Delivered by Nancy in a sacrament meeting of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Montgomery Ward, Cincinnati Ohio East Stake, Sunday 15 December 2019
We didn’t put up Christmas lights this year. Knowing that we would be leaving home before Christmas and not returning until December 2021, we decided that it would be best to leave the house undecorated, but it was a decision tinged with sadness. Normally, I really look forward to wrapping strings of tiny white lights around the potted arborvitae trees on our front porch and setting electric candles in our windows. I love contributing to our neighborhood’s effort to dispel the darkness of the year’s longest nights while we acknowledge the birth of Jesus Christ into mortality more than two thousand years ago.
Why is light so significant in our celebration of Christmas? Many of us are participating in the Church’s annual “Light the World” campaign again this year, seeking to make the season brighter by acting more like the Savior rather than by simply plugging in our illuminated Christmas trees. But why? Why do we associate light with Jesus Christ?
The most obvious reason is that Jesus himself established this relationship. “I am the light of the world,” he said; “he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12).
Light is required for life as we know it. The plants upon which all other earth life depends are themselves dependent on light. Certainly you’ve noticed the way some plants stretch and contort themselves in order to access sunlight, and how they can turn yellow, wither, and die when left in the dark too long. Light must be vital to life, because even the weird creatures that inhabit caves or the deepest parts of the ocean where sunlight cannot penetrate are bioluminescent, chemically producing light to lure prey, confuse predators, attract mates, and aid other necessary life functions. So when Christ describes himself as “the light of the world,” and what he offers as the “light of life,” he means that he is absolutely essential to our existence—both here on earth, and in the realms of eternity.
Through Joseph Smith, the first prophet of the modern era, the Lord explained that “This is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made. As also he is in the moon, and the power thereof by which it was made; As also the light of the stars, and the power thereof by which they were made; And the earth also, and the power thereof, even the earth upon which you stand…. Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space—The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne …” (D&C 88:7-10, 12-13).
Light is a manifestation of power. By the laws of our natural world, all power originates with the sun, where nuclear fusion produces the light and heat that make life on earth possible. By the laws of eternity, all power originates with God. I don’t understand how God uses power to create worlds and govern all things any better than I understand nuclear fusion, but I know that his power can enlighten our minds and quicken our understanding (see D&C 11:13; 88:11). So let’s examine some of the things we know about light, and consider how its properties and uses might illuminate our understanding of God’s light—the Light of Christ—and how it operates in our lives.
If someone were to turn off all the lights in this windowless room, would you be able to identify the flowers on the table in front of me, or tell what color tie the bishop is wearing? Would you be able to make your way out of the chapel without treading on someone’s toes or bumping into a bench? Light—whether powered by the sun or by electrical energy—allows us to see, and sight bestows all sorts of benefits that most of us take for granted and that would take hours to enumerate.
In his general epistle, John indicated that he and the other apostles did not take for granted what natural light had allowed them to see. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, and looked upon … concerning the word of life [one of John’s names for Jesus Christ], … that which we have seen and heard we proclaim to you….” (1 John 1:1,3 Thomas Wayment translation). As an eyewitness of Christ’s mortal ministry, his glorious transfiguration, his crucifixion, and his miraculous resurrection, John could bear unequivocal testimony that Jesus truly was the Son of God, the Savior of all humankind, and a teacher of truth.
We who live in the modern world know, however—in ways that John could not have anticipated—that what we see by the light entering our natural eyes may not be completely trustworthy. Photographs and videos can be manipulated. Words on a page may contain false information. Smiling faces can mask sinister intentions. This is why the light of Christ is crucial: because his is “the light of truth” (D&C 88:6) that helps us discern between what is true and what isn’t. As the Lord explained to Joseph Smith: “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” (D&C 84:45). The light of Christ empowers our spiritual eyes to see through deception and unmask those who would lead us into spiritual darkness. As a temple ordinance worker, I was given authority to bless others eyes’ with the ability to see clearly, so that through the Spirit they may distinguish truth from falsehood. I am so grateful for that gift, and the privilege I had of bestowing it.
Back in the days when my children were wearing cloth diapers, I learned that one of the most effective ways to disinfect those diapers and keep them white was to hang them out to dry in the sun. More recently, I heard that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had mounted an education campaign to assure the public that irradiating meat and other food products is safe. The irradiation process, they explained, employs light rays to eliminate any harmful bacteria that might otherwise contaminate our food supply and our bodies. Light, it seems, can be a very effective cleansing agent, whether in the form of sunlight or mechanically produced X- or gamma rays.
The light of Christ is no less effective. John taught: “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, … the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us all from sin” (1 John 1:5, 7). When we shine a light into the dark corners of our souls and admit to the sins and imperfections the light reveals, Christ can begin eradicating our impurities and make us more confident in his presence, more fit to serve and nourish others.
Light can be used not only to purify, but to heal. The focused rays of a laser beam can cut out diseased tissue, cauterize wounds, and reshape corneas to correct impaired vision. The light of Christ, focused on our individual needs, removes malignancies, stanches sorrows, and corrects our spiritual vision. It warms and comforts us as surely as the sun breaking through clouds after a storm. It guides us out of “the shadow of death … into the way of peace” (see Luke 1:78-79).
The type of light that allows us to see most clearly, to see things as they really are, is pure, white light. Ironically, unlike white paint, which becomes contaminated when mixed with another color, white light must contain every color of the visible spectrum in order to become white. I have pondered the metaphorical ramifications of this fact many times as I have sat in the Celestial Room of the temple, gazing at the rainbow of colors created in the crystal chandelier as white light passes through its many prisms. What this tells me is that the pure light that emanates from God must encompass all truth. It must include truths on different wavelengths from mine. It must include truths that are hard for me to accept. It must include truths that hurt. If I am to be blessed by the pure, white light of Christ, I cannot attempt to exclude any of its composite colors—even if I’m not particularly fond of orange. I must embrace it all.
To the Nephites who gathered somewhere in the western hemisphere to hear Jesus speak shortly after his resurrection, as recorded in the Book of Mormon, Jesus said: “Behold I am the light: I have set an example for you” (3 Nephi 18:16). To those who listened to him on a hill in Galilee, as recorded in the New Testament, he said: “Ye are the light of the world. … Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14, 16). Similarly, he commanded the Nephites: “Hold up your light that it may shine unto the world”—but then he offered this clarifying explanation: “Behold, I am the light which ye shall hold up—that which ye have seen me do” (3 Nephi 18:22-24).
What have we seen Jesus Christ do? We have seen him pray. We have seen him teach hard truths. We have seen him feed the hungry. We have seen him heal the sick and comfort the grieving. We have seen him rebuke hypocrites. We have seen him treat foreigners, outcasts, women, and children with respect and tenderness. We have seen him treat his own mother with respect and tenderness. We have seen him defy expectations. We have seen him remain calm under pressure. We have seen him forgive his persecutors. We have seen him submit his will to the Father. We have seen him suffer and die because he loves God and loves us, too.
May we heed the command to hold the light of Jesus Christ aloft for the benefit of all in the world around us. May it not only be reflected when we do as we have seen him do—speaking truth, offering service, healing wounds, giving love—but may it burn within us, “grow[ing] brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (D&C 50:24).