The twinkling of lights at Christmastime brings out the magic of the yuletide season for me, especially as they sparkle on newly fallen snow. It’s beautiful and peaceful, and fitting for the season that celebrates the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Who is the Light of the World, the Prince of Peace. In honor of Him and in celebration of the season, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes mistakenly called the Mormon Church) is again encouraging us to Light the World by serving others. The theme this year is Light the World One by One, reaching out to the individual as the Savior did. Our family has created many memories participating in the Light the World initiatives and will do so again this year.
But this year, our family’s Light the World effort will be a little different, as will our Christmas celebration. Because this year our oldest son is serving a full-time mission for the Church of Jesus Christ. My child, one of the precious lights of my life, is out in the world sharing his light, serving the Lord and teaching others of Him. For me, this adds a deeper meaning to the Light the World One by One initiative and theme. It also helps me see the Christmas story and those who lived it in a different light. Let me explain.
Jesus the Christ
Christmas is about the Savior’s birth. But He wasn’t just any baby. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland testified,
Jesus Christ is the literal, living Son of our literal, living God … who, under the guidance of the Father, was the Creator of heaven and earth and all things that in them are.
President Thomas S. Monson taught,
… His birth was foretold by the prophets of old; His entry upon the stage of life was announced by an angel. His life and His ministry have transformed the world.
With the birth of the babe in Bethlehem, there emerged a great endowment, a power stronger than weapons, a wealth more lasting than the coins of Caesar. This child was to be the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Promised Messiah, even Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Born in a stable, cradled in a manger, He came forth from heaven to live on earth as mortal man and to establish the kingdom of God. During His earthly ministry, He taught men the higher law. His glorious gospel reshaped the thinking of the world. He blessed the sick. He caused the lame to walk, the blind to see, the deaf to hear. He even raised the dead to life.
Elder Holland continued,
… He was born of a virgin mother. … He had power over death because He was divine but … He willingly subjected Himself to death for our sake because for a period of time He was also mortal. … In His willing submission to death He took upon Himself the sins of the world, paying an infinite price for every sorrow and sickness, every heartache and unhappiness from Adam to the end of the world. In doing so He conquered both the grave physically and hell spiritually and set the human family free.
Mary, the Mother of Jesus
Jesus was not just any child—He was the literal Son of God. Thus, He could not have just any mother. Before I had children, I didn’t fully understand the faith and courage Mary showed when she was told she would bear a son. Our first Christmas with our newborn son nearly two decades ago, I gained a greater appreciation for her answer, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38). Gaye Strathearn, associate professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, wrote,
Mary’s … response … epitomizes, in my mind, the commitment and outlook of a disciple…. “Handmaid” indicates that Mary has chosen to accept the call that God has extended to her. This statement is Mary’s version of what her Son will say in Gethsemane, “not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). While it seems clear that at this point in her journey, she cannot possibly understand all that will be required of her…nevertheless, Mary chooses to move forward with faith.
The magnitude of the responsibilities of motherhood has weighed heavily on me through the years. I can only imagine how much greater the weight of those responsibilities would be for Mary. Latter-day Saint scholar Robert J. Matthews taught,
When we consider the strong influence that a mother has on the personality and attitude of a young child in the home, we sense the responsibility that our Heavenly Father gave Mary by entrusting her with the rearing of his chosen and Beloved Son. … Mary would not have been worthy to bear the Son of God and give him a body of flesh and blood unless she was clean and pure.…
We do not worship Mary, but we do regard her very highly. She … is an example to all mothers.
Joseph of Nazareth
Jesus Christ is the literal Son of God, and Mary is his mortal mother. But Joseph, to whom Mary was espoused at the time of the Savior’s birth, also plays an essential role in His life. I have gained a greater appreciation for Joseph as I have watched how important my husband is in the lives of our children. Matthews explained,
What kind of a person would the Father select as the husband of Mary and the guardian and earthly model for Jesus? The scriptures are not entirely silent, although direct references are few. Because the father is to teach correct principles by precept and example and be a counselor, we must conclude that our Heavenly Father made careful selection in his choice of Joseph. That Joseph was spiritually sensitive and of a kindly disposition is reflected in the scriptural record. He was susceptible to divine guidance through the ministrations of angels and by dreams (see Matthew 1:20; Matthew 2:13, 19, 23); he wished not to bring embarrassment upon Mary nor to “make her a publick example” (Matthew 1:19). In addition, we would expect to find in Joseph certain moral, intellectual, and social qualities befitting his important assignment.
Mary and Joseph were careful to observe all the commandments that had been given them.
Although the Christmas story is not about Mary and Joseph, they have a significant role. Mary was the chosen vessel through which Jesus was born into mortality. Joseph was entrusted with the sacred responsibility of watching over Mary and helping her raise the Son of God. They provided righteous guidance and love to the boy Jesus so that He could fulfill His mission and ministry and Light the World.
