24 December 2015

Far, Far Away on Judea's Plains

Advent - Day 24

And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.                                     Matthew 2:11

23 December 2015

With Wondering Awe

Advent - Day 23

. . . And lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
                                                                          Matthew 2:9,10

Gifts and Change
From Daily Guideposts, 1985
by Fred Bauer

The Wise Men, having laid their gifts before the Christ Child, returned home. But not by the same route. According to St. Matthew, "Being warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country by another way."

Whatever road they took to Bethlehem, one thing is for sure: they would have journeyed home a different way. That is because no one ever travels the same path after coming to Jesus.

Once we have found Bethlehem, bowed down before the Master and surrendered our lives in service to Him, He tops our offering with an incomparable gift of His own. The Wise Men brought Him the world's riches--gold, frankincense and myrrh. He gave them in exchange something priceless: a vision of life more abundant--one which they could claim that very day. He will do the same for you and me right now.

22 December 2015

We Three Kings of Orient Are

Advent - Day 22

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the eats, and are come to worship him.
                                                           Matthew 2:1,2

Christmas is for Sharing
by Richard Warner

     I knew that Homer had wanted canyon boots for as long as I could remember. He was eleven, and I ten, and we had spent many nights under the blue quilts at the cabin talking about how great it would be to have some real boots--boots that would climb through thorny bushes; that would ward off rattlesnakes; that would nudge the ribs of the pony. We had planned the kind of leather they should be and what kind of decoration they should have. But we both knew it was just talk. The depression had been hard on Father's business, and even shoes for school were usually half-soled hand-me-downs.
     Christmas that year had promised, as always, to be exciting, though mainly because of the handmade things we'd worked on in school for our parents. We never had money to spend on each other, but we had caught early in our lives a sort of contagion from our mother. She loved to give, and her anticipation of the joy that a just right gift would bring to someone, infected our whole household. We were swept up in breathless waiting to see how others would like what we had to give. Secrecy ruled--open exaggerated secrecy, as we made and hid our gifts. The only one whose hiding place we never discovered was my Grandmother's. Her gifts seemed to materialize by magic on Christmas morning and were always more expensive than they should have been.
     That Christmas I was glowing because Mother had been so happy with the parchment lamp shade I'd made in the fourth grade, and Father had raved over the clay jewelry case I had molded and baked for him. Gill and Emma Lou had been pleased with the figures I had whittled out of clothespins, and Homer had liked the Scout pin I had bargained for with my flint. Then Grandma started to pass out her presents.
     Mine was heavy and square. I had been in the hospital that year and then on crutches, and I had wondered how it would be to have an erector set to build with. Grandma had a knack at reading boy's minds, and I was sure that's what it was. But it wasn't. It was a pair of boots, brown tangy-smelling leather boots.
     I looked quickly to Homer's package. His was a sweater. He had needed one all fall. I wanted to cover my box before he saw what it was. I did not want the boots; they should have been his. He came toward me asking to see, and I started to say, "I'm sorry brother."
     But he was grinning and he shouted, "Hey everybody, look what Richard's got." He swooped the boots out of the box, fondled them like treasure, and then sat on the floor at my feet to take off my half-soled shoes and put on the brand new boots.
     I do not remember how the boots felt, not even how they looked. But Christmas rang in my soul because my brother was glad for me.

21 December 2015

Away in a Manger

Advent - Day 21

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.                                               Luke 2:15,16

She Brought Light
by Muriel Robinson

     It has been many years since my husband, Ken, was released from the Air Force and we moved to Provo, Utah, so he could attend Brigham Young University. Prior to our move, Ken had traveled to Provo, purchased a mobile home, arranged to have it set up on a lot, and the utilities turned on when we moved in.
     We arrived in Provo on a cold December night. All our belongings were packed in the back of a rental truck. Our nerves were on edge from the tiring trip. Six months pregnant, I was feeling the effects of cleaning, packing, and traveling; our 15-month-old daughter, Shawna, was tired and crying.
    A blast of cold air greeted us as we opened the door to our home. The electricity and water had been turned on, but for some reason the natural gas had not. Too exhausted to do anything else, we put a mattress on the floor with an electric blanket to keep us warm and tried to sleep with our daughter between us. She ended up crying most of the night, so when morning came we were almost as tired as when we had gone to bed.
     After we unloaded the truck, Ken left to return it, check with the gas company, and arrange for a phone to be installed. I dressed Shawna in her snowsuit and placed her in her high chair with a few toys while I started to unpack the boxes.
     When I unpacked our electric frying pan, I decided to heat water in it to wash out the cupboards. As I turned on the faucet of the kitchen sink, the faucet came off and water shot up into the air. I tried to turn off the water valve under the sink but could not get it to turn. Frantically, I searched for the water shutoff valve for the house. By the time I found it, the kitchen and living room were flooded.
     As I desperately started moving boxes out of the water, Shawna sensed my panic and began to scream. Carrying her with one arm, I continued to try to lift boxes with the other. It was then that I started into premature labor. Now I was truly panicked. I didn't know anyone in the neighborhood, and I didn't even have a phone to call for help. Desperately I prayed, "Heavenly Father, please help me!"
     I'll never forget answering a knock that soon came at the door. The woman standing there was shivering, with soap suds up to her elbows. She introduced herself as Amalia Van Tassel, the branch Relief Society president; and told me the Spirit had sent her.
     I would later learn that Amalia had been standing at her sink washing dishes when she felt prompted to check on the new family who had just moved in. Sensing an urgency, she called to her oldest daughter to watch her other children, and without even stopping to dry her hands or grab her coat, ran to my door.
     Amalia made me lie down, comforted Shawna, cleaned up all she could, and invited our family to dinner. She brought light, safety, and comfort into that dark December day. Rest stopped my premature labor, Ken returned with the gas man, and fixed the sink, and portable electric heaters dried the soaked carpet.
     I have always been grateful to Heavenly Father for answering my prayer that day and for the loving sister who quickly followed the promptings of the Holy Spirit. 

20 December 2015

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

Advent - Day 20

Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up ye everlasting doors; and the King of Glory shall come in. Who is the King of Glory: The Lord of Hosts, he is the King of glory.
                                                                          Psalm 24:9,10

A Boy Learns a Lesson
by Thomas S. Monson

In about my tenth year, as Christmas approached, I longed for an electric train. The times were those of economic depression, yet Mother and Dad purchased for me a lovely electric train.

