Editor's note: Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, drawing families together and the faithful to worship. We asked local faith leaders to share their thoughts about what makes the season meaningful.
First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
"As we celebrate this Christmas season, our thoughts turn to that sacred event long ago when the Prince of Peace and the Light of the World was born, (see Isaiah 9:6). Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer, who was 'wounded for our transgressions, and with his stripes we are healed,' (Isaiah 53:5). He promised: 'He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life,' (John 8:12).
"We sincerely pray this Christmastime that the light and testimony of the Savior will come into our hearts, that our lives will reflect his life and attributes, and that people everywhere will accept the blessings of his mercy and grace that are made possible through his atoning sacrifice.
"May each of us be blessed during this joyous time of the year, and may we acknowledge with gratitude our Heavenly Father’s incomparable gift to us — his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ."
The Most Rev. John Wester, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake
"As we celebrate Christmas, we are thankful for the gift of faith, a gift of 'good news' that opens up for us the beautiful message of this holy season, namely, that God loves us so much that he sent his only Son to redeem us and to show us the way to the Father in heaven.
"The best Christmas gift we can give each other is to share our faith with loved ones and strangers alike, proclaiming the joyous tidings that 'God is with us.' And we should not just share our faith but we should reach out to one another with all the blessings God has given us, especially the gift of peace. Our world, our country and our homes are often witnesses to violence, prejudice and fear. Christmas is a time for us to counter these ills by loving each other as deeply as God loved us by sending us his son. Our Catholic community wishes peace and good will to all in Utah, assuring you of our prayers and best wishes always."
The Rev. Michael Imperiale, pastor, First Presbyterian Church of Salt Lake City
"A song sings it: 'Mary, did you know, that your baby boy is Lord of all creation? This sleeping child you’re holding is the great 'I am!'
"How could anyone have known? Who could have guessed it? That the Almighty, Eternal God would in his wisdom and mercy, quietly come into our world in the frailty of a baby! Born in the small town of Bethlehem in a distant corner of the Roman Empire, he would be named 'Jesus.' The name means, 'he will save,' save his people from their sins. He would be called 'Emmanuel' – it means, 'God is with us.'
"This holiday (holy day) season celebrates Christ, the Savior, the Redeemer for anyone in any time, in any place, who would trust in his name. God become a human being so that we can know God on a human level. In every generation since, people have come to know — you and I can know; know the living Lord, know the eternal God through faith in Christ this Christmas. The gracious invitation to personally know the Lord, the Savior, is there for you and for me. Mary came to know it. God wants for you to know it as well."
The Rev. France Davis, pastor, Calvary Baptist Church, Salt Lake City
"Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. Sent by his Father, he came robed in flesh as a message of 'good news' into a world of darkness. Despite all of the passing time and changes, we are again in the midst of darkness revealed by senseless gun violence, economic hard times, political deadlock, and spiritual coldness. We need a word of positive, good news to give us hope and faith. Thus, Christmas has to be an everyday renewal. This act of unwavering love has to give meaning to life afresh.
"You and I are summoned to cheer up and to shout with joy, 'Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to all people.' As we acknowledge God's sovereignty, we respect and treat one another right. Join us in a journey of unity and love for all of God's highest creation."
The Rev. Bill Young, pastor, The Rock Church, Draper
"A few years ago, after one of my wife’s gift-wrapping marathons our youngest boy hugged her and said, 'Thanks for not putting all the presents under the tree, Mom.' You see, he wanted to be surprised on Christmas morning!
"I think we can all relate to this innate desire to be surprised with more. I'm convinced that we long for more because we were created for more than what this life has to offer. In his classic book, 'Mere Christianity,' C.S. Lewis wrote, 'If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.'
"We were made for a new world! And that’s why Jesus was born on Christmas – to die for our sins so we could be with him forever in heaven. This Christmas, why not remind yourself that this life can only offer temporary happiness and limited satisfaction. God has so much more for us. Jesus alone provides us more and it’s ours for the asking!"
The Rev. Eun-sang Lee, pastor, First United Methodist Church, Salt Lake City
"'The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it,' (John 1:5).
"Merry Christmas to you and your family, and to all your loved ones!
"May the peace of God and the joy of the season illumine your heart and lead you to the heart of God, who has chosen to become one of us as Emmanuel — God with us. God wants to know our sorrows and brokenness. More to the point, God knows our hopes, dreams and prayers for our own selves and for the world.
"Symbols of Christmas with which we decorate our homes signify God’s reality that defies the reality of the world we live in. We participate in God’s reality as we grow closer to the heart of God through our prayers and actions. I pray that the Child of Light be born deep in your heart and begin the work of miracle, of reversal and transformation, as you ponder the true meaning of the season.
