Christmastime is here.
Although if you’ve been shopping anytime in the last six weeks, it arrived the day before Halloween. It is as if the world gathers once a year to wrap itself in tinsel and paper, cover itself in lights and ornaments, and clothe itself in out-of-date tacky sweaters. We indulge in ways we normally would not all in the name of charity and good cheer. It is a season of love and new life buried beneath commercialism, repackaged as something palatable for the modern world. It is in short, a veneer over our lives for one or two months in the name of something forgotten.
Even the religious world has forgotten. Instead of embracing the meaning behind the season, we fight over theological points and belittle those whose coffee cups do match our personal faith. We make literalism the pinnacle of the celebration and demand to know whether others believe in a literal virgin birth, a literal visit of the magi, a literal slaughter of the innocents all as litmus test to mark the “True Christians” from the “heretics.”
The meaning, as I understand it, is the idea of incarnation or enfleshment as the word is defined in Greek. The idea is simple and would have been understood in the ancient world quite easily by those listening. It is a divine spirit coming into a human being. It works like this, the Spirit of God comes into a person and fills their life and being to the point where the Spirit of God lives through them. We get the story of God doing this in Luke 1:35. We get it in Matthew 1:18. We get it in the baptism narratives of Mark 1:4-8 and John 1:29-33. In each of these stories, the Spirit of God comes upon Jesus, as infant or adult, and Jesus is infused with the Holy Spirit. This is the idea of incarnation, God living in and through human flesh in the person of Jesus.
For us as followers of Jesus, we also become enfleshed with the Spirit of God. In Acts 2, the disciples, “were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” Throughout Acts, people who became followers of Jesus were baptized with the Holy Spirit (Stephen, Paul, Cornelius’ household, Barnabas, and so on). Paul writes to the Thessalonian church saying,
Brothers and sisters, you are loved by God, and we know that he has chosen you. We know this because our good news didn’t come to you just in speech but also with power and the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know as well as we do what kind of people we were when we were with you, which was for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord when you accepted the message that came from the Holy Spirit with joy in spite of great suffering. – 1 Thessalonians 1:4-6
This holiday season I want to encourage you to embrace the incarnation in your own life. Christmas is not about the stuff or defending some politically based, literalistic version of Christianity. It is about the incarnation of the Holy Spirit in Jesus and how that incarnation becomes our own incarnation. Don’t let yourself be dragged away from the true joy and peace and love of the season by a cheap imitation of the gift when God offers the real gift of the Spirit freely.
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