By Kyle Studdart

fIRST pRESIDENCY

I love Christmas. I love devotionals. I love the First Presidency. I love music. So why, on Dec. 8, was I treated to only three-fourths of that equation? When the Church announced that the longstanding First Presidency Christmas Devotional would be morphed into the more general “Christmas Devotional,” I admit I met the news with some apprehension and disappointment, but strove to keep an open mind and appreciation for the opportunity others within the Church would have to speak on the Savior and His birth. In the post-October 2013 Uchtdorf era, it only made sense to try and be a bit broader with things.

But the result was a mixed bag, and it left me wanting. Things seemed pretty normal at the start, with the Tabernacle Choir gracing us with their dulcine tones. Pure joy, even if the set seemed a bit more austere than in years past.

And then, the Silver Fox. So happy to see him! He’s there! And Germans KNOW Christmas. Come on!

After that, things took an interesting turn. President Monson was announced as the first speaker. Uno. Primero. The man is usually the closer.

His remarks were more in the vein of his opening or closing remarks at General Conference – “Hey folks. Nice to have you here. Hearts were healed. The spirit was felt. Passive voice was used. Conference was adjourned.” No disrespect intended, but we’re talking 578 words – shorter than a typical news article.

That said, there was one great quote that President Monson culled from President David O. McKay: “True happiness comes only by making others happy – the practical application of the Savior’s doctrine of losing one’s life to gain it. In short, the Christmas spirit is the Christ spirit that makes our hearts glow in brotherly love and friendship and prompts us to kind deeds of service.”

I can get behind that 100%

Maybe I’m a cynic, but when anyone from the Primary General Presidency, least of all the president – Rosemary M. Wixom, gets up to speak to the general body of saints, I expect a snoozer. Also, as a bit of a sidenote – what was with the mixing of Cub Scouts and Christmas? I’m way past my scouting days, so I just don’t remember how much God got mixed in with the overall experience. Does the Church just do what it wants with Church-sponsored units?

Sister Wixom’s remarks were kid-friendly, as is expected. I’m not faulting that, but I want me some meat and potatoes! I want President Uchtdorf in this slot, speaking of Christmases growing up in poverty in Germany, learning the value of being a grateful receiver.

Elder Rasband of the Seventy spoke, and while he’s not necessarily a familiar face to the general body of the Saints, he did have some good remarks about the Christmas season, though for the most part, his words consisted of a series of Christmas-related anecdotes that Elder Rasband happens to appreciate. There was a theme of giving of ourselves, though, which is good. Go give of yourself.

I don’t know what to make of Elder Nelson. I was so caught off guard by the awkward video montages that I tuned out much of the talk. The footage of primary kids surrounding Elder Nelson while serenading him was strange, to say the least. Also, this seems like a ridiculous thing to pick apart, but I felt that Elder Nelson’s remarks were more appropriate for Easter than Christmas. Sure, go ahead and ridicule me for this. I know he’s speaking about the greatness of the Savior, and that’s what is most important, but it seemed more like any General Conference talk than something Christmas-specific.

Also – no President Eyring, save a few fleeting glimpses of him on the stand. This is HAL EYRING – the man who was designed to give us heartfelt Christmas counsel.

Of course, the Tabernacle Choir’s music was simply delightful, and each year I look forward to being able to sing “Silent Night” with my family as the devotional draws to a close.

But what I liked about the Christmas Devotional in its previous format is that it involved the top three leaders of a global church, standing there and teaching palatable doctrines that are applicable to the entire world, and doing so to the theme of the birth of our Lord and Savior. You might call the new format inclusive and more inviting unto all, but there is power in seeing the top leadership of our faith address us about Christmas.

Is that exclusive? No. It’s leadership. And this is Christmas. I have ten hours of General Conference twice per year where I can run the gamut of good and average talks from a diverse set of people. The FIRST PRESIDENCY Christmas Devotional is like our year in review, with our top leadership giving us a nightcap. I want that and I already miss it.