I chuckled to myself as I picked up one of seven red stockings lying neatly on my mission companion’s bed. “Who are these for?” I asked, trying not to laugh.
“For the Winkle family,” he responded shyly as he packed away his needle and thread.
“They’re … really nice,” I said with some apprehension. Elder Johnson and I had been assigned to serve in the town of Muskegon, Michigan. The Winkles were a choice investigator family scheduled to be baptized on Christmas Day, and in all honesty I felt sheepish delivering these cute little stockings with hand-embroidered gold lettering.
“What are you going to stuff them with?” I asked.
Somewhat surprised at my question, he looked around the room at the oversupply of goodies we had received from home and replied, “Candy—what else?” Then in a more serious tone he added, “I was hoping that we could also include in each stocking a personal Christmas wish and our own written testimonies.”
Still feeling uneasy with this idea, I nevertheless decided to go along with it for fear of offending my creative companion. Our month had been filled with preparing this family for baptism, and now the day of their interviews had arrived at last, Christmas Eve. Everything was ready, or so we thought.
Arriving at the Winkle home, we immediately sensed something was wrong. As I interviewed Brother Winkle privately, he told me that the children had been quarreling all morning and that everyone in the family was on edge. Some of the older children had even expressed doubts about being baptized. Upon returning to the family, we encountered more negative feelings.
“Elder Copier, this baptism has caused a lot of concern in our family,” said Sister Winkle, “and I’m not sure we should go through with it if it’s going to cause so much contention.”
After spending a few more minutes discussing the problem, we decided together that we should postpone the baptism until the family could feel better about it. To give the family time to sort out their feelings, Brother Winkle asked us not to return unless he contacted us.
With heavy hearts and deep concern, we slowly walked home. Our apartment seemed quiet and gloomy that Christmas Eve. Hours passed as we sat in silent depression. Finally Elder Johnson broke the silence as he pulled out the paper bag filled with the stockings and candy.
“Do you suppose we could leave these at their home anyway?” he asked quietly. Numbly I nodded, and instantly gloom turned to cheerfulness as we spent the rest of that Christmas Eve writing our testimonies for each member of the family and stuffing them in the little red stockings.
As we approached the Winkle home that chilly dark evening, Elder Johnson asked, “Should I knock?”
“No, let’s just leave it by the door,” I suggested. I did not want to cause any problem with the family.
Elder Johnson slipped the brown paper bag inside the screen door. Quietly we turned away and headed for home. How difficult it was for two young, inexperienced elders who loved a family so dearly to simply walk away. Snowflakes began to fall, and we knew it was going to be a white Christmas.
We were awakened the next morning by the sound of snow shovels and the voices of children outside our window. “Merry Christmas, elders!” the Winkle children called to us as we opened our door. “We wanted to shovel your walks for you and also tell you that our whole family is ready to be baptized! Our parents want to know if you can come over right away!”
We dressed and ran to the Winkle home. Sister Winkle greeted us warmly and apologized for all that had happened the day before. “We were scared,” she said.”Baptism is such a big step in our lives.” She paused, then pointed to the seven red stockings hanging by the fireplace. “Those,” she said with emotion, “are what took away our fears and doubts. You see, elders, I was so touched by the love you showed our family yesterday—despite the way we acted—that I just couldn’t put it out of my mind. I finally said a silent prayer and asked the Lord to let me know, just one more time, if the message you brought was true. As I prayed, I said, ‘Heavenly Father, if the elders are really thy messengers, send them back today even though we asked them not to return.’
“Well, hours passed, and I kept hoping you would come, but you did not. At midnight I gave up hope and decided that my answer was that I shouldn’t get baptized. It was then I went to turn off the porch light and noticed the brown bag in the screen door. When I opened it and realized it was from you, I began to cry. You had come back. I woke up the family, and together we read your testimonies and Christmas wishes. We shared a spirit of love and unity unlike anything we had known before, and we knew it was time to be baptized.”
The chapel’s entire front row was filled with Winkles dressed in white baptismal clothing that Christmas Day. It was indeed a very white Christmas.