The Fourth Week of Advent
Goodwill Toward Men
by Sarah Perkins
One year ago, my husband Josh and I moved from Boston to rural Idaho with our kids and a few suitcases. We had just won back custody of our children two weeks earlier. Back in July, a false child abuse allegation had culminated in a pounding at the door at 1:00 a.m. Armed police officers and CPS social workers had come to take our infant and three-year-old sons from their beds and place them in foster care. There had been many months of legal battles, demeaning interrogations, strained supervised visits, and intense anxiety, fear, and distrust.
Prior to the removal of our children, we’d lived in Boston for more than four years. It had been a place we’d loved deeply. The walks along the Charles River. The bustling streets. Neighbors and friends we’d depended on through pregnancies and pandemics. But when the time came, we were desperate to leave. There was too much hurt tied to our small apartment. We packed the moving van the day after we won full custody. We flew west a week later, joining our family in Arizona for Thanksgiving. And when we arrived at the old farmhouse, it truly felt like we had achieved sanctuary. As we crossed the state border in our rented car, the Hallelujah Chorus started playing on the radio. It didn’t feel like an overstatement.
Our very first night at the house, the power went out. We had no heater, no lights, and not many blankets. Still, we were grateful. We were no longer legally barred from co-sleeping, so for the first time in many months we piled everyone in a bed together to keep warm. Josh and I told stories in the darkness. It was unimaginable sweetness to be there, cloistered together against the cold.
But then there was a knock at the door. Josh and I flinched. We were surprised by the intensity of our response. The last late-night knock we remembered had been the removal. Josh cracked the door while I hushed the boys. But we were wrong to be afraid. It was a new neighbor. He saw us moving in, and when the power went out, he worried we'd be cold. So he came to drop off a propane heater and a flashlight.
Around 2,025 years ago somewhere in Nazareth, an unmarried pregnant girl faced a genuine threat of stoning; yet the angel told Mary she needn’t be afraid. She could trust God, but she could also trust the people around her. Joseph would choose to be kind. Despite the possibility of becoming a penniless refugee, the angel told Joseph to fear not. Wise men would be generous. Despite the obvious difficulties of raising a young boy as an elderly man, the angel told Zechariah to fear not. His family would find friends in the desert. Despite the reality of a world that is sometimes breathtakingly cruel and fearful, the angel says fear not. Humans are often more gentle than you think.
At Christmastime, we gather with people we love. Family, friends, those closest to us. We hug, we worship, we cheer the Christchild. And that is sacred.
But at Christmas, we are also surprised by a broader, ambiguous, vital love arriving like a late night knock at the door, resounding through all mankind. Let us call it goodwill. We are startled by trust, and kindness, and charity for and from strangers. We open our doors to carolers. Would you like to come in for a moment? We give our child a coin to drop in the Salvation Army volunteer’s bucket. Look at his eyes as you do. We donate. We smile. We offer seats on the subway, bring cookies and heaters to share.
Trading kindness for kindness, we recreate the manger scene, sitting as shepherds in stunned awe before a tiny Love incarnate. "Merry Christmas," we say without blushing or hesitation. "Goodwill toward men."
Sarah Perkins and her husband Josh Sabey are writers and filmmakers. Together they are the authors of The Book of Mormon Storybook, a children's adaptation of The Book of Mormon. See more of their work on Instagram at @forlittlesaints.
Artwork by Sarah Hawkes.
Music: Glorious Yule (Jul, Jul, Strålande Jul)
Yule, yule, glorious yule,
Shining o'er whiten'd forest.
Stars in the heavens in shimmering light,
Glistening bows on the churches at night,
Song of the heart that will never cease,
Constant yearning for light and peace!
Yule, yule, glorious yule,
Shining o'er whiten'd forest.
Come, come, blessed yule,
Lower your gentle white wings
Over the battlefield's anguished cries,
Over humanity's heartfelt sighs,
Over their loved ones gone to rest,
Over the living daily blest!
