SALT LAKE CITY — This time last year, President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints sat beside 7-year-old Claire Crosby. He played the piano as she sang Silent Night.
This year's Christmas season looks a little different than 2019 as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to bring turmoil to many worldwide.
On Sunday, the 96-year-old faith leader said he remembered fondly the cherished memory of singing with Claire during the church's annual Christmas devotional, which was broadcast live from the Conference Center Theater on Temple Square.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, guests at Sunday's devotional were limited to only those taking part in the proceedings. Pre-recorded music from The Tabernacle Choir on Temple Square was played in lieu of a live performance.
In addition to President Nelson, three other church leaders shared Christmas messages and spoke about what they said was the season's true meaning: Jesus Christ.
Sister Rebecca L. Craven, Young Women General Presidency
Sister Rebecca Craven, second counselor in the church's Young Women General Presidency, said she finds the imagery of Mary swaddling her newborn baby Jesus tender, and that it reminds her of seeing her new baby granddaughter being held tightly by her mother. As she watched her daughter-in-law comfort her baby, Sister Craven thought of others in need of a loving hug — even a virtual one.
Three years ago, Sister Craven's daughter received one of those loving hugs from afar after receiving a text from her in-laws, sending what they called a "heavenly hug" while she waited in the hospital as her husband underwent heart surgery.
Moments later, a nurse saw Sister Craven's daughter crying and offered her a warm blanket, which she declined; however, the nurse soon returned and wrapped her in a blanket anyway, saying she felt she needed a "heavenly hug."
Sister Craven likened the experience to Jesus Christ sending earthly angels to help people in their moments of need. With the Jesus' pure love in mind, Sister Craven said she felt a strong desire to do more to share that same love with others and hoped she could better recognize the "heavenly hugs" she has received in her own times of need.
As many face struggles from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, Sister Craven said she hoped gentle words and kind acts of compassion can serve as a comforting swaddle to those in need. She encouraged listeners to act on spiritual promptings to serve others and share a virtual "heavenly hug" with people in need of comfort.
Elder Brent H. Nielson, Presidency of the Seventy
Many years ago, Elder Brent H. Nielson's young father spent three Christmases away from home as he fought in World War II.
In a letter sent to his mother at the time, Elder Nielson's father said any Christmas package sent had not arrived on time and wished he could spend Christmas at home with his family. He wrote about something his mother said often: "You never miss the water until the well goes dry."
As Elder Nielson read the bleak Christmas letter, he mourned for his father's less-than-ideal holiday and wondered: How much suffering can he endure? Aside from spending Christmases away at war with not even a single gift, Elder Nielson's father also lost his own father to a heart attack at just 12 years old.
"Couldn't he at least get a gift on Christmas?" Elder Nielson pondered aloud.
In that moment, Elder Nielson said the Holy Ghost spoke to him and gently reminded him his father had received the most important gift of all: the gospel.
As the pandemic leaves many separated from families and friends during this Christmas season, Elder Nielson said some might feel like his father did in 1943. But he hoped they'd discover that Jesus Christ is the greatest gift who delivers a wonderful and peaceful life.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
A tearful Elder Jeffrey R. Holland spoke about the birth story of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem and noted the significance of it taking place at night, a time of peace and when dreams take place.
Elder Holland added that revelation often happens at night and specifically through dreams. No matter how difficult the day has been, "sweet dreams of the night can make everything right," he said.
President Russell M. Nelson
During his remarks, President Nelson thanked those who participated in his recent call to flood social media with positivity using the hashtag #GiveThanks and asked individuals to continue to give thanks to God through prayer.
He also shared a message of hope as he invited everyone to focus on Jesus Christ during the Christmas season. During a time that has caused nearly every soul on Earth to suffer, President Nelson said there is nothing more important this year than focusing on the Savior Jesus Christ. Thanks to Jesus Christ, he said, everyone is able to progress and reach new heights as they strive for their divine destiny.
The church leader also shared a blessing for all to feel peace, have an increased ability to feel spiritual promptings, and know how much God and Jesus Christ love and care for them.