An early hit for the CBS Radio network was the “Church of the Air,” first broadcast on September 13, 1931, and surviving into the 1960s. This program replaced the networks’ earlier practice of selling time to religious organizations; appearances on “Church of the Air” were by invitation only – the producers invited a variety of churches to present half-hour programs (expanded to 60 minutes in 1947) on Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. The Latter-day Saints were invited to present the program often enough to be recognized as a steady participant, but at wide enough intervals that we never took the privilege for granted.
Below is the text of the program given by the Deseret Sunday School Union on the morning of December 26, 1937 – surely one of the more coveted spots for religious broadcasting.
Notice how the theme of the Christ is chosen, certainly an appropriate choice for a nationwide audience, but also that the script refers to Mormon ideas – the council in heaven, the doctrine of free agency, the Book of Mormon, the First Vision – in an unselfconscious way, without explanation or apology, where those ideas naturally fit in our conception of Christ. I like that model.
Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen: It is Columbia’s pleasure to present another program in the seventh consecutive year of the Church of the Air series. The Mormon service today is coming to you from Salt Lake City and is conducted by members of the General Board of the Deseret Sunday School Union, the world-wide Sunday School organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Representative members of Sunday School children and youth will be heard in song and the spoken word, telling the story of the Christ as it is being taught in more than a thousand Latter-day Saint Sunday Schools throughout the world on this day.
We now present Elder Wallace F. Bennett, a member of the General Board of the Deseret Sunday School Union, who will conduct this service. Elder Bennett –
Bennett: We invite you to worship with us in a latter-day Saint Sunday School this morning – to join more than a quarter million Mormon boys and girls and men and women of alla ges, who are hearing again the story of Christmas and the Christ. First we shall look in briefly on two classes – sharing the eager joy of little children as they hear and sing the Christmas story of the Babe of Bethlehem – and listening while a group of Mormon youth discuss the Man of Galilee. Then one of our Sunday School leaders, speaking for the adult classes, which comprise most of the mature members of our Church, will tell us again the story of the Living Christ. It is as the Bage of Bethlehem, through the age-old story of the manger birth that Christ comes into the lives of little ones the world over. As we look in on our Mormon Kindergarten class its teacher, Miss Una Smurthwaite, is helping the children set up a miniature creche.
First Child: Oh, doesn’t the stable look real!
Teacher: Yes, it surely does, Monty.
Second Child: Oh, here is Mary.
Third Child: And here is Joseph. Let’s put them both inside the stable.
Teacher: See, here is the manger.
Fourth Child: Oh, let me put the baby in it.
Teacher: all right, Nancy.
Fourth Child: And I’ll put it right between Mary and Joseph.
First Child: I think he really would have been by them, don’t you, Nancy?
Fourth Child: Yes, I saw it in a picture once, and the baby in the manger was right in the middle like that.
Teacher: Someone put the camels and the sheep in on the hay.
Fifth Child: Oh, I want to put in Joseph’s little brown donkey. I think he is so cute.
Second Child: Look what I have found down in the bottom of the box.
[Third Child]: I know, let’s hang it up so it can shine right over the stable.
Teacher: That will be lovely.
First Child: And let’s have this shepherd looking up at it as he walks down toward the manger.
Teacher: That will look just as it really did the very night the shepherds and the wise men came from far away and followed the star to Bethlehem, where the Christ Child slept on the hay.
Teacher: Joan, look, into the box and see if you can find the angels to put near the stable, for on the night that Christ was born angels came from out the heavens singing the whole story.
Second Child: Oh, I wish we could have heard them sing the Christmas story.
Fifth Child: So do I.
First Child: I know – let’s close our eyes and imaging we can hear the angels singing the Christmas story now. (Children sing first stanza of Luther’s cradle Hymn.)
Third Child: Didn’t Jesus really cry when the cows mooed so loudly?
Teacher: The song says He awoke, but He did not cry.
Fifth Child: Wasn’t he afraid of such a loud noise?
Teacher: No, he wasn’t afraid, for he knew His Heavenly Father would watch over him, and give Him His kind and loving care.
Second Child: Oh, don’t you wish Jesus were here now, so we could see Him?
Teacher: Yes, dear, I do, but although we can’t see Him let us always remember He is always near us.
First Child: And if we ask Him in our prayers He will help us, won’t He?
Teacher: Yes, he surely will, for he dearly loves us all.
Music: (Children sing: “Be Near Me Lord Jesus”) (Last verse Luther’s Cradle Hymn).
Bennett: We’ve heard the wonderment of children at the story of the Savior’s birth. As they shall grow up in the Sunday School they’ll learn the greater lessons of His life and ministry. At twelve, He sat among the doctors in the Temple at Jerusalem, already with an understanding of His Mission. What understanding does modern Mormon youth have of that Mission and of the man Jesus – Son of God? they’re talking about it in this class – let’s listen –
Dick: I’ve been wondering if Jesus ever scolded anyone. He didn’t, did He?”
