Last night was the annual First Presidency’s Christmas Devotional – or, #ChristmasDevo. I was blessed to be able to participate in the singing for this event. It was a very long day, filled with music, messages of hope and sore feet. And it was worth every minute. Here is my recap and a few of my thoughts.
The Choir opened the Devotional singing Handel’s classical masterpiece For Unto Us A Child Is Born from Messiah.
I immediately recognized that these powerful words of Isaiah are the “theme” being used for the 2015 Christmas initiative – as seen in the beautiful video A Savior is Born.
Getting Cozy in the CC
Because the lower stage of the Conference Center is needed for the speakers during the Christmas Devotional, the entire orchestra and choir are confined to the upper level of the stage. The first row of choir seats are also removed to make more room for orchestra – which means it’s a really tight squeeze up there! But, it’s likely that most people watching the Devo didn’t even notice.
For the record, my feet started hurting half-way through.
I can guarantee no one noticed.
Every Speaker Shared A Song
It was magical! I’d love to list them all in this blog post but I didn’t take notes in the Choir loft and the talk texts have not been published yet. So, just take my word for it. They all used at least one song in their talks for a teaching moment.
Keep Calm, and Fear Not!
Elder L. Whitney Clayton shared Christmas memories, stories and quotes from Dicken’s beloved Christmas Carol, and talked about the joyful news delivered by the angel to the Shepherds.
Christmas has a divine ability to bring us together as family, friends, and communities
Because of the Savior, fear will never triumph!
Devo In New York
While the Choir was singing our second song a group of missionaries gathered in a small living room in New York were watching and being filmed. Ah, the magic of social media! My Choir friends and I loved seeing this.
These missionaries are serving in the Stamford 2nd Ward (Spanish) – in the Yorkshire New York Stake. More fun tidbits: I just found out that one of my Choir sisters has a son serving in this very same mission. And, a Choir brother attended this ward during his family vacation last year. Sweet!
Two Songs Are Always Better Than One
Sister Burton looked beautiful. I loved seeing her bright colors at the pulpit. She shared two personal tragic Christmas memories that were foundation stones to building her own faith in Jesus Christ – very inspirational. This was the first time I’d ever heard she was a cancer survivor. (my admiration for Sis Burton just quadrupled)
She shared not one, but TWO songs as MUSICAL LESSONS! – The Christmas hymn “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” and the children’s hymn “He Sent His Son” – which explains so simply and perfectly why death is not to be feared, and why we all can live feeling joy and hope.
When times are difficult, “we can make the choice to turn away from Him and struggle through our afflictions alone, or we can make the choice to turn to Him and the Father’s plan.”
Sounds Like “Sissel”
Immediately after Sister Burton’s message, the Choir sang the achingly beautiful Christmas hymn In The Bleak Midwinter. It’s the song that about a million people fell in love with all over again after hearing Sissel sing it with the Choir in 2006.
What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give Him –
Give my heart.
I always get choked up a when I sing that last verse.
It’s a truth I have been learning and re-learning for nearly five decades of living. Our heart is the only gift any of us can give to our Savior. It is a marvelous thing to discover that when we let the Savior carry our heart, we are able to walk through anything with peace.
Seeing The Light
Elder David A. Bednar is the ultimate scriptorian, scholar and master teacher. Bednar rocks my world. His talks are multi-layered. I always feel like I could study them for hours and still find something new each time I read it. He is our modern-day Bruce R. McConkie or Hugh Nibley. (for those of you who were lucky to live in their generation). This talk is a treasure trove of wisdom! I love how he takes us back in time to imagine step by step what it was like to be living on the American Continent during the birth and death of Christ – as recorded in the Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ. They heard the prophesies of the birth of Jesus – and saw the signs – 3 days in a row of light and a new star in the sky. And then, about 30 years later they experienced the signs of Jesus’ crucifixion and death being plunged into 3 days of utter darkness. And then, to finally have that endless darkness pierced by the Savior himself descending to the earth – bringing back the light.
“May the beautiful lights of every holiday season remind us of Him – the source of all light.
Bednar’s Song Lesson: “O Little Town of Bethlehem“
Debby Got Her Wish
When my best friend and choir-mate Debby was growing up she had one favorite Christmas tradition – playing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir recording of “Carol of The Bells”. It was – and is- her favorite Tab Choir song. When she became a member of the choir eight years ago, she dreamed of singing “her song” at Christmas. This Spring 2016 Debby will be retiring from the Choir, so this is her last year to sing Christmas songs with the Choir, and in the past 8 years, although the Choir has sung a lot of great Christmas songs – it was never “her” song. Until now. Tonight.
A big giant shout out to President Uchtdorf for special requesting this song to be performed for the Christmas Devo and making Debby’s dream come true!
