Emphasizing that Christmas traditions of giving are rooted in the life, message and mission of Jesus Christ, Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints heralded the Christmas season at the Washington D.C. Temple and Visitors’ Center on Dec. 2. With honored guest, Manuel Sager, Ambassador of Switzerland, Elder Christofferson switched on more than 600,000 lights that will illuminate the temple grounds until Jan. 1, 2014, as part of the annual Festival of Lights.
Other special guests for the lighting ceremony included members of the Washington diplomatic, political, business and religious communities. Also attending the ceremony were Sister Kathy Christofferson and Mrs. Christine Sager. J.W. Marriott Jr. and his wife, Donna, once again hosted the event as they have for 36 years, and Ann Santini of the Office of Public and International Affairs noted that the lights were a beacon to all of Washington, saying “come join us.”
This year’s ceremony included performances by mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford; violinist Loi Anne Eyring, wife of visitors’ center director, Elder Harden R. Eyring; and the Mormon Choir of Washington D.C. under the direction of Gary Clawson.
Ambassadors and their staffs are invited to participate in this special lighting celebration each year, and one is chosen as the honored speaker. Ambassador Sager is a distinguished Swiss attorney and career diplomat who received his LLM degree from Duke University Law School, the institution from which Elder Christofferson received his law degree.
Standing in front of windows that showcased the lighted temple on a cold winter’s night, Ambassador Sager observed how light has special significance in many religions, and he suggested that although the human condition and the world are less than perfect, there still is hope.
“It is within our power and abilities to bring about change, or at least make a difference,” he said.
Ambassador Sager said he believes that truly successful people hope their endeavors “have transcended their personal existence and careers,” as they make a difference in the lives of others, whether by brokering peace, alleviating poverty, supporting the arts, or simply sharing “an encouraging smile with strangers, such as the wonderful young people who greeted us when we walked in this evening.”
Before introducing Elder Christofferson, Brother Marriott encouraged people to reach out and mend a quarrel, forgive, listen, think first of others and “laugh a little — and laugh a little more.” He said no event can compare to the birth of the Christ child, and he hoped people would remember Christ’s great love.
Elder Christofferson then offered greetings from President Thomas S. Monson and pointed out what a gregarious and generous man the prophet is — a man who simply loves giving.
“He cannot resist helping someone in need,” said Elder Christofferson. “Years ago he returned from a trip abroad without his coat, without his suit, even without his shoes. He had given them all away during his trip to men he saw who were in need. He was wearing only a shirt, some cheap trousers and his bedroom slippers.”
This is the spirit of giving as taught by the Savior, Elder Christofferson said, that is centered on loving one another — even enemies — and laying up treasures in heaven by helping and ministering to one another.
He also counseled about the true purpose and meaning of giving at Christmas:
“Our Christmas gifts — if we don’t overdo it — are a token of the gifts that come to all from Jesus Christ. He gave His life that we could have the gifts of repentance and forgiveness, the gift that our mistakes do not have to be permanent or ultimately destructive. He rose from the dead and gave us all the gift of resurrection, the gift of immortality that follows death when body and spirit come together never to be separated again.”
At the conclusion of the program, sister missionaries gathered outside and sang to the departing guests. Many families stopped to have their photo taken in front of the temple, surrounded by sparkling lights in all colors.
The Festival of Lights includes twice-nightly musical performances and has become a popular tradition in the nation’s capital. This year more than 250,000 visitors are expected to enjoy the brilliant landscape, the life-sized Nativity under the stars, and the activities inside the center. Forty sister missionaries and five senior couples, including the Eyrings, will welcome guests coming to see the radiant Christus statue, trees filled with dolls from around the world, an international crèche exhibit and performances in the 550-seat theater.
New this year is an elegant portrayal of the Nativity story through fabric art panels created from photographs. This representation, along with a video that tells the story in word and music, recreates the sense of walking down the streets of old Bethlehem as the story unfolds.