December 31, everyone is busy preparing for New Year’s eve, everyone except me. I’m still celebrating Christmas. Other than the fact that everything is being taken care of as we speak without my input for tonight’s shindig, I took it upon myself this year to stay in the “Christmas Spirit” long after December 25 has passed.
Because staying in the spirit of Christmas is something rather tricky especially when one always seeks to re-live the same childhood Christmas experience over and over again, only to discover after many disappointing years how impossible a task this proves to be, I decided this year to study in the bible what the true “Christmas Spirit” was for the people on whom dawned a new and glorious morn.
To do this I looked closely at the characters mentioned in the bible that surrounded the Christmas story.
At the very beginning, in Luke’s gospel, we read about the birth of John the Baptist and how it came to place. Now why it is important to start from John the Baptist is something that will clarify itself in the course of this article.
The gospel starts after its introduction to talk about the parents of John the Baptist, Zechariah who was a priest and Elizabeth who was from the daughters of Aaron (which basically meant that she also came from a priestly lineage). But they had no child because Elizabeth was barren and they were both advanced in years. Now one day when Zechariah was serving on duty in the temple, the angel Gabriel appeared to him and told him that his prayer had been answered and his wife was going to have a child which he would call John. This child was to come for a specific purpose: to make ready for the Lord a people prepared by turning their hearts to repentance. But Zechariah didn’t believe the words of Gabriel because they were both advanced in years, so as a sign the angel muted him until the time of fulfillment of his words. (Luke 1:5-24)
After six months, the same angel, Gabriel, appeared to a virgin by the name of Mary betrothed to a man from the line of David whose name was Joseph. Gabriel came to tell her the news that from her was to come the very Son of God who will reign over the people of Israel forever. And since Mary was a virgin she didn’t understand how this was going to happen, so the angel explained to her that she was going to be conceived with from the Holy Spirit. (Luke 1:26-38)
After that Mary rushed to her relative’s house, to Elizabeth and as soon as she came in and greeted her, the baby in her womb leaped at the sound of her greeting. At once, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and started prophesying aloud of the coming of the Lord through the womb of Mary who in turn started prophesying of the salvation of Israel. (Luke 1:39-56)
After three months Elizabeth gave birth to a son and Zechariah’s tongue was loosed after naming him John and was able to speak again. Fear came upon all who were present there and Zechariah, filled with the Holy Spirit, started prophesying in the first part (Luke 1:68-75) of the salvation of Israel through Jesus and in the second part (Luke 1:76-79) about John’s ministry which was to go before the Lord to prepare his ways. (Luke 1:57-79)
Around the same time we read in the first chapter of Matthew’s gospel about Joseph who, being a righteous man unwilling to put Mary to shame, decided to divorce her in secret after finding out she was with child. And as he considered these things an angel appeared to him in a dream telling him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife for that which was conceived in her was from the Holy Spirit. The angel also told him to call his name Jesus because he was to save his people from their sins. When Joseph woke up from the dream he did exactly as the angel had commanded him. (Matthew 1:18-25)
And when the time came for Mary to give birth they had to go to Bethlehem, Joseph’s own town, for them to be registered in obedience of Caesar Augustus’s decree. But since they couldn’t find a place in the inn, Mary had no choice but to give birth in a stable and to lay her son Jesus in a manger. At the same time, an angel appeared to a few shepherds in the same region keeping watch over their flock by night out in the field. The angel announced to them the good news that a savior was born to them that day in the city of David. He told them to look for a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger as a sign for them. At his word the shepherds went to look for the baby and when they found him they told everyone present there what the angel had told them concerning the child and then returned glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. (Luke 2:1-20)
When the time came to present Jesus to the Lord in the temple according to the Law of the Lord, a righteous and devout man by the name of Simeon came in the Spirit into the temple. This man was waiting for the consolation of Israel and it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. When he saw Jesus he took him up in his arms and blessing God he prophesied about Jesus and his ministry and told Mary that a sword was going to pierce her soul also. And there was a prophetess, Anna, who was a widow advanced in years who stayed in the temple worshiping night and day with fasting. When she saw Jesus she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who, like her, were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:22-38)
Finally, up to two years later, wise men (magi) from the east came to Bethlehem in search for Jesus saying after seeing his star rise they came to look for the king of Jews and worship him. When Herod the King heard this, he was troubled and with him all of Jerusalem. So he summoned the wise men in secret and ascertained from them the time they had seen the star. Then he sent them to find Jesus in Bethlehem and, once they had found him, to let him know so that he may go worship him in turn. This was but a plot he had devised to kill Jesus. But when the wise men got there by the guidance of the star and worshiped Jesus and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, an angel warned them in a dream not to return to Herod. So they headed back home by another way.
After that, Joseph was also warned by an angel in a dream to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt until the death of Herod who was going to kill all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time he had ascertained from the magi. Joseph did exactly as the angel had commanded him and stayed in Egypt until the angel told him again in a dream that it was safe for them to head back because Herod was dead. So they returned to the land of Israel but didn’t return to Bethlehem, they went to Nazareth by a warning from the angel once again in dream. (Matthew 2:1-23)
This is somehow a summarized chronological account of the Christmas story. As I read about these characters (in bold) and events over and over trying to get some insight from the Holy Spirit, I noticed that all of them had one thing in common: they were all waiting for the coming of the messiah. One of them was even refusing to die until he would see the Christ! Christmas meant for them salvation, salvation they were waiting for for so long. If they didn’t have a direct role in the coming of the Savior, they were preparing his coming or witnessing it when it happened. They all felt its urgency and reacted to it in full obedience. Zechariah and Elizabeth brought the prophet who would prepare the way for the Savior, Mary brought him to this world and Joseph safeguarded him from all threats, the shepherds left everything and went to look for him overjoyed when they heard the good news, Simeon was finally able to depart in peace, Anna saw the fruit of her day and night fasting and prayer, and the magi traveled all the way from the east to worship him and offer him gifts.
And if this tells me something personally as someone who is waiting for the second coming of Christ, or the second “Christmas” so to say, it’s that I need to live in that same urgency, preparing the people for his arrival, prophesying his coming and expecting him to come before I die with praying and fasting. I believe this is our mandate. This is the true “Christmas Spirit”.