Mr. Strong: Well, let’s see, Dick. But what’s the matter? Don’t you like to be scolded?
Dick: No, Sir, I don’t. That is, unless I deserve it plenty! You see, our Sunday School teacher told us a story about a sinful woman who was brought before Jesus in the Temple one day. Do you remember it?
Mr. Strong: Yes, I think I do, but suppose you tell it, Dick.
Dick: Well, this woman had done something wrong and the scribes and pharisees wanted Jesus to condemn her – you know – see that she was punished or something.
Mr. Strong: that’s right – they wanted her to be scolded and chastised; but what did Jesus do?
Dick: Well, He just said, “Any of you who have never done any wrong, or made any mistake, begin casting stones at her.” Then, he didn’t mistreat her or criticise; he gave her another chance, and asked her not to do it again. I thought it was a great story. I wish more people could be like that.
Mr. Strong: Yes, dick, I suppose most of us could be a little more charitable along that line, and less prone to scold.
Dick: Yeah, that’s what I mean – to give a fellow a second chance.
Mr. Strong: Which sometimes means the beginning of a New Life. Jesus seemed to be able to bring out the very best that was in the other fellow. Now, Ralph, I can see that you’re about ready to explode with an idea. Out with it.
Ralph: it seems to me that Jesus was a real man’s man. That’s the thing that I like about Him.
Mr. Strong: Good. I know you had something there! Now tell us about it.
Ralph: A storm came up on the Sea of Galilee, at one time – came up all of a sudden. Jesus and the apostles were in a boat.
Mr. Strong: Yes, go on.
Ralph: Well, it must have been a pretty bad storm, I guess, because the boat began to be tossed about and the waves splashed over the side. I know just how that felt. In a storm on Mirror Lake last summer I came close to getting mine.
Mr. Strong: Yes, I remember – but what happened on the Sea of Galilee?
Ralph: Well, the apostles who were with Jesus became very much frightened. It looked pretty bad and they cried for help, asked Him to save them. He wasn’t a bit scared, and the men soon calmed down. I like a brave man, especially a good man who is grave.
Mr. Strong: You’re right, Ralph. He had courage in more ways than one. I’m glad to get your reaction. Helen, why is that twinkle in your eye? There seems to be an idea about ready for expression. What is it?
Helen: Well, Jesus seems to me to have been such a – a wonderful character – I wish I could have known persons like that.
Mr. Strong: He was a wonderful character – tell us, Helen, what part of His goodness appeals to you most?
Helen: Why – it was his unselfishness, I guess. He seemed to be always thinking about someone else besides Himself. I love that part of His life.
Mr. Strong: Do you call to mind any particular incident that might reveal that part?
Helen: Well, his whole life was one of doing good for others. I just wanted to cry when I heard the story of His death – how thoughtful and considerate He was for His mother, even when He was suffering on the cross.
Mr. Strong: Can you tell us about it, Helen?
Helen: You know, when He looked down and saw His mother weeping, he asked John, His apostle to take care of her – said she would be his mother now. Well, when I saw how thoughtful He was, I began to see how I could be more considerate of my parents – and of others, too. I began to understand what He meant when He talked about love –
Mr. Strong: Helen, I’d never thought of it that way. You’ve really found the spirit of the Christmas message – of love, which began when the angels sang of Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men, the night He was born in far away Judea.
(Chorus sings Far, Far Away on Judea’s Plains – 2 stanzas.)
Bennett: While childhood and youth are learning the story of Jesus in our Sunday Schools, their Mormon fathers and mothers in adult classes in these same schools, are studying the Christian Gospel in its fullness. Speaking for them, Dr. Adam S. Bennion of the General Board will turn our minds again to the contemplation of “The Living Christ”:
Dr. Bennion: To listen to these children is to understand why He was so fond of them – why – “of such is the Kingdom of heaven.”
And now for those of us whose childhoods are in the yesterdays –
What a morrow on which to ponder the real meaning of the happiest day in the year. Santa Claus may have safely retreated up the chimney, but the Savior of mankind abides, in keeping with His promises.
“And, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” – Matthew 28:20.
Yesterday taught us, once more, how fine life can be – with its kindliness, its generosity – its reaching out toward others.
“Only God could have thought of Christmas. Its beauty is beyond the wit of mortal, so simple in its sublimity, so homey yet so heavenly.” – Joseph Fort Newton.
“This the time of the year for the open hand
and the tender heart and true.
When a rift of heaven has cleft the sky
And the Saints are looking through.”
– Joseph Fort Newton.
