The Holy Spirit and Christmas
The connection between the Holy Spirit and Christmas is not immediately obvious; however, in this study I propose that there would be no Christmas without the Holy Spirit. Of course, when I say "Christmas" I am not referring to the public holiday, shopping frenzy, Santa Clause version of Christmas. What I refer to is the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the actual birth of Christ, and how this connection brings the peace to men mentioned in the writings of both Luke and the Apostle Paul.
Peace in Luke's Account
In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
"Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased."
- Luke 2:8-14
When Luke recorded the scene with the shepherds at Jesus' birth, he was referring to a relational type of peace that Christ was to bring on earth. Verse 14 has been misinterpreted to mean several things that it doesn't. One of the most common of these is that Jesus' birth brings peace between people, thus explaining why there is a feeling of goodwill at Christmas time.
Another misunderstanding is that God is pleased with only some, and Jesus was sent for them. This is a Calvinist idea proposing that only those chosen by God can be saved and Jesus was sent for these people alone (the ones God is pleased with). These misinterpretations and misunderstandings have blurred the real meaning of the "peace" that Luke talks about in these verses. The "peace" that the gospel writer refers to is a cessation of hostilities between God and man that have been going on since the beginning of time. From the day Adam sinned by disobeying God's command, all men have been separated and hostile towards God because of their sins.
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.
- Romans 5:12
Whether they wish to or not, all men are slaves to sin, separated from God, and doomed to be condemned for it at the judgement.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God;
- Romans 3:23
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- Romans 6:23
For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.
- Romans 7:14-15
This is a terrible predicament to be in:
- To know that sinning leads to condemnation and death, and yet be powerless to stop sinning.
- To realize that knowing this truth is not enough to save one from its consequences.
However, one day a child is born in Bethlehem. A child who has a Divine source and mission (John 1:1; 14; 3:16). The Son of God comes to this earth clothed in a human body. His mission is to live a perfect and sinless life and then offer that life as a payment for the moral debt of all humankind from Adam to the very last human being born on this earth before it is destroyed by fire on the last day (II Peter 3:10-11). By doing this, He will remove the sins that separate man from God. There will now be a way for peace between God and mankind to exist. There will still be sin and men will continue to be powerless to completely overcome their sinful natures. However, there will now be a payment for those sins and a continual effective cleansing of sinners through the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ.
By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
- Hebrews 10:10
Because of Jesus and what He has done, the evil, the bad blood, the war that has separated God and man has been removed, cleansed, made right…and God can once again be at peace with man. The angels rejoiced in anticipation what Jesus would ultimately accomplish for man - peace between himself and God.
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
- Romans 8:1
Now a more accurate reading of, "…with whom He is pleased." would be, "…with men of goodwill." The idea is that all those who would seek the "good will" of God would find the "peace" that Jesus was sent to establish. This "peace" was available for everyone, but obtained only by those who sought it through Jesus Christ.
For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall.
- Ephesians 2:14
Peace in Paul's Epistle
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
- Galatians 5:22-23
We now move on to examine the writings of the Apostle Paul on this topic of peace. In the passage above, Paul is not talking about peace as a relational concept as Luke does in his gospel. Paul is describing the spiritual experience one has as a result of God's grace in their lives (i.e. peace as a feeling within one's soul). Lenski, the commentator, says that the Greek word for peace refers to
"…an assured quietness of the soul, the opposite of dread and terror, the feeling that all is well between themselves and God."
(LHL - Galatians P. 291).
For example, have you ever had a fight or argument with a family member or friend and walked out on them in anger? Later on...
- You review the fight in your mind, the words that were said, what you should have said.
- You experience that sick feeling inside caused by the anger, frustration, and sadness that conflict brings.
And then you receive a note, a call, an offer of reconciliation or perhaps an apology.
- You talk things through.
- Each person seeks forgiveness and renewal.
- Old misunderstandings and bitter feelings melt away.
How do you feel after this happens?
- You feel light; you feel joyful; you feel more loving towards that person, more hopeful and enthusiastic.
- All these feelings together produce peace, peace that replaces the feelings that you experienced while angry and at odds with the other.
Earlier, in Galatians 5:2-9, Paul was describing the kinds of feelings that the flesh (or rather the works of the sinful flesh) produced:
- Jealousy, envy, anger, disputes, divisions, sexually impure desires, etc.
In contrast to these, he says that the feelings produced by the Holy Spirit are easily recognizable. In other words, it's easy to know when one is in the flesh or in the spirit. Paul doesn't explain in great detail how to cultivate "peace," he suggests that it is something that the Holy Spirit cultivates in you.
