The holidays can be a busy time with end of term tests and papers, concerts, parties, and one volunteer effort after another. The activity load can be so intense that it can be easy to equate “stress” with the “spirit of Christmas.” However, the “things” and the “doings” are not Christmas. Certain things, traditions, can help us remember the past and build memories for the future, but it is not the thing that Christmas is itself.

The Spirit of Christmas is Family

The Spirit of Christmas is family. Christmas is a time when families get together, whether they like each other or not.

When I think of that trip that Mary and Joseph took to Bethlehem to his family home, when she was heavily pregnant and it was not Joseph’s, I wonder what Mary’s feelings were?

I’m sure Joseph’s family knew he married her even though the baby was not his. He went through much soul searching and came to the decision to “put her away quietly” rather than subject her to public disgrace as he could have. (Matthew 1:19) I’m sure he took counsel with at least a few people, people knew about the pregnancy. But then an angel appeared to him in a a dream and told him not to worry. (Matthew 1:20) Not only had Mary not betrayed him, but that the baby would be the long looked for Messiah.  1 Matthew 1:22-23 NLT
“All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet, ‘ Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.”
He would host the Christ, the Son of Man, in his home.

Joseph married her, but then they were required by a Roman decree to go to their home city to be counted. Anyone who has been pregnant knows that the last thing you want to do in that final month in pregnancy is to take a road trip, and that is today. Think what it would have been like then.

That journey in any circumstances would not have been welcomed, but traveling that late in pregnancy was not the worst. The worst was that they were going to the home of Joseph’s family. Yes. Ponder that for a moment. Mary is pregnant. It’s not Joseph’s. She has to go to his family’s home.

Have you ever been in a relationship with someone where their family doesn’t think that you’re good enough? Have you had to deal with snide comments, cold stares, and countless slights? I can guarantee you that it does not begin to compare to what Mary was walking into.

How do we know that there was conflict and hostility in the family? We know that because there was strife among Jesus’ siblings when he was older and during his ministry. Neighbors in Nazareth were uncertain of who he was exactly asking isn’t this the son of Joseph, and aren’t his brothers and sisters among us?” ( Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3 ) (This suggests that he was not home for a good portion of the time before his ministry started, but that is another topic.) His brothers mocked him, (John 7:3) and none of them believe in him as Messiah and Lord until he appeared to them after the resurrection. (John 7:5)

All of these things suggests that it wasn’t the warmest and tightest of families. Part of it, I am sure, is standard sibling rivalry and jealousy. If you have struggled living in the shadow of an older sibling or endured a younger sibling who your parents think can do no wrong, just consider the situation of Jesus’ siblings. Can you imagine that? He literally was perfect.

Another element could have been people outside of the immediate family stirring up dissension, telling tales, and gossiping. People are people and we have the same fallen inclinations without the regeneration of the spirit. I’m sure there were things said around town such as:

Woman A: There goes Jesus, such a sweet and respectful little boy. Have you noticed how he always is so helpful to his mother?
Woman B: Yes, it’s amazing how he’s turned out, I heard he was born early.
Woman C: Yes, and it is so odd that he looks nothing like Joseph when all his brothers are the spitting image.
Woman D: Well, I don’t see anything all that special about him, even though Mary seems to think he walks on water. She thinks her son is God’s gift.

You know those conversations were going on. There are a couple of accounts in the Talmud that say something exactly along these lines. While the accounts could simply be a slanderous polemic against Jesus that was created when the compilation of the Talmud began two centuries after Christ, I think that it is likely that the accounts are a remnant of the actual gossip that swirled around Jesus during his lifetime.

A pro-Joseph rumour: “The husband of his mother was called Stada, and her seducer Pandera.” 2Tractate Sanhedrin, Herbert Danby tr. [1919], at sacred-texts.com. http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/tsa/tsa27.htm  “Sanh. 67a continues: “Whom they hanged on the eve of the Passover.” Ben Stada was the son of Pandera. (Then why is he called the son of Stada?) R. Hisda said: “The husband of his mother was called Stada, and her seducer Pandera.” But the husband was known to be Pappus ben Jehuda, and the mother’s (real) name Miriam M’gadd’la (the women’s hairdresser). And Stada was the name applied to her in that s’tath da, “she went astray” from her husband.” On the identifications arising from this, see R. T. Herford, Christianity in Talmud and Midrash (London, 1903), and G. H. Box, The Virgin Birth of Jesus (London, 1916), Appendix I.”

Another from a camp who thought Mary married beneath her, “she who was the descendant of princes and governors played the harlot with carpenters.” 3 Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 106a

In spite of all this gossip, 4John 2:25 ESV
“But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.”
drama, and spite, Jesus willingly came to live out his life as a man so that he could be our Savior. He came so that people of all nations could become children of God. 5John 1:11-13 ESV
“He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

More on Christmas:

Has someone ever challenged you on why you celebrate Christmas?  Visit “Should Christians Celebrate Christmas” for a video an article which lines out a Biblical response.

The Spirit of Christmas is Love

The spirit of Christmas is love. It is the love of the Father, who sent his only Son to be Savior of all:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

It is the love of the Son, who not only took the worst that life and man could dish out, but bore the unbearable agony of separation from the Father when he took our own sins upon himself on the cross. It was a thing he had never experienced before or after and was a worse agony than the torture he endured on the cross. It was then he cried out, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me? 6Matthew 27:46” echoing David’s cry in Psalm 22:1

Christmas was a day of joy for the world; however, it was the beginning of the countdown to this moment for the salvation of God, Yeshua.

