While it's true that Christianity's two most significant holidays, Christmas and Easter, are months apart, they are inseparably linked one to another, said Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Council of the Twelve.
Speaking to thousands gathered in the Tabernacle and on the surrounding grounds Nov. 23, Elder Ballard keynoted this year's annual Christmas lighting ceremony on Temple Square.This year is significant because it is the 25th anniversary of Christmas lighting on Temple Square. On Dec. 9, 1965, then President David O. McKay turned on the lights for the first time. (See related story on page 7.)
"If it were not for the fact that Jesus Christ suffered and died for the sins of the world, His birthday would be no more significant than that of any other great prophet or teacher," he said. "And if Christ had not been born the Son of God, He would have been incapable of working out the Atonement and His death would have been no more meaningful than that of any other martyr.
"But Christ was not just any martyr. He was the promised Messiah," Elder Ballard continued. "Therefore we celebrate at Christmas not just a birth, but a life made glorious by the Savior's successful completion of His wonderful-yet-most difficult mission. We see in the simple eloquence of His birth a precursor to a death of similar eloquence."
Elder Ballard said the lights on Temple Square "are a present, a holiday gift from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. With this gift we not only seek to add beauty and holiday cheer to the community in which we live, but we also humbly proclaim to all mankind our faith and love for the light of the world, even our Savior, Jesus Christ, whose birth we commemorate during this sacred season.
"In the scriptures, light is often used as a metaphor for Jesus and His divine mission," Elder Ballard continued. He added that Christ referred to Himself as "the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." (John 8:12.).
"It is not surprising that the relationship between Jesus Christ and light is referred to so often," said Elder Ballard. "For most Christians, the connection is obvious. Light illuminates; Christ's mission was one of illumination and understanding. Light brings with it warmth, even as Christ warms the hearts of all true believers who accept Him as their Savior. . . . Christ stands as a beacon to all who would find their way through the trials and tests of life."
Elder Ballard said that when he thinks of Christ as a spiritual beacon, "The Christus," the sculpted creation of Danish master Bertel Thorvaldsen, comes to mind, a carefully reproduced copy of which is in the North Visitors Center on Temple Square.
"This stunning work of art captures the loving, benevolent spirit of the resurrected Lord, His arms outstretched, kindly beckoning all to come unto Him."
The light of Christ is the real light of Christmas, Elder Ballard noted, and gives the holiday its own special spirit. "You can feel it here on Temple Square, partly because of the holiday festivities. But there's also a special spirit here associated with the beautiful temple that is on these grounds. This is the House of the Lord wherein faithful members of the Church perform sacred religious ordinances and worship their Heavenly Father and His Son."
Offering the gift of light on Temple Square is done with the sincere hope that all who visit will be touched by the beauty of these earthly lights in a way that will draw them closer to the light of Christ," Elder Ballard said.
"Filled with the light of Christ, they will reach out to the hungry and the homeless, the infirm of body and the poor of spirit, and minister as Jesus would minister if He were walking among us tonight," he explained.
Following his remarks, Elder Ballard flipped a switch, turning on nearly 250,000 Christmas lights on the grounds of Temple Square. Audible "Oohs" and "Ahs" were heard from those in and outside the Tabernacle.
The Mormon Youth Symphony and Chorus, which provided music for the event, performed the "Hallelujah Chorus" as Elder Ballard turned on the lights.
Elder Ballard's wife, Barbara, was seated on the stand, as were Pres. Ralph O. Bradley, director of Temple Square, and his wife, Mildred. Pres. Bradley, who conducted the meeting, said it was being taped for the Vision Interfaith Satellite Network (VISN) to be aired the week of Christmas.