By Ben Swift
Turn, turn, turn, you can almost feel the cogs of the universe spinning us ever so quickly towards another Christmas. This Groundhog Day, déjà vu-like experience once again finds us trying to come up with something new to make the day somehow special, even memorable, in the hope that we may experience what Christmas is all about.
But what is it about, actually?
It must be a difficult challenge for a church pastor to construct something new, something profound and unique that may possibly sink into the consciousness of their listeners each Christmas. How can they take their audience on a journey of realization that outgrows the Sunday School-like nativity message embedded in the minds of so many, especially when it goes so nicely with the entire Christmas production?
As with so much of Scripture, the Christmas account calls to those with ears to hear, through its revelation of Christ incarnate. For Christians, Christmas is an opportunity to be refilled and for others it is the chance to be filled for the first time, with truth, meaning and hope, all wrapped up in the grace of God.
Perhaps, as we seek to unwrap the gift of Christmas, we may come to find connections in unlikely places. One such connection to Christmas can be found in Matthew 12:43-45. Here, Jesus warns the religious leaders of the day that those who attempt to clean up their own lives by emptying themselves, will find a host of alternatives looking to take up residence, alternatives that most likely sit in contrast to the will of God. Rather, as the apostle Paul later suggests, God desires that we be filled with his spirit so that it is no longer us that live, but Christ that lives in us; no longer the things of the world that we live for, but the things of the spirit of God.
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple, and that God’s Spirit lives in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16).
George A. Buttrick in his exposition of Matthew provides us with the following insight:
“The world drove out Kaiserism and left the house empty; so Hitlerism arrived with seven other devils- anti-Semitism, the scientific contempt for life and all the evil brood. It does not help a man to know what he does not believe, unless he knows what he does believe…The Pharisees who questioned Jesus had cast out the gross sins, but they left life empty of any loyalty beyond themselves.”
So what has this got to do with Christmas you may be asking?
The answer is: everything!
On the night of that first Christmas, a bright star shone over the birthplace of the one born to fill us with his truth and his spirit, the incarnate Prince of Peace, come to set us free from ourselves; Immanuel, God with us.
The story of Christmas is one that calls out to each of us, “Behold, a child is born so that you may be filled with the spirit of God and not of the world.” From the moment Christ lay in the manger, so many years ago, a hand has been stretched out, calling us to empty ourselves of the anxieties, fears and guilt that weigh us down, the ways of the world that send us down the wide road of destruction as they turn us inward, and to look in faith to the one who would soon show us all what true love looks like as he hung on the cross for a broken humanity.
Hear the call of Christ this Christmas. Embrace the life-giving hope that can be found exclusively in his grace as he desires to live in you so that you may live through him. May you be filled with his spirit, forever living as a temple of God.