Christmas morning bright and early, I was thrilled when I noticed my train. The next few hours were devoted to operating the transformer and watching the engine pull its cars forward, then backward around the track.

Mother said that she had purchased a wind-up train for Widow Hansen's boy, Mark, who lived down the lane at Gale Street.  As I looked at his train, I noted a tanker car which I much admired. I put up such a fuss that my mother succumbed to my pleading and gave me the tanker car. I put it with my train set and felt pleased.

Mother and I took the remaining cars and the engine down to Mark Hansen. The young boy was a year or two older than I. He had never anticipated such a gift. He was thrilled beyond words. He wound the key in his engine, it not being electric, nor expensive like mine, and was overjoyed as the engine and three cars, plus a caboose went around the track.  

I felt a horrible sense of guilt as I returned home. The tanker car no longer appealed to me. Suddenly, I took the tank car in my hand, plus an additional car of my own and ran all the way down to Gale Street and proudly announced to Mark, "We forgot to bring two cars which belong to your train."

I don't know when a day had made me feel better than that experience as a ten-year-old boy.

19 December 2015

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

Advent - Day 19

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.                                                         Isaiah 9:6

Why That Gift?
Name Withheld

Every Christmas, in celebration of the Savoir's birth, our family selects an individual or family to surprise with anonymous gifts. A few years ago we chose a family in our ward with three little children. We knew they were struggling financially, so we decided to buy them a few small toys and groceries for Christmas dinner,and leave it on their doorstep. However, each time I went shopping for those things, I felt troubled. When my husband asked me one night why I hadn't bought the gifts, I shrugged and told him I didn't know, that I just didn't feel good about it.

One afternoon a week before Christmas as I was driving past our bank, I was impressed to get a $100 bill. I immediately went into the bank to get one. When my husband came home from work that night, I told him what I'd done. Naturally, he wanted to know what we were supposed to do with it, but I didn't know.

Later that evening as we were eating dinner, I suddenly felt the money should go to the home of the family we had chosen to surprise with Christmas gifts. I asked my son to go with me to deliver the money. We left it in an envelope on their doorstep, rang the doorbell and ran. We heard nothing about it in the ensuing days and soon forgot about it. 

A year passed, during which the family moved away. Then, just before Christmas, the family visited our ward, and the sister stood to bear her testimony in Relief Society. She had a strong testimony of tithing, she said, and went on to explain that about a year ago, a week before Christmas, she and her husband had gone to tithing settlement, where they discovered they were $100 short. To be full-tithe payers they would need to pay it that night. She and her husband looked at each other in dismay. The only money they had was $100 they had worked hard to save for a Christmas celebration with their children. Since it was the only money they could spare, they gave it to the Bishop.

Through tears the sister related that they had gone from tithing settlement to home, only to find an envelop with a $100 bill in it on their doorstep. Her heart overflowed then with gratitude toward an understanding Heavenly Father. It was a Christmas she said she would never forget, and the gift she received that year was one that would stay with her always.

18 December 2015

Angels We Have Heard on High

Advent - Day 18

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
                                                             Luke 2:13,14

And suddenly there was with the angel . . .
Luke 2:13
by Ruth Stafford Peale and Norman Vincent Peale

One of the most vivid and beloved passages in the Bible is the one where the heavens themselves seemed to explode with joy on the night Christ was born.

Shepherds tending their flocks were startled by a radiant burst of light as "an angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them" (Luke 2:9). Understandably, they were terror-stricken, but once again the angel spoke his reassuring words: "Fear not." Then he gave them the "good tidings of great joy" that have been at the heart of Christmas ever since.

But the shepherds weren't content merely to be told about the Savior's birth. They wanted to experience Him for themselves, and that is what they did, coming "with haste" to the manger where the baby lay (Luke 2:16).

Is there a message for all of us here? We think there is, and it is this: Don't be satisfied merely to hear about Jesus. Arise and seek him yourself. Go in search of Him "with haste" until you stand in His Presence, and then when you have found Him, tell others about your discovery, just as the shepherds did.

17 December 2015

While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks

Advent - Day 17

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.                                 Luke 2:8-11

For unto you is born this day. . .a Savior, which is Christ the Lord
Luke 2:11
by Zona B. Davis

At the office Christmas dinner we were seated around a long, festive table. An identical package, wrapped in red foil, lay beside each plate.

Some people shook their package, a few checked their neighbor's--and some opened their gift with excitement, taking it out of its wrapping for others to see, touch, and admire.

How like another Christmas night, I thought. God gave an identical Gift to all men 2,000 years ago. Some merely observed it with faint curiosity, some only commented on it--but some received it with rejoicing and hurried to share it with others.

This Gift is still offered to each of us. We can save it for later or we can simply observe our neighbor's gift--or we can receive it with delight and thereafter thank God for the magnificence of His generosity.

16 December 2015

When Joseph Went to Bethlehem

Advent - Day 16

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.                                                        Luke 2:4-7

