Christmas is a lot of things, but “life-changing?!?!” How could that be? There are two views of what the spirit of Christmas is, one that doesn’t change us and the other that does when we grasp it.
The first view of the spirit of Christmas is “do good unto others”, typified by Charles Dickens’ famous story A Christmas Carol. The main character Ebenezer Scrooge is a mean-hearted, tight-fisted, penny-pinching banker who works his employees to the bone. There are few things Scrooge hates more than the season of Christmas with the time it takes away from work and spirit of “giving” which threatens his hard earned money.
Then on Christmas Eve, Scrooge gets a rude awakening. Three spirits visit him: Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Future. The spirit of Christmas Past shows him how joyful he used to be before he became a stingy workaholic. Christmas Present shows the effect his stinginess is having on the poverty of his employees. And Christmas Future shows Scrooge the shame and judgment that await him if he does not change. These spirits have an effect on Scrooge. No longer is he the stingy, grumpy man everyone knew but now he becomes more generous, exemplifying the Christmas Spirit of “do good unto others.”
But no matter how endearing the Christmas Spirit of “do good unto others” is from A Christmas Carol, it still leaves us without a prescription for life change.
Because it is neither fear nor guilt but grace which produces radical generosity in us. Grace is being given that which you did not earn or deserve. Only when we see ourselves as recipients of grace can we become radically generous.
But for many of us, we are more likely to feel our standing in the world is something we’ve earned rather than been given. We don’t think we need help as much as people who are physically weak and in poverty. We have a “middle-class” mindset that we get what we’ve put in and even a middle-class approach to religion that if there is a God, he will give me what I deserve because I’ve lived a pretty good life. What this means is that (though we won’t admit it) we think we are better than other people because we’ve worked harder and earned the life we have. We cannot love those who we think we are better than and be radically generous to those who we think don’t deserve it. “Doing good unto others” as a motivation, superficially affects us but leaves our hearts fundamentally unchanged.
But there is another view of the Christmas Spirit, called “the Christmas story”, audaciously claimed to be true by people throughout the centuries that when grasped, changes our “middle-class” outlook of life, making us radically generous and gracious people. It is the story that God chose to enter the world he created, becoming a man, born into humble, quiet circumstances, identifying with us in our poverty and suffering, and sacrificing his whole life so that we could be made rich in him. Imagine for a moment if the writer of A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, actually entered the story he wrote and became a character who bore the suffering and broken condition of the people? What marvel and awe would the characters in the story feel in experiencing such amazing grace by the storyteller in rescuing them from their brokenness and the consequences of their dishonor to him. What have they done to deserve this from the storyteller? Nothing!
“God’s grace for us”. This is the Spirit of Christmas which changes us. While we were poor, he became poor so we could be rich (2 Cor. 8:9). While we were broken, he became broken so we could be healed. While we deserved justice, he took on our justice so we could have his grace. When you see who you are and trust what he came to do for you that you never deserved, you can no longer see yourself as better than others because nothing you did earned his favor. You can identify with the poor because you were poor before he made you rich. And you can’t help but be gracious and generous to others because he was gracious and generous to you.
While “do good unto others” constrains our hearts, “God’s grace” changes our hearts.
But to grasp this, we need to realize and admit that we are poor, that we need his grace. We need to see that if we have betrayed our own moral standards many times how much more have we betrayed him and his standards? Sure we are not drug addicts but aren’t we just as addicted to other people’s approval or trying to make an identity for ourselves? Only when we see that we are actually poor, do we see the riches of “the Christmas Spirit” in God becoming poor for us in the person of Jesus so we can be rich in him.
When we grasp this spirit of Christmas “God’s grace for us”, Christmas no longer superficially affects us, but fundamentally changes us.