Everything’s Cooler With Uchtdorf
Let’s face it. President Uchtdorf is not only a wonderful disciple of Christ, and an exceptional storyteller, he is arguably winner of “most handsome apostle” for the past 11+ years in a row [if – heaven forbid – there were such a distinction]. Combine that with his darling German accent and pretty much anything he says is simply cooler by association. His Christmas message didn’t disappoint – filled with all kinds of inspirational goodness to savor and enjoy throughout the season as we reflect on the true meaning of Christmas and the blessing of having a Savior. But, my favorite moment was hearing him explain the history of an old Ukrainian New Year’s song called “The Generous One” which today is known as our Christmas song “Carol of the Bells“[aka Debby’s Song – see above].
And yes, that wheelchair story made me so thankful I chose the waterproof mascara.
To me, it isn’t really Christmas until I’ve sung Silent Night. The 2015 First Presidency Devotional concluded with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing this Christmas classic – with the entire global Congregation joining voices in praise of the King of King and Prince of Peace.
Merry Christmas everyone! – ♥ MoSop
Watch the entire 2015 Christmas Devotional at lds.org
BONUS! A “Behind the Scenes” Glimpse of Life in the MoTab…
Sundays are not my Day of Rest
My Sunday begins at 5:15 am. Usually. If I don’t “snooze” my alarm. This particular Sunday I was bolted awake in my way-too-cold & dark bedroom at 5:15 am to the worlds most horrible screeching noise – I instantly regretted choosing this particular alarm tone the night before as I stumbled around looking frantically for my cell phone which had fallen off my nightstand and was buried somewhere in a pile of throw pillows on the floor. After finally locating and shutting off the offending device I was hopping into a quick shower and launching the whole hair + makeup + warm up the voice routine [through a series of low humming and lip buzzing in my attempt to not wake the entire sleeping household] followed by slicing up an apple and grabbing a protein shake while rushing out the door to pick up my Choir carpool. We reached the parking by 6:50 am and the Tabernacle dressing room by 7 am, where I changed into our lovely “Raspberry Dress” and made the long walk through the tunnel to the Conference Center just in time to add a few names to the prayer roll, and be in my choir loft seat by the deadline of 7:25 am.
We rehearsed and did our full “Camera Run-Through” until 9:10 am – which only left us with a 10 minute break (enough time for me to blow my nose, drink some water, and reapply my lipstick) – then back in our seats to sing the LIVE Broadcast of Music and the Spoken Word which ended at 10:00 am – but, as the audience members were making their way to the doors and the rest of their Sabbath, we choir members were just pulling out more stacks of music and settling into our seats to begin our next rehearsal for the upcoming Christmas Concert (Dec. 17-20). Then it was back through the tunnel / tabernacle / carpool routine in reverse. But, we would all be coming back again soon, with a 4:30 PM call time for the Christmas Devotional. I am one of the very lucky ones who actually lives close enough to go home in-between a morning and evening performance. Many other choir members were confined to the Temple Square area for those 4 hours. Some attended a church meeting at the JSB, or walked through a visitors center, or ate their lunches – I heard many took naps in their cars.
I arrived at home at 12:30 PM and had enough time to unload and reload the dishwasher, check on two pots of soup I was making for my Mom’s birthday dinner with the family (which I had planned, but would not get to attend), responded to a few emails, grabbed a quick bite to eat while reading a blog post by a friend struggling with their faith – which resulted in me immediately forgetting to eat and spending the remainder of my 45 minutes composing a response, which included inviting my friend to watch the Christmas Devo (worth a shot).
Then, it was back out the door at 3:00 PM for a repeat of the morning’s trek to the parking lot, Tabernacle, dressing room, tunnel, Conference Center – etc… arriving back in my seat – again – promptly by 4:30 PM. Now, we were in rehearsal mode and full camera run-through for all of the Christmas Devotional songs. Finally, a welcome 25 minute break – enough time to use the rest room, and call my Mom to tell her how much I loved her and was sorry to be missing her birthday dinner.
What I didn’t tell her was how stressed I was about the soup because I had experimented with the recipe to make it gluten free and now I was worried I had got it all wrong and it wasn’t going to be edible for the family. I could imagine my Mom having to end up putting her apron on and having to cook for everyone on her special day. aaakkk…
Mom thanked me profusely for everything, and promised she would turn the TV on at 6 PM to the Devo, so that I could “be in the room with them” for her party.
Footnote: Later that night when I arrived home (about 9:30 PM) a bowl of my soup was waiting, lovingly re-warmed by Mr. Mo – it turned out to be edible – even quite tasty [yay!] , and a piece of Mom’s birthday cake saved just for me. ♥ I would stay up three more hours listening to my collage daughter’s day, helping her with a homework assignment, and composing this blog post.