Recently, I visited Temple Square in Salt Lake City. During this Christmas season, little lights brighten the night around the sacred and historic buildings there, and Nativity scenes enliven the grounds with colorful depictions of the newborn Savior of the World, Mary, and Joseph. At one point during my visit, I walked under a stand of trees that were tightly wound with white lights. Passing through the gathered crowds on that December night, I was surprised by the way in which the cumulative glow of those tiny bulbs left the area looking as though it were day. Even after I had left, those lights still shone in my memory, and I soon found myself reflecting on the lights of the season and on the Christ they represent, of whom the gospel of John says, “In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not” (John 1:4-5).
Every year, those who celebrate Christmas light up the cold, long nights of winter with strings and strands of joyful, colorful lights. In a time of year where the streets would otherwise be lonely, inhospitable places of cold and dark, those lights make the streets places of joy and warmth. They twinkle, glitter, and shine, dispelling the winter and replacing it with cheer that draws families, couples, and individuals away from their bustle and worry to enjoy the displays and to enjoy the company of friends and loved ones. It’s a blessing of sorts, I suppose, that we celebrate Christmas in winter. How different would those same lights feel during the short, balmy nights of summer? As it is, they remind us that, even when things seem to be at their coldest, their darkest, and their most unforgiving, we can find light shining in the darkness and cheer glowing in the cold.
I remember learning as a child that the lights we hang at Christmas are symbols of the star that hung over Bethlehem to signal the birth of the Son of God—the same star that guided the wise men from the east:
[A]nd, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:9-11)
Following that star, those wise men found the King of Kings and worshiped Him and rejoiced. Unfortunately, the time of their joy was marked by a time of great sorrow and suffering—a time in which, according to the Gospel of Matthew, the jealous Herod ordered the death of all the baby boys in and around Bethlehem in an attempt to destroy the Messiah and to remove any threats to his kingly power. Despite the sorrow and horror of that massacre, a new star hung in the night, heralding the birth of the Messiah, the one who would deliver God’s children from sickness, sorrow, and death. Because of His birth, the wise men could rejoice amidst the anguish of their day. Indeed, the star that appeared over Bethlehem was a light shining in darkness, signalling the coming of the One who would save the world from its woe.
Surely, the true light of Christmas is neither the strands of bulbs we hang nor the iconic star the wise men saw but is, rather, the Savior, Jesus the Christ whom we worship and remember. During His mortal ministry, Jesus declared: “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness” (John 12:46). He was born into this world of sorrow and death, sin and despair, and He spent His days teaching, serving, and blessing all those whose paths He crossed. It was of Him the prophet Isaiah spoke when he propesied, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined” (Isaiah 9:2). Surely, He was and is the “light of the world” in whom those who follow Him “shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). More than lights shining into the December night or a star gleaming over a dark Bethlehem, Jesus is the light which shineth in darkness—and His light continues to shine. Because of what He taught, we can know that God is our loving Father, that He sent His Son to redeem us from our sins and to save us from death, and that we can return to live with our God in peace and joy forever after this life. Because of what He did, suffering for our sins, dying at Calvary, and rising on the third day, we can overcome our weakness, separate ourselves from sin, and prepare for a glorious resurrection. Because of who He is, we can have confidence in His unfailing love and His matchless grace, and we can have a sure hope for a brighter, better future regardless of our current circumstances—we can trust that the best is yet to come. All the lights that shine at this time of year are but a symbol of the true light—Christ’s light—which illuminates our lives during every season of the year. Indeed, He is the light which shineth in darkness, dispelling the darkness of doubt, fear, and sorrow and filling our lives—and the whole world—with peace and joy this day and always so long as we follow Him in faith.