By Laird Sessions
As autumn swiftly yields to the beauty of the forthcoming season, an endearing feature of Christmas is the sudden explosion of light. Christmas lights beam most everywhere from glowing rooftops overhead to strung lights criss-crossing along scented boughs on trimmed trees. It’s as if the Light of the World had found embodiment on earth.
Thousands of families including my own will soon pour onto the grounds at Temple Square to bask in the sparkling beauty. While there is no shortage of lights this time of year, I find that capturing the spirit of Christmas requires allowing and inviting the lights of Christmas to travel past my eye and sink deep into my heart.
In referencing the true source of all light, the prophet Abinadi declares in Mosiah 16:9 – He is the light and the life of the world; yea, a light that is endless, that can never be darkened; yea, and also a life which is endless, that there can be no more death. Two of my own Christmas experiences drove home the importance of seeking out and internalizing this spiritual light.
I worked on a small dairy farm during high school. One of our colorful co-workers was a man named Peter Paul. He had a variety of mental handicaps, which coupled with alcohol abuse, made for a very hard life indeed. As Christmas approached, I felt moved to do something special for him. My brother, who also worked on the farm, following our mother’s example, suggested we create a traditional fruit basket with nuts and oranges wrapped in cellophane. Peter Paul lived in a tiny shack on the edge of the farm, which mainly consisted of used boards barely held together.
County officials routinely approached the farmer to complain about the appalling living conditions. The farmer’s response was always the same- if you have the heart to evict him- go right ahead.
As we knocked upon the door of this forgotten child of God bearing our basket, his stuttering words of delight at being acknowledged, coupled by his wide toothless grin, were thanks enough. Matthew 25 rang in my ear Inasmuch as ye have done it unto to one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me– as I made my way home along a lone dirt path, light flooded my soul.
My second experience came as I was having a particularly tough time feeling any Christmas spirit as a new missionary in Taiwan. Besides being a non-Christian country with little to no decorations, the swaying palm trees and seventy plus degree heat were hard to overlook as well. The closest Christmas tree was likely up at the North Pole. I missed all my family’s Christmas traditions. Unexpectedly a request came from an orphanage located in a remote mountainous village to put on a Christmas -themed play.
The orphanage staff warmly greeted us as we made preparations for the evening’s performance. Bashful children peeked out from behind adults as we made our way into a beautiful wooden-floored performance hall. With limited Chinese, my assigned role was of a sheep the night Christ’s birth was announced. I was delighted to hear the children’s ringing laughter as I bellowed out my fairly authentic bleating. After our performance we mingled outside beneath gorgeous strings of red-lit lanterns. The icing on the cake came in the form of my first investigator of my mission making the long and difficult trip up the mountains to join us on this special evening. In that sacred moment, I felt for the first time the true meaning of Christmas. No gifts were exchanged. No angels sang. But the love and reverence I felt for God and His Son that Christmas night halfway across the world was reflected in the light in the children’s eyes.
In both cases I found the spirit of the season came only through selfless service as exemplified by the Savior and as taught in Matthew 20:28- the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister. Christ instructively didn’t demand to be waited upon or insist upon royal treatment. Quite the contrary- the royal treatment was liberally given to the “least” of His time period including lepers, publicans, and Samaritans. Christmas spirit doesn’t come expensively wrapped. It isn’t hiding in the back of a store. It invariably comes from heartfelt service- especially to souls we might personally deem “the least among us”. In my case, each of these two experiences acted as the portal for activating heaven’s illumination. From the “least” we are often taught the very most.