When I was thirteen years old, my family began a new Christmas Eve tradition of attending another church’s service. It began when my older brother was invited to play his trumpet at the Methodist church. My parents decided we would all attend as a family, and we enjoyed the experience so much that we made it a yearly tradition. Over the years, we went to Episcopalian, Catholic, Methodist, and Baptist services, among others. More often than not, my eight-member family (before counting spouses and grandchildren) stood out like a sore thumb, singing four-part harmony jovially from the back row. We loved singing the carols, meeting other members of faith in the community, and hearing the scriptures and messages of Christ the night before Christmas.
There was one particular moment from these services I liked best. At the end of service, the congregation would stand and sing “Silent Night” while holding unlit candles. As we sang, ushers would light the candles on the aisle from one large candle. Then, one by one, we passed the flame down the rows by lighting our neighbors’ candles, until the sanctuary was lit with the ethereal glow of hundreds of flickering lights. This moment always felt intimate, important, and sacred to me.
Light in Darkness
Years later, in 2012, I was a newlywed spending my first Christmas away from family, miles away in Colorado Springs, Colorado. My husband was working the night shift, and rather than spend Christmas Eve alone, I decided to find a church in town that was holding a candlelight service. I headed to the church with the pain of the last year sitting heavy on my heart. Spiritual doubts and mental illness wracked me internally, while natural disasters and national tragedies seemed to touch every corner of the earth. I could still see the burned and blackened side of Pikes Peak from my small apartment, and my head was swimming with the fresh horrors of the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. All this clouded my mind as I walked through a bitterly cold and icy street into an Episcopalian candlelight service, hoping that by going through the motions, I might find a bit of home in my family tradition.
The service was lovely, if unremarkable in touching my heart. I was surrounded by strangers, acutely aware of my own loneliness. Then we began to sing our final carol.
Silent night! Holy night! All is calm, all is bright . . .
Someone touched my shoulder. I turned to see my neighbor holding his lit candle up to light mine. The blackened wick transformed from total darkness to complete illumination. Then I, too, turned and lit my neighbor’s candle.
Round yon virgin mother and Child. Holy Infant, so tender and mild, . . .
As the sanctuary filled with growing light and song, I felt like someone had set aflame the blackened wick in my own heart. Surrounding me were strangers. We did not share the same religious faith, but we shared the same faith in Christ, the Light of the World. I felt this overwhelming love that God has for all His children and remembered how He sees us as sources of light, reflecting outward His love and the Savior’s love. Christ commanded, “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).
If we each share whatever light we possess, it will lead us back to the source of truth, even Christ. He said, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12).
Looking around me at my neighbors and their light, I felt a swell of gratitude for my family traditions, the carols of Christmas, and the of lighting candles. During the darkest time of the year, these simple things have been a reflection of the light, reminding me to look to Him who promises healing, hope, and peace. Sharon L. Samuelson said, “Jesus and His gospel are the lights that can guide you. . . . These lights are brighter and stronger than any darkness you will encounter in this life” (“Let the Light Shine,” 6 January 2009).
As I stepped out of that church, it had snowed, and the entire street was covered with a blanket of the purest white powder. Reflections of Christmas lights sparkled off the fresh snow and the church organ echoed into the silent night, filling my mind with melodies of hope.
Sleep in heavenly peace; Sleep in heavenly peace.