We all want to share those gems of wisdom and practice we learn along the way. As for me, I have tried to broadcast my greatest lessons through an intentional, repetitious drumbeat of teaching in my spoken and written words. If I had a Top Ten of spiritual hits, there is one lesson that might be ranked above the rest as a practical Christian matter. It is utterly life changing and faith altering. It is the lesson that has been my “Eureka!” and my great discovery about the dynamics of faith and about our relationship with our Lord. I offer it once again as the first of two Christmas gifts to be unwrapped from this message.
Simply put, most of God’s people readily and joyfully reap the PARDON OF THE CROSS but not the POWER OF THE SPIRIT. That is, we gladly and gratefully embrace the eternal benefit of Jesus’ gifts of forgiveness and salvation from the Cross, but we leave the corresponding Pentecost power of the Holy Spirit on the table. While it is undeniable that the forgiveness and salvation of Jesus are of inestimable value, there is so, so much more that God has for our daily lives to be mined from the Holy Spirit. By prayer and openness, the power of the Holy Spirit can be made real in our lives for inspiration, encouragement, decision making, healing, wisdom, faith, guidance, comfort, protection, the work of the Gospel, and on, and on, and on! I pray every single day for the Holy Spirit’s presence in my life, and my life is more powerful and dynamic than ever before. The Holy Spirit is very likely the missing piece of your faith and fulfillment puzzle, as it was mine.
Now, onto the second of the two gifts.
Just as we might reap the pardon of the Cross without the power of the Spirit, we often reap the PRESENT OF CHRISTMAS without the POWER OF CHRISTMAS. Jesus is the ultimate present, the gift, the prize, the trophy, the crown, and the great glory of Christmas. Of this there can be no argument or doubt. God’s holy, divine, and highest gift to us is the Person of Jesus by His holy Incarnation, not by any manifestation or blessing that flows from Him. For God so loved us all that He gave us His only Son, not merely things from the Son, but the Son Himself! When we get it right, we want Jesus Himself far above anything He can do for us. The Person of Jesus is our greatest gift and we are properly thrilled and joyful to receive Him into our hearts and lives.
Yet, while Jesus’ appearance among us at Christmas is glory enough, His grace adds more. He intends for us to have an “I am with you” power that lasts long beyond the needles falling from your tree. When people talk about having Christmas all year round, they usually mean something about its joy, celebration, and happiness. What is remembered here is that there is also the power and grace of Incarnation, that can impact our lives throughout the year.
This lesson is gleaned from watching many people face life’s toughest challenges at Christmas. While most of us reach crescendo heights of warmth, excitement, and love as we celebrate Jesus’ birth, others are burying loved ones, leaving jobs, hearing bad medical news, or facing some other difficulty. Is Christmas a nothing for them this year? Do they just “miss Christmas” this year? Should they simply try to avoid all the hubbub because it mocks the reality of their moment?
No, not at all and, in fact, quite the opposite. The power of Jesus’ love at Christmas is something the downtrodden and heartbroken must embrace as the vitally necessary tonic of Christ being with them. Christmas was, perhaps, given by God for them most of all. To those in these and other situations, I say Christmas is more than ever yours this year! Embrace His coming. Embrace His love. Embrace His comfort. He has come for you and promises you hope, peace, joy, and love, even in your heartbreaking situation – especially in your heartbreaking situation!
Jesus spoke of Himself when He quoted from Isaiah in Luke 4. He said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are bruised . . .” Isaiah the prophet also wrote about how Jesus would come to comfort all those who mourn by bringing them gladness instead of mourning, and praise instead of a faint spirit.
Recognizing the many circumstances of life intersecting with Christmas over the centuries. I don’t simply wish and pray for a Merry Christmas for you. I also wish and pray for a Powerful Christmas for you, so that the fullness of the divine act of Jesus’ birth may be known to you and bring the hope, peace, joy, and love He intends for you, no matter your situation of life right now.
God loves you, your parish family loves you, and I love you as your Rector.