"'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!' (Luke 2:14)."
The Rev. Jean Schwien, pastor, Christ United Methodist Church, Salt Lake City
“Hope, peace, joy, love. These are the gifts of Advent and Christmas.
"A lot of what we get caught up in this time of year actually has very little to do with the birth of Jesus Christ. But Jesus hasn’t moved from the center of the season—we’ve moved away from Jesus.
"Jesus is not at the shopping mall, or in any of the chores of the season. Discover and celebrate Christ in the joyous chaos of spending time with family and church family. Welcome and worship Jesus in the quiet moments of candlelight and prayer. The gifts of Advent and Christmas — hope, peace, joy and love — these are the blessing of our Savior Jesus Christ. Where will you find them this season?"
The Rev. Jim Ayers, pastor, Life Church Utah, Salt Lake City
“To me, the great truth that comes from the Christmas season is wrapped up in the name given the newborn child, prophesied by Isaiah and quoted in the gospel of Matthew 1:23:
"'Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.'
"What a powerful promise! God is with us.
"That’s the power of Christmas. For those who have considered God as a God who is far away and uninvolved in their lives, to those who have struggled to feel hope in the midst of what they are facing — to them God promises, 'I will be with you.' Not distant. Not uninvolved. Not uncaring. Not out there, somewhere. But here, close, with us.
"But to make that a reality in our lives requires that we seek him. God is closest to those who seek him. He says through the prophet Jeremiah:
"'And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart,' (Jeremiah 29:13).
"Do it, seek him. You’ll find him close."
The Right Rev. Scott B. Hayashi, bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Utah
"The traditional Christmas story takes place at night. Mary and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem late and all the rooms are taken. I imagine the scene taking place today with 'No vacancy' signs on all the hotels and motels. I see what is happening in our world. The bombings, shootings, the arguing in our government, neighbor against neighbor, it seems as if the whole world has a large bright red 'No vacancy' sign flashing to the heavens while the world remains dark.
"There was no room for the parents of Jesus at the inns in Bethlehem, but they found a place anyway. On that dark night long ago, God found a place to be born anyway.
"Like that night long ago, God today will still find a way past all the world’s attempts to keep him out. I believe that is a good message for Christmas 2014. The dark does not triumph for, 'Darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you,' (Psalm 139:12).
"My hope and prayer for us is that God will find many hearts for the Christ child to be born into anew, and the goodness we see in one another at Christmas will continue through all the days to come."
The Rev. Steve Klemz, pastor, Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, Salt Lake City
"The Christmas rush is older than we think. The birth we celebrate came on something like our April 15 tax day, another time of last-minute panics, mailings, and payments. In the midst of people rushing to meet obligations, Jesus was born in the equivalent of a gas station garage next to an old motel. Shepherds were the first to know. They were outsiders, smelly, and few would count them as friends. Jesus was born like any other baby, with a mother in pain and an anxious father standing by.
"When God chooses to come among us, there’s no telling where. God comes everywhere and anywhere, especially among the humble, in the simplest circumstances. We celebrate this birth with a renewed awareness that the holiest places in the world may be very close to us. And so we welcome the stranger, serve the poor, visit the lonely, and attend to whatever the least of these may require. We remember, too, that words alone cannot adequately respond to this holy birth. The central truth of the Christian faith is that the word became flesh, becoming vulnerable, just as we are. That’s what made the angels sing. Why should we be any different?"
The Rev. Michael Chittum, senior minister, First Congregational Church, Salt Lake City
"'The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined,' wrote the prophet Isaiah. When we hear these words, we hear how the people were walking in darkness.
"Perhaps some of us have also walked in darkness. If so, you know it’s easy to lose your way and become disoriented. It’s easy to stumble even on familiar paths. To help us Isaiah said that God comes into the world as a powerful light that illuminates our paths to God. This means that the divine comes to us as a light bearer. Human enlightenment will not be sufficient to see the very presence of God in the world. God must be the one to bring light and healing into our lives. God has also come into the world to bring a profound sense of joy — a deep and abiding sense of contentment mixed with excitement. Finally, the light of Christmas shows the release of God’s reign of justice, love, and peace for all people everywhere."
The Rev. Jerrod B. Lowry, pastor, Community of Grace Presbyterian Church, Sandy
"For so many, 'the most wonderful time of the year' is one of the hardest. Many are haunted with cherished memories long gone. Many are separated from loved ones by vast geographical distances. In both cases there is a desire to go back, a longing to draw closer to what seems distant.
