Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said Jesus Christ is the point of Christmas during a sermon in reference to his Christmas ad, which has come under fire for its frank religious tone.
"Sometimes in the middle of Christmas, Jesus is the one person who's tough to find. You can find Santa at every mall. You can find discount in every store," Huckabee said at the 25,000-stong Cornerstone Church in San Antonio on Sunday, according to Fox News. "But if you mention the name of Jesus, as I found out recently, it upsets the whole world. Forgive me, but I thought that was the point of the whole day."
The former Arkansas governor began running a new ad last week in several of the primary states in which he wishes American voters of all faiths a "Merry Christmas." In the ad, he references the birth of Christ as the Christmas carol "Silent Night" plays in the background and a cross-like image glows behind him, which he explains is just bookshelves.
"I got in a little trouble this last week because I actually had the audacity to say 'Merry Christmas.' Isn't that an odd thing to say at this time of year," Huckabee said during his 30-minute sermon to a nearly full 5,500-seat auditorium.
The former Arkansas governor was said to receive a 30 second standing ovation and copious applause for his refusal to apologize for referencing Jesus Christ in his Christmas ad, according to Fox News.
Huckabee has surged in state polls in Iowa and South Carolina riding on the support of evangelicals. He has made several stops at churches to deliver sermon while on the campaign trail, but Huckabee clarified that his speaking at Cornerstone was not about politics.
"I have to remind people there's a time for political things and this is not one of them," said the ordained Baptist preacher. "Trouble is when you've been a Baptist pastor and then you run for office, you become a political person. People get real nervous when you show up for church."
He said people usually think about two things when they see a pastor and a politician, "you're going to be here a long time" and that he is "going to ask for money," Huckabee joked.
His sermon focused on the meaning of the Christmas story.
"The great truth of Christmas is that no matter how good we are, we're not good enough to know God without the Christ," Huckabee preached, according to The Associated Press. "And no matter how bad…we are not so bad that he cannot find us."
"So while some people seem to want us to lose Jesus, I would like for us to do our best to find him," Huckabee said at the megachurch founded by televangelist John Hagee.
Hagee is nationally known for his staunch support of Israel and is the founder of Christians United for Israel.
"One hundred years from now when all your worries are over, if your faith is in that child in Bethlehem born that day, and you've taken yourself off the throne and you've decided you'd rather be a shepherd than a Herod, then the good news for you is, when the game is over no matter what It looks like now, you win in the end. That is the message of Christmas so I say to you, Merry Christmas! Jesus is Lord!" Huckabee said.
The Republican presidential hopeful said he will return to his home in Arkansas for Christmas before hitting the campaign trail again ahead of the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses.