WHAT IS THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT?
How many of you have watched “Elf” this Christmas season? I admit, its an entertaining and funny Christmas movie, but there is not a whole lot of depth to it. One of the major themes of the movie is that people in general have lost the Christmas Spirit. This, in turn, has a negative impact on the reindeers ability to get Santa’s sleigh off the ground. In the end, Buddy, his half brother, and his girlfriend are able to raise the level of Christmas spirit in New York City by singing “Santa Clause Is Coming To Town.” Santa’s sleigh is able get off the ground and presents are presumably delivered on time as always.
As I said, it is a cute little movie, but does it really reflect what true Christmas spirit is? I was reading something a couple of weeks ago about this. Evidently, a newspaper reporter had done some research on Christmas spirit and concluded that the best answer, based on the survey he conducted, was that Christmas spirit is in your heart. It feels warm and glowy. You can’t buy it and you can’t get it from anybody else.
This is the popular concept of what Christmas spirit is, isn’t it? Even though it is something inside us, we still have to somehow get it. The question then becomes, how do we get it? Does it hit when we decorate the Christmas tree? Does it require, like for the Griswalds, all the outside decorations to come on? Or, does it finally take root when we can finally sit down and enjoy our favorite carols.
Now, there’s no question that we all like that warm fuzzy feeling inside, but somehow I think this definition of Christmas spirit doesn’t exactly hit the mark. It’s focus is too much on sentimentality. To find out what true Christmas spirit is we need to back to Scripture. Specifically, I think, we need to go back to those shepherds who were out keeping watch over their flocks at night.
How did they respond to the Good News that Jesus was born? How did they respond to the very first Christmas? They went back glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen. What caused these shepherds, who were normally men of few words, to do that? They were filled with Christmas spirit. It wasn't the lights, the decorations, or even a well cooked roast beast that filled the shepherds with the Christmas spirit. It was Jesus’ birth! That baby, born in Bethlehem so many years ago, changed everything. He was living proof of God’s love. “For God so loved the world that he gave is only begotten Son, that whoever would believe in him would not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Christmas spirit may fill us with emotion, but is not emotional by nature. It is a deep seated joy that comes with knowing that the story of Jesus’ birth is true. It is knowing that God remembered his promise to deliver us from our sin and gave us the gift of our Savior.
There are so many who celebrate Christmas with great excitement, exchanging gifts around the Christmas tree and kisses under the mistletoe, but who never connect the celebration with the reason for it. They are like people who attend a wedding reception and celebrate enthusiastically, but who don’t even know the bride and groom.
This is the difference between true Christmas spirit and its counterfeit imposter. For those who have true Christmas spirit, you can remove all the trimmings; the trees, the lights, the presents, the food, and even the music, but the joy would remain intact. And it would do so because the story of God coming to earth as a baby is true; because in that little child born of Mary, God provided us with our champion.
The significance of Jesus’ birth cannot be overstated. Remember the words of the angel. (Luke 2:10-11) “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” That baby, born in Bethlehem, whose birth we celebrate, was God himself, who took on our humanity that he would offer up himself as a sacrifice, in our place, 33 years later. Paul puts it this way in his first letter to Timothy. (2:5-6) “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men.”
Jesus came to pay the penalty of our sins, a debt that we could never pay. His sacrificial death on the cross and glorious resurrection three days later paid in full the price of our sin and guaranteed us a place in heaven, if only we would believe.
This is what true Christmas spirit is all about. It is knowing the Christ of Christmas. It is knowing his forgiveness and love. My mother use to try to convince us that fake beers, like O’Doul’s, tasted just like the real thing. Everyone knows that this simply isn’t true. As we celebrate Christmas, do not be taken in by imitations. Fairy tales can be nice, to a point, but Christmas spirit is not rooted in any fairy tale. It is rooted in the truth that approximately 2016 years ago God gave us the gift of his Son, our Savior and Redeemer; Jesus Christ, our Lord.