Are Our Christmas Stories Missing the Holy Ghost?

by John D. Witvliet

Our Christmas cards, carols, and crèches delight in the characters of the Christmas story. In pageants, there are a lot of parts to go around: Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus; the angels, shepherds, and Magi; perhaps even Elizabeth and Zechariah, Simeon and Anna. But for all the times and ways the story is told, one key participant is almost impossible to find: the Holy Spirit.

This omission is particularly noticeable in our music. We have dozens of carols centered on shepherds, Magi, angels, Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus, but few that acknowledge the work of the Spirit. It is a surprising omission, for the Gospel of Luke discloses a strikingly Pentecostal Christmas vision, testifying to the Spirit’s engagement with no fewer than six different characters: John the Baptist (1:15), Mary (1:35), Elizabeth (1:41), Zechariah (1:67), Simeon (2:25–26), and, later, Jesus himself (4:18).

Certainly, Luke is the same writer who described the coming of the Spirit on Pentecost (Acts 2), but Luke doesn’t at all believe that was the Holy Spirit’s debut. Luke depicts the entire Christmas drama as fully Trinitarian, involving God the Son, who was born in a manger, God the Father, who sent him, and also God the Holy Spirit, who was mysteriously active in so many moments in the drama.

Not only did Luke write about the Holy Spirit, Luke is himself a testament to the work of the Holy Spirit, whose inspiration graced Luke as he “carefully investigated everything from the beginning” in order to “write an orderly account” of Jesus’ life (Luke 1:3).

Luke is not alone. Matthew also testified to the Spirit’s work in Jesus’ conception (Matt. 1:18, 20). Isaiah, sometimes called “the fifth Gospel” because of the clarity of its messianic vision, announced that the Spirit of the Lord would rest on this Messiah (Isa. 11:2, 42:1, 61:1). Each Old Testament prophet who gazed into the future with messianic hope testified in advance about Jesus because of the “Spirit of Christ in them” (1 Pet. 1:11). The Spirit was active in, around, and through the entire story, as well as those who told it.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today

John D. Witvliet is director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and professor of worship at Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary.