WASHINGTON, Dec. 1 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama said Thursday the message of Christ "can unite all of us on this holiday season."
Speaking at the lighting of the National Christmas Tree at the Ellipse in Washington, the president said "we gather here not simply to light some decorations, but to honor a story that lights the world."
Obama said Christ was "a manifestation of God's love for us" who became "a leader with a servant's heart who taught us a message as simple as it is powerful: that we should love God, and love our neighbor as ourselves."
"That teaching has come to encircle the globe," the president said. "It has endured for generations. And today, it lies at the heart of my Christian faith and that of millions of Americans. No matter who we are, or where we come from, or how we worship, it's a message that can unite all of us on this holiday season."
Obama called on Americans to "keep in mind the central message of this season, and keep Christ's words not only in our thoughts, but also in our deeds."
"In this season of hope, let's help those who need it most -- the homeless, the hungry, the sick and shut in. In this season of plenty, let's reach out to those who struggle to find work or provide for their families. In this season of generosity, let's give thanks and honor to our troops and our veterans, and their families who've sacrificed so much for us. And let's welcome all those who are happily coming home."
The tree lighting ceremony featured appearances by the popular Muppet character Kermit the Frog, TV host Carson Daly and the band Big Time Rush.
The national tree is smaller than the one it replaces, which blew down in a storm in February.