By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor
(CNN) - President Barack Obama delivered an unusually stark Christian message at the White House Christmas tree lighting Thursday night, saying Christ's message "lies at the heart of my Christian faith and that of millions of Americans."
"More than 2,000 years ago, a child was born to two faithful travelers who could find rest only in a stable, among the cattle and the sheep," Obama said at the tree lighting ceremony, a longstanding White House tradition.
"But this was not just any child," Obama continued. "Christ’s birth made the angels rejoice and attracted shepherds and kings from afar. He was a manifestation of God’s love for us."
Obama has been more public and specific about his religious beliefs since polls last year showed that only a minority of Americans know he is Christian. Last Easter, Obama got unusually specific about his beliefs on Christ's resurrection at a White House prayer breakfast.
Some conservative Christian leaders have questioned Obama's Christian faith, even though Obama got his start in politics through church-based political organizing and has written about accepting Jesus in his 20s.
Last month, South Carolina Christian conservative leader Bob Jones III told a reporter “I’ve no reason to think (Obama is) Christian."
“Some people will say whatever they think the politically helpful thing would be,” Jones said. “I say, ‘Where is the evidence that he is a Christian?’ ”
In his remarks at Thursday's tree lighting, Obama said that Jesus "grew up to become 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."
"So long as the gifts and the parties are happening, it’s important for us to keep in mind the central message of this season," he said, "and keep Christ’s words not only in our thoughts, but also in our deeds."