"Good Tidings of Great Joy"

by Rob Swanson

Mary and Joseph Present the Christ Child

On Christmas Day, 1865, Wilford Woodruff noted the following in his journal: “25 Christmass I spent the day at home & took supper then went to the Theater in the Evening.”1

This small and plain entry is very similar to other Christmas day entries throughout the 1860s. When first reading entries such as the one above, I was confused by how a man who loved and served Christ with all his heart could write so little on one of the holiest of days in the Christian calendar. Yet, as I read and reread the simple entries throughout the 1860s, a thought struck me. This simple entry, as well as its fellows scattered throughout Wilford Woodruff’s journals, contains a simple sermon that is profound and beautiful. His small entry reminded me of the importance of family during the Christmas season.

This week in Come, Follow Me we have the wonderful opportunity to study the story of Christ’s birth and the miracles that preceded the arrival of the Babe of Bethlehem. It is a season of joy, a season of gladness, all surrounding one little baby boy who came as God’s Only Begotten Son to a fallen and sinful world. With no room in the inn, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords drew His first breath in a stable. His first cradle was a manger—yet He was not alone.

While the veil was rent and heavenly hosts sang and shouted for joy before the shepherds, the baby Jesus was cradled and held by Mary and Joseph. Envisioning this close familial scene, it is touching to contemplate how Jehovah’s first moments on earth were with his mortal family. Helpless and fragile, the great I Am was protected and loved by a simple family who was called to raise the heavenly child.

Christmas has meaning because Christ finished his mission of atoning for all of mankind, as President Russell M. Nelson recently taught.2 Because of Jesus Christ, every son and daughter of God has a chance to return to our heavenly home and live with our heavenly parents. And, perhaps even more incredibly, the Lord in His infinite mercy provides a sealing power, which binds our families together for eternity. Without Christ, the family ties would be shattered—but because of Him, families can be together forever. Even broken things in this life can be healed and become perfect in the next. Because Christ was born and lived for all mankind, we can have hope, peace, and joy.

Wilford Woodruff recorded little on Christmas Day, 1865, but his simple words, “at home,” provide a valuable lesson to us all. Let us all find ways to bind together our families in love a little more this holiday season and remember the precious and glorious gift of the birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ.

Hailing from Bonners Ferry, Idaho, Robert Swanson got his BA in History at Brigham Young University and his MA in History from Rutgers University–Camden, and he is currently a History PhD student at the University of Missouri focusing his work on abolitionism in the Early American Republic. He is married to his best friend, Bridget Garner Swanson, and they have two little girls who have made life even more of a fantastic adventure than they thought possible.

  1. Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, December 25, 1865, p. 14, The Wilford Woodruff Papers, wilfordwoodruffpapers.org/journal/1865-12-25.
  2. Russell M. Nelson, 2023 First Presidency’s Christmas Devotional, ChurchofJesusChrist.org.