WASHINGTON, D.C. — In the midst of World War II, two small groups of soldiers — one American and one German — lost their way and ended up in the home of the Vincken family on Christmas Eve 1944.
“In a moment of divine diplomacy and pure Christian charity, this German mother brokered what can only be called a one-woman armistice,” said Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, explaining that Frau Vincken told the soldiers it was Christmas Eve and there would be no shooting.
Frau Vincken added that each of the soldiers could be her son, setting such a tone of peace and brotherhood that the soldiers spent the night together in peace and worked to care for one of the American wounded. The next day, as in the story of the wise men who visited the newborn Christ-child and then “departed into their own country,” the soldiers likewise went their different ways.
“We are called to turn back darkness with light,” said Elder Holland in his Christmas message during the annual Festival of Lights at the Washington DC Temple Visitors’ Center. “We are to turn back fear with faith. We are to extend love to friend and foe alike.”
The transformative power of the light of Christ to change lives and encourage peace was the focus of the event opening at the visitors’ center on Nov. 27 and 28.
Honored guests Elder Holland and His Excellency German Rojas, the ambassador of the Republic of Paraguay, examined ways light can overcome darkness and then conveyed that concept together by switching on 650,000 lights that brilliantly illuminated the temple grounds and reflected into the night sky.
From the white Carrara marble Christus statue and international crèche displays and doll trees inside the building to the welcoming missionaries and a narrated Nativity scene outside, the motifs of light over darkness and peace through brotherhood permeated every aspect of the evening.
Elder Holland concluded his remarks for the evening with the thought that the Lord was once laid in a manger meant for cows, not kings.
“No matter how humble our setting or modest our effort,” he said, “as we allow that Christmas light to shine, we will shine brighter in these contentious times. If enough of us shine together, we can illuminate a path toward greater harmony, gentleness, and peace.”
Ambassador Rojas, who was introduced by U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.), reminded that Christ Himself said, “I am the light of the world.” He pointed out the ways that members of the Church had been lights not only to his family but also to citizens of his country.
“By the light of your commitment, you are promoting tolerance, dialogue, integration and diversity,” he said. “You are enlightening lives by walking the roads of my country, by giving relief, by assisting with many humanitarian initiatives, by changing lives when you are letting our people know that they can have a better life, that the light is there, that you can teach them to use it to guide their present and their future.”
He recalled his many encounters with Church members, noting a conversation he had with Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles that inspired a Symposium on Life and Family in Paraguay last August. He also mentioned that Paraguayan members of the Church were honored that President Russell M. Nelson visited the country in October.
“Keep shining,” he suggested, in order to “keep the enlightening concept alive.”
J.W. Marriott Jr. and his wife, Donna Marriott, hosted the two-evening event, as they have for the past 41 years. Working with Mauri Earl, director of International Affairs for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they invited members of the diplomatic corps, members of Congress, government officials and other dignitaries to help celebrate this popular Christmas tradition in the nation’s capital. Among this year’s attendees was U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson and his wife, Candy Carson.
Adding to the evening’s festivities was the Washington D.C. Temple Choir, who sang traditional Christmas carols under the direction of Gary Clawson. Choir members stood before a large window highlighted by a gleaming white temple beyond. Later they were joined by a children’s choir of the Washington area. Havah Shwalb, Karina Keele and Victoria Keele were featured soloists in Spanish. Clawson also invited children from the audience to participate.
The public is invited to the visitors’ center to see the lights and displays and to attend free nightly concerts through Jan. 1, 2019. Last year, over 120,000 visitors came to these events, and another estimated 100,000 drove by just to see the lights.