Told in Matthew 1 and 2 and Luke 2, the story of the birth of Jesus Christ is greatly at odds with the grandiose Christmases that many Americans celebrate.
But the Revs. Terry Wright and Erik Stadler say it is only to be expected because Christmas is often more about Santa Claus, reindeer, Frosty the Snowman and expensive gifts.
“Our country has made it about everything except what it’s supposed to be about,” said the Rev. Terry Wright, retired pastor of Westover Baptist Church. “In fact, we’ve left out the whole story of Christmas.
“It should focus on the birth of Christ, being born of a virgin, God’s becoming flesh and growing among men, emphasizing the nature and deity of Christ.”
Wright is a native Odessan whose parents Terrell and Jean drove him and his brother and sister the 560 miles to Hope, Ark., most years in the 1950s and ‘60s to spend the holiday with their grandparents and other relatives.
“We gave and received gifts, but we were also told the Christmas story about Jesus,” he said. “We ate a lot of good food and attended church on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
“I don’t think there is anything wrong with Santa Claus, but there should be more emphasis on the spiritual aspects. We have put the wrong things first and lost our focus.”
Wright said more importance should also be placed on giving toys to poor children and food and clothing to impoverished families. “My parents and grandparents were very generous people,” he said.
“They were always giving to others.”
Wright’s family attended Northside Baptist Church.
The Rev. Stadler said there are several striking aspects of the Christmas story, one of them being that Joseph and Mary walked 90 miles south from Nazareth to register for the census in Bethlehem when Mary was about 16 years old and nine months pregnant.
“They had to walk all the way because they were very poor,” said Stadler, pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church. “They didn’t own a donkey.
“Then there was the humble birth in a manger. Jesus was born in a place where animals were kept and there was manure. Just after the birth, the angels told the shepherds to go check this out, so Joseph and Mary had a whole bunch of strange men coming in to see their child in the middle of the night.
“The amazing thing is that this little child was also God.”
Stadler said the story means that the greatest grandeur is in humility.
“Jesus was not born in a palace or with the religious leaders,” he said. “He was born to common people. Joseph is described as a carpenter, but he was probably more like a day laborer, a jack of all trades doing what he could, really an everyman.
“God humbled himself to come to earth in these simple circumstances. It shows that he is the God for everybody.”