Whatever trial or experience you may be facing at this time in your life or in the future, I remind you to listen with spiritual layers, as did Katie. And have great hope and faith for the future, as did my wife Jennifer. Relying wholly upon the merits of Him who is mighty to save, even Jesus the Christ, I bear witness of His reality. He truly does live. I stand as an independent witness. Of all of you I can witness to you that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. I know Him and I testify of His reality. Might you allow Him to walk with you in your trial so that you can experience really the joy of Christmas, not just at Christmas, but all year through. That's my hope and prayer, is that we learn the lessons of the Katies and the Jennifers and walk with Jesus. I express my love to you. I express my love to the Lord, whom I bear witness of today, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen. 


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