As days grow ever shorter I welcome Christmas light displays as neighbors brave the chilly outside air to decorate. Without the lights and the celebration they symbolize, December could be a dreary month indeed.
Christmas lights brighten dark December because we still follow the tradition of commemorating Jesus’ birth at the time of the European celebration of the winter solstice. If I paid attention, could winter solstice be a heart-stopping moment? Could I feel the significance of that point in time when the darkness begins to recede? Instead, I will only notice that sunset comes a little later each day, sunrise a bit earlier. But the evidence that follows winter solstice keeps me believing in the yearly triumph of sunlight over frozen earth – the promise that spring’s new life will return, eventually bouncing us into sunny summer.
Even though revelation tells us the Savior’s birthday is actually April 6th, celebrating at winter solstice is beautifully symbolic because Christ is the Light. When we choose a connection to Him through faith and hope and willingness to open the door of our hearts, inner darkness is dispelled. If we continue in His light, spring and summer experiences are assured.
Winters of the Soul
When I experience “winters of the soul,” Christ’s light gives me faith in an invincible summer. Faith moves me to necessary action. Unlike the winter chill that freezes the earth, losses and tragedies that can freeze the heart do not automatically give way to spring thaw. While I cannot choose to keep spring from coming or speed its appearance, my choices can delay the return of warmth and light within. For instance, choosing paths that lead to any number of addictions could bring still more icy storms into my life and keep me in darkness. By choosing to withdraw into cold despair I could live in perpetual winter.
Perhaps the miracle is that during winters of the soul so many of us make choices that lead us to a winter solstice – a turning point where we invite the light back into our lives. Choosing Christ, his doctrine, his way of life is the time of solstice for many.
A stunning example of a soul’s winter solstice is a heart truly changed to let in the light of the Atonement. At a Recovery meeting I listened in awe to a young man whose countenance was full of light – yet he had just been released from prison. In that dim setting he had found the light of the Lord through the Church’s Twelve-step Recovery program. He had, for the first time, come to understand and apply the power of the Atonement in his life. Leaning on that power he turned from the darkness of addiction and let the light of Christ thaw his heart and bring spring to his soul.
Light Is Stronger Than Darkness
The happiest truth about Christ’s light is that it is more powerful than the darkest night. In D&C 10:57-58 we read, “Behold, I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God … I am the light which shineth in darkness.”
Compare His light to the sun shining outdoors. If I am in a dark room, the minute I choose to open the drapes, the light floods in and dispels the darkness. Even if I light a tiny candle in a dark room I can suddenly see!
In contrast, let’s say I am in a well lighted room and it is dark outside. If I open the drapes, the dark does not flood into the room. Isn’t it wonderful that light dispels darkness, but darkness does not dispel light! Just as light is more powerful than darkness, Christ is more powerful than the adversary. In like manner, “The wisdom and foreknowledge of God are greater than the cunning of Satan, and God’s plan for the redemption of his children is more powerful than the evil designs of the adversary.” (Roy A. Prete, ed., Brian Q. Cannon, Richard O. Cowan, D. Mark Prescott, Craig J. Ostler, Associate Eds., Window of Faith: Latter-day Saint Perspectives on World History)
We all have need for the power of light – for many personal winter solstices when we yearn for an increase of truth and light. The need comes not only from sin or doubt or disbelief, but also from ignorance and lack of experience. “Lighten our understanding” is a common phrase, as is “finally the light dawned.”
The Light of Experience
When we experience a gospel principle – such as service – and feel the joy of it for the first time, is it like a winter solstice? Experience is such an important part of mortality – and hard experiences often open the window of our hearts to the light. Eve chose to learn from experience when she partook of the fruit and then told Adam it was better for us to experience sorrow that we may know the good from the evil. The Lord told Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail, “Know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good” (Doctrine & Covenants 122:7).
Hard experiences teach us, and so do joyous experiences. When we experience the reality of a gospel principle in our lives, glowing words we’ve heard about it come alive with light and meaning than can increase with time and maturity. I had such an experience as I was entering my teens.
When we moved to the town of Ammon, Idaho, we had no living grandma of our own, so were glad to get acquainted with an elderly neighbor who could fill the role. She was a widow, her only daughter lived far away, and she was not a member of the Church, so she was especially lonely. We quickly dubbed her “Grandma Woodhouse” and began including her in family gatherings. When December rolled around we decided to make some presents for her, get her a little tree, and decorate it with lights, old-fashioned paper chains and strings of cranberries and popcorn. Our anticipation grew as we worked together.
On Christmas Eve, gift-laden, we made our way toward Grandma’s house. I looked at the decorated tree Dad carried, and smiled in excitement. The air was crisp and clean, the sky star-studded. Our breath made frosty poofs as my two brothers and I excitedly giggled our way across the sparkling white street. We followed in Dad’s big footprints across the deep virgin snow to her front door.
