""When I manage to keep my mind and heart in the right place, I can feel Him gently guiding me to think and feel and act in ways that are more fully consistent with my divine nature and eternal possibilities. He never fails to help me have the desire and enhanced ability to love all of His children the way He does. He fills every waking moment of my existence with a profound and renewing sense of commitment to a higher and holier cause.""
AN ANGELIC CHOIR OF ONE
Good morning, Brothers and Sisters and merry Christmas. Sister Duckworth and I are delighted to be with you today to celebrate the Ensign College Christmas Devotional. Earlier this year, as President Kusch mentioned, we had the wonderful opportunity to work as service missionaries here at the College. At that time, and today, we have felt the power of your magnificent spirits. We also came to love and appreciate the unique and vital importance of this college in helping you prepare for the incredible opportunities that lie just around the corner, wherever you may be in this beautiful world, as capable and trusted disciples of the Savior, Jesus Christ. President Kusch, thank you for inviting me to share a few thoughts today!
We also want to express our heartfelt thanks to the music director and each member of the Ensign College Choir for sharing your amazing talents and melodic testimonies with each of us. Indeed, Christmas bells are continuing to ring “loud and deep” as we once again find ourselves immersed in another holiday season. My greatest hope is that during this season, and always, each of us will hear deeply, “the voice, the chime, and chant sublime of peace on earth, good will to men.”
I love the invitation of this last inspiring carol. In fact, today I would like to share with you two very different Christmas stories from my past that have helped me to more fully understand the supernal peace that Christ offers to each of us. I would also like to invite you to ponder deeply what the sounds and images and reality of Christmas truly mean to you.
I was raised in a middle-class family in Magna UT, a community that sits about 20 miles to the west of here. Our family was active in the Church and had enough resources to supply the necessities of life with occasionally a little extra. My parents, and particularly my father, loved Christmas. He had learned from his parents the joys of indulging children at this magical time of the year. We could always count on a variety of exciting gifts to fill Christmas morning with anticipation and happiness.
One year when I was about ten years old, my older brother and I decided to push this opportunity to new limits. We announced to our parents that the only thing we wanted for Christmas was an electronic road-racing set . . . but not just any old set. You see, our eyes had discovered in one of the many catalogues sent to our home the largest road-race set known to man at that time . . . or least to these two young boys: the Strom Becker European Road Rallye Set! It was big enough to cover the floor of a very large room and included a spiffy red Ferrari and a blue Porche model race car.
Our parents’ predictable reaction was that this gift was well beyond the reach of their financial means. They flatly told us to recalibrate our thinking and move on to ideas that were much more reasonable. Nevertheless, we persisted. Whenever we were asked what we would like for Christmas our response was always the same . . . only the Strom Becker set.
When Christmas morning arrived, we were sure that our dreams would be realized. When we entered the Christmas room, however, our anticipation quickly faded. Each of us had a small stack of gifts, but there were no boxes sufficiently large to meet our desire. We painfully opened the gifts provided, only to find a few needed items of clothing and some other stuff that seemed really quite inconsequential. Wow, for the first time Christmas morning was going to be a downer! I think I was so shocked that I was actually holding back tears while trying to fain the parentally expected look of gratefulness.
About that time, my dad asked me to get him a glass of water. It seemed like a strange request for that early in the morning sitting around in our pajamas, but I complied. When I returned and handed him the water, he had a strange look on his face. Then he said, “no, I mean a glass of cold water from the bottle in the fridge!” What? I was confused. I trudged off to the kitchen again.
Then, suddenly . . . O, wow, wow, wow! Right there in the middle of the kitchen was the biggest gift-wrapped box I had ever seen. I don’t know how I missed it the first time. I screamed to my brother that both of our names were on this behemoth. He ran into the kitchen and together we ripped into this once in a lifetime surprise. Over the coming months, we spent hours playing with and eventually nearly destroying this amazing Strom Becker Road Rallye set. From that time on, I always thought that would be my most amazing Christmas.
Fast forward now, about nine years. The busted-up parts of the all-but-forgotten road race set were in a box buried under an avalanche of other boxes in our storage area under the staircase. I, on the other hand, was on the other side of planet Earth far from family and friends and about to face my first Christmas away from home. Some of you here can probably relate to this experience.
