A Pentecostal Look at Christmas
The following is reprinted from the Dec. 25, 2011, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
In a spare but powerful scene from A Charlie Brown Christmas, Linus steps forward on the school stage where the Peanuts gang is rehearsing their Christmas play and recites Luke 2:8-14.
The shepherds. The angels. The announcement of the Christ child. The proclamation of glory to God in heaven and peace on earth to men. It’s all there.
After quoting the passage with King James decorum and childlike simplicity, Linus walks over to Charlie Brown and says, “That’s what Christmas is all about.”
Network TV may never offer a more faithful and concise summary of Christmas’ good news.
Every Christmas, followers of Christ around the world rejoice over the Father’s gift of the Son to a sin-darkened world. Pentecostal Christians might naturally contemplate where the Holy Spirit fits in the Trinity’s timeless plan of redemption. He is absolutely present and active.
Luke’s Gospel offers more than a singular record of angels and shepherds on that first Christmas night; its opening chapters are a treasure trove of Christmas vignettes about the Holy Spirit. This should not come as a surprise from the biblical author who would later write the Book of Acts.
It is Luke’s inspired reporting that drafted the Day of Pentecost’s Spirit baptism into Church history. The Spirit’s powerful visitation washed over the 120 gathered in the Upper Room. When the apostle Peter stepped forward to explain the event to a curious multitude, the Spirit overflowed to some 3,000 who responded to his message.
A Pentecostal reading offers inspiring parallels between the opening chapters of Luke’s Gospel and Peter’s prophetic framing of the Spirit’s outpouring.
“‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy’” (Acts 2:17,18, NIV).
Peter quoted the prophet Joel and joyfully announced that God was indeed pouring out His Spirit on all people — men and women, young and old. Luke’s Christmas story includes a series of transformative Spirit encounters with members from each group Peter (and Joel) identified.
If you have a Bible, take a look for yourself.
John the Baptist, even within Elizabeth’s womb, embodied a powerful work of the Spirit in males and in the very young. “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth,” the angel Gabriel announced to John’s father, Zechariah (Luke 1:15). When Mary told Elizabeth of her own pregnancy with the Christ child, John “leaped in [Elizabeth’s] womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (v. 41). Through Elizabeth’s experience with the Spirit and her resulting praise, Luke showed the elderly and women being drawn into the circle of prophetic fulfillment.
Mary herself is an example of a young woman completely submitted to the working of the Holy Spirit in her life. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you,” Gabriel had told the virgin girl (Luke 1:35). “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said” (v. 38).
A baby boy. An elderly mother. A teenage virgin.
The story continues with Zechariah, who once doubted God’s promise but at John’s birth was ready to shout God’s truth to all who would listen. “[John’s] father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied” (v. 67). Zechariah’s Spirit-inspired message rounds out Luke 1.
With the second chapter of Luke’s Gospel, the Spirit is clearly integral to key events following Jesus’ birth. Consider the prophecies given when Joseph and Mary presented Jesus at the temple as a baby.
“Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God” (Luke 2:25-28, emphasis added).
Three times Luke describes the elderly Simeon in connection with the Spirit’s touch upon his life. The Spirit, then, is to be heard in verses 29-32 in all that Simeon proclaimed about Jesus.
With this in mind, the description of Anna in verse 36 as “a prophetess” clearly demonstrates the activity of the Spirit through her. “She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (vv. 37,38).
John the Baptist, Elizabeth, Mary, Zechariah, Simeon, Anna.
Young and old, male and female, all acted at the prompting of the Spirit, often in a prophetic vein. This is part and parcel of the story of Christmas.
“‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy’” (Acts 2:17,18).
The story of Christmas goes beyond the promise of salvation and renewed fellowship with God. The story of Christmas is also the story of God’s Spirit working through His servants regardless of their station in life. The story of Christmas is the story of God’s desire to empower His children today through His Spirit for life-giving ministry among this world’s hurting multitudes.
Where do you fit in that story?