Advent: Day 28 – The Spirit of Christmas

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the
Most High will overshadow you.” 
Luke 1:34-35

You hear a lot about the spirit of Christmas at this time of year. But the spirit of Christmas needs to be superseded by the Spirit of Christ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. These distinctions make all the difference in the world. 

The angel explained to Mary that 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 baby to be born of Mary would be the One whose kingdom would never end. This light of Christ wouldn’t just flash into Mary’s life and then die away. With the coming of this child, God was about to establish His eternal kingdom. 

Christ can also be born in our lives. It is through the Holy Spirit that we are born again. It is a supernatural, spiritual work that makes us children of God, brought into His family and kingdom. The apostle Paul wrote to the Christians living in Galatia, “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you” (Gal. 4:19). Paul was not talking about an annual event, but about a perpetual indwelling. The Spirit of Christ in us is not sentimental, beginning and ending with a sweet baby in a manger, but it is supernatural, powerful, and life-changing.

Living in the Spirit of Christ does not mean that people try hard to be more noble, good, and kind for a specific season every year. No. For Christians, God is, in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself. The Holy Spirit enables people to be what they’re not and to do what they can’t. The Spirit of Christ is actually God, in Christ, through the Holy Spirit, being born in the lives of people, in all times and seasons. 

Let us concentrate on experiencing the Spirit of Christ from now to next Christmas— and throughout the many years and Christmas seasons to come. The spirit of Christmas will come and go and be glamorized and trivialized. But all the while, the Spirit of Christ is being born into one person after another, and God’s eternal kingdom is being established in our lives.

Advent: Day 27 – The Crib, Cross, and Crown (Part 2) 

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross
daily and follow me.” 
Luke 9:23

The crib, the cross, and the crown are fundamental to who Jesus is. Similarly, they’re fundamental to the Christian life as well. 

Think of the crib as a place where the miracle of rebirth and regeneration takes place. Being born again is fundamental to our spiritual experience. But the crib isn’t enough. If Christ has been born in us, we must grow and mature as His disciples. Jesus said: 

Taking up our cross means submitting our wills to God’s will. Jesus willingly accepted God’s will for our sake, and it cost Him His life. Those who invite Jesus Christ into their lives must identify with the will of God as surely as Christ identified Himself with the eternal purposes of the Father. 

Our society has fallen ill to the disease of meaninglessness, a sickness that leads to hopelessness and superficiality. So many people have given in. “Life is falling apart,” they say. “I’m just not going to think about it.” Yet just below the surface, a fear about the future eats away at us. We can’t completely avoid the nagging issues of life. 

Christians, however, need not remain in such a “Slough of Despond.” For believers there is not only a crib and a cross, but the sure promise of a crown. We live through all eternity with the risen, ascended King of kings and Lord of lords—who wears a glorious crown. And we too will receive crowns for faithful service to Him. 

Now then, this produces a different breed of person in society. Instead of focusing on the material world—worrying about politics or the nasty people we must deal with; trying desperately to preserve our youth because we’re so frightened of aging; tightly gripping all that we own because that’s all we’ve got—we can live confidently and with hope because we live in light of the crown. 

Those without a crib have yet to experience new life in Christ. Those without a cross have not given over their self-centered lives in exchange for the abundant God-centered life. And those without a crown have no depth or sense of hope. Crib, cross, and crown—are all three present in your life? 

Advent: Day 26 – The Crib, Cross, and Crown (Part 1) 

“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you… I have
brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father,
glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”
John 17:1,4-5

There’s something beautiful and delightful about the birth of the Christ child. Each Christmas season there is opportunity—for a short time, at least—to concentrate not on the suffering and sin we see in our world, but on the beautiful baby in the crib. And of course, the beauty of this baby’s birth led to the wonder of the Savior’s life. 

But as we contemplate the innocent baby’s birth, which led to the sinless Savior’s life, we arrive at a very unpleasant conclusion: The life Jesus lived ultimately condemns the life we live. When we evaluate our lives against His, we can only admit the hopelessness and helplessness of our condition. We can’t live as He lived, and we can’t undo the consequences of our own shortcomings. 

If we look only at the crib, we arrive at a point of despair. For the beautiful crib led to Jesus’ majestic and superb example—and that leads us to a sense of helpless inadequacy. Yes, a crownless crib leads to hopelessness. 

If we read Scripture very carefully, we will recognize that before the crib there was the “crown” of Jesus. The baby that was born in Bethlehem shared glory with the Father before the world began. And after the cross, that crown was replaced. In other words, the earthly life and ministry of Jesus served as an interlude in His eternal reign as the Lord of all glory. And though His life ultimately reveals our hopelessness, the death and resurrection by which He took back His crown is the light of hope that shines on our darkness.