Trouble at the Inn
by Dina Donahue

     For many years now, whenever Christmas pageants are talked about in a certain little town in the Midwest, someone is sure to mention the name of Wallace Purling. Wally's performance in one annual production of the nativity play has slipped into the realm of legend. But old-timers who were in the audience that night never tire of recalling exactly what happened.
    Wally was nine that year and in the second grade, though he should have been in the fourth. Most people in town knew he had difficulty in keeping up. He was big and clumsy, slow in movement and mind. Still,Wally was well liked by the other children in his class, all of whom were smaller than he, though the boys had trouble hiding their irritation when Wally would ask to play ball with them, or any game, for that matter, in which winning was important.
     Most often they'd find a way to keep him out, but Wally would hang around anyway, not sulking, just hoping. He was always a helpful boy, a willing and smiling one, and the natural protector of the underdog. Sometimes if the older boys chased the younger ones away, it would always be Wally who'd say, "Can't they stay? They're not a bother."
     Wally fancied the idea of being a shepherd with a flute in the Christmas pageant that year, but the play's director, Miss Lumbard, assigned him to a more important role. After all, she reasoned, the innkeeper did not have too many lines and Wally's size would make his refusal of lodging to Joseph more forceful.
     And so it happened that the usual large, partisan audience gathered for the town's yearly extravaganza of beards, crowns, halos, and a whole stage full of squeaky voices. No one on stage or off was more caught up in the magic of the night than Wallace Purling. They said later that he stood in the wings and watched the performance with such fascination that from time to time Miss Lumbard had to make sure he didn't wander on stage before his cue.
     Then the time came when Joseph appeared, slowly, tenderly guiding Mary to the door of the inn. Joseph knocked hard on the wooden door set into the painted backdrop. Wally the Innkeeper was there, waiting.
    "What do you want?" Wally said, swinging the door open with a brusque gesture.
     "We seek lodging!"
     "Seek it elsewhere!" Wally looked straight ahead but spoke vigorously. "The inn is filled!"
     "Sir, we have asked everywhere in vain. We have traveled far and are very weary."
     "There is no room in this inn for you!" Wally looked properly stern.
     "Please, good Innkeeper, this is my wife, Mary. She is heavy with child and needs a place to rest. Surely you must have some small corner for her. She is so tired."
     Now, for the first time, the innkeeper relaxed his stance and looked down at Mary. With that, there was a long pause; long enough to make the audience a bit tense with embarrassment.
     "No, be gone!" the prompter whispered from the wings.
     "No!" Wally repeated automatically. "Be gone."
     Joseph sadly placed his arm around Mary, and Mary laid her head upon her husband's shoulder and the two of them started to move away. The innkeeper did not return inside his inn, however. Wally stood there in the doorway, watching the forlorn couple. His mouth was open, his brow creased with concern, his eyes filling unmistakably with tears.
     And suddenly this Christmas pageant became different from all the others.
     "Don't go, Joseph!" Wally called out. "Bring Mary back." And Wallace Purling's face grew into a bright smile. "You can have my room."
     Some people in town thought that the pageant had been ruined; yet there were others, many, many others, who considered it the most Christmas of all Christmas pageants they had ever seen.

15 December 2015

God Loved Us So He Sent His Son

Advent - Day 15

And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms. And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! . . . And I looked and I beheld the Son of God going forth among the children of men; and I saw many fall down at his feet and worship him.                                                            1 Nephi 11:20,21,24

Wrapped in My Mother's Love
by Bonnie Danielson

When I was about three or four years old, my mother was the ward Relief Society President. Part of her responsibility, it seemed, was to always have a quilt in progress in our home. Sisters would filter in and out of our basement at any given time to quilt for a while. Often my mother would thread a needle for me and let me "quilt" with the sisters (my clumsy stitches were patiently removed when I was not around). I relished these moments and learned at a young age to love the quilting bee and the Relief Society.

My mother died suddenly when I was only five. It wasn't until years later that I found she had left me a great gift of love. The Christmas of my nineteenth year is one I will always remember, for that was when I received this most precious gift from my mother, although she had passed away fourteen years before.

Unbeknownst to me, before my mother died she had pieced together two special quilts from swatches of fabric, one for my older brother and one for me. Unfortunately, she passed away before they could be completed.

When I turned nineteen, my older sister felt it was time to complete the quilts for my brother and me and asked a ward Relief Society to finish them. These sisters sewed the intricate stitches without knowing how much it would have pleased my mother. When I received the quilt on Christmas Day, I loved the gift with all my heart, but I had no idea how much more it would yet come to mean to me.

Years went by, and I married and started a family of my own. I kept my quilt wrapped in a plastic bag in a drawer for fear something would happen to it. One day I took it out and was carefully admiring it when one of my little boys came into the room and asked where I got the quilt. I explained to him that his Grandma Brown had made the quilt for me before she died. "Who is Grandma Brown?" my young son asked.

How it pained me that my children had never known the mother whom I cherished, that she was not able to put her arms around them and tell them she loved them in her tender, gentle way. I explained to my son once again that Grandma Brown, my mother, was someone special in heaven who loved him. "Why do you have that quilt, Mommy? he asked.

Suddenly it came to me. I knew exactly why I had the quilt. I unfolded it and wrapped it around his little body. "I have this quilt so Grandma Brown can give you hugs even though she is in heaven," I said.

A big smile spread across his face, and I could see that this was the best answer I could have given him. Since that time the quilt has made its way out of the drawer much more often. Whenever a family member is hurt, sad, or in need of extra love, the quilt is a great source of comfort. To me, it is still the greatest gift I could ask for. I love touching the quilt, knowing my mother's hands have touched it also.

Many years have passed, and I can now quilt correctly. My sisters and I have spent many hours around quilting frames talking about our mother. Since I am the youngest, my sisters tell me stories about her to help me know her better. Yet no matter how many stories I hear, nothing has helped me or my children turn our hearts to my mother more than the quilt I got for Christmas the year I turned nineteen.

14 December 2015

What Child is This?

Advent - Day 14

. . . And I beheld the city of Nazareth; and in the city of Nazareth I beheld a virgin, and she was exceedingly fair and white. And he said unto me: Behold the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.
                                                                1 Nephi 11: 13, 18

Keeping Baby Warm
by Lynda H. Laughlin

It was an inexpensive dime-store Nativity set, and he was only three years old. His back was toward me, but I could see that his chubby little hands were busily working on something at the old table.

"What are you doing?" I asked him impatiently, annoyed at him for touching the decorations after he had been told not to.

As I started toward the scene of his latest mischief, he turned toward me with wide blue eyes filling and a single tear starting down his cherubic check. Then I saw it. A carefully folded tissue had been tenderly placed over the small ceramic infant.

"Baby Jesus was cold, Mommy," he whispered.

Ten years have passed, and the tiny Nativity has been replaced with a much larger one. But this year, as every year, I found a carefully folded tissue covering the baby Jesus. I think I know who did it, and I hope he never stops.

13 December 2015

The First Noel

Advent - Day 13

And it came to pass that there was no darkness in all that night, but it was as light as though it was mid-day. And it came to pass that the sun did rise in the morning again, according to its proper order; and they knew that it was the day that the Lord should be born, because of the sing which had been given.                                              3 Nephi 1:19

Check Out
by J.R. Labbe from Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Christmas Eve, a year ago, the Walmart in Cleburne, Texas, was jammed and hectic. Dozens of people were waiting in long lines at checkout counters to purchase small appliances, jewelry, toys and clothing that would be next-morning treasures under someone's tree.

