Each year, New Zealand pauses and gathers to celebrate a story - The Christmas Story.

Although the traditions and activities that have become associated with Christmas sometimes overshadow that story, it is good to take time to remind ourselves of the real reason for the season.

The heart of this event comes to us from the book of Luke, "to you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour who is the Christ, the Lord". Christians believe when Jesus was born in Bethlehem that God entered human history and this world was changed forever.

To celebrate Christmas and neglect this Bible story would be like trying to play rugby without a rugby ball. We would spend a lot of time rushing around getting hot and bothered for nothing. Christmas can quickly degenerate into a "silly season".

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For Christians, Jesus' birth is a key story. Some have become so familiar with this story that we don't hear its teaching and promise.

Many are at risk of growing up and never knowing the real story of Christmas. Behind the events of Christmas lie truths of huge significance for all people wherever they are and however they live.

The story we celebrate is a great mixture of history and symbol; it's full of profound words and colourful imagery, and at its heart it contains a great truth.

"God so loved the world that he gave his only Son ..." We believe that the Christmas story is much bigger than just a cute account of a young couple riding on a donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem and camping out in a stable where their baby was born. It is much bigger than angels singing to shepherds and wise men coming from afar.

We believe that on that first Christmas something of cosmic significance happened. In a way that stretches our mind, the Son of God took off his crown, laid aside his royal robes, stepped down from the throne of heaven, and leaving his glory behind, descended to Earth and became a human baby.

He entered our world to feel our pain, frustrations and disappointment and to point us to God.

God humbled himself. God took on human form; born to a young unmarried couple, acclaimed by poor shepherds and welcomed by foreign wise men, rescued from a violent despot, and then the family had to flee as refugees. God became one of us, and entered human history.

We miss the message of Christmas if we fail to listen to its message about the reality of God and the message about life's purpose to everyone and how we are all a part of it.

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The birth of this baby, God's Son, is the core of the message. The birth of any new child is a time to rejoice and celebrate and renew our hope. A new baby always captivates and touches us; every birth shouts that life can be better; things don't need to be the way they are. A new baby is full of bright possibilities.

Whether we are conscious of it or not, the future of us all rests on the shoulders of the one whose birth we rejoice in on December 25.

The message and spirit of Christmas is an invitation to each of us to join in God's work. It calls us to ponder how we can make a difference in the lives of those who struggle to make ends meet.

And this birth is the creation not only of a child, but a bridge, a connection between God and humanity, between eternal time and our time, between God's ways and our ways, between God's world and our world.

This bridge, this gift of life, this power, is "wrapped in bands of cloth" who comes to bring light and truth, peace and harmony into a world that is cluttered by war and violence, hunger and human displacement, inequality and impoverishment.

Our hearts are touched and troubled to see the plight of parents who can't afford to provide adequate and safe accommodation, warmth and healthy food for themselves and their children, many of whom are forced to live in garages and cars.

God invites and calls us to work with him in his desire for peace, prosperity, justice and harmony.

We remember especially at this time the many people in North Canterbury and Wellington whose lives have been devastated by the recent earthquake - those who grieve the loss of loved ones and those whose homes, business and incomes have been destroyed.

Our hearts go out to them as we consider the enormity of the task that lies ahead for them to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of this tragedy.

There is an opportunity for us to offer our assistance through the various disaster relief agencies that have been set up to help them.

The message and spirit of Christmas is an invitation to each of us to join in God's work. It calls us to ponder how we can make a difference in the lives of those who struggle to make ends meet.

The smallest acts of kindness and hospitality can bring hope and healing to a lonely person. Opportunities abound for us to offer assistance to the many agencies that provide gifts and sustenance to the families and children who do not have the means to enjoy the festivities of this Christmas season that we take for granted.

This is what the deep message of Christmas is all about. It goes beyond the mere words that wish people peace and joy. It challenges us to move beyond our comfort zone and reach out in tangible ways that will bring real hope and consolation into the lives of those who are suffering.

May a happy and blessed Christmas be yours. Our prayer is that you and all the people of the Auckland region will experience the hope and peace that is the essence of the Christmas story.

Church Leaders

•Pastor Paul Allen-Baines, Auckland District Chairman, Congregational Union
•Rev Dr Neville Bartle, National Superintendent, Church of the Nazarene
•Rt Rev Ross Bay, Anglican Bishop of Auckland
•Pastor Luke Brough, National Leader, Elim Churches
•Mr Glyn Carpenter, National Director, New Zealand Christian Network
•Pastor Paul de Jong, Senior Pastor, LIFE
•Pastor Jonathan Dove, Senior Pastor, Greenlane Christian Centre
•Most Rev Patrick Dunn, Catholic Bishop of Auckland
•Mr David Goold, on behalf of the Christian Community Churches of NZ (serving the Open Brethren)
•Pastor Ken Harrison, Senior Pastor, Harvest Christian Church , Papakura AOGNZ
•Pastor Dr Brian Hughes, Senior Pastor, Calvary Chapel
•Major Stephen Jarvis, Divisional Commander, The Salvation Army
•Rev Kok Soon Lee, Auckland Chinese Churches Association
•Very Rev Jo Kelly-Moore, Dean, Auckland Cathedral of the Holy Trinity
•Pastor Joe Kummerow, Auckland Leader, Lutheran Church
•Rev Andrew Marshall, National Director, Alliance Churches of New Zealand
•Pastor Bruce Monk, National Leader, Acts Churches
•Pastor Sam Monk, Senior Pastor, Equippers Church
•Pastor Peter Mortlock, Senior Pastor, City Impact Church
•Rev Margaret Anne Low, Moderator, Northern Presbytery, Presbyterian Church.
•Pastor Lloyd Rankin, National Director, Vineyard Churches
•Pastor Dean Rush, Senior Leader, C3 Church Auckland
•Pastor Jim Shaw, New Life Churches Apostolic team
•Pastor Allan Taylor, Northern Baptist Association
•Pastor Eddie Tupa'i, President, North New Zealand Conference, Seventh-day Adventist Church
•Rev Dr Richard Waugh, National Superintendent, Wesleyan Methodist Church
•Rev Marilyn Welch, Auckland Manukau Northland Superintendent, Methodist Church