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Celebration of love

Christmas means different things to different people.

For some, it’s a time to exchange gifts. For others, it’s a time to gather with family and share a meal. And still for some, it may be a little of both.

But, whatever Pike County’s residents are doing to celebrate this Christmas Eve, local pastors urge residents to keep their focus on the Christian Christmas message.

Hope, joy, sacrifice —They may have had different words to describe the Christmas meaning, but for three local pastors the message really was simple — it’s a celebration of love.

Love, that is, from God.

“The main message I try to emphasize is to know how much God loves us,” said Pastor of Park Memorial Methodist Church Danny Arnold. “Most people don’t really know how much we’re loved.”

The Biblical story is likely familiar to most — Jesus was born in a manger, raised by a carpenter, crucified on a cross and became the savior of the world.

And, it’s a message these pastors are trying to make clear as the Christmas season draws in.

“It’s not just the fact he came, but it’s what he did when he came,” said Pastor of Southside Baptist Church Bo Weed. “Jesus didn’t stay in the manger. He grew up, lived a sinless life and died.

“If he had stayed a baby, it wouldn’t have helped us.”

Arnold said it’s important to allow the celebration of the birth of Christ to lead to the paschal story.

“To truly understand Christmas, you have to understand Easter,” Arnold said. “It’s not just a sentimental time, but it’s a time to remember God put upon flesh to save us, and if we know that, we know how much we’re loved.”

And, Chad Teal, pastor of God’s Way Baptist Church, echoed his fellow preachers.

“It’s simply: Jesus Christ was born to die for the sins of mankind,” Teal said. “That’s the message of Christmas. Christ was born to die.”

At all three of these churches, the preachers have been spending weeks to prepare the hearts of the congregation for Christmas Day.

“It’s certainly easy to lose focus trying to get gifts and cook,” Teal said. “Even as a pastor it’s easy to get caught up in other things, but that’s one of the responsibilities I have is to bring our attention back to our Lord Jesus Christ.”

“It’s a battle for believers,” added Weed. “It’s a struggle for us to battle the spirit of materialism. He wants to change our focus.”

And though they all carry the same message, each of these churches has a different way of celebrating Christmas.

At God’s Way Baptist Church, they have celebrated this past Sunday with a festival of lights service and a live nativity scene, and on Christmas Eve, Teal said he will preach from the second chapter of Luke.

Park Memorial Methodist Church has spent the last four weeks celebrating advent, lighting a candle each week to prepare to remember Christ’s birth.

And, though they didn’t celebrate with Advent, Weed said he has preached a Christmas message for the last few weeks in preparation.

Both of those churches also will have Christmas Eve services tonight.