The woman standing in cashier Jeffrey Kandt's line seemed to be living on the edge of subsistence. Her clothes were worn; her hands were those of a person who'd worked hard for what she had. She held a single item in her arms as she patiently waited to move to the front of the line. Her son would get the one present he had asked for: a Sony PlayStation2. She had saved all year for this; with tax, the total would be close to $220.

As Kandt scanned the game player's barcode into his register, the woman panicked. Where was her money? It wasn't where she remembered putting it earlier in the day. Her fear became palpable to the customers in line behind her as she started to cry.

Why my line? Kandt thought as he watched the frantic woman search through her clothes. He was going to have to call his manager to void the sale and return the game player to a locked shelf. He'd have to shutdown his checkout line and wait for her to come from another part of the crowded store--not something that any store manager or cashier wants on Christmas Eve, not with people waiting and the clock ticking down to closing time. I'm going to be late for church, Kandt thought.

And then an amazing thing happened. At the back of the line, a man took out his wallet, pulled out $100 and passed it forward. As the cash moved up the line, a twenty dollar bill was added here, a ten dollar bill there. Someone threw in a bunch of ones dug from the bottom of a jeans pocket.

When the collection finally reached the register, Kandt counted $220.

Strangers had fulfilled a poor woman's Christmas wish to give her son his dream gift.

And Jeffrey Kandt wasn't late for church. The people in his line in the Cleburne, Texas, Walmart on Christmas Eve 2002 had become one.

12 December 2015

Silent Night

Advent - Day 12

Lift up your head and be of good cheer; for behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world, to show unto the world that I will fulfill all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets.
                                                             3 Nephi 1:13

The Gift of Love
by Thomas S. Monson

When I was a very young bishop, in 1950, there was a tap at my door and a good German brother from Ogden, Utah announced himself as Karl Guertler.

He said, "Are you Bishop Monson?" I answered in the affirmative.

He said, "My brother and his wife and their family are coming from Germany. They are going to live in your ward. Will you come with me to see the apartment we have rented for them?" On the way to that apartment he told me he had not seen his brother for something like thirty years. Yet all through the holocaust of World War II, his brother, Hans Guertler, had been faithful to the Church--an officer in the Hamburg branch.

I looked at that apartment. It was cold; it was dreary; the paint was peeling from the walls; the cupboards were bare. What an uninviting home for the Christmas season of the year! I worried about it and I prayed about it, and then in our ward welfare committee meeting, we did something about it.

The group leader of the high priests said, "I am an electrician. Let's put good appliances in that apartment."

The group leader of the seventies said, "I am in the floor covering business. Let's install new floor coverings."

The elder's quorum president said, "I am a painter. Let's paint that apartment."

The Relief Society representative spoke up, "Did you say the cupboards were bare?" (They were not bare very long with the Relief Society in action.)

Then the young people, represented through the Aaronic Priesthood general secretary said, "Let's put a Christmas tree in the home and let's go among our young people and gather gifts to place under the tree."

You should have seen the Christmas scene when the Guertler family arrived from Germany in clothing which was tattered and with faces which were drawn by the rigors of war and deprivation! As they went into their apartment they saw what had been in actual fact a transformation--a beautiful home. We spontaneously began singing "Silent Night! Holy Night! All is calm; all is bright." We sang in English, they sang in German. At the conclusion of that hymn Hans Guertler threw his arms around my neck, buried his face in my shoulder, and repeated over and over again those words which I shall never forget: "Mein brudder, mein brudder, mein brudder."

As we walked down the stairs that night, all of us who had participated in making Christmas come alive in the lives of this German family, we reflected upon the words of the Master;

"Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."
(Matthew 25:40) 

11 December 2015

Mary Did You Know?

Advent - Day 11

And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end.                                                              Luke 1:30-33

The Crumpled Letter
by Chris Geilman

It was a cold, bone-chilling December day in 1988 in San Luis Obispo, California. Stricken with a rare neuromuscular disorder, I struggled with rigid muscles in my abdomen and legs. The cold aggravated my symptoms. Walking was painful and difficult, and celebrating Christmas in the manner I desired would be impossible.

After our children departed for the bus stop, I hobbled out to the mailbox to slip some letters under its sodden wooden top. A crumpled, damp envelope already protruded from under the lid. As I pulled it out to add to my stack of letters, I glanced at the address. To my surprise scrawled across the front was "To Santa, From Sarah." Sarah was our nine-year-old daughter, a sensitive and loving child who cared deeply for those around her.

The thought occurred to me that this might be my chance to see what she really wanted for Christmas. I opened her envelope and read: "Dear Santa, I am nine years old and all I want is this. My mother has been very sick and has not been able to walk, and I am hoping you can get her better for Christmas. That's all I want. Love, Sarah."

Icy raindrops hit my face and blended with the tears on my cheeks. I thought my heart would break, for there was nothing I could do to give Sarah what she wanted for Christmas, and I regretted that her belief in a generous Santa would have to be shattered on Christmas morning.

As I prayed about what to do, I realized that I had never prayed to be made well. I had let hopelessness seep into my soul and despair replace my faith.

After a great deal of prayer, I composed a letter from Santa to be delivered to Sarah on Christmas morning along with her other gifts. In the letter I explained that Heavenly Father had reasons for why things happen as they do, and that if she would just believe in Heavenly Father and keep on praying and doing what she could, things would work out for the best.

Sarah learned that Christmas day in 1988 that Santa could not make her mother well but that Heavenly Father could one day, if it were for the best. Our daughter quietly transferred her belief in Santa to faith in a loving Heavenly Father.

During the following years, Sarah never ceased praying that I would be made well. After more than six years, a breakthrough in medical technology placed me soundly back on my feet and eliminated my need for either a cane or wheelchair. Sarah knelt in prayer to express her deep gratitude to Heavenly Father.

Years ago as I opened Sarah's letter to Santa on that rainy December day, I thought I was going to deepen her belief in a fun Christmas tradition. Instead, her simple, uneven script taught me to have childlike faith in a kind Heavenly Father, and that lesson turned out to be my most precious Christmas gift of all.

