As Christians around the world prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ, Southern California pastor and evangelist Greg Laurie reminded believers that Jesus pre-existed before Bethlehem.
"Bethlehem is when the incarnation took place – when God became a man," Laurie preached at Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif., on Sunday. "But that is not when Jesus came into being because Jesus being God has always been and he always will be."
The well-known evangelist emphasized that before there even was a world, there was Jesus. He was "co-equal, co-eternal, co-existent with the Father and the Holy Spirit."
What Christians celebrate on Christmas is the day Jesus "left the safety of heaven and entered our world, breathed our air, shared our pain, and walked in our shoes."
"And then he lived our life and he died our death."
In other words, "Christmas is the story of an arrival and it's also the story of a departure [from heaven]," Laurie explained.
Laurie preached to a congregation of around 15,000 and thousands more who watched on the Internet this past weekend.
To make his point that Christ existed even before the nativity, Laurie pointed to several "Christophanies" or occasions recorded in the Bible when Christ appeared before his birth in Bethlehem.
The first Christophany occurs in the first book of the Bible, Genesis, when Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, Isaac. The Angel of the Lord intervened just as Abraham stretched out his hand to slay his son. Laurie believes that was Jesus himself intervening.
Other pre-Bethlehem appearances include the accounts where Jacob wrestles with the Angel of the Lord before crossing the ford of Jabbok; where Samson's mother is met by the Angel of the Lord who tells her she will conceive; and where Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown into a fiery furnace but came out unhurt after being seen walking with another man in the fire.
The Harvest pastor made clear that he can't guarantee that these are Christophanies and noted that this was his opinion.
Nevertheless, he underscored that "Jesus has always been there."
"Was there a Jesus before the nativity? Yes."