The Reason for the Season

Dear Will:

I hope you’re enjoying the holiday season.  We’re going nuts at our house: No matter what kind of commitments we make to each other prior to December, once Thanksgiving is over we find a way to overload ourselves anyway.  It’s fun, but hectic.  Sometimes we get so caught up in the rush that we don’t take the time to savor the good part.  I know we always enjoy the season most when we take some time to consider what it’s really all about.

Something I read recently by our prophet Gordon B. Hinckley really made me pause and consider the real “reason for the season.”  Let me share it with you:

Declared the prophet Isaiah:

“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: . . .

“. . . He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4–5).

This is the wondrous and true story of Christmas. The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem of Judea is preface. The three-year ministry of the Master is prologue. The magnificent substance of the story is His sacrifice, the totally selfless act of dying in pain on the cross of Calvary to atone for the sins of all of us.

The epilogue is the miracle of the Resurrection, bringing the assurance that “as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).

There would be no Christmas if there had not been Easter. The babe Jesus of Bethlehem would be but another baby without the redeeming Christ of Gethsemane and Calvary, and the triumphant fact of the Resurrection.  (Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Wondrous and True Story of Christmas,” Ensign, Dec. 2000, 2)

We’re lucky, I think, to have Christmas fall on a Monday this year, because for me it adds some extra poignancy to our worship services to be gathered together on Christmas Eve.  If you have the time and want an excuse to break away from the hectic stuff so that you can enjoy the real spirit of Christmas, I invite you to join us on Sunday for our special Christmas service.  There will be multiple musical numbers from our excellent choir, a solo or two, some harp music and other stuff I can’t remember.  There will also be a special narration written especially for the occasion.  I really believe it will be a powerful meeting that you will enjoy.

Anyway, it starts at 1 p.m. and will run around 90 minutes.  We’d love to have you join us.

May God bless you and yours throughout these holiday and beyond.


First Letter

Dear Will:

It’s not every day you get a personal note from a neighbor you’ve never met—unless it’s some cheesy come-on or a request for money.  I assure you that I’m not soliciting anything; this is merely an awkward attempt to introduce myself and offer my help as unobtrusively as possible.

Let’s start with the basics.  My name is Peter Watkins.  I live over on Avila Place, about a block or so from Linda Vista School where my daughter Bryn (she’s six) is in the first grade.  My ten-year-old son, Luke, attends La Veta School as part of the GATE program, while my one-year-old, Seth, busies himself by making messes for others to clean up. My wife Dana and I have lived here since 1998.

We attend church at the Orange Second Ward over on Newport Avenue (that’s sort of where you come in).  My guess is that over the years you’ve been visited sporadically by well-meaning members of that church trying to provide you some connection with the religion of your past.  And I’m guessing that just about every time you’ve answered “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Fair enough.  If you’re half as busy as I am, the last thing you want to do is give up a chunk of your evening to visit with some stranger.  I’m sure that if I were in your position I’d feel the same way.  So rather than do that to you, I’m proposing to simply drop you a friendly note from time to time, reminding you that we’re here and that we care.

At this point you’re supposed to roll your eyes and say something like, “Hey, pal, save the stamp.” Let me share a brief story to explain why, at least for now, I feel like this is 33 cents well spent:

Chuck was a guy, not too different from you, who lived just over the hill from my home.  He was a nice enough fellow who nevertheless made it very clear that he wasn’t particularly interested in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints anymore, thank you very much.  Then one night he went out for an evening stroll and started feeling chest pains—the kind that signal to your brain that now would maybe be a good time to call your doctor.  He did and received a nifty heart bypass as a souvenir during his stay at St. Joseph.

Lying in that hospital bed got Chuck to thinking that it might be nice to receive a Priesthood blessing, the kind he remembered had provided powerful comfort during the time when he was attending church.  The trouble was he didn’t know who to call. 

The image of Chuck in that awkward gown, wondering where to turn, pains me to this day.  I wish that he had had my number at home on the fridge or on a card in his wallet.  I wish he had felt connected enough to me to call for my help.  Now as it turns out, the Bishop and I eventually got word of Chuck’s ordeal (how is unimportant) and Chuck did receive a blessing.  But I vowed then that no one in the Orange 2nd Ward should ever have that lonely feeling again. Chuck never did come visit our ward, but no matter. I now count him as my friend, and I know that if he needs me again, he will call.  I know because he has.

Please don’t misunderstand.  I share that story not to spook but to inspire: to let you know that, beginning with this letter, you will always have someone you can call.  I pray to God that you never have chest pains or any other like crisis.  On the other hand, should the day come that you feel like giving up a chunk of your evening to visit with some stranger, I hope you’ll call, and we’ll meet, and perhaps I won’t seem so strange.  How’s that for a cheesy come-on?

Until that day, please accept my occasional notes as an act of friendship and nothing else.