Every December, I’m confronted with the ubiquitous reminder to “get in the Christmas spirit.” This spirit is generally understood to be a seasonal frame of mind that is benevolent, cheerful and somewhat nostalgic.
The Christmas spirit can supposedly be generated through a variety of means, such as a fresh snowfall, peppermint hot cocoa, Christmas music, greeting cards, decorations and, of course, watching It’s a Wonderful Life.
In the movie Elf, the Christmas spirit powers Santa’s sleigh, and in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, it is personified in the spirits of Christmas past, present and future. It’s what funds the majority of the Salvation Army’s work and what prompts us to spend way above our budgets.
But what is the Christmas spirit, really? Is it more than a quaint warm fuzzy, or a pavlovian response to an eggnog latte?
The spirit about which the prophet Isaiah spoke, in conjunction with the birth of Jesus, was not a sentimental mood evoked by a Currier and Ives print. It was none other than the Holy Spirit of God:
Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD will rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.” (Isaiah 11:1-2)
In the world, it is largely the giving and receiving of gifts that epitomizes having the Christmas spirit. But in the gospel of Luke, the Spirit is the gift:
If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him? (Luke 11:13)
Being filled with the Holy Spirit is better than being filled with the holly spirit. And the fruit of it goes way beyond mere generosity. It produces in us love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
Lots of Christians today want to be filled with the Holy Spirit because they think it will be a cool experience—almost like a drug, or altered state of consciousness. There may or may not be some intense emotions associated with it, but that’s not what being filled is really about.
Author A.W. Tozer made the following observation about what being filled with the Spirit looks like:
Do you want to be filled with a Spirit who, though he is like Jesus in his gentleness and love, will nevertheless demand to be Lord of your life? Are you willing to let your personality be taken over by another, even if that other be the Spirit of God himself? If the Spirit takes charge of your life, he will expect unquestioning obedience in everything. He will not tolerate in you the self-sins, even though they are permitted and excused by most Christians. . . .
You will find the Spirit to be in sharp opposition to the easy ways of the world and of the mixed multitude within the precincts of religion. He will be jealous over you for good. He will not allow you to boast or swagger or show off. He will take the direction of your life away from you. He will reserve the right to test you, to discipline you, to chasten you for your soul's sake. He may strip you of many of those borderline pleasures which other Christians enjoy, but which are to you a source of refined evil. Through it all he will enfold you in a love so vast, so mighty, so all-embracing, so wondrous, that your very losses will seem like gains, and your small pains like pleasure.
The Christmas spirit can be a great reminder of all the blessings that we have because of the Incarnation, but the Holy Spirit wants to remind us of everything Jesus said and did (John 14:26).
I’d like to end with just one, simple thought. And it’s a thought that may be entirely new to many Christians, because I know it was new to me!
The thought is this: Throughout my Christian life, I learned that the greatest gift contained in the gospel message was the gift of eternal life. But I want to submit to you that the greatest gift contained in the gospel is not eternal life but, rather, the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Being alive in heaven forever is great! But having the infinite love and joy of God himself within you forever in the Holy Spirit—that’s even better!
I’d like to end with a quote by Jonathan Edwards. I think it sums it up well. He used the word “Ghost” instead of “Spirit,” but you’ll get the point.
The sum of all that Christ purchased for men was the Holy Ghost: (Gal. 3:13, 14) ‘[Jesus] was made a curse for us… that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith’. . . . Christ purchased for us that we should have the favor of God and might enjoy His love, but this love is the Holy Ghost. Christ purchased for us true spiritual excellency, grace and holiness, the sum of which is love to God, which is [nothing] but the indwelling of the Holy Ghost in the heart. Christ purchased for us spiritual joy and comfort… which is the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost is the sum of all good things. . . . The Holy Ghost is the great subject of all gospel promises and therefore is called the Spirit of promise (Eph. 1:13). . . . All our good is of God the Father, it is all through God the Son, and all is in the Holy Ghost, as He is Himself all our good.