#3: The Spirit of Christmas Present
Series: The Spirit of Christmas
Gal. 4:4-7 and Eph. 3:14-19 (NLT)
If you have been in worship over the last two Sundays, you are aware that during this Advent and Christmas season, our sermons are taking their inspiration from the marvelous Christmas novel by Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol. No other Christmas book is as well-known or more beloved than the story of the miraculous transformation that took place in the heart of that miserable curmudgeon-of-a-man, Ebenezer Scrooge. As you will recall, the miracle didn’t happen all at once. It took the haunting of one ghost and the visits by three “spirits” to work their magic in Scrooge’s life. Those Spirits, you’ll recall, represented Christmas “Past, Present, and Future.” After his encounter with those three Spirits, Scrooge woke up on Christmas morning a new man.
This Advent, we also are being visited by three Spirits of Christmas: Past, Present, and Future. Last Sunday we reflected on the meaning of Christ’s coming in the past as a baby in Bethlehem, and were challenged to accept by faith that the Child in the manger was indeed the Son of God, sent to free us from the sin and the hopelessness that imprisons us. Next Sunday, we will be focusing on the future advent of Christ – his Second Coming, when Christ will come in victory, to defeat Satan, and once-and-for-all establish his reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. But today, we are visited by that other “Spirit of Christmas:” The Spirit of Christmas Present.
When we think about the Advent season, the first image that comes to mind is Christ’s first coming, as we sing carols and decorate our homes and churches for the celebration of Christ’s birth. For many people, that’s the only image they have of Christ’s coming – the baby in the manger 2000 years ago. For them, Christmas is nothing more than a quaint custom which tradition requires that we observe.
Those of us who may think more deeply about the meaning of the season might also look to the Second Coming of Christ, a hope we as Christ’s followers can cling to, and a promise we claim.
But there is another theme of Advent that is often overlooked: that Christ continues to come to us even today– but only if you and I are willing to receive him. It’s too bad that this aspect of Advent has been ignored because, unless we experience Christ’s coming personally in the here-and-now, we can never appreciate the miracle of his advent in the past or the future.
You see, it is possible to intellectually accept that Christ has come in the past, and never go beyond that. We may recognize him as a historical figure, the Jewish Messiah, a prophet and teacher, a good man, or our role-model and guide. We may even acknowledge that he is the Son of God. And by saying we can accept these claims about Jesus, we might therefore make the assumption that this means we are “Christians.” But we’d be wrong – tragically wrong.
Ebenezer Scrooge probably would have accepted all those claims about Jesus, as well. But it would have been a mistake to have called him a “Christian.” There was a missing piece in the puzzle of his life that everyone was able to see – everyone, that is, except for Scrooge himself.
I’ve got news for you: Intellectual assent to claims about Jesus’ identity may be essential, but it is not enough to assure our salvation! As is often pointed out – even the devil and his demons “believe” intellectually that Jesus is the Son of God. You see, “belief” is not the same as “faith.” Belief is located in our minds, faith springs from the heart. They say that “the longest journey we will ever take in our lives is the 18 inches from our head to our heart.” This is the lesson that the Spirit of Christmas Present wants us to learn: Until Christ is born into our hearts and takes up residence there, we are not really Christians.
Like the “Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” Scrooge’s heart was “two sizes too small.” Or, if you prefer a more biblical expression, Scrooge’s heart had been “hardened” – he had a “heart of stone.” It would take a miracle for Scrooge to have a change of heart. And of course, that is precisely the point.
For Scrooge, Christmas was nothing more than the commemoration of a past event. Christ’s coming may have transformed the lives of Mary and Joseph, the Shepherds, and the Wise Men, but what difference does it make for us today? For the vast majority of people, both outside and inside the church, Christ’s coming has little or no impact on their lives. Their religion is all head and no heart. So people occupy the season with office parties and shopping malls and Santa Clause and Frosty the Snowman. In their “Holiday Programs,” Jesus has been demoted to a minor player in the Christmas drama, an “extra” they can do without. And if people think of Christ’s coming only as ancient history, who could blame them?
But you and I know there is much more to Christmas than that. The Christmas story is incomplete, until it is internalized. The miracle of Christmas isn’t merely that God sent Jesus to be born in a stable – as mind-boggling as that is. The greatest miracle of Christmas is that it is God’s intention that Jesus be born – in your heart and mine!
But like those in Bethlehem who turned away Mary and Joseph, many of us today shut out Jesus. We slam the door in his face. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, we have “no room in the inn” of our heart for God’s Son. And then we wonder why we are miserable.
Does that describe anyone here this morning. Are you just going through the motions of the season? Perhaps you can’t understand what all the excitement is about. Maybe Christmas is just another holiday for you. Are you cynical about the claims that Jesus is the Son of God? In spite of all the holiday cheer that surrounds you, are you miserable inside? Is Christmas just one big “humbug” to you?
If so, there is Good News this morning. It wasn’t too late for Scrooge, and it’s not too late for us. Those “Spirits of Christmas” who brought new life to Ebenezer Scrooge can work their magic within us as well, if we will allow them to. The process of transformation is the same for us as it was for Scrooge:
1) First, we have to recognizewho the Baby in the manger really is (intellectual assent);
2) Once we have recognized who Jesus is, we have to confess the hardness of our heart (repent);
3) The next step is key: We must invite Christ to be born within us, and take up residence in our heart;
4) And finally, we must allow Christ take charge of our life.
Rev. Edward Markquart summed it all up beautifully in his sermon, entitled “Christmas Magic and Miracle:”
“What is the fullness of Christmas? When the time is right, when there is fullness of time in your life, when it is the good time, the right time, the appropriate time, God comes down the stairway of the stars with a baby in his arms and places the baby into your hands, and you carefully, carefully examine that baby. Miraculously, the Spirit of that child may come into your heart in a new way. That is the fullness of Christmas. For within your heart, you feel and know and experience the pulsating presence of God. You are filled with grace upon grace upon grace. You are filled with the truth of God and his great love for you and the whole world, freely given, like the rain and sunshine and the radiant beauty of Christmas Eve, all freely given to you. That is what the fullness of Christmas is all about; to have the Christ child born in your heart whereby you and I experience and personally know the fullness of God’s grace and truth.” 1
Or as the Apostle Paul put it: “Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him… May you experience the love of Christ… Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” (Eph. 3:14-16 excerpts)
My dear friends, that is point of Christmas. Until you invite Christ to be born in your heart, you will never understand what all the fuss is about.
Let us pray;
Oh holy Child of Bethlehem!
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in,
Be born in us today.
1 Edward Markquart. http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/christmas_magic_and_miracle.htm