We were serving as senior couple missionaries and it was our second Christmas far away from home and that would have been fine except for one slight problem.
Well, not a slight problem exactly, small yes, but definitely not slight. And to be truthful, not really a problem either, well certainly not for us anyway.
You see, a few days before Christmas, our eldest son and his wife had a son, their first child, our second grandchild, and although we texted and Zoomed and talked on the phone, we dearly missed being part of their first Christmas with this little fellow, this new little angel.
The story my mother read to us every Christmas
The picture shows the cover of a children’s book that all my family adores. I’m sure my little sister has multiple copies. If she happens to see one for sale, it’s gone. Yes, it’s the one our mother read to us every Christmas. It’s the story of The Littlest Angel. (Charles Tazewell, “The Littlest Angel,” 1946).
The story begins with this little fellow, this littlest angel being introduced as being exactly four years, six months, five days, seven hours and forty-two minutes of age when he presented himself to the old and humble gatekeeper and waited for admittance to the glorious Kingdom of God.
The author weaves the tale of how difficult it is to be four years, six months, five days, seven hours, and forty-two minutes of age and be expected to behave angelically among all the cherubim in heaven.
One day an announcement is made that the Son of God is to be born and there are gifts to bestow. His wonderful four-year-old brain goes to work and conceives of the best gift in all the world. It is a small box of his earthly treasures, hidden under his bed back on earth.
Instantly a messenger is sent to bring the box to heaven and lovingly and in all innocence the littlest angel lays his box among all the other heavenly gifts. It is only then that he notices his dusty, tattered little box seems dreadfully out of place among the other radiant gifts of such heavenly beauty.
His little heart once bursting with joy is now sobbing with shame. His gift is not worthy. Before anyone notices, he desperately tries to retrieve it but in his childhood haste he trips and rolls in a heap before the very throne of God.
And what is in this box, this box of earthly treasures that are so important, so precious to a little boy, four years, six months, five days, seven hours, and forty-two minutes of age?
There is a butterfly with golden wings, captured one bright summer day on the high hills above Jerusalem; and a sky-blue egg from a bird's nest in an olive tree that stood to shade him. There are two white stones that he carefully carried home in his pocket after he and his friends had played, pretending to be like small brown beavers on the banks of a muddy riverbank. And, at the bottom of the box is a worn, weathered, tooth-marked leather collar of his beloved mongrel dog, who had died as he had lived, in absolute love and everlasting friendship.
As the hand of God moves over all the heavenly gifts His hand falls upon this tattered box. He opens it and finds that this simple but cherished offering pleases Him the most. He announces to all that its contents are of the Earth and of men, and that His Son will be born to be King of both. His voice is heard to say, “These are the things My Son, too, will know and love and cherish and then, regretfully, will leave behind when His task is done.”
He then accepts the gift in the name of His Son who shall be born of Mary that very night in Bethlehem. And His name shall be called Jesus.
The small box rises and begins to glow, glowing brighter and brighter and rising higher and higher, until it becomes a new star, the shining star of Bethlehem (Charles Tazewell, “The Littlest Angel,” 1946).
My love for the Christmas story began as a child and has grown
We know very little about the life of the Savior, but we know He was once four years, six months, five days, seven hours, and forty-two minutes old. Had He captured a butterfly, played on a muddy bank, climbed a tree? Almost certainly.
We do know He volunteered to come to Earth, and that He loved us first. We know He increased in wisdom and stature. He learned obedience by the things He suffered.
In our children’s story the simple treasures of the earth as seen through the eyes of a small boy become a light, a star, a star that not only provided a witness to His birth but also directed the Wise Men as they journeyed to find Him. It became the shining Star of Bethlehem.
At this Christmas season, as I reflect upon the birth of Him who is the Light of the World, I invite each one of us to take our treasured earthly experiences and think of them as gifts. We may think our ordinary lives, our simple white stones or tooth-marked collars are no match for gold, frankincense and myrrh but … not everyone needs gold, frankincense and myrrh.
One of the greatest joys of serving as senior couple missionaries is being around the young elders and sisters. We didn’t offer them gold, frankincense or myrrh, because we had none! But they seldom left our missionary home without having laughed, or eaten or slept; sometimes all three and often with a fresh-baked loaf of bread or a dozen cookies under their arm to boot.
We all chuckled when Elder Allen Haynie shared the story of President Nelson flattening his plastic water bottle. When asked why he said:
“It makes it easier for those who are handling recyclable materials because it doesn’t take up as much space in the recycling container” (Allen D. Haynie, “A Living Prophet for the Latter Days,” Liahona, May 2023).
Our acts during this mortal life will include small white stones, tooth-marked dog collars, baked cookies, and crushed water bottles. These deeds are done without much thought and would hardly seem vital or a response to some sense of duty, but they are our religion.
And in the economy of heaven God will not send Wise Men from the East when a next-door neighbor will do.
Have a Merry Christmas with family and loved ones!