10 December 2015

Stars Were Gleaming

Advent - Day 10

And behold there shall a new star arise, such an one as ye never have beheld; and this also shall be a sign unto you. And behold this is not all, there shall be many signs an wonders in heaven.
                                                                Helaman 14:5,6

The Unexpected Christmas
by Enid O. Ellis

     With wind howling down from the Cascade Mountains, December 1969 was bitterly cold and snowy in  Wenatchee, Washington. As a single mother, I and my children struggled just to stay warm and fed. I worked at minimum-wage jobs and attended nursing school, and often I went two or three days without eating at the end of the month to give the children more food. At times even the children went to bed hungry, and none of us had adequate winter clothing.
     Wendell was in grade school, Brent was in preschool, and my three year old twins, Michael and Michelle, stayed with a state-paid babysitter while I was gone. Just four months before, Wendell and I had joined the church, and as a result my parents, brothers, and sisters wanted nothing to do with us. With the holidays approaching we really had no one to turn to for help; as a new convert, I didn't know I could ask my bishop.
     Ten days before Christmas, after a great deal of whispering among themselves, my children approached me one evening while I was studying. Nine-year-old Wendell tugged my sleeve and asked, "Mama, when are we going to get a Christmas tree and some presents?" Brent piped up and asked, "Or are we going to Grandma and Grandpa's for Christmas this year?"
     These were the questions I'd been dreading. I swallowed a lump in my throat and blinked away my tears and said, "I'm afraid we're not going to have any Christmas presents this year."
     "Why not, Mama?" they asked.
     "Well, Grandma and Grandpa have asked us not to come over since we joined the Church, and we just don't have any money for our own Christmas," I answered.
     "Oh Mama, nothing?" asked Wendell. "Santa won't forget us though, will he?"
     I replied that Santa probably wouldn't be able to stop at our house that year.
     For the next few days the children seemed somber. They often stood by the front window and looked out at passers-by and neighboring festive houses. While their playmates bubbled with excitement about the presents and goodies being prepared in their homes, my children quietly accepted the fact that no packages or decorations or other signs of Christmas were appearing in our house.
     Our ward had a Christmas party planned for Saturday night, 20 December, but we decided not to go because the meetinghouse was a mile and a half away and walking was our only means of transportation. However, a car pulled up at our house on the evening of the party, and our home teacher knocked on our door.
     "Come on," he said. "Let's go to the Christmas party! Get your coats on, kids."
     The party was the first real Christmas flavor to come into my children's lives that year. I don't know what they talked with Santa about, but they appreciated his gifts of candy and oranges, and their spirits seemed much uplifted afterward. Buoyed by my children's renewed enthusiasm, I used their watercolors to paint a Santa face on our front window. Now we had some decorations.
     When Christmas Eve arrived, I had only $1.25 in my purse. We walked to the grocery store, where I bought each child two tangerines and the cashier handed them each a large candy cane. Along with the story of Jesus' birth, that would be the extent of our Christmas. As we rounded the corner on our way home, Wendell shouted, "Hey, Santa came!" The other children echoed his cries upon seeing a beautifully decorated Christmas tree on our porch. Mounting the steps, we saw two large boxes, previously hidden from view, placed next to the tree.
     One box was full of food, and the other was full of presents. I could hardly believe my eyes. Wendell plugged in the Christmas tree lights as soon as we moved the tree inside, and the children pinched and shook each present as they set it under the tree. Their eyes were full of wonder.
     Next we unpacked the food in the kitchen. The children had never seen so much in one place except at the grocery store. Even Wendell couldn't remember having a whole turkey in the house.
     "We won't have to go to bed hungry tonight!" said Brent.
     I fixed the children a special Christmas Eve supper. Afterwards we sat around the Christmas tree and enjoyed the lights while I read the story of the birth of Jesus. "We have a lot to thank Heavenly Father for tonight," I said. We knelt in a circle and said a prayer of gratitude.
     When we opened the presents the next morning, each child received exactly what he or she had wanted. In addition, each child got a warm outfit, gloves and mittens, and money for boots. Someone had made clothes for the doll my daughter received. The food was enough to last us several weeks beyond Christmas.
     I may never know who played Santa that year or how they knew what the children wanted. Everyone in our ward denied involvement, but I'm certain it was some of them. I'll always remember that Christmas as the best of my life, and my grown-up children feel the same way. We felt the Spirit of Christ that day more than we ever had before and realized that our Savior does watch over his children.

09 December 2015

Samuel Tells of the Baby Jesus

Advent - Day 9

And behold, this will I give unto you for a sign at the time of his coming: for behold there shall be great lights in heaven, insomuch that in the night before he cometh there shall be no darkness, insomuch that is shall appear unto man as if it was day.
                                                               Helaman 14:3

The Gift My Father Gave Me
by Ruth M. Anderson

For many of us, one Christmas stands out above all the others. I am now a great-grandmother, but I shall never forget a particular Christmas when I was a young child.

I was one of 14 children in my family, and we lived in a farming town. We were very poor as far as worldly goods are concerned, though I didn't know it then. A family in our town was even poorer than we were. Their mother had died, and the father was working away from home, leaving the older children to care for the younger ones.

On this particular Christmas, after we had opened our gifts, my father spoke to us of this motherless family and how they might not receive Christmas gifts as we had. He suggested that each of us choose one of our new gifts to be placed in a box, along with food and other goodies, to be taken to this family.

I had three presents--a doll, a necklace, and an article of clothing.What a hard decision it was for me! I needed the clothing and I wanted the doll badly, but the necklace was so pretty and sparkly. After a time, I reluctantly dropped the necklace into the box.

It was dark on Christmas night when Dad buttoned our coats and placed all of us in our horse drawn sleigh. We left the box on the doorstep of this family, with no indication of the giver.

The next Sunday, I saw the necklace around the neck of a girl my age from that family. She excitedly told me that Santa had left a box of gifts for them on Christmas night. Of course, my parents had sworn us to secrecy. Dad had told us that giving anonymously was the best part of giving. But at my young age I can't say it felt that good to see what had been my necklace on someone else's neck.

Though it wasn't an easy lesson then, I now realize the great impact this experience has had on my life. As a child I thought my father was asking me to give up a gift, but later I understood that he was actually giving me one of the most precious gifts I've ever received. I think of how much he must have loved me, to teach me that loving someone is far more important than having something. My father's showing his love in this way has helped me understand the love of our Heavenly Father, who presented us the greatest gift of all when He gave His only begotten Son.

08 December 2015

Redeemer of Israel

Advent - Day 8

In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OF OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.
                                                    Jeremiah 23:6

A Heart to Fill
by Ellen Dibble Cox

It was turning out to be another rushed and harried holiday season.

