Retired Pastor and member Allan J. Schoonover
Star Valley United Church
The gospel of Mark begins with these words, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
In the world in which we live and the times in which we live, I believe that everyone is looking for good news. News filled with hope in the midst of despair, light in the midst of darkness, forgiveness in the midst of mistakes, and love that fills our hearts and souls.
There is no better news for us this time of year than knowing that “love” came down at Christmas.
It is more than a story, it is more than great hymns and carols, it’s more than the exchange of gifts; it is the most important gift that we will ever be given—God becoming a human and living amongst us.
It is important to know the story in the Scriptures, but it’s even more important to know that God became one of us. Love came down at Christmas, it’s more than a saying, it’s more than a word, it’s God and the human-being totally understanding us, wanting to get close to us, and understanding what we go through and what we need.
In the Christmas story in Luke, Luke tells us that Jesus was born in a barn in a feed trough, where there was no room for him in the inn. If he can be born in a cold barn, there is absolutely no where that he cannot come…and come he does. Even without us asking. He comes to accept us unconditionally, to bring unlimited forgiveness, and a bright shining light that can never be put out.
In John’s gospel he says, “The Word became a human being and lived among us full of grace and truth.” If there has ever been a moment in history, when we need a clear picture of truth, it’s seen in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
If you want to know the truth about what it means to be a human-being, you look to Jesus’ life and you see the truth about what it means to be human. To follow him, to participate in his love, is what life is all about. So celebrate the gift of Jesus at Christmas by taking His love into your life and sharing it with everyone on the planet.
God loves you and so do we!
Afton Wyoming Stake
Celebrating Christmas has been much different for me this year. It has been more meaningful, purposeful, and I have felt more connected to heaven with a greater appreciation for the gift of our Savior Jesus Christ than I can ever remember.
One reason I feel a difference this year has been because of the absolute privilege I had to work with some amazing people who organized and presented a “Journey Through Bethlehem” activity in Star Valley. Preparations for this activity began nearly one year ago. Regular meetings held throughout the year created opportunities to look forward to our Christmas celebration with hope and anticipation. We even sang Christmas carols in June! In a very real way, I felt the spirit of Christmas all year. I can’t help but think about the faithful followers of our Father in Heaven in ancient times, and how they also looked forward to the coming of a Savior whose mission it was to fulfill the law and to make salvation available to all men, women, and children. I feel I have a better understanding of the joy they must have felt at our Savior’s birth and I now look forward to His coming again with greater hope and anticipation.
There were times throughout this activity where I observed individuals offering selfless service toward others as our Savior would do. I felt the Holy Spirit bless and consecrate the hard work put forth by so many in an effort to worship and glorify Jesus Christ. I saw the wonder and amazement of so many who came to participate in this activity with the purpose of feeling closer to our Savior and to express appreciation for all that Jesus Christ has done for us. And somehow, with all the wonder and amazement that the decorations, costumes, entertainers and food that the little recreation of Bethlehem could provide, it did not compare to the experience of feeling the Holy Spirit and the expressions gratitude I had for the gift of Jesus Christ as I did when sitting in quiet reflection at the live nativity in a manger scene.
This activity made the celebration of Christmas more personal to me and it was an experience I will never forget.
However, for all the amazing memories and feelings that Journey Through Bethlehem provided for me, I also learned a very important lesson this year: In the eyes of our Father in Heaven and our Savior Jesus Christ, it is less about the activity and more about the heart. The wise men offered gifts to Jesus Christ as an expression of love, appreciation, and as help for Joseph’s little family. The shepherds adored the baby Jesus and shared the good news of our Savior’s birth to others. The widow, who threw in her mites, “cast in all that she had, even all her living.” (Mark 12:44) In our day, our Savior asks that we offer a broken heart and a contrite spirit. (3 Nephi 12:19)
Christmas is a wonderful time to renew our commitment to offer our hearts more completely to God, to love and to serve others in a manner that is more consistent with the example of our Savior Jesus Christ and to be more grateful for the wondrous gifts of love, forgiveness, and mercy that He has for all of us. I pray for the Lord’s blessings to be upon all of us as we strive to do so.
Emmanuel Bible church
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us
Since 1996 when the Lord called my family to come to Star Valley from Cody to serve as Pastor of Emmanuel Bible church in Thayne I have written an article for the Christmas edition of the Independent. Every year I sit and think a bit about what to say, wonder if anyone really even reads it and then try my best to rehash a blessed truth about the Savior’s birth. I suppose it’s no different this year. Looking out at fields awash in fresh snow, cradling a cup of warm java in my hands I feel overwhelmed with gratitude at the old story- God becoming flesh, living a humble yet perfect life, dying a sacrificial death and rising triumphant on the third day. Angels coming to announce His birth, shepherds staring aghast at the new born child, a virgin mother’s wonder and a mystified father. Magi with gifts, Herod’s jealous rage, Prophets proclamations and a manger holding the King of Kings. Sometimes the hustle and hurry robs me of the wonder. My wife and I have been so blessed to have raised our children and now to see our grandchildren grow up in this wonderful valley we call home. Sometimes just watching my little grandkids stare in wonder at the tree and relish each moment of the season reminds me anew of the message of the old carol: “Joy to the World, the Lord has come, let earth receive her King!” and so to each of you in whatever circumstance you find yourself this year- a Merry Christmas as you remember the birth of the One who came to save us from our sin.
