As we listen to the Christmas story the major players that we fix our attention on are Jesus,Mary,Joseph, the shepherds, the angels and the wise men. We make mention of the fact that Jesus is the Father’s gift to humanity and this is so true. We need to rejoice in this great story but as I re-read the Christmas story in Lukes gospel I notice that he mentions the Holy Spirit quite a bit but he is largely absent from our reflections on that same story. When did you last hear someone speak on the Holy Spirit’s role in the events surrounding Christmas?
Firstly let us take a look at the announcement of John the Baptist’s birth in Luke chapter 1.
Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.” (Luke 1:8–20).
Here we see that John the Baptist was to be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth and the instructions given to Zechariah are based upon this fact. John’s ministry is one that will be empowered by the Holy Spirit and because of this his parents were responsible to raise him in a certain way. John is never to be served alcoholic beverages but rather he is to be kept sober so that he is a clean vessel for God to use. John’s powerful ministry depends upon the fact that he is filled with Spirit. Without the presence of the Spirit of God John could not achieve what God had called him to. So it is vital for his parents to have this information right from the beginning. So even in the prophecy about the forerunner for Jesus we find an emphasis upon the Holy Spirit.
As the narrative continues we find more references to the work of the Holy Spirit, including the Holy Spirit’s involvement in the conception of Jesus, Luke says
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. (Luke 1:26–39).
Mary is astonished at the news that the angel declares to her, but she cannot understand how this is all to come about, it is in this context that she is told “The Holy Spirit will on you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” These words to Mary reassure her and she is willing to a vessel for God’s glory. I do not pretend to understand how this all worked out in practice, but all we need to know is that the conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb took place by the Power of the Holy Spirit.
here we see the Holy Spirit working to bring about the incarnation of the Eternal Son of God. It is therefore important that we see the role of the Holy Spirit at this point of salvation history.
But the narrative continues to show the Holy Spirits role, when Elizabeth and Mary meet, we see a truly charismatic event taking place.
At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”
And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.” (Luke 1:39–55).
It is important for us to notice that the Holy Spirit filled Elizabeth when her son leapt in her womb, it seems that at even at this stage of the pregnancy that John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit, it is his reaction that seems to be trigger for Elizabeth to be filled with the Spirit, the Holy Spirit reveals to Elizabeth something of the nature of the unborn Lord Jesus. Elizabeth acknowledges the lordship of Jesus even before he is born, this comes about because of the fact that the Holy Spirit is revealing the truth to her. Mary responds to this in a way that shows her own deep spirituality and in the Magnificat she reveals how much the Holy Spirit has shown to her.
We must for a moment return to John the baptist and his birth and naming because once again we see the Holy Spirit is at work.
When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.
On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”
They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.”
Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.
His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:
“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us—
to show mercy to our ancestors
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
And the child grew and became strong in spirit;and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel. (Lk 1:57–79).
This account is full of the work of the Holy Spirit, it is the Holy Spirit who brings about healing and we can see evidence of the fact of his presence in the fact that Zechariah starts to praise God, it is only after this that we are told that he is filled with the Holy Spirit. Zechariah then gives this amazing prophecy. He is enabled to see something of the significance of his son’s ministry as that which would prepare the way for the Lord.
We need to see also how the Holy Spirt was present at the time Mary and Joseph presented him at the temple.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”
The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
Here we find firstly the account of Simeon, Luke emphasises to us the presence of the Holy Spirit in Simeons life, here is someone who is looking for the salvation of Israel in a way that depends upon god. The Holy Sprit is clearly the one who guides Simeon and it is because of this guidance that he enters the temple, and when he speaks his words are amazing, he can see that this little baby is the Saviour of the world because of this he can now die in peace. Simeon saw into the future and prophesies to Mary about her child and sees that Mary would be facing a great trial, that can only be described as her soul being pierced by a sword. Mary was to live out this prediction over 30 years later as she stood at the Cross of her son. After this Anna a worshipper of God comes up and she too gives thanks and speaks of the child to those who are looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. Although the text does not explicitly say she was filled with the Holy Spirit, Luke shows by the fact that she was a true worshipper, a person of prayer and a witness to others that she to is filled with the Holy Spirit.
What difference should this knowledge make to our Christmas celebrations, I believe it underlines the vital role of the Holy Spirit for our worship and our witness. It reminds us that to celebrate Christmas rightly we too need to be filled with the Holy Spirit