However, the spirit of Christmas is not only about the love of the Father and the Son, but the love God designed for us to experience as a shadow of God’s overwhelming love for us. It is a picture of the love between a man and his wife, designed by God to be a union of one.

Why did Mary give birth to Jesus in a shelter for animals?

Luke diplomatically says that it was because there was “no room” for them in the lodging. (Luke 2:7)  Does this make sense? Mary was hugely pregnant, ready to give birth at any time, and there was “no room” for her? Even in today’s Ill-mannered society, people will give up their seats for a pregnant woman . . . But there was no place for her inside?

The popular Christmas story presents the “lodging” as an inn, some place that travelers would pay to stay for the night. However, the word used in the Gospels is not one for a commercial inn, but an upper room in a private home, one that would be used for guests. Mary and Joseph traveled to the home town of Joseph’s family. The odds are this “lodging” was a home of Joseph’s relatives . . . where he brought his very pregnant wife . . . very pregnant with a baby they knew was not his.

What do you think happened there?

God chose the man to raise Jesus on earth as carefully as he chose the woman to give birth to him. Matthew 1:19 says that Joseph was a “good man.” I think Joseph also knew how to be the type of husband God always intended.

In Matthew 19:5 Jesus said, “This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.”

When I read this passage, I often wonder if Jesus had the circumstances of his own birth on his mind, when Joseph stood by Mary and married her in spite of the talk. When Joseph, rather than subject Mary to slights and insults, shook the dust from his feet, left his family home and found shelter outside.

Joseph stood by Mary above all and through all. It is an example of Genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

Paul uses this same illustration of marriage in Ephesians 5:31-33 of Christ’s love for the church, above all and through all.

The Spirit of Christmas is Peace

When you picture the announcement of Jesus’ birth, what do you see but a quiet night out on a hillside with the shepherds watching their sheep. All was quiet, until the angel suddenly appeared. The heavenly host that appeared with the angel who made the announcement proclaimed:

Glory to God in the highest heavens,
And peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased. (Luke 2:14)”

The peace the angels prophesied was not a superficial peace. It was not a peace that was simply an absence of noise, of conflict, or of war. It is a peace that is present in ALL circumstances. It is the peace of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit described by Paul in Philippians 4:7:

And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall guard your hearts and mind through Christ Jesus.”

It is peace that is independent of circumstances. It is a peace that transforms the heart and changes the atmosphere.

This is the peace whose arrival the angels announced, which would become accessible to all when the tomb was emptied some 33 years later.

The Spirit of Christmas is Joy

The angel who announced Jesus’ birth told them he had “good tidings of great joy.” (Luke 2:9) This great joy was not just for the Jewish people, but to all people.

The joy, the great joy, is again not about circumstances, but is independent of it. It is a joy that comes from the presence and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, it is the fruit of the spirit this joy. (Galatians 5:22) It is the joy Nehemiah spoke of when he said, “The Joy of the Lord is my strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10) It is this strength, this joy, that Paul spoke of in Philippians 4:13 when he said, “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.” It is this joy that brings healing 7 Proverbs 17:22 ESV “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” and hope.8 Psalm 27:13 NASB “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of te Lord in the land of the living.

The joy of the Lord, Jesus, who was born into the world in Bethlehem was so great that even those who don’t believe in Him yet can sense the remnant of this Joy at Christmas. Christmas is a time when even if one does not have this joy in their lives, their thoughts turn towards him and look for it.

The Spirit of Christmas is Jesus

The Spirit of Christmas. It is Jesus, who loved us so much that he came to live in our fallen and broken world as one of us. He lived, endured, overcame, and saved, and through him, we can also be overcomers.

 

Whatever this holiday season brings you, remember Jesus knows. He knows what you are feeling. He knows your struggles. He knows your fears. He wants to be your Savior and to give you His Spirit, the peace, joy, and love, that endures and overcomes every trial.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with out weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:15-16 ESV

 

“I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as ‘God on the cross.’ In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after a while I have had to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in Godforsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of his. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross that symbolizes divine suffering. ‘The cross of Christ … is God’s only self-justification in such a world” as ours….’ ‘The other gods were strong; but thou wast weak; they rode, but thou didst stumble to a throne; But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak, And not a god has wounds, but thou alone. 9 John Stott. The Cross of Christ. (Westmont, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1989) 326.

References   [ + ]

1. Matthew 1:22-23 NLT
“All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet, ‘ Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.”
2. Tractate Sanhedrin, Herbert Danby tr. [1919], at sacred-texts.com. http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/tsa/tsa27.htm  “Sanh. 67a continues: “Whom they hanged on the eve of the Passover.” Ben Stada was the son of Pandera. (Then why is he called the son of Stada?) R. Hisda said: “The husband of his mother was called Stada, and her seducer Pandera.” But the husband was known to be Pappus ben Jehuda, and the mother’s (real) name Miriam M’gadd’la (the women’s hairdresser). And Stada was the name applied to her in that s’tath da, “she went astray” from her husband.” On the identifications arising from this, see R. T. Herford, Christianity in Talmud and Midrash (London, 1903), and G. H. Box, The Virgin Birth of Jesus (London, 1916), Appendix I.”
3. Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 106a
4. John 2:25 ESV
“But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.”
5. John 1:11-13 ESV
“He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
6. Matthew 27:46
7. Proverbs 17:22 ESV “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”
8. Psalm 27:13 NASB “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of te Lord in the land of the living.
9. John Stott. The Cross of Christ. (Westmont, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1989) 326.