Come, come, blessed yule,
Lower your gentle white wings!
Original English translation by Carl Youngblood
Click here to download a free PDF of Glorious Yule so you can sing it with your family and friends this Christmastime.
Remembering Abel Paez
A reflection by Cecelia Proffit, based on research by James Goldberg & Ardis Parshall.
I first encountered the story of Abel Paez in Song of Names: A Mormon Mosaic by James Goldberg and Ardis Parshall, where they write:
When copies of translated selections from the Book of Mormon were first sent to Mexico in the late 1870s, some readers immediately identified with the promise of renewal for God's ancient covenant people in the Americas. In a self-published periodical entitled La Voz del Desierto, they called on the people of Mexico to take hope in the promises associated with the country's indigenous heritage.
The hope that the restored gospel had specific meaning for Mexico survived through the tumult of the next sixty years. Saints deepened their faith during periods without missionaries, including years of revolution and unrest. Rey L. Pratt, who served as president of the Mexican Mission for 23 years, mentored local leaders to function with high degrees of autonomy. Pratt's approach seemed to show great foresight in the 1920s when Mexico's post-revolutionary government attempted to limit the political power of the Catholic Church by prohibiting foreign clergy from operating in the country.
After Pratt's death in 1931, however, local leaders in Mexico found that they needed approvals from an absent (white American) mission president to address basic Church administrative needs.
Groups of local leaders in Mexico met twice in the early 1930s to petition the First Presidency for a Mexican mission president, who could operate legally in the country, understand their culture, and promote their interests. These same leaders divided over a more forceful third petition in 1936. Those who stood by that petition's demand for a mission president who was Mexican by blood and race became known as Third Conventionists, and split with the mainstream members of the Church.
The Third Conventionists chose Abel Paez as their leader. Paez was a returned missionary and faithful, able leader who capably led education, missionary, and construction efforts for the group.
During its decade of existence, the Convention counted roughly one-third of Mexico's Mormon community as members.
Ten years after the bitter division, Abel Paez—motivated in part by the gentle entreaties of mission president Arwell Pierce and Church President George Albert Smith—led almost all of the conventionists back into fellowship with the rest of the Church. In the years following the reunification, the Convention's goals of local leadership and self-sufficiency were increasingly realized in Mexico.
In All About Love, bell hooks writes, “There is no better place to learn the art of loving than in community. . . . Being part of a loving community does not mean we will not face conflicts, betrayals, negative outcomes from positive actions, or bad things happening to good people. Love allows us to confront these negative realities in a manner that is life-affirming and life-advancing. . . . Love does not lead to an end to difficulties, it provides us with the means to cope with our difficulties in ways that enhance our growth . . . Being loving does not mean we will not be betrayed. Love helps us face betrayal without losing heart. And it renews our spirit so we can love again.”
As we light a candle for love this Sunday, this is our hope and our prayer: that we will be able to love, and to love again.
Poem: A Song of Redeeming Love
by Elizabeth Petty Bentley
In silent awe the seven angels dare Approach the throne and golden altar fire, And one, with smoke of incense offers prayer For all the saints and souls who Him desire. For joy, the hills break forth in singing And all the trees of the field clap their hands. Seas roar, earth buds, stars fall, and healing Waters rush across the desert lands While hundreds of thousands with psalters Learn the new song that only they can sing Taught by heav’n—a voice of rolling waters And of thunder and of harpers harping— And cast their crowns before the great I Am, Echoing, “Worthy, worthy is the Lamb.”
And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.
Recipe: Caramelized Onion Braised Short Ribs
Love takes time. Relationships take time. This dish takes time. The caramelized onions are cooked slowly. The short ribs are braised low and slow in the oven for hours. But the time put in is worth it. It is a labor of love that leads to an unforgettable dinner.
Constant Wonder: The Magnificat
Even though she started life as a "nowhere person in a nowhere place," Mary recognized the love the Lord had for her.