When I was younger, I had envisioned peaceful Christmases filled with twinkling lights and glistening snow, with me seated before a fireplace and surrounded by my dream family.

To my disappointment, however, as a young adult I still had not seen the fulfillment of that dream. Instead, my time and energy during Christmas were being spent on my work as a school teacher and on various holiday related activities. As my involvement in these activities increased and my to-do list grew longer, I felt more and more overwhelmed.

In the middle of the chaos came a request from a friend for our young single adult group to sing at a local nursing home. It was to be a family home evening presentation for the elderly patients there. I must admit that I didn't really want to go, but I halfheartedly consented anyway.

Monday evening came, and when I got to the nursing home I was relieved that the hour had arrived the service project would soon be erased from my to-do list.

A group of patients in wheelchairs had been gathered together in a cold, sterile room. A woman with silver hair and a tremulous voice opened our family home evening with prayer. She petitioned our Heavenly Father and sincerely and humbly said, "We thank Thee for all of our many blessings." Blessings? I was puzzled by the thought. How could she see her world of wheelchairs, bedpans, hospital food, lonely days and nights, dependency, crippled limbs, and faded youth as blessings? The woman finished the prayer, and my thoughts were filled with wonder at her expression of gratitude.

Our group stood and began to sing.

Slippered feet tapped on foot rests, gnarled fingers kept time, and smiles appeared at the sound of the familiar melodies. Their expressions mirrored ours as we sang of Christmas delights and heavenly gifts. Something warm and magical gradually seemed to fill the room.

I gazed into the ageless eyes of the onlookers and found myself floating in their warmth and wisdom. They too had been teachers or carolers in a choir--married, single, parents, or childless.

The final notes of the closing song drifted softly around the room: "Sleep in heavenly peace." A benediction was offered. My spirit was subdued and quieted.

My view of Christmas and of life began to change that night. For one moment I could see that I didn't need to worry so much about what I felt was lacking in my own life. I sensed that within the withered physical bodies of those to whom we had sung, were spirits filled with happiness, gratitude, and God's love. No matter the person's age or station in life, a portion of that love and happiness was there, if only I had eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to fill--with gratitude.

07 December 2015

It Came Upon A Midnight Clear

Advent - Day 7

. . . Behold the glory of the King of all the earth; and also the King of heaven shall very soon shine forth among all the children of men.
                                                                   Alma 5:50

My Last Christmas in the Mission
By Julio Cesar Sonoda

It was my last Christmas in the Brazil Rio de Janeiro North Mission. I would soon be returning home, and I was happy about the Christmas season. My companion, Elder Barney, was an American who had been in Brazil for only a short time. He was fighting homesickness.

We had been working hard, but we still weren't sure how to celebrate Christmas. We hoped a family would invite us to spend Christmas with them, and eventually one family did. However, I wondered about some of the other missionaries in our area. On our next trip to Vitoria, my companion and I learned that Elder Jones and Elder Junot didn't have any Christmas plans. I thought, These elders are my family while I'm on my mission. We can't leave them alone on Christmas. The four of us decided we would spend Christmas together.

We made plans for a special dinner on Christmas Eve. Although we didn't have much money, we felt the Lord would bless us.

On Christmas Eve I recorded my feelings in my journal: "Today is the twenty-fourth of December. It has rained a lot, and I see that my companion is sadder. He says he misses the symbols of Christmas he is used to seeing in his country--snow, music, trees, and decorations. I can imagine how hard his Christmas will be since he is so far away from his family, his people, and his customs. The rain continues to fall, but it is lighter now."

Looking at my companion I sensed his homesickness and wanted him to be happy.

On the bus trip to Vitoria we could see people hurrying to make their Christmas purchases. We went by a house illuminated with colored lights. Children played in the gardens. Tears filled my eyes, and I could not speak to my companion because I knew I would cry. He seemed to be crying silently. For Elder Junot, Elder Jones, and me this Christmas was our last on the mission. But it was Elder Barney's first, and I didn't know how to console him. During the trip, I cried several times, but concealed it. And my companion concealed his tears from me.

We got off the bus and went to the other missionaries' apartment. We put our money together, and Elder Juno and Elder Jones went out to make the purchases. After they returned with the food, we set the table with a white tablecloth and napkins and placed Christmas cards on it for decoration. But even this didn't seem to lift our spirits.

Seeing this, Elder Jones suggested we get out our hymnbooks and sing hymns to the Lord. We sang one, then one more and then another. And we sang louder each time. I wanted the neighborhood to hear our singing and know that we were worshiping the Lord. We started to feel the Spirit of the Lord.

After singing, Elder Jones shared a scripture about the birth of Christ. Then everyone read from the scriptures. We bore our testimonies about our Redeemer.

When Elder Barney shared his testimony, he explained, "I was missing the things that are familiar to me--the snow, the Christmas tree, the turkey, the Christmas music of my country. I forgot to be concerned about the Son of God born in a manger." We had tears in our eyes, for the Spirit testified in our hearts that we had worshiped the Creator of the day. We thanked the Lord for all He had given us.

It was my last Christmas in the mission, but it was the first true Christmas I ever spent.

06 December 2015

O Little Town of Bethlehem

Advent - Day 6

But thou, Bethlehem, . . . though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.                                               Micah 5:2

A New Light
By Joe Fitzgerald from Boston Herald

The Markovitz family was one of just a few Jewish families in a quiet suburban neighborhood in Pennsylvania where Christmas decorations lit up the street. In their home, however, an illuminated menorah in the window reminded everyone it was also Hanukkah.

Around five o'clock one morning, Judy Markovitz was awakened by the shattering of glass. "My husband and I ran downstairs and saw our window had been broken and the menorah was on the floor. The frame was shattered. They must have used a bat. Whoever did it had to squeeze behind bushes to reach it."

For the Markovitz family it was an assault compounded by personal history. "Both of my parents were in the camps at Auschwitz; my husband's mother was there also, " explained Judy, who came to America in 1974. "All of my mother's family died. There are things we don't talk about, but I know older people like her have a need to feel safe, so I didn't tell her much about this. And I tried to isolate my children from it too."

"We were home much of that day because my husband had to get the window replaced," she recalled. "Neighbors kept approaching us to say how sorry they were."

