At some point during the Christmas season, you may be told that you need more “Christmas spirit.” Hallmark movies are filled with the vague notion of “Christmas spirit” that does not look much different than their version of “true love,” except that it happens in the month of December.
The vague, touchy-feely spirit of Christmas, however, does not fulfill in any meaningful or lasting way. But the Spirit of God in Christians does produce the fruit that the world hungers for in the Christmas season. The Holy Spirit of Christmas that indwells believers is an active, living, member of the Trinity. During Christmas we remember that Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, took on flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary. We remember that the Father sent Jesus, born of a woman, born under the law at the right time (cf. Gal 4:4). Too often, however, our inattention to recall the Holy Spirit and His activity in the Christmas story leaves us grasping for nebulous feelings. To have a genuine, growing joy, peace, and love during the Christmas season, we must not neglect that the Spirit of God is the One who produces those fruits in our hearts and lives. We see evidence of the Spirit’s working and producing those results in the Christmas story recorded in Luke in two ways.
The Giver of Life (Luke 1:15; 1:35 cf. Matt 1:18-25)
The first way that the Spirit is involved in the Christmas story is during the birth announcements of both John the Baptist and Jesus. Zechariah is visited in the temple by the angel Gabriel and given the good news that he and his wife, after years of praying, will be given a son. That child will be “great before the Lord” (1:12-15). Gabriel further explains that during the pregnancy, Elizabeth must not drink wine because the child will be filled with the Spirit even in the womb (1:15). The Spirit of God is the giver and protector of life, even in the womb. The result of John’s birth is joy and gladness (1:14). Foreshadowing the future greatness of this child, Zechariah is told that John’s earthly life will cause many hearts to turn and he will make the way ready for the Lord (1:17). Turning people from sin is the work of the Spirit (cf. John 16:8). In other words, this baby will be filled with and empowered by the Spirit from birth and throughout his ministry (1:17).
Next in Luke’s narrative, Gabriel tells Mary that she will conceive and have a baby who will be called “Son of the Most High” (1:32). Mary asks how that can be because she is a virgin (1:34). The answer is that the Spirit of God will be the One to bring about the life of the child and therefore the child will be called holy (1:35). The Spirit produces life and holiness. The involvement of the Spirit in these birth announcements reminds us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made by God (Psa 139:14). We see that God is the One who gives all good gifts and that He is the One who gives children (Psa 127:3; cf. James 1:17). The response of the women is joy for the gift of their children and humility for the great work that God would do through their children.
The Source of Rejoicing in God’s Salvation (Luke 1:41-44; 1:67-79; 2:25-32)
The second way that we see the Spirit’s activity in the Christmas story is in the filling of people and their subsequent rejoicing in God’s great salvation. Luke gives three examples of the Spirit filling a person, resulting in joy and peace.
The first two examples are Zechariah and Elizabeth. Luke records that after Elizabeth hears the greeting of Mary, she is “filled with the Holy Spirit” and bursts into a loud blessing to Mary because she “believed there would be a fulfillment” of what the Lord spoke to her (1:39-45). Elizabeth, in her blessing, notes that John the Baptist, still in her womb, had leapt for joy when he heard Mary’s voice (1:44). Joy and blessing in both Elizabeth and John the Baptist are a direct result of the Spirit of God filling them (1:15, 41).
Next, we see that Zechariah is filled with the Spirit at the birth of his son John the Baptist (1:67-79). Filled with the Spirit, he prophesies (1:67). Often, we think of prophecy as predicting the future, but here—as elsewhere in the New Testament— it is proclaiming the good news of God’s redemptive plans. Zechariah begins by blessing God for raising up the “horn of salvation” (1:69). God was working to bring “light to those who sit in darkness” (1:79). This public pronouncement of blessing and joy by Zechariah is the outworking of the Spirit of God filling him.
The last example occurs after Jesus’ birth, when Mary and Joseph take him to the temple for their purification (2:22). Luke tells of a man named Simeon, who lived in Jerusalem and was “righteous and devout and waiting for the consolation of Israel.” While those descriptions may be enough for us to think highly of this man and his life, Luke also says that “the Spirit of God was upon him” (2:25). Simeon had previously received word from the Spirit that he would not die until he saw with his own eyes the Lord’s Christ (2:26). Simeon enters the temple in the Spirit (2:27) and when he sees Jesus, he takes him up in his arms and blesses God (2:28). The result is another beautiful pronouncement of the fulfillment of God’s redemptive promises. Simeon blesses God for having prepared salvation “in the presence of all peoples” (2:30-31). Here, we see a hint that the consolation of Israel is not only for the children of Abraham, but for the Gentiles as well (2:32). Simeon is at peace after seeing the Christ (2:29).
This blessing is spontaneous from the lips of Simeon, as are the other two responses by the parents of John the Baptist. How does such wonder and beauty come so quickly to their lips? It comes from the Spirit of God as He fills people to overflowing with joy and praise to God.
The Christmas season can often be fraught with greed, deep sorrow, busyness, loneliness, stress, and general unrest. The barrage of “remember the reason for the season” stickers and radio platitudes can cause one’s heart to shrivel like the Grinch’s. Attempting to conjure up “Christmas spirit” for the pageants at church, the carolers at the door, the incoming flood of family, and everyone else’s perfect Instagram photo is enough to want to pull your hair out. The world attempts to wrap up their joy, peace, and love in a box or place it in a physical relationship.
But reflecting on how the Spirit of God was instrumental in the birth of Jesus and how He impacted those He filled gives us the realization that our fulfillment is only in God. The Holy Christmas Spirit is given to believers at salvation (Eph 1:13). As we walk in step with the Spirit, He fills believers with joy, peace, and love that result in glad singing, rest, and kindness (Gal 5:16, 18, 22-23; cf. Eph 5:18-19). The Spirit produces joy in the realization that the plan of redemption is now complete in Jesus. The hope and expectations of the Old Testament are fulfilled with the coming of Jesus. We have peace from the Spirit because our sins are forgiven in Christ and there is light in the midst of darkness (Rom 8:2). The Spirit gives us love both for God, who loved us first, and for our neighbors, who need Jesus as much as we do. The Holy Christmas Spirit is given to us as Christians, and it is our prayer that we be filled with Him so that we can experience what Elizabeth, Zechariah, Simeon, and millions of other believers have experienced: the fruit of the Spirit in our daily life, even during the Christmas season.