"This pain many try to mask while singing 'Joy to the World' is strangely what I believe to be the key motivation for Christmas. The very catalyst for Incarnation, the birth of Christ, is pain, distance, and the desire to go back to some time when the relationship between the creator and all creation was closer. The Incarnation we celebrate on Christmas is born due to the disconnect between the creation, who strays and neglects relationship with the Creator. In a desperate attempt to conquer the separation and draw closer to us scripture tells us that the divine took on flesh and 'unto us the son was given.'
"Therefore Christmas is a love story like most, just on a divinely cosmic scale. And that the divine would take on flesh must say something about God’s love for and desire to draw nearer to our whole selves – mind and body. For believers, the Christmas Incarnation reminds us that the depths of the Creator’s love must become the model for the love we show ourselves and each other if we open our hearts and 'prepare him room.'"
Greek Orthodox Mission Parish of Utah, parish council, Midvale
"The Greek Orthodox Mission Parish of Utah extends greetings and best wishes to all during this Christmas Season. We pray for harmony in the world and for the good of our city, state and nation. May all find peace through God’s promise as revealed through the birth of his son, Jesus Christ.
"We echo the sentiments of His Eminence, Archbishop Demetrios of America, in his recent Christmas encyclical:
'The Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ is a revelation of truth. Today, the brilliance of divine wisdom, the glory of the Lord, and the hope of the Gospel of salvation are revealed. The ancient promise made to Adam and Eve, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and to so many others is fulfilled. All that was foretold by the prophets has happened. God has become man so that we can be redeemed and restored to blessed communion and abundant life with him.
'The Incarnation is also a revelation of true and eternal peace. Through the birth of Christ, the path of our reconciliation with God is visible.'
"May God bless all of humanity with reconciliation, comfort and hope in Christ Jesus, His gift of love to the world!"
The Rev. Travis S. Kerns, Salt Lake City coordinator, North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention
"Christmas. Just the mere mention of the word brings up all sorts of thoughts and emotions. For many, Christmas is a time spent with family and friends and is a joyous time of year. For others, it is a time spent alone due to family difficulties or losses and is a time of isolation. Many likely think of presents under the tree and the excitement of children. We think of hot chocolate, peppermint sticks, and the proverbial 'white Christmas.' Christmas is so much more; it is more than cards and Claus.
"Christmas is about Christ, nothing more and nothing less. It is about the gift God offered to humanity through the giving of his son, the one who shed his blood at Calvary and paid the full price for our sins so that we might experience eternal life with him by placing our simple faith and trust in his work on the cross. Will you, this Christmas, place your faith and trust in Christ? There is truly no better gift you can receive."
The Rev. Gregory Johnson, president, Standing Together
"Some say, 'Yeah, right,' when they hear the seasonal prayer of 'Peace on earth, good will toward men.' Candidly, as a pastor, I understand the doubt and cynicism that Christmas represents for a lot of people. When it comes to this hopeful proclamation, one could easily say, 'Are you kidding, have you not heard about ISIS fanatics beheading children and prisoners in Iraq, mass murders in Pakistan, and the torture of Christians in Syria?'
"Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrestled with this tension personally in the famed poem he wrote on Christmas Day 1863 called, 'Christmas Bells.' Wounded by the recent death of his wife and living with the fear of his son serving in the Civil War, he penned these words that ring true to this very day and which remind us not to give up on the hope that Christmas brings each year."
"And in despair I bowed my head; 'There is no peace on earth,' I said; for hate is strong, and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men! Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: 'God is not dead, nor doth he sleep; the wrongs shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.'"
Father Elias Koucos, priest, Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church, Holladay
"Christ is born again and the angels sing once more: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among all.’ (Luke 2: 14-15).
"The great and sacred day of Christmas has dawned inviting each of us to a spiritual uplifting and encounter with Jesus Christ. He who is without beginning, invisible, incomprehensible, immaterial, ever existing and the same becomes an infant for us and for our salvation. Through his birth, our Lord entered into our humanity, giving us a deeper understanding of our relationship with our Creator and offering us a greater experience of life and being. The Son of God who became a human being for our sakes, the One in our midst who knows our pains and struggles, offers to each of us life and peace.
"This beautiful story of our Lord’s Nativity fills our hearts with tremendous joy. In this marvelous event of God becoming man, he reveals his great love for us and his divine plan to restore our communion with him. Through his incarnation, Christ offered Himself for our total renewal and challenges us to offer in return the same love, hope, and peace he brings.
"Let us open our hearts to him so he may be born in us and let us prayerfully examine our lives so we may build that relationship with him and exhibit to all every day of our lives the same love, hope and peace he brings to us. May you all have a very holy, blessed and joyful Nativity, filled with the love of God and the true life which he offers to us and may he grant us all his richest blessings in the New Year."
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