A Pentecostal Christmas
By Mark E. Hardgrove, D.Min.
Text: Matt 1:18-25 (NKJV)
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. 19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. 20 But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins."
Every Christmas we are reminded of the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Often the scenes of the Nativity are serene and peaceful. There are the nativity pictures or portrayals of the baby in the manger while Mary and Joseph, along with shepherds and wisemen worshipping quietly while the baby sleeps. Even the sheep, the cattle, and the sheepdog are portrayed quietly looking on. I think that for many Christians who value a quiet and reflective kind of religious experience these scenes reinforce their somber liturgical expressions of worship. There’s nothing wrong with that, and many people find such worship to be very meaningful and spiritually enriching. The problem for me, however, is that I didn’t grow up Lutheran or Episcopalian. I grew up in a West Virginia backwoods, Pentecostal church where our worship was fast, our music was loud, where we danced in the Spirit, spoke in other tongues and ran the aisles. I grew up with people falling out in the Spirit, praying out loud in unison, and shouting out of our shoes. So the quiet, tranquil, peaceful, picture postcard Christmas scene left me wanting something more. Today I want to preach on the topic of a Pentecostal Christmas.
I) THE HOLY SPIRIT IN THE CHRISTMAS STORY
To begin, most often when we tell the story of Christmas we focus on the birth of Jesus, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Without the birth of Jesus there is no Christmas story. However, we need to consider a couple of other points: First, without the virgin birth there is no Messiah, and second, without the Holy Spirit, there is no virgin birth. Therefore, I think it also is fitting to consider the role of the Holy Spirit in the Christmas story.
For Jesus to be the Savior of humanity He had to be the perfect sacrifice, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, the Lamb without spot or blemish who could die once and for all as the all sufficient satisfaction for the sin debt that humanity owed. For this to happen Jesus had to be fully human—He had to come as one of us to die for us—but He also had to be perfect. He had to be without the inherited sin of Adam. So, Jesus had to be born without the contribution of man. He had to be born without the stain of sin that we all bear from birth.
The angel told Joseph, “That which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit was the agent of the conception, the power of life that resulted in the pregnancy. When Gabriel appeared to Mary in Luke’s Gospel, to tell her that she would give birth to the Savior of the world, Mary wanted to know how that could be, because she had never been with a man, not even her fiancé Joseph. The angel said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35-36, NKJV).
The Father was giving His only begotten Son as a gift of life to humanity, and Jesus was that gift, Jesus is the Word made flesh, Jesus is the Savior of the World, but the agency by which that birth took place was through the power of the Holy Spirit upon a humble young Jewish woman who was willing to say "yes" to the plan of God for her life. As a Pentecostal I still believe that the Holy Spirit can give birth to miracles in us and through us. It is not through the work of the flesh that great things in the kingdom of God are accomplished. Instead, it is the work of the Spirit, the anointing of the Holy Spirit upon human flesh that can accomplish great things in the kingdom. Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in her life, Mary was no different from thousands of other young Jewish women dreaming of marriage and a family. It was the anointing of the Holy Spirit. It was the touch of the Holy Spirit upon her life that gave birth to greatest miracle the world has ever known.
God isn’t looking for superstars to accomplish His will. God is just looking for ordinary people like you and me who will say “yes” to His plans and purposes for our lives and who will allow Him to anoint us with His Spirit to do His will and His work in our time. It’s time that some of us ordinary people begin to yield to Spirit, to walk in the Spirit, and allow the gifts of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit to be birthed in us.
A Pentecostal Christmas is a Christmas where the church says “yes” to God’s plans and “yes” to the anointing, and “yes” to our destiny as the sons and daughters of God. This Christmas, we need to say one more time, “Yes, Lord, anoint me and appoint me. I am your handmaiden, I am your bondservant, and I yield my will to Thine!”
II) THE CELEBRATION OF CHRISTMAS
In addition to the anointing of the Holy Spirit, another distinctive of the Pentecostal experience is exuberant praise and worship. In our church we knew how powerful the music and the song were in an atmosphere of worship and we liked to sing it loud and fast. About the fifth time through the chorus to “I’ll Fly Away” you’d think some of us were about to take off. But then Christmas would come and everything would slow down. We’d sing “Noel” or “Silent Night,” or some other equally slow Christmas Carol that sounded more like a funeral dirge than a song of the celebration. It was so unlike our normal worship style that it somehow seemed forced and unnatural.
I like some of the new Christmas songs that our choir sings. I like those songs with a good fast beat and note of celebration to them. I like the foot tapping and hand clapping songs that make us want to get up and move. The birth of the Savior shouldn’t be observed like we’re sad. It ought to be a time of celebration. Look in Luke’s Gospel, chapter 2 beginning at verse 9, and you’ll see the tone and tenor of that first Christmas announcement:
10 Then the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger." 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 14 "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" NKJV
That’s what I’m talking about! Good tidings, great joy, praising God and giving Him glory. That’s a celebration worthy of a king! That’s a Pentecostal Christmas!
