Few weeks of the year provide for more reflection and renewal of conviction than the one between Christmas and New Year's Day.
First comes Christmas, a time when much of the world pauses to honor the miraculous birth of the Savior. Even the unbelieving tend to mimic in some way the spirit of Christ by giving gifts to one another. It is no wonder why so many people consider it their favorite time of year, despite weather that often is biting and bitter, and days that are dark and short in the northern hemisphere.
President Spencer W. Kimball said Christmas "comes once a year to reveal to us the beautiful and near approach man can make to the divine, to the ideal, to the Christlike life.
"Once a year on this day we raise the flag of truce. All men are friends. We are our 'brother's keeper.' It comes so clearly to us that all mean well, that their greetings are sincere. We lift high the open hand of fellowship. There is no race, no color, no rich or poor, no bond or free. Christmas comes to remind us of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. It comes to show us the real progress we would make, could all our days be unselfish, friendly, helpful, and clear of bitterness and strife" (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, Bookcraft, p. 47).
After Christmas, much of the world begins to look forward to a new year, and the opportunities it offers for improvement. Goals can be set at any time, of course. But the calendar offers a unique excuse to change with the changing of the year.
The year 2005 has provided significant goals and milestones for Church members. It marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Prophet Joseph Smith, who ushered in the last dispensation through direct revelation from the Lord.
Throughout the year, Church members have had many opportunities to learn about Joseph Smith and to commemorate all that he did. Festivals were held. Young people completed projects that honored the Prophet. There were many opportunities to ponder how an uneducated 14-year-old boy was chosen by God to begin a restoration that now is in much of the earth and grows stronger daily.
Also this year, Church members were challenged to read the Book of Mormon by the end of the year. During the First Presidency's Christmas Devotional earlier this month, President Gordon B. Hinckley said, "It is probable that more people are presently reading the book than at any other time in the history of the Church. I thank you and I know you've been blessed."
The spirit of that great book, translated by the power of God through Joseph Smith, has strengthened the homes of many Church members this year. It has reawakened in many testimonies that may have lain dormant, and it undoubtedly has made many people anxious to share the book with others.
But with 2006 quickly approaching, there should be no letdown just because the goals of 2005 were accomplished. Just as the spirit that grips so many people at Christmastime should be carried throughout the year, so should the spirit of progression and appreciation that characterized much of 2005 continue into the new year.
As the Prophet Nephi said in his discourse on baptism, life should be a continual path of learning and progression. "Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life" (2 Nephi 31:20).
That is worth pondering as the Christmas season fades and the cares and worries of a new year approach.