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Christmas 365 Days a Year

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Christmas 365 Days a Year

Luke 1:26-38

December 11, 2005

Introduction: Christmas Spirit Isn’t Enough

Is it too soon to start talking about Christmas? I don’t think so, it’s only three weeks away. So, let’s talk about Christmas, we need to be ready for it. We often talk about the night before Christmas, but what do you think about on the morning after Christmas? I’ve been thinking about this wonderful thing called “the spirit of Christmas.” Have you noticed it? I’m all ready for the annual viewing of Dicken’s “Christmas Carol”. Once a year toward the winter solstice, something odd happens. People’s attitudes go through an annual change. People start talking about peace and goodwill. They go out of their way to give and forgive. Families get together. We call this different atmosphere “the spirit of Christmas.”

There’s a problem with Christmas spirit, however. You’ve noticed how it passes? On Christmas Day have you heard people say, “It began to leave me last night. It began to slip away. The old feelings started to come back.” Most of us know what that means.

The sad thing about the departure of the spirit of Christmas—the kindness, the generosity, the peace and goodwill, the warm relationships—is that it is something we long for and look for deep down in the human heart. I suppose what adds to the disappointment is that such things, which we really enjoy, are ephemeral.

One of the most striking illustrations of this comes from a story told many years ago by an old German man. He fought with the German forces in the First World War. For the benefit of the 30-something people, I’ll remind you that in those days warfare was not high tech but hand-to-hand trench warfare. Soldiers lived, fought, and died in trenches full of mud and blood and vermin. In those trenches, dug in the fields of France, enemies could actually hear each other talking. They didn’t need satellites to locate the enemy. The enemy was just over there.

This old gentleman told  how on one cold, moonlit Christmas Eve, he huddled in the bottom of the trench. Because of the annual Christmas truce, the fighting had stopped. Suddenly, from the British trenches a loud, sweet tenor voice began to sing “The Lord Is My Shepherd,” and the sound floated up into the clear, moonlit air.

Then he said something surprising: from the German trenches, a rich baritone voice tuned in, singing “Der Herr Ist Mein Heiter auf Deutsche.” For a few moments, everybody in both trenches concentrated on the sound of these two invisible singers and the beautiful music and the harmony. The British soldier and the German soldier sang praise to the Lord who was their shepherd. The singing stopped, and the sound slowly died away

.

“We huddled in the bottom of our trenches and tried to keep warm until Christmas Day dawned,” he said. “Early on Christmas morning, some of the British soldiers climbed out of their trenches into the no man’s land, carrying a football.”

One soldier carried a round football (a real football where the foot is applied to the ball! You need to understand that whenever the British go anywhere, they always take two things with them: their teapots and their footballs.) These English soldiers started kicking around a football, in a pickup game in no man’s land, between the trenches.

Then the old man said, “Some of the German soldiers climbed out, and England played Germany at football in no man’s land on Christmas Day in the middle of the battlefield in France in the first World War.” (England won.)

Then he said, “The next morning, the carnage began again, with machine guns and bayonet fighting. Everything was back to normal.”

The spirit of Christmas will produce a truce but no lasting peace. The spirit of Christmas makes people think of peace and good will. The spirit of Christmas thinks in terms of giving and forgiving. It actually has celebrities going to the homeless and feeding them a meal. Although the strain of keeping it up is too much, the spirit of Christmas says something about the deepest longings of the human heart. It also says something about the incapacities of the human heart. We need something more.

I. Christ Can Dwell in Our Lives

The spirit of Christmas needs to be superseded by the Spirit of Christ. There’s all the difference in the world. Let me read something about the Spirit of Christ and Christmas from Luke 1 verses 26 to 38.

“In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’

“Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary. You have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.’

“‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’

“The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth, your relative, is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.’”

“‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May it be to me as you have said.’ Then the angel left her.”

Please notice the difference between the spirit of Christmas and the Spirit of Christ. The spirit of Christmas is annual; the Spirit of Christ is eternal. The spirit of Christmas is sentimental; the Spirit of Christ is supernatural. The spirit of Christmas is a human product; the Spirit of Christ is a divine Person.

The angel told Mary she was actually going to experience the birth of Christ through the Holy Spirit in her life. The angel said to her that the power of the Almighty through the Holy Spirit was going to rest upon her. The angel spoke to her and said that the one who would be born in her and of her would be the one whose kingdom would never end.

The angel’s statements should resonate with you. The Bible teaches us that, in a way not dissimilar to what happened to Mary, it is possible for Christ to be born in people’s lives by the Holy Spirit. In Romans 8:11, Paul puts it this way: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you”.

This probably is referring to what happens after we die, but it clearly relates to what happens before we die. Think of it for a minute: Is it possible that the Spirit of him who raised up Christ from the dead can actually come into people’s lives? Do we believe that? If it is true, then the Spirit of him who raised up Christ from the dead comes into our lives to make Christ, if you like, to be born within us. When you ask the Spirit of Christ to come live in you, He does just that. You become a child of God, born again into His family.

