Mormons get a bad rap because of… well… the fact that they’re known as “Mormons.” It’s crazy how much of a stereotype can be associated with a name. But when it boils down to it, Mormons all around the world are stepping up in their own way during the Christmas season to ensure that Christ is not forgotten or left out of Christmas.
I witnessed this a few nights ago in Newport Beach California. A guy named Ryan and his wife Jessica fill up the gas tank on their boat for 5 nights straight and set out to do something that no one else was doing during a Christmas parade… namely, honor Christ. I left their last name out because they didn’t want the attention. All of the lights on the interior of their boat were off… and all of the lights pointed to the Savior of the world and the depiction of His birth.
According to the Orange County Register, “the parade typically brings out a million viewers.” I was there on a night when hundreds of thousands of people learned… if they didn’t know already, that Mormons are Christians. Without a doubt, Mormons believe in and worship Christ and are leading the charge in keeping him at the forefront of a holiday that seems to be slipping into secularism.
As I stood on the back of that boat for about 3 hours, I had a flood of thoughts and feelings. One of those thoughts revolved around the boat that immediately followed our little ship in this parade. It was a big’ol sailboat that carried the theme of Star Wars. Intriguing, I thought, that the “Star Wars” boat was being trailed by the boat that honored the “Star of Bethlehem.” Yes… I do believe that this world knows more about Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren than they do about Mary and Joseph. They worry more about whether Hans Solo will return than if Jesus Christ will return.
But as we progressed past hordes of people, I witnessed something that I’ll never forget. It was as if the boat I was on was a breath of fresh air to the hundreds of thousands of people who stood by and watched in awe. As we passed on by, it was as if a lightbulb went off inside their hearts that reminded them of why they celebrate Christmas in the first place. People in nearby yachts, speedboats, dinghies, gondolas, kayaks, and canoes seemed to stare… and then erupt in applause for the Savior of the world.
It didn’t matter who it was. They looked, processed what was being depicted, and then cheered. They cheered for Christ. People standing on the banks of the shoreline with their families. They cheered for Christ. People waiting for the Balboa ferry. People holding beers in their hands on multi-million dollar yachts. People on adjacent boats. They all cheered for Christ. Old guys sitting on the back of their retirement sailboats watching the football game as they puffed their stogies. They stopped, looked, and then they cheered for Christ. It didn’t matter who they were or what they were doing. It didn’t matter that we were Mormons. They cheered again and again and again… for Christ. As if He was what they had been longing for without them even realizing it.
I believe that people cheered for Christ with extra enthusiasm because every boat they saw before, and every boat they’d see after had nothing to do with the true meaning of Christmas. There were full-on bands playing live music on the front of these boats. Massive fire torches that lit up the sky. Boats with thousands of lights and groves of Christmas trees on the stern and bow. They got some oooooooooo’s and ahhhhhhhh’s… but none of them stirred the soul like the scene of Christ being born into the world.
This massive group of people was reminded that if you take Christ out of Christmas, you really don’t have Christmas or “holy-days” at all. You don’t have Santa, and reindeer, and presents, and Christmas trees and lights and everything else that comes with the holiday season. Without Christ… we don’t have anything to celebrate and truly cheer for.
When I got off the freeway in Costa Mesa that night before boarding that boat, there was a gigantic billboard that read: “JESUS CHRIST IS THE REASON FOR THE SEASON.” I had a cynical thought when I saw that. I wondered to myself… how many people actually believe that nowadays?
The answer. Unequivocally… was thousands, even hundreds of thousands in just one little ritzy beach city in Southen California. They showed it with every emphatic roar as we went by on a boat that honored His birth. Sure there were some who might have laughed, pointed, and made an occasional joke. There are others that might not particularly agree with our system of religion. But what I took away from this night was that by and large, people love Jesus, and they will cheer for him. They will cheer for him because deep down, they know that he is cheering for them. Regardless of where they’re at in their life. Regardless of who they are now. And regardless of who they were in the past. He represents the deepest feelings of almost every beating heart; the hope of a future filled with peace.
In the coming years… we will need more people to cheer for him regardless of the building they attend church in. We’ll need more and more people to “light the world” with his love, mercy, and hope as did Ryan, Jessica, and a host of young men and women who were willing to let their light shine in honor of him on a cold and windy night in front of hundreds of thousands of people.