One of those neighbors, Lisa Keeling, now living in North Carolina, explained their thinking. "I know a menorah represents a miracle by our God before our faith was known as Christianity. I know of the king who told the Jews they couldn't practice their religion. When they reclaimed Jerusalem and saw the Temple had been desecrated, they wanted to reconsecrate it, but found only a tiny bit of oil, enough for a night. They decided to use it anyway and it burned eight nights.

"That was a miracle from the same God we worship, and why anyone would take a symbol of His love and use it for hatred, I don't understand."

These were things the Markovitzes did not understand as well. After workmen repaired their shattered window, the family went to Judy's brother's home, unaware that their neighbors were working determinedly to repair something else.

That evening when the Markovitzes came home from their visit and turned onto their street, they were met by an extraordinary sight: Nearly every home on the block was adorned by an illuminated menorah.

Vicky Markovitz, Judy's daughter, now 18, remembers those glowing windows as an affirmation of the compassion and community. "It was as if they said, 'If you break their windows, you will have to break ours.'" 

And the light spread.

05 December 2015

Joy to the World

Advent - Day 5

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, ad the rough places plain: And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed. . . .                  Micah 5:2

A Brother Like That
Especially for Mormons, Vol. 2

Paul received a new car from his brother as a pre-Christmas present. On Christmas Eve when Paul came out of his office, a street urchin was walking around the shiny new car, admiring it.

"Is this your car, mister?" he asked.

Paul nodded. "My brother gave it to me for Christmas."

The boy looked astounded. "You mean your brother gave it to you, and it didn't cost you anything? Gosh, I wish. . ."

He hesitated, and Paul knew what he was going to wish. He was going to wish he had a brother like that. But what the lad said jarred Paul all the way down to his heels.

I wish," the boy went on, "that I could be a brother like that."

Paul looked at the boy in astonishment; then impulsively added. "Would you like a ride in my new car?"

"Oh yes, I'd love that!"

After a short ride, he turned, with his eyes aglow and said, "Mister, would you mind driving in front of my house?"

Paul smiled a little. He thought he knew what the lad wanted. He wanted to show his neighbors that he could ride home in a big automobile. But Paul was wrong again.

"Will you stop right where those steps are?" the boy asked. He ran up the steps. Then in a little while Paul heard him coming back, but he was not coming fast. He was carrying his little polio-crippled brother. He sat down on the bottom step, then sort of squeezed up right against him and pointed at the car.

"There she is, Buddy, just like I told you upstairs. His brother gave it to him for Christmas, and it didn't cost him a cent, and someday I'm gonna give you one just like it: then you can see for yourself all the pretty things in the Christmas windows that I have been trying to tell you about."

Paul got out and lifted the little lad into the front seat of his car. The shining-eyed older brother climbed in beside him and the three of them began a memorable holiday ride.

That Christmas Eve, Paul learned what Jesus meant when He said "It is more blessed to give. . ."

04 December 2015

O Come, All Ye Faithful

Advent - Day 4

Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.
                                                                 Jeremiah 23:5

Stockings Filled with Love
by Henry Copier

I chuckled to myself as I picked up one of the seven red stockings lying nearby on my mission companion's bed. "Who are these for?" I asked, trying not to laugh.

"For the Winkle family," he responded shyly as he packed away his needle and thread.

"They're . . . really nice," I said with some apprehension. Elder Johnson and I had been assigned to serve in the town of Muskegon, Michigan. The Winkles were a choice investigator family scheduled to be baptized on Christmas Day, and in all honesty I felt sheepish delivering these cute little stockings with hand-embroidered gold lettering.

"What are you going to stuff them with?" I asked.

Somewhat surprised at my question, he looked around the room at the oversupply of goodies we had received from home and replied, "Candy--what else?" Then in a more serious tone he added, "I was hoping that we could also include in each stocking a personal Christmas wish and our own written testimonies."

Still feeling uneasy with this idea, I nevertheless decided to go along with it for fear of offending my creative companion. Our month had been filled with preparing this family for baptism, and now the day of their interviews had arrived at last, Christmas Eve. Everything was ready, or so we thought.

Arriving at the Winkle home, we immediately sensed something was wrong. As I interviewed Brother Winkle privately, he told me that the children had been quarreling all morning and that everyone in the family was on edge. Some of the older children had even expressed doubts about being baptized. Upon returning to the family we encountered negative feelings.

"Elder Copier, this baptism has caused a lot of concern in our family," said Sister Winkle, "and I'm
not sure we should go through with it if it's going to cause so much contention."

After spending a few more minutes discussing the problem, we decided together that we should postpone the baptism until the family could feel better about it.  To give the family time to sort out their feelings, Brother Winkle asked us not to return unless he contacted us.

With heavy hearts and deep concern we slowly walked home. Our apartment seemed quiet and gloomy that Christmas Eve. Hours passed as we sat in silent depression. Finally Elder Johnson broke the silence as he pulled out the paper bag filled with the stockings and candy.

"Do you suppose we could leave these at their home anyway?" he asked quietly. Numbly I nodded, and instantly the gloom turned to cheerfulness as we spent the rest of that Christmas Eve writing our testimonies for each member of the family and stuffing them in the little red stockings.

As we approached the Winkle home that chilly dark evening, Elder Johnson asked, "Should I knock?"

"No, let's just leave it by the door," I suggested. I did not want to cause any problem with the family.

Elder Johnson slipped the brown paper bag inside the screen door. Quietly we turned away and headed for home. How difficult it was for two young, inexperienced elders who loved a family so dearly to simply walk away. Snowflakes began to fall and we knew it was going to be a while Christmas.

We were awakened the next morning by the sound of snow shovels and the voices of children outside our window. "Merry Christmas, elders!" the Winkle children called to us as we opened our door. "We wanted to shovel your walks for you and also tell you that our whole family is ready to be baptized. Our parents want to know if you can come over right away!"

We dressed and ran to the Winkle home. Sister Winkle greeted us warmly and apologized for all that had happened the day before. "Baptism is such a big step in our lives." She paused, then pointed to the seven red stockings hanging by the fireplace. "Those," she said with emotion, "are what took away our fears and doubts. You see, elders, I was so touched by the love you showed our family yesterday--despite the way we acted--that I just couldn't put it out of my mind. I finally said a silent prayer and asked the Lord to let me know, just one more time, if the message you brought was true. As I prayed, I said, 'Heavenly Father, if the elders are really thy messengers, send them back today even though we asked them not to return.'

