These days, when people think of Christmas, they think of Santa Claus and reindeers, gifts, and maybe even a festive elf or two. But if these figures are all that remind people of the holidays, then Pastor Greg Laurie of Harvest Christian Fellowship said they are appreciating nothing more than a "fake Christmas."
In an op-ed piece for World Net Daily, Laurie said that people have made Christmas almost "too beautiful" to be real nowadays, and the Nativity story has been bathed "in blue light with music swelling in the background."
"It's all wonderful, but sometimes I think we've missed the raw power of the story by making it almost sentimental," he said. "We've romanticized Christmas or even homogenized it, taking the real edge off the story that God Almighty came down from heaven to be born on the floor of a stable. To think that God did all this for us is more powerful than any romanticized version of Christmas."
Laurie said the truth of the matter was that Jesus Christ was born at a very dark time in Israel. Jews were living under the harsh leadership of the Roman empire, and there was even "400 years of icy silence from heaven."
"There was no prophet speaking for God, nor were there any angels bringing messages from God. There were no miracles being performed. Nothing was happening. There was just chaos and violence and misery," Laurie said. "The people were living in a time filled with evil and untold suffering, a time filled with violence, oppression and injustice."
Things are different now, the pastor added, but it's still important that people be reminded of the true meaning of Christmas. "You have a choice this year: Either you can have a real Christmas, or you can have a fake Christmas. Either you can have the fake version, or you can have the real version with Christ himself living inside of you," he sad.
"God is offering to forgive you of all your sins. God is offering to give you a second chance in life. God is offering you a ticket to heaven, a guaranteed reservation. He is saying this can all be yours if you will reach out and accept his gift," he added.
Earlier, evangelist Billy Graham also offered his thoughts on the true meaning of Christmas. He said there are more than a few ways for families to remember God during the busy holiday season. "If your church has a Christmas Eve service, make a special effort to attend. Before you and your family go to bed tonight, take a few minutes to read together one of the accounts of Jesus' birth (Matthew 2 or Luke 2)," he wrote on his website.
He added that people should make it a point to pray to God and thank Him for the huge sacrifice He made - sending His Son to die for the world's sins. Even as people enjoy opening their presents, Graham said that they should be reminded of the best Christmas gift ever - the gift of Jesus.