What is the key to unlock world peace? Personal righteousness rooted in the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ. How can we behave more like angels? Visit the isolated among us with Jesus Christ’s good news. What can we do to experience joy? Embrace simplicity, service and stillness. What is the perfect gift to give during any season of the year? A life modeled on the way of Jesus Christ.
These were the messages shared Sunday by four leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during the faith’s annual First Presidency Christmas devotional at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City. Because these leaders know Christmas is a mixed bag for many—a time of warmth and gladness for some, a period of new and renewed aches for others—they crafted their messages for a wide swath of people.
President Dallin H. Oaks, a counselor in the First Presidency, reminded Latter-day Saints worldwide that one of Jesus’s titles in scripture is the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6), whose teachings are the “gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15). And he reminded the gathered Saints of the simple way to obtain such peace.
“The Savior and his Apostles had no program for world peace other than individual righteousness,” said the 87-year-old President Oaks, a former state supreme court justice. “They mounted no opposition to the rule of Rome or to the regime of its local tyrants. They preached individual righteousness and taught that the children of God should love their enemies (see Matthew 5:44), and ‘live peaceably with all men’ (Romans 12:18). War and conflict are the result of wickedness; peace is the product of righteousness. The blessings of the gospel are universal, and so is the formula for peace: keep the commandments of God. . . . We cannot have peace among nations without achieving general righteousness among the people who comprise them.”
Elder Ulisses Soares, a native of Brazil serving in his second year as an apostle, spoke of how a rough first winter his family spent in Utah in 2003 taught him the value of service so characteristic of the Christ. That winter, Elder Soares slipped on ice and broke a wrist, which required surgery and several months in a cast. His wife had a double ear infection and was nearly deaf for two months. And his 16-year-old son (they have three children) injured his back sledding. This family, used to palm trees and sandy beaches, was in dire straits after a heavy snowstorm.
Fortunately, Elder Soares said, one neighbor helped clear their snow and another drove him to work because he could not drive with his cast. He compared those “angelic brothers” to the angels who visited the isolated shepherds of Judea to proclaim the birth of Jesus Christ.
“As we approach Christmas, I wonder if we could become more like the angelic host by visiting modern shepherds to provide the good news of Christ, peace and comfort,” Elder Soares said. “And I wonder if we can become more like the shepherds by responding to the call to visit and minister to the modern Josephs and Marys in our neighborhoods and communities to provide reassurance that God loves them and is watching and caring for them.” In doing so, Elder Soares said, “Christmas won’t be just a day or a season, but will be a condition of heart and mind, and the joy and love felt at Christmas will always be near.”
Elder Patrick Kearon of the Presidency of the Seventy, who joined the Church as an adult on Christmas Eve of 1987, encouraged those burdened by the busyness and pressures of the season to embrace simplicity and service.
“Let us do more of what matters and much less of what doesn’t,” the England native said. “Let us seek to do the works of Jesus of Nazareth—lift up the sorrowing, heal the broken-hearted, visit the prisoners, feed the hungry, clothe the naked and give a voice to the voiceless, the marginalized, the forgotten and the despised.”
And to those wading through deep trials this Christmas, Elder Kearon prescribed stillness and prayer as keys to enduring joy.
“Believe that there is a particular gift in this season for you,” he said. “Seek for quiet, solitary moments when you can ponder, pray and feel the lovingkindness of the One whose birth makes any joy in any life possible. . . . Take time to be still, to breathe, to wonder. Look up. Focus in on His great gift—the knowledge of who you truly are, and the understanding that trials here are fleeting and that joy here is just the beginning of joy to come.”
The peace spoken of by President Oaks, the service described by Elder Soares, the simplicity and stillness encouraged by Elder Kearon—all of these are summed up in Sister Joy D. Jones’ description of Jesus Christ as the “perfect gift.”
In her eight-minute address to begin the devotional, the global leader of the Church’s organization for children illustrated the perfection of Christ’s gift through her parents’ example of endless giving to her, her siblings and others during a Christmas in her youth.
“In my life, my parents were to me a gift that never stopped giving,” she said. In a much more complete and eternally significant way, she noted, Jesus Christ is the “gift that never stops giving. May we all hold that truth in our hearts this Christmas and forever.”
The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square performed five beloved Christmas numbers Sunday night. They provided beautiful renditions of “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “For Unto Us a Child Is Born,” “Christmas Bells Are Ringing,” Away in a Manger” and “Silent Night.”
Aleah is a graduate of Southern Virginia University, where she studied English, Creative Writing, and Dance. She now works full time as a marketing and product manager, writer, and editor. Aleah served a mission in California and loves baking, Lang Leav poetry, Gaynor Minden pointe shoes, and Bollywood movies.