I was a full-time missionary serving in the south of France, having arrived in October. After suffering through a nearly debilitating bout of homesickness, I was still struggling and missing my family and “girlfriend” terribly. As a defense mechanism, I had quickly memorized my lengthy missionary discussions to keep my mind focused away from home.
Just when I felt that I might be able to survive, and one week before Christmas, I received news of my first transfer. I was being sent to another strange city far away, to be with a companion I didn’t know, to open a new city in our mission. At that point, I could barely speak two minutes of French and could not understand much from the rapidly spoken responses the French offered back to me. Nevertheless, I was assigned to serve as senior companion to a new missionary fresh from the MTC. And, to my horror, most of my Christmas packages from home had not yet arrived. That meant I was being transferred with virtually no connection to home or anything even vaguely familiar.
On Christmas morning, it was almost more than I could bear. The quiet in our apartment was overwhelming. We did our best to be cheerful as we went through our morning missionary routines, but by noon we were on the brink of unspoken despondency. The mission rules did not allow us to knock on doors or contact people we didn’t know on Christmas day. We had been told that such activities would be an offensive violation of family Christmas time in France. And, since we didn’t know anyone in town anyway, I frankly had never felt lonelier in my life.
By mid-afternoon, we decided that we needed to get out of our apartment. If nothing else, we could walk around town and at least divert our minds and swollen hearts by the beautiful scenery of southern France. At first, that decision only seemed to reinforce the feelings of being exiled so far away from home and our loved ones.
As we gloomily strolled through the streets of Montpellier France, something amazing suddenly happened. My companion started to sing a Christmas carol in English, at first quietly, but then with his full and beautiful baritone voice which echoed through the barren corridors of that quaint city. The power of those precious moments is something I have never forgotten to this day.
Though musically underdeveloped, for the next hour or so, I found myself joining this angelic choir of one, singing with an intensity I had never before experienced. I am sure that somewhere on the other side of the veil there were others joining our chorus helping us to experience the comforting and peace-giving gift of the Son of the God in such a unique and spiritually wonderful way. The story of the Babe in Bethlehem lying in a foreign manger, far from his Father’s heavenly home, became more than real for me that Christmas. I have forever since felt to my core that I am never really all alone.
I don’t know what eventually became of that Strom Becker European Road Rallye set. I can only imagine that it is now buried away at the bottom of a landfill somewhere, or perhaps it was melted down in a plastic recycling effort. In any case, I doubt that as a “specific thing,” it has had any continuing role in blessing the lives of boys or girls, young or old. But what I do know, is that the gift of the Savior, found in part on the distant streets of Montpellier France, has continued to profoundly change and bless my life, along with millions of others, every single day wherever and whenever we choose to find Him.
Here is what the Christmas bells and the precious gift of the Christ Child continue to mean in my life: I know that I am a child of a Father in Heaven who loves me enough to walk with me every day of my life, so I need never feel alone again. He offered me the gift of his Son who came with the specific mission to lift me personally back to my Heavenly Home. That Son began saving me from my weaknesses and folly many years ago and has done so many times since. I have come to know Him, to love Him, and to rely on Him. When I manage to keep my mind and heart in the right place, I can feel Him gently guiding me to think and feel and act in ways that are more fully consistent with my divine nature and eternal possibilities. He never fails to help me have the desire and enhanced ability to love all of His children the way He does. He fills every waking moment of my existence with a profound and renewing sense of commitment to a higher and holier cause.
And, finally, I almost never think of that small babe lying in a manger without letting the harmonizing sound of Handel’s Messiah and the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square traverse my soul as they express His goodness and majesty at this special time of year. These sounds most nearly approximate what I heard and felt on that lonely day in France. I hope that in your mind you can hear it! More importantly, I hope that in your heart you can you feel it! “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.”
So, brothers and sisters, along with you and the prophet Isaiah, I offer today once again my solemn and personal witness that, “Of the increase of his government and [His] peace there shall be no end.” For surely, we have all felt it and know that it will be so! In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.