“Song for a Prophet,” Friend, Dec. 2002, 36
Ten-year-old Olivia curled upon her side and tried to go back to sleep, even though she knew that it would be impossible. After all, it was Christmas, 1843. Well, just barely, Olivia thought as she counted the twelve chimes that echoed softly from her mother’s clock.
Last Christmas, she’d lived far away in Leek, England. Then Grandpa Rushton had listened to the missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “These men speak the truth,” he’d said. Three months later, Olivia and her entire family were baptized along with Grandpa and Grandma.
Leaving England to join the Saints in America had been a very hard decision. Would Grandpa be able to sell his silk business? What would Papa do? Would Baby James get sick and die like Mama’s other baby? And what about Grandma Lettice? Olivia would have been terrified to leave her home if she were blind like Grandma.
After a lot of prayer and asking the Lord, Papa knew that they needed to follow the counsel of the Prophet Joseph Smith and join the Saints in Zion.
And now it was Christmas, even though Christmas in Nauvoo was very different from Christmas in England. There, everyone enjoyed crackling Yule logs, the singing of carols, and the exchanging of presents. In Nauvoo, many people didn’t celebrate the day at all. Mama said that it was because of their religious customs before they joined the Church. But that didn’t seem like a very good reason to Olivia. If only we could have Christmas like we did in England! she thought with a sigh.
Just then, she heard muffled voices by the front door. Olivia slid out of bed and tiptoed across the cold floor. “Mama?”
Her mother and father were bundled up!
“Where are you going, Mama?”
“What are you doing up, Olivia?” Mama whispered. “You should be in bed.”
“I couldn’t sleep—and then I heard you.”
“Well, go back to bed,” Mama said. “Grandma Lettice asked us to go singing with her.”
“Singing? Now? May I come, too?”
“It’s cold outside,” Papa said.
“I don’t mind,” Olivia replied. “Please?”
Mama and Papa exchanged glances. “Well, all right,” Papa said. “But you’ll have to dress quickly. We don’t want to be late.”
Olivia changed into her warmest clothes, then followed her parents into the chilly darkness. The cold stung her face like an angry slap, and her breath turned into puffy clouds. “Where are we going?” she asked. “Are we going to sing a song I know?”
“You’ll see,” Mama said.
Just as she was wondering how much farther she’d have to walk, she saw her aunts and uncles, Grandma Lettice, and several neighbors gathered together outside the Mansion House at the corner of Main and Water Streets.
The Prophet’s house! Olivia caught her breath. Are we going to sing to the Prophet? she wondered.
“All right, everyone,” Grandma Lettice whispered. “Just as we rehearsed it.”
For a split second, Olivia wondered if it had been a mistake to come—she hadn’t rehearsed anything. But in only two notes, Olivia realized that she did know the song. It was one of the songs in Sister Smith’s new hymnal. She took a deep breath and sang with the rest of the carolers.
“Mortals, awake! with angels join,
And chant the solemn lay;
Love, joy and gratitude combine
To hail th’ auspicious day.”*
Soon lights flickered to life, and windows of the Mansion House opened. The Prophet Joseph Smith, his family, and all of his boarders looked out.
“Who’s singing?” someone asked.
“How lovely,” whispered another.
“Are there angels outside?”
Although Olivia wasn’t an angel, she certainly felt like one as a wave of warmth spread from the top of her head to the very tips of her toes. How happy the Prophet looks, she thought.
When they’d finished, Olivia was certain that she saw tears in the Prophet’s eyes as he thanked them for their beautiful serenade and blessed them in the name of the Lord.
“Merry Christmas,” Olivia called as the singers left. She decided that she didn’t want to be back in England, after all. She belonged here with her family, the restored Church, and the Lord’s prophet. She couldn’t think of a better Christmas gift.
Although Olivia is a fictional character, Lettice Rushton was a real person. Mother of ten children, and blind from cataracts five years before she was baptized, she was one of thousands of British converts who listened eagerly to the missionaries and immigrated with their families to join the Saints in Nauvoo from 1840–1843.
The Prophet Joseph Smith recorded that on December 25, 1843, Lettice Rushton, a recent widow, along with her family and neighbors, appeared under his window at one o’clock on Christmas morning and began singing, “which caused a thrill of pleasure to run through my soul.” The music so moved him that he thanked Heavenly Father for their visit and blessed them in the name of the Lord.
(See History of the Church, volume VI, page 134.)