This year I was honored to write the ward Christmas program–the words to weave together the choir pieces and vocal solos that made up our special Christmas sacrament meeting. This is the program we presented, with links to the songs we presented, although our ward choir is not quite as good as the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, and I’m sorry to say that Josh Groban is not in our ward.
Merry Christmas. This beloved season brings mixed emotions for many of us, as it is a time of remembrance as well as celebration. We often look at Christmas through the eyes of the child we were, or the child we are, and through loving eyes as we think of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Why do we celebrate Christ’s birth in December, when it is likely that He was born in April? There are traditional and historical reasons, but perhaps one of the most important explanations is that at this time of year—in the bleak midwinter—when we in the Northern Hemisphere are experiencing the cold and darkness of the winter solstice, we can best understand the idea that Christ is the Light that shines in darkness. He is the Light of the World, and we are reminded how much we need that light when the winter days are brief, and the hours of night are long. On that night so long ago, whether we imagine the silence of sliding sand or the hush of falling snow, we can feel the anticipation—the eternal importance—of the birth of our Redeemer, as we dream of the joyous day to come.
Choir: “Still, Still, Still,” arranged by Norman Luboff
The birth of Christ was announced universally by the appearance of a new star in the heavens. Locally, it was announced by an angel to some of the poorest and most humble people who lived near Bethlehem—shepherds who were watching their flocks in grassy fields under the river of stars we call the Milky Way. We are asked in some Christmas carols to imagine that we are one of the shepherds who heard the angels that night, but it is much more likely that we, as premortal spirits, were part of the heavenly host, singing in the choir on this, the most important night so far in the history of the Earth.
How happy we must have been to know that our Elder Brother, Jesus, was about to begin His mortal life. The time prophesied for centuries, from Adam to Isaiah to Samuel the Lamanite, had come at last: the Savior would bring new light to a world in darkness. We watched as the heavens opened, the shepherds looked up, and we heard the chosen angel say, “Fear not. For behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Then we sang: “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men.”
Choir: Angels’ Carol by John Rutter
Now, let us go with the shepherds, following the angel’s instruction that we will find the Christ Child “wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” The idea that Jesus would leave His glorious place at the right hand of God the Father to become an unappreciated and even hated teacher on the dusty roads of Palestine—that He would minister to and heal people who had little understanding of who He really was—that He, the long-awaited Messiah, would allow Himself to be arrested and scourged and crucified while His followers looked on with uncomprehending despair—all this was included in what the prophet Nephi learned was “the condescension of God.” The King of kings submitted all He was and sacrificed all He had so that He would understand our sorrows, so that He could redeem us from the Fall and conquer death for us, so that we could choose to return to live with our Heavenly Parents. We can examine the story of Christmas to help us see what gifts we can bring—day to day and night to night, joy to joy and trial to trial—as we do the small things that lead to the great things; as each of us brings the gift we can offer to the Savior now: our daily reverence and love, for God and for our neighbors, as His disciples.
Primary children: “If I Were a Shepherd,” by Stephanie K. Adams
Christ has a love for each of us that reaches from before the Creation to a realm beyond the stars. But on that holy night, the Lord of lords came to Earth as a newborn child, one of the most vulnerable of creatures, and everyone who saw Him must have wondered, “What child is this?”
Vocal solo: “What Child Is This?”
It was gracious of Mary and Joseph to allow the shepherds to come near the Baby Jesus, and perhaps a bit startling when they knelt to worship the newborn Child. But it is appropriate now, as it was then, for us to kneel and worship our Redeemer.
Vocal solo: “O Holy Night” (but I love this arrangement by Mack Wilberg so much, that the Tabernacle Choir will present it here).
“His gospel is peace.” “In His name, all oppression shall cease.” But war and tyranny and cruelty have flourished through the centuries and continue to flourish at home and abroad. And yet, we know that the peace of the Savior is available to us. While so much of the world is in pain, we can most effectively help and heal ourselves and others if we are strengthened by the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We invite you during the next few days to make a personal pilgrimage to the stable in Bethlehem to kneel with gratitude for all that the Christmas season signifies.
Vocal solo: “When We Seek Him,” by Shawna Edwards and Angie Killian
The celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ is fulfilled as we experience the hope of both Christmas and Easter—the birth of Christ, His life here in mortality, His visit to the spirits in prison, and His glorious Resurrection. We recognize Christ as the Beginning and the End, the Author and Finisher of our faith. We hear the invitation, a call as the sound of a distant silver trumpet: “Let every heart prepare Him room.” With all who worship the Father and the Son, we join in a chorus of praise as we look forward to the day when the Lord will come again. Merry Christmas.
Choir and congregation, with organ and trumpet: Joy to the World