Warren Jones, Pastor
Morning Star Baptist Church
I have thought often lately about the passage in Matthew 37 where Jesus is quoted as saying, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem! … How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings…” What a beautiful glimpse into the heart of God! His greatest desire is draw close to us, and to draw us close to Himself. And that desire is at the heart of our celebrations of Christmas. Knowing we could not reach up to Him, that in our best and finest efforts we could never hope to approach Him, He came to be one of us. Now THAT’S cause for celebration!
And I hope you will join Morning Star in that celebration this Christmas! We will observe a two-part musical Celebration of the King’s Coming. Part 1 will be presented at 4 pm on Friday, December 23rd, with Part 2 presented on Christmas Day at 10 am. Please join us for either or both of these times of Christmas caroling and contemplative music. To find our Worship Center, turn north at Driftwood Pizzeria in Alpine onto Morning Star Drive and look for the steeple. I look forward to celebrating together!
Baha’i Faith in Star Valley
The members of the Baha’i Faith in Star Valley wish one and all a joyous Christmas season and peaceful New Year. It is a joyous time because Christ’s life and teachings transformed the world.
Baha’u’llah, Prophet of the Baha’i Faith, wrote “We testify that when He [Jesus Christ] came into the world, He shed the splendor of His glory upon all created things. Through Him the leper recovered from the leprosy of perversity and ignorance. Through Him the unchaste and wayward were healed. Through His power, born of Almighty God, the eyes of the blind were opened and the soul of the sinner sanctified…. He it is Who purified the world. Blessed is the man who, with a face beaming with light, hath turned towards Him”
The center of Jesus Christ’s teachings is love. Christ’s teachings about love transformed our relationship to God and to each other. Love for God, love for others: stranger, friend and even enemy. In Matthew, Chapter 22, Christ states that the greatest commandment is to love God, the second commandment is “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” This love is not so much about an emotion as an action. How one treats another. In Matthew Chapter 25, Christ explains that those who treat others with kindness and generosity are even as if they are doing this for Christ.
The purpose of religion is to bring God’s will to earth. In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray “Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” The transformation of the world is still happening when we put Christ’s and God’s teaching into practice. It is through our actions that we demonstrate our faith. During this Christmas season, let us rededicate ourselves to doing God’s will on earth. Love one another. Be kind. Be generous. Listen to understand, not to rebut. In this way, we can transform our relationships and our community.
May the joy of the season inspire all of us to fulfill Christ’s teachings about love.
Pastor Amo Stephens
Baptist Community Church
The Greatest Day In History
There are many days in history that men may call great, most Americans would suggest July 4, 1776, many folks might say the day the Civil War; ended, others might say the day their state entered and became one of the 50 states that made up America.
But as a believer, I would say as great as those days were, they do not compare to the day that angels announced the birth of Jesus. The Bible tells us that Angels announced to Mary and Joseph that they were to have a baby, and not just any baby, but the miracle birth of Jesus. I know that when people learn they are going to have a baby, there is real excitement in the air, but think, if when your baby was born, that God the Father in Heaven, sent angels to announce that birth to poor shepherds and to adorn the sky with a special star, and announced that the child born that night and laid in a manger, because there was no room in the inn, that babe did not have a fancy crib but God sent the greatest chior ever to sernade lowly shepherds and a star to guide unknown wise men to Bethlehem.
This gift of God would be an eternal Saviour to all believers from Adam and Eve to any who would accept Him, rich or poor, young or old, He was the greatest gift the world has ever known.
River of Life Star Valley
As we gather together with loved ones for Christmas it is easy to forget about the importance of the birth of Christ. We get caught up in planning feasts, making travel arrangements, and trying to get all the gifts purchased and wrapped. We allow these things to distract us from what is truly important. Although we enjoy spending time with friends and family, eating good food, the giving and receiving of gifts, the truth is that none of these things compare to what God did for mankind and the true reason we celebrate Christmas. Jesus the Son of God, the great I Am, the creator of Heaven and Earth was born with a purpose. He was to come down to earth as both man and God and offer Himself up on the cross to take away the sins of the world. This He did willingly, His desire was for mankind to no longer be separated from God. The only way that would be possible is with a perfect sacrifice that only God could fulfill. He did not have to do this, but chose to do this out of His great love for His creation. If you are reading this, I want you to know that God truly loves you. He loves you so much that He has a gift for you that was paid in full upon a cross. John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” This gift from God we cannot afford, we do not deserve it and we can never acquire it on our own. The gift of Jesus Christ is far greater than what this holiday has turned into. This precious gift from God is eternal life with Him in heaven. Jesus is the greatest gift ever offered and like a gift you must take hold of it. In all the busyness that this holiday has become, stop for a minute and reflect on all that God has done for mankind and the importance of Jesus’ sacrificial gift for us. There is no greater time than now to start a relationship with God. I assure you that He is waiting for you and desires a relationship with you. He already knows you, make it a point during this time to get to know Him.
Merry Christmas and God bless.