We’ve been given good tidings of great joy, but most of the songs sounded like bad news. We’ve been given a reason to shout, sing, praise God and give Him the glory, but in the midst of the traffic and crowds, with too much to buy and too little money, with all the Christmas gatherings and a busy Christmas schedule, sometimes we feel more like crying than celebrating. But we can’t let the world rob us of the wonderful news, and the powerful promise of salvation in Jesus. I’m not bound by some liturgical ritualistic form of Christianity that frowns on such expressions of joy. I’m a blue blooded, card carrying Pentecostal and I’ve got a right and a reason to celebrate throughout the Christmas season.
No wonder so many people get the blues at Christmas. Most of the Christmas songs sound like we’re singing the blues. Instead of sitting around getting sad, we should be singing and shouting, praising God and giving Him the glory. I may not have a lot of money to buy the gifts I’d like to buy, but praise God Christ is born! I may not have my kids around me, and family members and friends may be gone, but Jesus is still alive and well and He’s still my Savior! I may have had a string of sad Christmases as a child with too many bad memories, but I’m forgetting those things which are behind and I’m here today to rejoice, to reclaim the promise of the angels and to remember that Christ is Lord!
I’m a Spirit filled, tongue talking, pew walking, Pentecostal and if you don’t want to shout, don’t hinder me! You can sit on your hands and silence your praise if you want to, but I don’t want to! I’m going to give glory to God in the highest.
III) THE FAITH OF CHRISTMAS
I want you to notice one more thing. In Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 2, verses 10 through 11 tell us of the wise men who followed the star to Bethlehem.
10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Let me begin by saying that I hate the fact that the concept of faith has been so distorted by so many preachers who claim to be Pentecostal or Charismatic. So much of the teaching by these preachers is more about greed than it is about faith. I am embarrassed as a Pentecostal that these charlatans call themselves Pentecostal when they are little more than snake oil salesmen. Having said that, let me say that I thank God that at the turn of the Twentieth Century there were still Christians who believed that God hears and answers prayers.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of the Pentecostal movement was that we reclaimed the promises of the Bible. We began to exercise the power of faith for healing and for the miraculous. The early Pentecostal movement saw healings, miracles, and other powerful manifestations of God’s presence.
Growing up in the Pentecostal church we believed that if we trusted God and put our faith in Him, God would supply all our needs according to His riches in glory. We didn’t claim we would be rich, that wasn’t even the motive. We were thankful to know that when we put our faith in God that He would make a way when there seemed to be no way.
Mary and Joseph didn’t know that King Herod was planning to kill Jesus. They didn’t know that in a short while that Herod would make a decree to kill all the infant male children in that region. But God knew and God used wealthy men from another nation to bring the resources that would sustain the family as they fled to Egypt. They put their trust in God, and God provided.
The Christian church by the turn of the Twentieth Century had been so influenced by the Enlightenment and by the Age of Reason that many Christian religious expressions no longer believed that God would manifest His presence in the world. They believed in God, they accepted Jesus as their Savior, but they had no expectation of God healing a sick body, or providing temporal needs to sustain them. In our day this seems strange. Even non-Pentecostal denominations now pray for healing and for provision, but before the Pentecostal movement went back to the Bible and reclaimed the miracles, the church had a form of godliness, but they denied the power thereof.
As a Pentecostal, I’m embarrassed by the extremes and by the materialistic focus of faith, but I have no intention of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. I still believe in healing. I still believe that if we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness that He will supply our need according to His riches in glory.
I don’t believe that if we just have enough faith that we’ll never be sick, but I do believe that if any are sick among us, we can call upon the elders of the church and anoint the sick with oil, and the prayer faith shall heal the sick and the Lord shall raise them up. I still believe that we can lay hands on the sick and the sick will recover.
I’d don’t believe that if we just have enough faith that we’ll be wealthy, that every business venture will be a booming success, or that I’m promised every promotion or pay raise that the company offers. But I do believe that Jesus said:
Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you." (Luke 6:38, NKJV)
I believe that if God calls us to do something that He will supply the resources to accomplish the task. Mary and Joseph were fulfilling God’s will for their lives and God made provision for them to triumph over the attack of the enemy. God is no respecter of persons and what He did for Mary and Joseph He will do for you. Pentecostals reclaimed the faith of Scripture and they saw God work miracles in their lives.
As Pentecostals we know that Christmas isn’t about wealth and riches, but about seeking the kingdom of God and knowing that He will take care of us. We don’t have to worry or fret. We don’t have to lose sleep and get ulcers. All we have to do is put our priorities in place, seek God’s will for our lives, live within our means, be faithful in tithes and offerings, and God has promised that He will meet our needs. It is when we put other things ahead of God that Christmas loses its meaning and we find ourselves in financial straits.
What are you doing to do this Christmas season? Are you going to go through the same old motions? Are you going to sing the same old blues, or are you going to give God the praise. Are you going to trust God with your life, with your health, and with your wealth, or are you going fret and fear, are you going to doubt and pout, are you going to cut and run?
I plan to have a Pentecostal Christmas this year. I plan to seek the anointing of God on my life as I surrender my will to His. I plan to praise God and to celebrate His goodness. And finally, I’m going to trust God, to believe that as I seek His kingdom first He will provide the resources I need to accomplish His will for my life.