Christian writer, Eugene H. Peterson, tells of the time he helped to organize a new congregation in the Baltimore area. The little church eventually bloomed.
Looking back now, he says, he sees how the creation of a new congregation not only parallels the forming of the original church but seems to mirror the conception, birth and life of the Savior himself.
"Despite all my years of reading the Bible," he writes, "I had never noticed how Luke set the two birth stories, the birth of Jesus and the birth of the Church, in almost exact parallel: Luke 1-2, the story of the birth of Jesus, our Savior; Acts 1-2, the story of the birth of church, our salvation community."
Peterson's comments got me thinking of the time we formed the small, Spanish-speaking LDS Sycamore Branch in Brigham City, Utah.
Like the Savior, the branch was conceived, brought to life and waxed strong.
First came the humble beginnings.
The branch began with only two members — Alfonso and Altimira Osuna. They were all alone.
But then, wonders began to happen. As in the Christmas manger, soon others were gathering around.
Actual shepherds — sheepherders working the flocks for a Box Elder County rancher — showed up.
Wise men — Hispanic leaders from the wards and stakes in the area — also appeared. They joined the branch with their families and began to nurture it.
Angels hovered overhead.
And soon, Sycamore was not only breathing strong, but it got to its feet and began to walk.
Now, a decade later, the branch lives on.
I saw the same thing when I was a missionary. I witnessed a little branch coming to life in Oruro, Bolivia.
That branch wasn't born in a manger. It came to life in the upper room of a bakery.
In fact, I saw the phenomenon several times on my mission.
I've seen it many times since.
And just as Peterson says, each time, you can see the conception, birth and life of the Savior mirrored in the process.
Each month, new branches and wards are formed in the church.
And each time — whether members realize it or not — they are re-playing the Christmas story.
Just as the suffering and death of Jesus is relived each week in the sacrament, each week, somewhere in the church, the conception and birth of the Savior are relived in the forming of a new congregation.
Every week is not only a chance to remember Calvary and the tomb in the LDS Church, but when it comes to new congregations, a chance to celebrate Christmas.
Looking back, Eugene Peterson marvels at the similarities. Forming a new congregation, he says, "was a miracle that didn't look like a miracle — a miracle using the powerless, the vulnerable, the unimportant."