Paul, writing to the Galatians, used a dramatic term. He said to his beloved Galatians, in verse 4:19, who were giving him all kinds of fits, “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you...”

In other words, the essence of Christianity is this remarkable truth: Christ came from heaven and died for us on the cross and rose again so that, in the person of the Holy Spirit, he might indwell our lives.

The possibilities are boundless. We’re not talking about an annual event. We’re talking about a perpetual indwelling. We’re not talking about something that is basically sentimental. What we’re talking about now is something utterly supernatural: God in Christ, through the Holy Spirit, born in men’s and women’s lives.

The difference ought to be obvious. We’re thinking not so much of human beings sentimentally on an annual basis being good and kind and trying hard and then eventually giving up. Now we’re talking about God in Christ in the person of the Holy Spirit empowering people to be what they’re not and to do what they can’t. That which is born of you is born of the Holy Spirit: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you.”

I’m absolutely convinced that none of us has really begun to grasp what it means for an ordinary person to have the Holy Spirit dwell within. The sheer possibilities are mind boggling.

Note that the angel explained to Mary that her child would establish an eternal kingdom. So he wasn’t just talking in terms of the life of Christ being within her. He was talking about the kingdom of God being established. We need to grasp this. We need continually to keep this in mind. We need to take the spirit of Christmas and put it on a shelf and experience the Spirit of Christ right through to next year, we need to think of this. We need to think in terms of our relationship to the Holy Spirit and to the kingdom that is established in our lives when Christ, by his Spirit, is born in us.

II. We Must Open Ourselves to the Spirit

Let me put it to you with the story of a simple, illiterate man who was converted through the work of the Salvation Army.

He went regularly to the Salvation Army citadel. One day he came home rather disconsolate.

His wife said, “What’s the matter?”

He said, “I’ve just noticed that all the people in the Salvation Army wear red sweaters, and I don’t have a red sweater.”

She said, “I’ll knit one.” So she knitted him a red sweater.

The next Sunday after he went to the citadel, he still wasn’t happy.

His wife said, “What’s wrong this time?”

He said, “I just noticed all their red sweaters have yellow writing.”

They were both illiterate, but she said, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll embroider some writing on for you.”

She had no idea what the yellow writing on the red sweater of a Salvation Army man said. Any of you, besides Eva, know what it is? They have a yellow circle, and in it, BLOOD AND FIRE. That’s their motto. (Unbutton the jacket of a Salvation Army man when he’s ringing his little bells sometime; tell him you’re just checking.)

The man’s wife had no idea what the letters said, and she couldn’t read anyway. So, copying a sign from a store window opposite their home, she embroidered the words of that store sign onto his red sweater.

When he came back the next Sunday, she said, “Did they like your sweater?”

“They loved my sweater. Some of them said they liked my sweater better than their sweater.”

What neither of them knew was that the sign on the store window she had copied read, THIS BUSINESS UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT.

That’s what it means to get saved. That’s what it means to get converted. That’s what it means for the Holy Ghost to come upon you: this business under new management.

We are changed when the Spirit of Christ imparts to us the life of the risen Lord, and we begin to accept what it means to live under the new management. Notice what Mary said after she had asked her questions and the angel had said that nothing is impossible with God. Always remember that. If it is according to the divine will, it is within the divine capability.

Mary simply said, “Behold, the handmaiden of the Lord.” The word handmaiden is the word for a female servant or a female slave. Mary says, “I’ll gladly come under the new management. I will gladly make myself available. I will gladly avail myself of all that God’s doing. I will be what God wants me to be.” That’s the attitude, folks, isn’t it?

Think of getting up daily and saying, “Behold, the servant of the Lord. Be it unto me according to your word. More than anything else, I want the expression of your life in my life. I make myself available to you with glad anticipation.”

Do you know what begins to happen? You begin to see something akin to the spirit of Christmas on a regular basis. Only it isn’t the spirit of Christmas. It’s the Spirit of Christ.

III. The Flesh Fights Against the Spirit

The problem within all of us is a resistance to the Holy Spirit. In Ephesians 4:30 the apostle Paul told believers not to grieve the Holy Spirit. It is possible for us to lie to the Holy Spirit and to resist. There’s an attitude of resistance, of non-cooperation. In Galatians 5, the apostle Paul explains clearly why this happens. Paul says there is in all of us something he calls “the flesh.” The flesh is a dynamic power operating in our personalities to oppose the Holy Spirit. We have this strange situation of the believer being the one in whom Christ is born by the Spirit, but at the same time, there is that old, resistant self-centered flesh.

