12th Day Christmas Past Question & Story

Posted by on Dec 23, 2017 in Christmas Past 2017 | 19 comments

On the 12th & Final Day of Christmas Past, rekindling history to enhance today’s Light the World – “I was in prison and ye came unto me.”

What can we learn from someone who spent Christmas in a Temple Prison?

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On December 1, 1838, the Prophet Joseph, his brother Hyrum, and several other brethren were imprisoned in Liberty Jail in Missouri on trumped-up charges of murder and overt acts of treason, none of which was ever proven against them.  The Prophet and his companions found themselves in very difficult circumstances.  Liberty Jail was a basement dungeon of approximately 14 feet by 14 feet with only a trapdoor entrance from the main floor.  The ceiling was so low that the men couldn’t stand fully upright and were forced to sit or lie on the dirty, straw-covered floor, their legs shackled.

There was no stove for heating, and when they used an open fire, inadequate venting caused the room to fill with smoke, which made breathing difficult.  They had few blankets – certainly not enough to keep them warm in the freezing winter conditions – and the food was so bad they could hardly eat it.  It was a difficult time.  Joseph endured 5 months under these trying circumstances, including Christmas 1838.

The prisoners had suffered a week in the jail when Emma brought her 6-year-old son, Joseph, to visit.  Having no means by which to travel, Emma had borrowed a two-seat carriage and a “beautiful span of cream horses” to cover the 40 miles from Far West to Liberty.  With her were Phoebe Rigdon and Phoebe’s young son, John.  John remembered, “We started rather late in the morn and did not get to the jail til after dark and they would not let us go in till the next morn.  After taking breakfast at the hotel we were taken to the jail and there remained for three days.”

Emma was able to make a return visit on December 20, just before Christmas.  In the midst of such dire circumstances, the prisoners were cheered by the presence of their loved ones.  Joseph asked Emma if she could possibly bring some blankets for him.  But the request reduced her to tears because the mob had recently attacked her home and destroyed all but two of her blankets.  If she brought those to Joseph, then their children would go without.  Emma’s visits were the closest the family got to a Christmas celebration that year.

Just a week before Christmas, Joseph wrote words of encouragement to the Saints from the dungeon.  “Therefore God hath made broad our shoulders for the burden.  We glory in our tribulation, because we know that God is with us, that He is our friend, and that He will save our souls.”  Because of Joseph’s eventual triumph over these unjust and difficult events and the revelation and comfort the Lord gave to him while he was imprisoned, Liberty Jail has come to be known as a temple prison.

Taken from:

Porter, “Remembering Christmas Past”, p. 53

Willes, “Christmas with the Prophets”, p. 5-7


  1. Through our tribulations Christ is always with us. He won’t leave us comfort less no matter how difficult our trials here on earth. If we remain faithful he will see us through any trial.

  2. We can learn that God is with us in our trials when we turn to him. He can strengthen us and consecrate our circumstances to bless us.

  3. We can learn to appreciate the hard times as well as the good times because God is always with us.

  4. We can take courage that God is with us in our trials. He will strengthen us so that we might bear our burden and come out victorious in the end.

  5. From the Prophet Joseph Smith and those who were with him in Liberty Jail, we learn that although we suffer tribulations and trials, we can be comforted and assured that God and His Son, Jesus Christ, are with us and will strengthen and bless us.

  6. We learn from Joseph’s experience, that it doesn’t matter what circumstances we find ourselves on Christmas, the birth and sacrifice of Jesus Christ is a gift from God and Jesus Christ that no one can take from us.

  7. It probably was the worst Christmas ever but one of the best Christmas’ ever. Special things can happen when you are doing what is right and serving the Lord.

  8. Even in the most dire circumstances, there are always things we can be grateful for, even if it’s just the strength we have been given to endure what we are going through. Reading of the strength of Joseph is inspiring enough but imagining Emma’s circumstances, she must’ve had so much courage, faith, and strength during that time as well.

  9. That no matter our circumstances that God is with us and we will triumph because God will save our souls.

  10. Even in the bleakest of circumstances they still kept their testimonies & knew that God was there with them. Because of their strong commitment to the gospel they were strong enough to handle anything.

  11. I can’t imagine how cold Joseph must have been, and how desperate Emma must have been to help Joseph. With all that Joseph wrote a comforting note, appreciating his tribulations and having faith that God will be there and save souls.

  12. One of the greatest lesson we can learn from the imprisonment of Joseph in the Liberty jail is not to worry what man can do or can do to us but rather that God will be with us forever.

  13. The blessing learned by Josephs’ stay in the temple prison is that we all can be comforted. God is with us, He is our friend, and He will save our souls.

  14. We are never alone. God is with us through it all, joyful and trying times. We are saved if we remain faithful and righteous to the end.

  15. Joseph said to the saints, “Therefore God hath made broad our shoulders for the burden”. He also told the saints, “We glory in our tribulation, because we know that God is with us”. We learn that we were meant for hard things. And that we’re not meant to do anything alone. He also told the saints at one point, this too shall pass. We can choose our attitude during good or bad times, just as Joseph did during this difficult and unjust time in Liberty Jail.

  16. Their prisoners withheld good quality food and forced them to live in harsh freezing conditions.
    Even in the most difficult circumstances of prison life, these men found comfort in their faith in God and visits from family. Some of the most inspiring words to me were given to Joseph the Prophet during this.

  17. We can learn that God is with us always, even in the darkest times and in deep tribulation. “He is our friend and He will save our souls.”

  18. I have always been moved deeply by Joseph Smith’s suffering in Liberty jail. What a terrible Christmas for him, Emma and their children. But through it all he knew Christ had not abandoned him and received comfort. We too can rise above our trials through faith in Chrip.

  19. Joseph Smith taught us that enduring well brings uplifting moments in our life. He always looked to the Lord for comfort. Joseph taught us patience and loving kindness to the Saints no matter what he was living through. Joseph taught us obedience. He never fought with anyone about the trumped up charges that put him in jail. A parallel to our Savior can be seen through the actions of Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail. Joseph was going through the refiner’s fire.

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