Dear People of Bethlehem,
Our First Reading for the 2nd Sunday of Advent (December 4; Advent 2A) contains words of promise that we pray while laying hands on all the baptized: “The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him/her, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD” (Isa. 11:2). We often connect baptism with Good Friday and Easter through St. Paul, when he proclaims in Romans 6 that in our baptisms we die and rise with Christ Jesus. This means not only that we need not fear death any longer, but that we are also given the opportunity to die to the sinful part of our nature and lead changed lives.
In short, baptism is also about the Christmas Spirit! The Spirit of Incarnation! The Spirit of God coming to dwell in us so that we might live anew. In Matthew’s story of Christmas, he emphasizes Immanuel, meaning “God with us.” In Luke’s story of Christmas, the Holy Spirit plays such a prominent role. Mary is basically pregnant by the Spirit (1:35). The Spirit is mentioned 7 times in the first two chapters, followed closely thereafter by the story of Jesus’ baptism with the Spirit descending on him like a dove. Jesus is the fulfillment on God’s Spirit falling on us in a way that makes things new – a New Creation! “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Cor. 5:17)
My favorite Christmas story is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by other kinds of spirits on Christmas Eve, but with a similar result as lives lived in the spirit of our baptisms. The Spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future show him the path he’s on – a path of greed which leads to growing isolation from his fellow human beings – so that he might choose a different path – one of generosity, kindness, and love which leads him into deeper fellowship with his fellow human beings. As Scrooge kneels before his headstone, he queries the Spirit of Christmas Future, and receiving no answer makes a vow:
“Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only. Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead. If the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me! . . . Good Spirit, your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life. I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”
And Scrooge famously keeps his vow, as the Christmas Spirits continue to dwell in him all the year through. At Christmas, we celebrate the Incarnation – God’s Spirit in Christ coming to dwell in us.
Brothers and Sisters, this is the Christmas spirit promised us at our baptisms, that Christ’s Spirit of generosity, kindness, and love comes to dwell in us to make us and keep us new. New Creation! May we continue to have the Christmas Spirit strive within us all the year through!
Grace and peace, Pastor Paul