Community, tradition, self-betterment, and a love towards their higher power and other people are a common theme I’ve seen among the religions we’ve included in this article. I’ve just scratched the surface learning about Faith Baptist Church in Layton, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Jewish faith, and Catholic faith. However you celebrate this holiday season, we hope you will make good memories, strengthen bonds of love between friends and family, and perhaps connect with your community in a new way this year. Of the faiths we talk about here, I went into more depth with the first two religions because, with the help of the community, I found people to interview. Pastor Chuck Beikel and President Scott Nussbaum serve the Syracuse community and and I hope you feel their goodness as you read about the faiths they represent. In my opinion, we have some amazing people who serve the Syracuse community. Happy holidays!
Faith Baptist Church
“It’s hard for us to talk about Christmas without looking at the big picture,” said Pastor Chuck Beikel, the pastor for the Faith Baptist Church in Layton. “We celebrate the birth of Jesus but it’s impossible to celebrate his birth without talking about why he came. This world needs a Savior. In order to be a Savior, you have to be able to save, to be able to save, you have to be able to forgive, and to be able to forgive, you have to be God. Jesus isn’t just the best baby who was born; he is God in the flesh. When we think of Christmas, it’s a huge wonderful celebration but it’s bigger than the birth of Christ. …He came to die for our sins because he loves us that much. He died for our sins so we can be born again.”
The Faith Baptist Church has Christmas sermons on a couple of Sundays in December. Their services start at 10:30 a.m. and it is open for anyone to attend. They also always have a musical drama they put together for the community, and this year, it will be on Dec. 14 and 15 at 6 p.m. “Normally, one of our people writes a play or a drama and we have a lot of special music that goes with it.”
Pastor Beikel talked about how easy it is to get overwhelmed with all the expectations that society puts on people during the holiday season. It might be the expectation to give the perfect gift, to give more than you’re able, get the decorations just right or have the perfect four-course meal ready when the family comes over. “That’s not what Christmas is all about!” Their Christmas drama is a way to help people refocus on Jesus during the holiday season.
Pastor Beikel said a way to make this holiday season more meaningful is to take a minute and ask the Lord who he wants to bless through you…then go do it. This is one of his favorite Christmas memories:
“I went to the bank and got five $20 bills and brought them home.” He gave one to each member of his family and they prayed together to know who to give them to. Earlier that day, Pastor Beikel stopped by the newly opened Texas Roadhouse in Layton to see what their hours were. While there, he saw a woman rushing out of the restaurant who was crying. He forgot about the experience until later that evening while they were at dinner there. Each of his kids still had their $20 but they didn’t have an idea of who they wanted to give them to yet. Chuck asked their waitress to get her manager and asked if there was anyone who worked there who was a single mom or maybe having a hard day. The manager said he had someone in mind. A woman started her first day of work that day. She was a single mom and the father of their child was supposed to pick up their son from school that day. While at work, she got a call from the school telling her that her boy was left waiting at the school. It turns out this was the woman he saw crying as she left the restaurant when Chuck stopped by earlier. She was rushing to pick up her son and probably thought her job security was jeopardized.
The manager asked how he could help and Chuck asked him to bring an envelope. While the manager was away, Chuck told his kids he was going to give his $20 to this woman, and each of his kids eagerly contributed their $20’s. “After the manager gave her the envelope she came out crying and asking, how did you pick me? I told her we didn’t pick her, the Lord picked her. I don’t think my kids will ever forget that.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
“The greatest gift is God sent his Only Begotten Son to sacrifice himself for us that we might be redeemed,” said President Scott Nussbaum, the Stake President of the Syracuse South Stake. “It’s more than about his birth, but what his birth represents. The Savior was sent to make it possible for imperfect people in a fallen world to return to live with our Heavenly Father. We rejoice because He lives and loves us and we can still have a personal relationship with Him. I’m forever grateful that with my weaknesses and imperfections, the grace of Jesus Christ is there.”
There are many events this church hosts during the Christmas season that are open to anyone. At Temple Square in Salt Lake City, you can see Christmas lights and nativities or attend musical performances and plays celebrating the birth and life of Jesus. Nussbaum explained, “At a more local level, there are generally parties with our congregations, or wards. Neighbors and friends are more than welcome to attend and enjoy each other’s company, and asking a neighbor who is a member of the church is the best way to find out when and where one is happening.” It’s a great way to get to know your neighbors, since congregations are determined by geographic location.
Family is central in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; for members of this faith, worshiping as families is something that takes place in the home and at church. “Some of the neatest traditions are the simple, sacred ones in families such as reading scripture together and singing Christmas music,” said President Nussbaum. On Christmas Eve, he and his family gather with extended family at his aunt’s house and reenact the nativity. “We also sing together with our varying degrees of talent.”
Service is also central to the holiday spirit. Nussbaum said, “The church is trying to unite members, friends, and neighbors and make Christmas a season of service through a campaign to light the world.” At comeuntochrist.org/light-the-world, you can sign up to receive text message prompts for ways you can serve others each day leading up to Christmas. You can see ways others are lighting the world if you search #LightTheWorld on social media.
President Nussbaum hopes people will make Christmas about Christ. “Learn about him, love him and pray to God. Understand we have a loving Heavenly Father who answers prayers. There is help and hope. Our Savior taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves and we would love to help our neighbors to come to know Christ. Just ask.”
Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights, is a Jewish religious holiday celebrated in December. The Jewish faith doesn’t celebrate Christmas, but Hanukkah is a minor holiday that falls at around the same time.
When Judah and the Maccabees defeated Antiochus and his army, they took back their temple and began to clean it up. They found a container of oil and they knew it would only be enough to feed a flame for one night. Instead, the oil lasted for 8 days and 8 nights, and the people saw the miracle as a sign that God was with them. This is why the Jewish people light one candle each night during the Hanukkah celebration.
David Geller is a member of the faith and he said families with small children typically celebrate Hanukkah by giving a gift each night of Hanukkah. He also said families typically celebrate one night with a big family dinner; other nights they make and eat fried potato pancakes.
The Hanukkiah, or Menorah, is the stand that holds the 9 candles. The 9th candle stands in the middle and is known as the Shamash or helper. It is used to light the other candles each night.
I’m sure many of you have heard of advent calendars and maybe have some sort of fun way to count down to Christmas. The Catholic tradition of Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas and it is a way members prepare themselves for the birth of Christ. Penance, charity, giving to those in need, and self-betterment are all part of the process. The Catholic faith urges Christians to make Jesus the center of all celebrations during Christmas and gift themselves to others, especially the marginalized.
During his General Audience of Dec. 27, 2017, Pope Francis said the lights, sounds, various local traditions, including food, all go to create the atmosphere of a true Christmas, only if Jesus is the center. He said we can welcome God’s gift of Jesus by giving of ourselves to those we encounter. “Those who receive the gift of Jesus come to know God’s saving grace and the promise of a new life, based no longer on selfishness but on self-giving love.” The Saint Rose of Lima Parish holds mass on Sunday at 8 a.m. in English, 10:30 a.m. in English, and 12:30 p.m. in Spanish.
Regardless of your beliefs, we hope your holiday season is one filled with love, hope, time with family and community.