Have you ever really thought of your greatest Christmas present? Ponder for a moment this line:
“The Gift of God is Eternal Life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” – Romans 6;23. What a Christmas present!
Eternal life – life everlasting – without beginning – without end – a going-on forever and ever.
The concept which makes possible in man’s life, “The achievement of a perpetual triumph.”
As Napoleon put it, “All His doctrines signify one and the same thing – Eternity.”
And so for those few, few moments – our theme The Living Christ.
As He lived – and lives – so we live – and shall live.
A thousand years ago King Alfred, the Great, of England, caught the glory of that thought:
“Whether poor or rich, fear and love the Lord Jesus Christ.
“He is the Lord of Life, our great teacher, our Kind Father.”
The Lord of Life:
I. He lived long before recorded history. He was there in the Great Council of Heaven. He deliberated with His Father – in the shaping of the Heavens – in the creation of the earth – in the “making” of man. He listened to that meaningful declaration: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”
More than that, in opposition to Satan’s plan of compulsion, it was He who proposed man’s Free Agency – gave him the glorious privilege of choice, and proffered himself a ransom to redeem mankind. He lived then to our great benediction.
II. He lived in the Meridian of Time in The Promised Land. He was born away from home, He was cradled in a manger, he was taught in the synagogue, among the hills, in the carpenter shop, by the blue waters of Galilee. He went about “Teaching and Preaching and doing Good.” He set up a new mode for living – to love one another – even one’s enemies. He enjoined us to judge not – to forgive, and to give men a second chance. He gave the world its greatest recipe for peace: Love of God; Love of Fellowmen.
He gave to society our most dynamic formula for getting on together: “Do unto others as ye would that others should do unto you.”
He lived to bless, to heal and to restore. He lived to carry His own cross to Calvary. He lived to endure the cruelest of torture. he lived to forgive those who would take his life. Recall those lines from John 10:17, 18 –
“Therefore doth m y Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again.” “No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.”
Think of the power – of the self-control – of the unselfishness of those declarations. In spite of such greatness, He had to be buried in a borrowed tomb.
But He Lived Again:
He rose from the grave to triumph over death and to Bless the World in the Resurrection.
III. He lived after His resurrection to visit America, to proclaim His Gospel to the Nephites, ancestors of the American Indian, those “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” – John 10:16.
To them, he declared, as recorded in the Book of Mormon, that scripture of the western hemisphere:
“Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified should come into the world. I amt he light and the life of the world: and I have drunk out of that bitter cup which the Father hath given me, and have fortified the Father in taking upon me the sins of the world, in the which I have suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning.” – 3 Nephi II:10, 11.
He lived to visit the earth in 1820 to re-establish His Gospel. To Latter-day Saints He has removed all doubt as to the Reality of the Resurrection. Modern revelation brings Him nearer than ever and makes us doubly grateful.
He was seen.
His voice was heard.
He restored His priesthood.
Here indeed are new witnesses to the Living Christ!
IV. He lives in the hearts of men. Yesterday, 682,000,000 followers of Him paid Him homage the wide world round. Of all the people in the world, one-third follow Him who ministered for but three short years and who never in mortality traveled beyond the confines of Palestine. he binds people to Him with the bonds of affection and reverence. Whenever we live to the best that is in us we live up to the ideals He gave us. To follow Him brings peace to the Soul.
“It isn’t the wreaths in the windows,
It isn’t the shining tree,
Or the children rapt and waiting,
Brings Christmas to you and me.
“It’s the marvelous self-forgetting,
It’s the thoughts we are sending far,
It’s our hearts aglow, uplifted,
It’s a wonderful guiding star.”
– Alix Thorn.
V. He lives ”Up There.”
He assures us our Resurrection. He lived to give us a pattern:
“I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” – John 10:10
He died that we might have it everlastingly. He lives to take the sting out of death; He lives to banish despair from the tomb.
The real genius of Christmas lies in the echo of this promise:
“I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
“And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” – John 11:25-26.
The Author of that promise, The Living Christ –
He it is who bids us look beyond Christmas to life everlasting with Him.
Miss Jessie Evans sings “I Think When I Read That Sweet Story of Old.”
Frank Asper continues with special hymn arrangement.
Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen; You have been attending the Church of the Air, coming to you from the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City. Miss Jessie Evans, soloist of the Tabernacle choir, has sung “That Sweet Story of Old” with the Tabernacle organ played by Frank Asper. The service has been conducted by members of the General Board of the Deseret Sunday School Union, an auxiliary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormon Church. Elder George H. Durham conducted the L.D.S. Youth Chorus, singing the Mormon Christmas Hymn – “Far, Far Away on Judea’s Plains.” Dr. Adam S. Bennion who delivered the address and Wallace F. Bennett who conducted the program are members of that Board.
Your announcer is Earl Glade.
This is the Columbia Broadcasting System.