The Light of the World
Jesus Christ is, truly, the light of the world. President Dallin H. Oaks explained,
Jesus Christ is the light and life of the world because all things were made by him. … Jesus Christ is the light of the world because he is the source of the light that quickens our understanding, because his teachings and his example illuminate our path, and because his power persuades us to do good.
This light is available to all who follow Him. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf said,
… He who humbly follows Jesus Christ will experience and share in His light. And that light will grow until it eventually dispels even the most profound darkness.
… There is a power, a strong influence, that emanates from the Savior. It proceeds “forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space.” Because this power enlightens, uplifts, and illuminates our lives, the scriptures often call it light, but it is also referred to as spirit and truth.
The scriptures teach,
The word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ (Doctrine & Covenants 84:45).
Each of us is born with the light of Christ. Elder Uchtdorf continued,
This profound insight—that light is spirit, which is truth, and that this light shines upon every soul who comes into the world—is as important as it is hopeful. The Light of Christ enlightens and saturates the souls of all who hearken to the voice of the Spirit.
The Light of Christ fills the universe.
It fills the earth.
And it can fill every heart.
It is no wonder that light is a symbol of the Christmas season.
An Example of the Believers
As we are saturated with the light of Christ, it not only shines in us but it also shines through us. President Thomas S. Monson said,
Recently, as I have been reading and pondering the scriptures, two passages in particular have stayed with me. Both are familiar to us. The first is from the Sermon on the Mount: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” The second scripture is one which came to my mind as I pondered the meaning of the first. It is from the Apostle Paul’s Epistle to Timothy: “Be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”
I believe the second scripture explains, in great part, how we can accomplish the first. We become examples of the believers by living the gospel of Jesus Christ in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, and in purity. As we do so, our lights will shine for others to see.
Each of us came to earth having been given the Light of Christ. As we follow the example of the Savior and live as He lived and as He taught, that light will burn within us and will light the way for others.
This is the focus of the Light the World campaign. And it is the focus of missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ. Missionaries seek to not only radiate Christ’s light, but also to share it with others and show them the way to Him.
The Light of a Missionary
When my son decided to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ, he did so because he loves the Lord and wanted to serve Him. Before he made the decision, he made sure he was only going for the right reasons. He had studied and prepared and was ready to go. And he is not alone in that. Bishop Richard G. Edgely said,
… Behind each missionary is a private story of years of personal commitment, preparation, personal sacrifice, and examples of love for the Savior. …
A missionary’s life is not an easy one. After preparing through childhood and teen years by studying the scriptures, preparing financially, and maintaining personal worthiness (including sexual purity and abstinence from tobacco, alcohol, and drugs), missionaries enter one of several missionary training centers scattered throughout the world. This is the only formal training they will receive—three weeks if they are called to serve in a country of their native language, or two months if they must learn a foreign language. Their day in the mission field is demanding. It begins every morning at 6:30 A.M. with two hours of study, a dozen hours of hard and often discouraging work, continuing until bedtime—about 10:00 P.M. Their work consists mostly of proselyting and teaching but also includes a generous amount of time for voluntary community service. …
Our missionaries do not view it as a sacrifice. They view it as an opportunity to manifest their love to the Savior…. I see it as truly one of the distinguishing characteristics of true Christianity. I see these young missionaries as true Christian servants exemplifying the highest Christian principles by testifying of and serving our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
They truly reflect the light and love of the Savior in their service.
Reflecting the Light of the Savior at Christmas
So how can we reflect the light and love of the Savior—especially at Christmastime? Elder Gary E. Stevenson suggested,
I invite each of us to choose to do something that expresses, in an outward way, our inward feelings about the Savior Jesus Christ as the gift we give Him this year.
The Light the World campaign helps us to do that. To find ways to reach out to others, to serve one by one as the Savior would if He were here. President Monson said,
There is no better time than now, this very Christmas season, for all of us to rededicate ourselves to the principles taught by Jesus the Christ. It is the time to love the Lord, our God, with all our heart—and our neighbors as ourselves. It is well to remember that he who gives money gives much; he who gives time gives more; but he who gives of himself gives all.
Let us make Christmas real. It isn’t just tinsel and ribbon, unless we have made it so in our lives. Christmas is the spirit of giving without a thought of getting. It is happiness because we see joy in people. It is forgetting self and finding time for others. It is discarding the meaningless and stressing the true values. It is peace because we have found peace in the Savior’s teachings. It is the time we realize most deeply that the more love is expended, the more there is of it for others.
As we spread the joy and light of the Christmas season by serving others one person at a time, we can grow closer to Him who is the source of all light. And help others do the same.
Click here to read more about the Light the World initiative.