How can you recognize that flesh? In Galatians 5, Paul says the evidence of the flesh is anger and envy and bitterness and strife and contentiousness—all kinds of interpersonal stresses and strains. Let’s read that passage right now. If you have your Bible with you, please turn with me to Galatians 5 and follow along as I read:

“Who has interfered with you to hold you back from following the truth? It certainly isn't God, for he is the one who called you to freedom.” Now, we’ll skip on to verse 13. “For you have been called to live in freedom—not freedom to satisfy your sinful nature, but freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." But if instead of showing love among yourselves you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.
So I advise you to live according to your new life in the Holy Spirit. Then you won't be doing what your sinful nature craves. The old sinful nature loves to do evil, which is just opposite from what the Holy Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are opposite from what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, and your choices are never free from this conflict.
But when you are directed by the Holy Spirit, you are no longer subject to the law. When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, your lives will produce these evil results: sexual immorality, impure thoughts, eagerness for lustful pleasure, idolatry, participation in demonic activities, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, divisions, the feeling that everyone is wrong except those in your own little group, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other kinds of sin.”

On December 26th, will you remember that mood of Christmas? Suddenly we’re back to the anger and resentment and the bitterness. Some of you back there already, the day after Christmas? Will it start in some families even Christmas Eve? Did some never get over it? You know what it is. It’s the flesh. It’s obvious.

We have all kinds of highfalutin names for the flesh. Let’s simply accept the fact that there is within a human being a residual power that is malevolent and that produces all kinds of bad attitudes. The works of the flesh are also manifested in illicit sexual behavior. We have all kinds of names for that too.. The Bible says it’s the flesh. It is in diametric opposition to the Spirit. It has absolutely nothing to do with the Christian life. It is in opposition to all that God has in mind.

You say, “I can’t help myself!” Of course you can’t. But nothing is impossible with God. The Spirit of God will empower you. The Spirit of God begins to reproduce in us that which is of Christ.

We have a battlefield within us. Paul explains it when he says the flesh fights against the Spirit, and the Spirit fights against the flesh. Do you ever find yourself in your better moments longing for the peace and the joy and the love and the patience and the meekness and the goodness and the gentleness of self-control and moaning over your shortcomings? You do, unless you’ve totally chloroformed your conscience and desensitized yourself.

The cuckoo is a common bird in England. The first sign of spring is that bird’s call. The cuckoo never builds its own nest. When it feels an egg coming on, it finds another nest with eggs and no parent bird. The cuckoo lands, hurriedly lays its egg, and takes off again. That’s all the cuckoo does in terms of parenting. (We have a lot of cuckoos in our society today!)

The thrush, whose nest has now been invaded, comes back, circles, and comes into the wind to land. Not being very good at arithmetic, it can’t imagine why it immediately begins to list to starboard. It gets to work hatching the eggs. Four little thrushes and one large cuckoo eventually hatch. The cuckoo is two or three times the size of the thrushes.

Mrs. Thrush, having hatched the five little birds, goes off early in the morning to get the worm. She comes back, circles the nest to see four petite thrush mouths and one cavernous cuckoo mouth. Who gets the worm? The cuckoo.

Guess what happens. The cuckoo gets bigger and bigger; the little thrushes get smaller and smaller.

To find a baby cuckoo in a nest, simply walk along a hedge row until you find little dead thrushes. The cuckoo throws them out one at a time. Here’s an adult thrush feeding a baby cuckoo that is three times as big as the thrush.

And the moral of the story is this: you have two natures in one nest, and the nature you go on feeding will grow, and the nature you go on starving will diminish. If there’s going to be anything resembling that which God has in mind for us, it is going to come not through an annual attempt at the spirit of Christmas but a perpetual recognition of the Spirit of Christ.

If we go on sowing to the flesh, as Paul puts it, guess what will happen? We will of the flesh reap corruption. But if we go on sowing to the Spirit, we begin to reproduce life.

Conclusion: Be Available to the Spirit

The human heart longs for three things: 1. forgiveness of sin, 2. access to God, and Christ’s indwelling power through the Holy Spirit so we might be under new management.

It doesn’t happen overnight; it isn’t instantaneous. The Bible says we’re being changed from glory to glory even by the Spirit of the Lord. Do you know what you ought to be able to do at the end of a year? You ought to be able to look back and see some specific ways in which you have grown spiritually. There ought to be evidence of new habits, new attitudes, and new abilities relating directly to the fact that you’re being changed by the Spirit of the Lord.

Can you think of one overwhelming weakness that had you by the throat at the beginning of this year? Do you honestly believe that if Jesus Christ risen from the dead in the person of the Holy Spirit came into your life, he could overpower you and release you from it, and you could live in newness of life?

You say, “I don’t know about that.” Nothing is impossible with God. If it is part of the divine will, it rests well within the divine capability.

You know what has to happen? You must become the handmaid of the Lord. You must say, “Be it unto me according to your Word. Lord, I want myself to be yours. I want to be available to you. I want to be expendable for you. I would like to be the sort of person in whom the life of Christ is seen in increasing measure. I want to be the kind of person in whom the kingdom of Christ is seen to be established more obviously. Lord, I want to be the kind of person in whom the works of the flesh are becoming less and less obvious. In other words, I’d like to live Christmas 365 days a year.”

For that, you don’t need the spirit of Christmas. For that, you need the Spirit of Christ, and he is available

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