The Holy Spirit and Peace
This brings me to a final thought concerning the relationship between the Holy Spirit and peace. I've mentioned the peace between God and man achieved by the cross of Christ, and the experience of peace felt in one's spirit. You will note that the Holy Spirit is directly involved in both.
A. The Holy Spirit and Christmas (Birth of Jesus)
The peace that the birth of Christ eventually brought about was announced and orchestrated through the power of the Holy Spirit (i.e. the miraculous birth, miracles, teaching, resurrection, ascension, proclamation of the gospel with signs and miracles, etc.). All of these were done through the work of the Spirit. He, however, was serving in conjunction with the other members of the Godhead because in the plan to save man, each member had a role to play as revealed in the Scripture. God the Father created the plan of salvation and sent Jesus to accomplish it. Jesus, in turn, fulfilled the plan of the Father by dying on the cross for the sins of mankind thus providing salvation to all based on faith (expressed in repentance and baptism - Acts 2:38).
1. The Father conceived the plan and sent the Son.
But the testimony which I have is greater than the testimony of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish—the very works that I do—testify about Me, that the Father has sent Me.
- John 5:36
2. The Son accomplished the plan (died for man's sins).
Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished!" And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. (i.e. the plan is finished.)
- John 19:30
3. The Holy Spirit, on His part, provided many elements to achieve the plan (i.e. the power to sustain the Jewish people, utterance to all the prophets, enabled Mary to conceive miraculously, etc.). Without the Holy Spirit's ministry there would be no Christmas, no birth of Jesus, no anticipation of the peace that Jesus would ultimately achieve between man and God. The Holy Spirit is the one who maintained all of the elements (both spiritual and physical) that permitted Jesus to be born and carry out the Father's plan for peace. This is the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the peace that exists between God and the saved.
B. The Fruit of the Spirit
Once Jesus accomplished the Father's plan for peace He returned to the Father in heaven and left His Apostles with the promise that He would send the Holy Spirit.
"These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.
- John 14:25-27
What was the Holy Spirit going to do? Jesus says that He was going to maintain and promote the peace that the Lord had created with His Cross. The following explains how the Spirit was to accomplish these tasks:
1. He would help - vs. 26a
- The Holy Spirit would comfort and help the sinner by giving him spiritual power. For example, in Romans chapter 8, Paul lists several of the ways that the Spirit would help the believer.
- He would enable the believer's prayer life.
- He would empower the believer to overcome sin (Romans 8:9-17).
- He would reassure the believer that he truly belonged to the Father.
- He would raise the believer from the dead.
This help would not allow sin to frighten or disturb the peace that would exist between God and man.
2. He would teach - vs. 26b
At first, the Holy Spirit empowered the Apostles to do miracles in order to confirm that the Word they spoke was true, and provided them with an exact memory of all the teachings of Jesus. These teachings were eventually recorded and preserved so that all men in every generation could find and secure for themselves the peace they yearned for with God through Jesus Christ.
3. He would remain - vs. 27
The Holy Spirit is the embodiment of peace and is given to every believer at baptism (Acts 2:38). How else would Jesus' peace remain in a dynamic and living form throughout the centuries? Men at war with other men sign peace treaties, but God sends the Holy Spirit. When Paul speaks of the fruit of the Spirit, he is referring to the work that the Spirit accomplishes in the Christian through:
- His help
- His teaching
- His presence in one's soul
Yes, peace is a feeling, but a feeling produced as one willingly and faithfully accepts the help, the teaching, and the leading of the Holy Spirit in one's life.
Here are a few practical lessons drawn from our study:
Make sure the good feeling you have at Christmas is not based solely on having your shopping done. Unless we've confessed Christ, repented of our sins, and been baptized in His name, the peace we feel at Christmas will be gone as soon as we have to go back to work. The Lord offers a lasting peace, a peace that will endure to one's dying moment for those who believe and obey the gospel of Jesus.
Let the Holy Spirit work in You. Paul says that the true sons of God are those who are being led by the Holy Spirit. The fruit that he talks about in Galatians, these are not things we produce, these are things that the Spirit has been sent to produce in us. Paul merely lists them so that we can discern who is the master of the soul — the flesh or the Holy Spirit.
We need to allow the Spirit to comfort, encourage, teach, and lead our steps in Christ. If we do these things, we will know peace, and in knowing peace, we will know Him who is the Prince of Peace.
Make peace at all costs. God gave His only Son to make peace with us; surely we can give up our pride and stubbornness to make peace with those who are alienated from us. If we need God's peace or the strength to make peace, call out to God in prayer and He will answer in the Spirit that brings peace to all.