Greg Laurie, pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California, says that to avoid having a "fake Christmas," it's important to keep Christ at the center of the holiday season.
In a recent op-ed published in World Net Daily, Laurie contended that while you can have Christmas without holiday fixtures like Santa and his elves, Frosty the snowman, and Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, you cannot have a real Christmas without Jesus.
"Otherwise, it's a fake Christmas," he said.
The pastor lamented that today, we have made Christmas" almost "too beautiful," bathing the Nativity story "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."
In reality, Jesus came at a very dark time in Israel, when the Jews were living under the bondage of the Roman empire. Even worse - there had been "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 pointed out. "The people were living in a time filled with evil and untold suffering, a time filled with violence, oppression and injustice."
It was during this dark time that God sent his only son into the world: "He walked among us as a man - a sinless man. He lived our life and died our death. He did come to this earth. That is what we celebrate at Christmas. It's a time to honor the One who was born with God's people," the pastor said, adding that one day, Jesus will come again -- this time in glory.
Laurie acknowledged that it's easy to get stressed out this time of year - but Jesus encourages people to come to him and find rest.
"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."
In a message posted on the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association's website on Monday, evangelist Billy Graham encouraged people to "look beyond the advertising and the crowded stores, and discover instead the true meaning of Christmas."
"If you have never been in a Christian church, take time to attend a Christmas service at a church near you; you would be warmly welcomed," he said. "In addition, I encourage you to find a Bible and read about the birth and life of Jesus in the section called the New Testament.
He added, "The reason is because He was the Son of God, who came down from Heaven to save us from our sins. As the Bible says, 'No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son ... has made him known" (John 1:18).'"
Earlier, the 99-year-old evangelist shared three tips for keeping Christ at the center of Christmas celebrations.
"First, set aside time each day to focus on that first Christmas," he wrote. "When you eat together as a family, pause not only to thank God for the gift of your food, but to thank Him for
His greatest gift-the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ. In addition, each day set aside a few minutes to read about the birth of Jesus from the Bible. (You can find this in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2.)"
Second, look ahead during the next few weeks, and set aside time for something special. It could something simple, like a Christmas concert or Christmas pageant in your church.
"Make sure you also attend your church's regular services during the Christmas season; this will help you focus on Christ," Graham advised.
Third, look ahead to next year, the pastor said.
"Plan your time more wisely, so you don't fall into the same trap a year from now. Most of all, let this Christmas be the beginning of a journey for your family that lasts all year long-a journey with Christ. The Bible says that after the shepherds had seen Jesus, 'they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child' (Luke 2:17)."