We should always beware of the doctrine of the crownless crib. We cannot really consider the Son of God in a crib apart from His cross and His seat upon the throne of heaven. For if we forget these we will lose our sense of who Jesus really is and what He has accomplished. 

Advent: Day 25 – Three Christmas Presents

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.	Little
 children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.

1 John 2:1–2; 3:7–8

If the Son of God came to help you stop sinning—to destroy the works of the devil—and if he also came to die so that when you do sin, there is a propitiation, a removal of God’s wrath, then what does this imply for living your life?

Three things. And they are wonderful to have. Three Christmas presents.

Gift 1: A Clear Purpose for Living

The first implication is that you have a clear purpose for living. Negatively, it is simply this: don’t sin—don’t do what dishonors God. “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin” (1 John 2:1). “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). If you ask, “Can you give us that positively, instead of negatively?” the answer is: “Yes, it’s all summed up in 1 John 3:23.” It’s a great summary of what John’s whole letter requires. Notice the singular “commandment”—“And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.” These two things are so closely connected for John that he calls them one commandment: believe Jesus and love others. That is your purpose. That is the sum of the Christian life. Trusting Jesus and loving people the way Jesus and his apostles taught us to love. Trust Jesus, love people. There’s the first gift, a purpose to live.

Gift 2: Hope That Our Failures Will Be Forgiven

The second implication of the twofold truth that Christ came to destroy our sinning and to forgive our sins is this: we make progress in overcoming our sin when we have hope that our failures will be forgiven. If you don’t have hope that God will forgive your failures, when you start fighting sin, you give up.

Many of you are pondering some changes in the new year because you have fallen into sinful patterns and want out. You want some new patterns of eating. New patterns for entertainment. New patterns of giving. New patterns of relating to your spouse. New patterns of family devotions. New patterns of sleep and exercise.

New patterns of courage in witness. But you are struggling, wondering whether it’s any use. Well, here’s your second Christmas present: Christ not only came to destroy the works of the devil, our sinning; he also came to be an advocate for us because of experiences of failure in our fight.

So I plead with you, let the fact that failure will not have the last word give you the hope to fight. But beware! If you turn the grace of God into license, and say, “Well, if I can fail, and it doesn’t matter, then why bother fighting sin?”—if you say that, and mean it, and go on acting on it, you are probably not born again and should tremble.

But that is not where most of you are. Most of you want to fight sinful patterns in your life. And what God is saying to you is this: let Christ’s covering of your failure give you hope to fight. “I write this to you that you might not sin, but if you sin you have an advocate, Jesus Christ.”

Gift 3: Christ Will Help Us

Finally, the third implication of the double truth that Christ came to destroy our sinning and to forgive our sins is this: Christ will really help us in our fight. He really will help you. He is on your side. He didn’t come to destroy sin because sin is fun. He came to destroy sin because sin is fatal. It is a deceptive work of the devil, and it will destroy us if we don’t fight it. He came to help us, not hurt us.

So here’s your third Christmas present: Christ will help overcome sin in you. First John 4:4 says, “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” Jesus is alive, Jesus is almighty, Jesus lives in us by faith. And Jesus is for us, not against us. He will help you in your fight with sin in the new year. Trust him.

Good News of Great Joy: 25 Devotional Readings for Advent by Desiring God Foundation

Advent: Day 24 – Two Purposes for Christmas

Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.

1 John 3:7–8 (NASB)

When 1 John 3:8 says, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil,” what are “the works of the devil” that he has in mind? The answer is clear from the context.

First, 1 John 3:5 is a clear parallel: “You know that he appeared in order to take away sins.” The phrase he appeared to occurs in verse 5 and verse 8. So most likely the “works of the devil” that Jesus came to destroy are sins. The first part of verse 8 makes this virtually certain: “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning.”

The issue in this context is sinning, not sickness or broken cars or messed-up schedules. Jesus came into the world to enable us to stop sinning.

We see this even more clearly if we put this truth alongside the truth of 1 John 2:1: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.” This is one of the great purposes of Christmas—one of the great purposes of the incarnation (1 John 3:8).

But there is another purpose that John adds in 1 John 2:1–2: “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

Now look what this means: it means that Jesus appeared in the world for two reasons. He came that we might not go on sinning—that is, he came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8); and he came so that there would be a propitiation for our sins if we do sin. He came to be a substitutionary sacrifice that takes away the wrath of God for our sins.

The upshot of this second purpose is not to defeat the first purpose. Forgiveness is not for the purpose of permit- ting sin. The aim of the death of Christ for our sins is not that we relax our battle against sin. The upshot of these two purposes of Christmas, rather, is that the payment once made for all our sins is the freedom and power that enables us to fight sin not as legalists, earning our salvation, and not as fearful of losing our salvation, but as victors who throw ourselves into the battle against sin with confidence and joy, even if it costs us our lives.

Good News of Great Joy: 25 Devotional Readings for Advent by Desiring God Foundation