When Grandma opened the door, we were a bit shocked at the dreary room behind her. She had been sitting alone in near-darkness with nothing in the house to suggest the season. Her eyes lightened with joy, then glistened with tears as we all shouted, “Merry Christmas!” We stamped the snow off our feet, then transformed her big kitchen with laughter, love, and a little tree complete with gifts. With the tree lights making sparkles all over the room, we sang “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright.” All was calm and bright inside my young heart. I had never before understood all those words I’d heard about “making someone else happy makes you happy too.
” But now I did!
“I feel like you are my real family,” Grandma said that night. I gave her a big hug and said, “And I feel like you are my real grandma.” I was so happy I thought I’d burst. Sharing the Christmas spirit of love filled me with inner light like nothing I had ever experienced. That light spilled over and increased for Grandma as our family continued to befriend and love her. My parents, stake missionaries at the time, taught her the gospel. She glowed with a new light within when she joined the Church.
I still feel that light from my experiences with Grandma Woodhouse today, guiding me like the Christ-child’s star. I suppose that some of my desire to serve and be a missionary all my life has been motivated by that bright and breathless Christmas feeling I first knew in Grandma’s kitchen many years ago.
Light from Proxy Temple Work
More recently, I experienced the real joy of temple work. All my life I’d heard people tell of special temple experiences where they knew the person was present, or at least knew they accepted the work. I felt a chilly spiritual inferiority because I had never experienced anything remotely like that. I certainly didn’t expect to when I did my husband’s great-grandmother’s work. Wendla Sofia Lofsund had been an anti-Mormon bootlegger in Salt Lake during prohibition days. From all we had heard of her, she had little use for religion of any kind until her last years when, suffering from a fatal disease, she turned back to her Protestant roots.
My Surprise Joy
One day toward the end of my shift playing the organ in the temple baptistry, it came into my mind that I should do Wendla’s baptism – I had carried her card in my temple suitcase for weeks. (I honestly didn’t have a very strong faith that she was anxious to have her work done!) As soon as I finished playing, I retrieved the card and went to get baptismal clothes. Suddenly the most wonderful feeling came over me. I found myself crying – that joyful kind of crying that is a witness of the Spirit. I was absolutely taken aback. When I got into the font and the baptizer raised his right hand and spoke Wendla’s name in the temple of the Lord, again I couldn’t hold back the tears. I knew Wendla was accepting that baptism and was rejoicing over it! I was greatly humbled that I had misjudged this dear woman. When I did her initiatory, the feeling was even stronger. Both the worker and I were overcome with the Spirit and had to pause to get control of our emotions. The worker said she had never felt a presence so strongly. I not only felt Wendla’s presence – I felt her joy! I knew she had been anxiously waiting for this day, and was grateful to me for being her proxy. A bond of love was created between us that I can feel to this day. I rarely think of her without a swelling of the warmth and light of the Spirit in my breast. The implications of that experience are enormous! The light of the gospel shines so brightly through it. Any doubts I ever had about the relative importance of temple service were forever swept away, and my certainty of the reality of the spirit world and the whole plan of life was solidified. This increase of testimony became extremely important and meaningful to me after my son’s death.
In such experiences the light may seem more like a sudden dawn than a slow solstice-like return of light, each day bringing a few more minutes of respite from the dark. Perhaps the reality is that we are prepared for dawn by our willingness to let in more light each day – solstice-like.
Are Recovery and Healing Like a Solstice?
When loss of a loved one, loss of dreams, loss of a way of life breaks our hearts, healing often does come in small increments – like the few minutes more of sunlight that bring each dawn earlier than the one before. Just as slightly longer daylight is a sure promise that spring is on its way, so small increments of progress toward the light promise the thawing of our hearts and the return of light and love.
As inevitably as the seasons come and go, winters of the soul will come again – but oh, how strong our faith can be that Christ’s light will overcome whatever darkness comes into our lives. It is true that the thawing of a chilled heart is not inevitable like the thawing of the earth in spring; agency prevails. But once we have experienced His light and love, why would we not choose to let it in again? Why would we choose to remain in darkness when broken hearts can so readily let in the Light?
How wonderful that winter solstice can come to us repeatedly – times when darkness gives way to light, when little by little the light increases until our souls feel full of the light of Christ’s love. Each experience with living a gospel principle also increases the light within as it solidifies our testimony of that principle.
There is Nothing Stronger than Christ’s Light and Love
I’m so grateful for the light of Christ’s love in my life and for my experiences of gospel living. I know that the darkness of the adversary is real and that it is swirling about this world in threatening clouds. But I know even more surely that God lives, that Christ’s light will triumph. Mosiah 16:9 verifies that He is our never-ending source of Light: “He [Christ] is the light and the life of the world; yea, a light that is endless, that can never be darkened.”
Whatever wintry experiences have darkened our lives, may winter solstice remind us that we can choose to let the light back in, to serve again, to live again, to love again, to feel the mighty change of heart again. And may we increase the light within by experiencing for ourselves the wonders of gospel living. Christ’s light and love are the strongest forces on earth. They can pull us through the hardest times, help us through the darkest night and fill us with His joy when our dawn comes again.
As we move into this Christmas season, may we remember Christ, choose Him, and fill our lives with His everlasting Light.