"Well, hours passed, and I kept hoping you would come, but you did not. At midnight I gave up hope and decided that my answer was that I shouldn't get baptized. It was then I went to turn off the porch light and noticed the brown bag in the screen door. When I opened it and realized it was from you, I began to cry. You had come back. I woke up the family, and together we read your testimonies and Christmas wishes. We shared a spirit of love and unity unlike anything we had known before and we knew it was time to be baptized."

The chapel's entire front row was filled with Winkles dressed in white baptismal clothing that Christmas Day. It was indeed a very white Christmas.

03 December 2015

Once in Royal David's City

Advent - Day 3

Yea, even six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem, a prophet would the Lord God raise up among the Jews--even a Messiah, or, in other words, a Savior of the world.
                                                               1 Nephi 10:4

Just a Few Stamps Short
by Wanda Daines Hammond Vetterli

As the years pass and Christmas memories fade, one Christmas stands above the rest. The year was 1918. There was a terrible flu going around in Logan, Utah, and my father was stricken. As there were no antibiotics in those days, we waited for the change that would mean life or death.

Because of my father's illness, Mother told us there would be no money for Christmas gifts that year. My brother and sisters and I secretly decided to do something special for our parents to show them how much they were loved. Oh, if only we could buy them special gifts! We decided we would each look for a job to earn money and then pool our savings. Henry, my older brother, found a job selling Christmas trees, chopping wood, and cleaning walks. Carmen did housework for others, and Luella, who was a fast knitter, made and sold her handiwork. I baby-sat for a mother down the street. Only Marie was too young to work. She just looked forward to Christmas.

The day before Christmas was a crisp, wintry day. A thick blanket of snow covered the streets, and the stores were full of shoppers. We all gathered in my sister's bedroom and counted our money. We had just enough to buy Father a warm robe and Marie a doll buggy. But what about Mother? What could we get or do for her, and where would we get the extra money?

We needed Heavenly Father's help so as brother and sisters we knelt down and prayed with all the fervor we could muster. And then we remembered: there was an almost-full book of green stamps from Christensen's Department Store, and the completed books could be redeemed for merchandise. We hurried downtown and found the robe for Father and the wicker buggy for Marie, which we purchased at Christensen's store. We received only a few stamps for our purchases, however, so we still lacked enough to fill the book. Carmen was walking through the store when a woman near the counter dropped her stamps. Carmen bent over, picked them up and handed them back to her.

"I don't save these," the woman said. "Would you like them?"

Would we? We were overjoyed! Now we could buy a gift for our mother. We found a small table for just one book of stamps, but it was too heavy to carry home. We asked the clerk if it could be delivered that night, but she told us the delivery truck had already left. We must have looked very sad because she offered to contact the driver and see if he would deliver the table after hours.

That night, for the first time in weeks, Father seemed better and even wanted to join us for the festivities. The temperature was below freezing outside, bur we were blanketed with a warmth of love for each other. We made chains of popcorn, colored paper, and cranberries for our tree, and the spicy smell of baked cookies and pies filled the air. Friends and family dropped by, and we sang our favorite Christmas songs and shared our treats.

Mother gave us all small gifts of knitted mittens, hard candy, and stockings, but still her gift had not arrived. What if it did not come? Then there was a knock at the door and someone shouted "Merry Christmas!" The delivery man was there with Mother's table. We jumped up and down and cheered, and Mother had tears in her eyes.

That Christmas I learned that loving someone was more important than loving something. We felt the joy that comes from giving of ourselves, and that evening we knelt in prayer to thank Heavenly Father for His help and kind blessings.

02 December 2015

I Believe in Christ

Advent - Day 2

For behold, the time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and dwell in a tabernacle of clay, and shall go forth amongst men, working mighty miracles, . . . And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; . . .
                                                       Mosiah 3:5, 8

The Christmas I Remember Best
by Rheuama A. West

It should have been the worst, the bleakest of Christmases. It turned out to be the loveliest of all my life. I was nine years old, one of seven children, and we lived in a little farming town in Utah. It had been a tragic year for all of us. But we still had our father, and that made all the difference.

Every year in our town, A Christmas Eve Social was held at the church. How well I remember Dad buttoning our coats, placing us all on our long, homemade sleigh and pulling us to the church about a mile away. It was snowing. How cold and good it felt on our faces. We held tight to one another, and above the crunch of snow beneath Dad's feet we could hear him softly whistling "Silent Night."

Mama had died that previous summer. She had been confined to bed for three years, so Dad had assumed all mother and father responsibilities. I remember him standing me on a stool by our big round kitchen table and teaching me to mix bread. But my main task was being Mama's hands and feet until that day in June, her own birthday, when she died. 

Two months later came the big fire. Our barns, sheds, haystacks and livestock were destroyed. It was a calamity, but dad stood between us and the disaster. We weren't even aware of how poor we were. We had no money at all.

I don't remember much about the Christmas Eve Social. I just remember Dad pulling us there and pulling us back. Later, in the front room around our pot-bellied stove, he served us warm milk and bread. Our Christmas tree, topped by a little worn cardboard angel, had been brought from the nearby hills. Strings of our home-grown popcorn made it the most beautiful tree I had ever seen or smelled.

After supper, Dad made all seven of us sit in a half circle by the tree. I remember I wore a long flannel nightgown. He sat on the floor facing us and told us that he was ready to give us our Christmas gift. We waited, puzzled, because we thought Christmas presents were for Christmas morning. Dad looked at our expectant faces. "Long ago," he said, "on a night like this, some poor shepherds were watching their sheep on a lonely hillside, when all of a sudden . . ."

His quiet voice went on and on, telling the story of the Christ Child in his own simple words. And I'll never forget how love and gratitude seemed to fill the room. There was light from the oil lamp and warmth from the stove, but somehow it was more than that. We felt Mama's presence.

We learned that loving someone was far more important than having something. We were filled with peace and happiness and joy. When the story ended Dad had us all kneel for a family prayer. Then he said, "Try to remember, when everything else seems to be lost, the greatest thing of all remains: God's love for us. That's the gift that can never be taken away."

The next morning we found that Dad had whittled little presents for each of us and hung them on the tree; dolls for the girls, whistles for the boys. But he was right, he had given us our real gift the night before.

All this happened long ago, but to this day it all comes back to me whenever I hear "Silent Night" or feel snowflakes on my face, or best of all, when I get an occasional glimpse of Christ shining in my 90 year old father's face.