For those who dream of a white Christmas, 1988 was a dream come true.
A winter storm dumped more than a foot of snow in our area early that Christmas Sunday morning. From the warmth and security of my living room it was a magnificent sight. The snow lay in a thick, powdery blanket that gave the roads, yards and orchards outside the appearance of being joined together as one huge flat, white field. Smoke curled out of brick chimneys that extended up through what seemed to be a thick layer of marshmallow rooftop frosting, giving every house a cozy Courier & Ives ornamentation. Tree boughs bent sharply beneath the heavy load of snow, and the treetops glistened just like the song says.
It was picturesque no question about it.
Until you tried to travel in it. Then all of that beautiful snow suddenly became an icy adversary that caused tires to spin and made roads impassable. All of which was fine for those who were inclined to spend a nice, quiet Christmas snuggled cozily at home. But for those who planned on traveling over the river and through the woods or even just a few blocks to attend church services the snow presented a challenge of significant proportions.
It became clear to me just how significant those challenges would be when I tried to negotiate the two blocks to church on foot. Trudging through the deep snow was laborious, and I slipped frequently on patches of ice. As a brand new bishop, sustained just a few weeks earlier, I was concerned for those who would venture out to attend Sacrament Meeting, the only meeting we would hold that day especially those wonderfully faithful elderly couples and widows who always attended, no matter what.
When I got to the meetinghouse I called Sam, my counselor in the bishopric, and I suggested the possibility of canceling services because of the snow.
Oh, we cant do that, he said. Its Christmas!
But I dont know if its safe . . .
Dont you worry about that, he said. Everything will be fine. Youll see.
Buoyed by Sams faith and assurance, I began preparing the church for worship. I cranked up the heat in the chapel, turned on lights, set up a few extra chairs in the back (well, it WAS Christmas Sunday, after all) and then headed out to shovel the sidewalks. The snow was heavy and wet, and there was a ton of it to remove. There was no way I was going to get it all done before church. And I had no idea what to do about the parking lot, which was still covered with so much snow that it would be dangerous for cars pulling in and out.
Suddenly I heard a chugging sound slowly coming down the tree-lined lane leading up to the church. I knew that sound it was George, a good-hearted member of our congregation. He was using the blade on his old tractor to plow a path to church. He waved as he chugged into the parking lot and began clearing away snow for the cars that soon would be coming.
I bowed my head and silently thanked God for George. But when I looked up I realized I had much more for which to be grateful. A small army of men old and young armed with snow shovels, was descending on the church sidewalks to finish the job I had barely started. In no time the walks were clean and the parking lot was ready for those who would drive to church.
I thanked George and the others for their help, and gently suggested that we take a few minutes to dig out some of our elderly couples and widows.
Too late, George said through the frost accumulating on his thick white moustache.
I looked at my watch. Weve got a half-hour. If we divide up Im sure we can . . .
Its done, George interrupted. Every house in the neighborhood. Merry Christmas!
I looked at George and at the smiling faces of men and boys who had left their warm homes and Christmas presents to move a mountain of snow so that their neighbors could safely travel to worship and I wept. There were no words to express what I was feeling or what they had taught me that Christmas morning. But as we stood there in that circle of service, noses running and cheeks pink from the cold, we were warm.
Because of effort.
Because of love.
But mostly, because of Christmas.