In DC, one of the highlights of the holiday season is the Festival of Lights lighting ceremony, where the Church honors a featured world ambassador and invites the rest of the diplomatic community to participate as the 650,000 lights decorating the DC temple grounds are illuminated.
This year the honored ambassador was His Excellency Kenichiro Sasae, ambassador of Japan. As Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has spent many years in Asia and Japan, we were honored to have Gary and Lesa Stevenson visit with us.
The lighting ceremony was covered by Deseret News <ref>If you look carefully you can see my knee in the picture of soloist Sandra Turley. I was playing violin but also sing in the choir, so was not dressed in black.</ref> but perhaps a more delightful evening was the annual Temple Workers’ Christmas Devotional, held the previous Sunday evening in the Solemn Assembly Room of the DC temple. As Elder Stevenson was planning to be in town to honor His Excellency Kenichiro Sasae, he arranged to participate in the devotional.
That is where Elder Stevenson told us the story of the Christmas Tree Rock.
The Christmas Tree Rock
There was a time, decades ago, when a site near a lake <ref>As young Evan Stevenson lived in Elberta, Utah, this lake may have been Utah Lake.</ref> in the west was renowned for having been an ancient Indian hunting ground. There had been a time when arrowheads littered the grounds around the lake. For those camping in that area, hunting for arrowheads was a memorable and delightful activity.
So there came a time in the 1930s when the men and boys of a local congregation gathered to camp near the lake one Friday. Among those participating were a father and son, both named Evan Stevenson. These were Elder Stevenson’s father and grandfather.
On Saturday morning the campers spread out to look for arrowheads. Unfortunately, by the 1930s the site near the lake had been visited by thousands of people. As the sun rose in the sky, the men and boys returned to the main campsite. As each new group approached, they would be asked, “Did you find anything?” Time and again, the answer was, “Nope.”
As young Evan Stevenson returned to camp, he was asked the same question. And he shook his head. He had not found an arrowhead.
But he was still excited. “Daddy, I didn’t find an arrowhead. But look what I did find.”
Young Evan pulled his prize from his pocket. “I found a Christmas Tree Rock!”
In young Evan’s hand was a stone about six inches long, which the young child knew was too big to be an arrowhead. But where a more experienced person would have seen an ancient Indian spearhead, young Evan only picked up this rock because it reminded him of a Christmas Tree.
Elder Stevenson held up the large spearhead for all of us to see, the ancient tool his father had called “the Christmas Tree rock.”
How often in life do we fail to see the true nature of the amazing thing we have?
While young Evan had been fascinated by his rock that looked like a Christmas Tree, he might have discarded it over time if others hadn’t recognized it for what it was and taught him its value.
In that venue, Elder Stevenson talked about the Gospel and the Book of Mormon, precious “artifacts” that we may take for granted.
In the case of young Evan, he was surrounded by those who knew the true worth of the rock in his hands.
But in our days, we are surrounded by those who denigrate the Gospel.
Do we value the rock of our salvation? Or will we cast it aside as a mere curiosity that intrigued us in childhood?
Those Who are With Us
Time has dimmed my memory of that week, but I am still struck by the sight Elder Stevenson and the Choir saw that Sunday evening. The Solemn Assembly Room in the DC temple is the largest in the world. The vast room was completely full with the hundreds of individuals who serve as temple workers or support loved ones who serve as temple workers. As Elder Stevenson entered the room, those in attendance rose to their feet. It was nearly silent, this acknowledgement that an apostle was in their midst. And it was striking.
I thought of how this temple district is where Kate Kelly and Sonia Johnson lived when they each agitated against the Church. Yet those in attendance are faithful. Of those I know personally, they are often leaders in their professions. These are not rubes. They believe, and their belief is not casual. Nor is it uninformed. They are part of the Lord’s Army–quiet and polite and kind.
It was a reminder to me that those who are with us are more than those who are truly against us. As a member in this area for many decades now, the sea of faces was not just a sea of faces, but a vast group of loved individuals, many of whom have ministered to me and mine over the years.
As an example of that, one I know is Joyce Bennett, widow of Bob Bennett, formerly US Senator from Utah. For many years now we have played together in Messiah Sing Alongs and other such events, me on my violin and Joyce on her flute. What I only learned this past week was that Joyce Bennett played the violin at my sister’s funeral, back when I wasn’t yet in kindergarten. It was a reminder of how the gospel knits our hearts together across the generations, even when we are unaware of our interconnections.
This past month brought another such instance to my notice, an indication of how our online communications bind us together. My husband is the “stay at home” parent for our family. But he does a huge amount of volunteer work. One of the things he does is run play testing for Smash Up, coordinating the efforts of teams around the world as new decks are tested prior to release. One team is in Australia, and Bryan had come to suspect that this particular team might be Mormon.
The week after I wrote about the congregation boundary changes in Northern Virginia, this Australian team wrote to Bryan to report their latest play test results. And in that e-mail, they asked if Bryan had a new calling. Because they knew from reading my post that his ward had been re-arranged. It was a sweet reminder that not only does God watch over us, but that we are known and loved by mortal angels around the world. Even when we didn’t know that they were watching.
May you all have a Merry Christmas. May the true rock of our Salvation, Jesus, be with you. And may those you love in whichever of many capacities be acknowledged in your heart for the light they bring into your life. May we recognize the power of that love and that salvation as young Evan Stevenson came to know of the true nature of his Christmas Tree Rock, more precious than he had originally supposed.