Giving gifts is very common during the Christmas season. This practice seems to have started sometime in the 19th century. The commonly understood basis for this gesture is the gifts given to Jesus in the Christmas story of the Gospels. The Wisemen from the East came to worship Jesus “who has been born King of the Jews” and offered gifts to him (Matt. 2:1,11). Pastors make a point from this Scripture event that we should offer our lives as gifts to King Jesus. Instead of giving away our lives for Christ’s sake as gifts to Him, Christians are preoccupied with giving gifts to family and friends. Rarely, if ever, are gifts given to the really needy and poor who could meaningfully use any gift. Is that the only connection between Christmas and gifts?
Also, we might suggest that Christmas gifts point to God’s gift of salvation through Christ Jesus, “for God so loved the world that He gave…” (Jn. 3:16). Indeed, God gave us the gift in the person of the Messiah as the revealer of God whom no eye has ever seen (Jn. 1:1, 14, 17-18). God gave us the gift of salvation through Christ’s death which no one else ever procured by any price or good works (Eph. 2:7-9; Rom. 11:35; Tit. 3:4-5). God also gave us many other gifts in Christ. Let us think about another gift in relation to Christmas.
The Holy Spirit as a Christmas Gift
Apart from the promise of eternal life, one gift that is more important than all other gifts which God gave us is the gift of the Holy Spirit; a gift that we either take for granted, undermine or neglect. It is a gift of God related to the story of Christmas. To show this, I would like to consider one passage from our apostle Paul’s letters, namely Galatians 4:1-7.
Paul teaches many truths concerning the incarnation of Christ in his letters. In this passage in which he refers to the birth of Christ, he significantly connects His birth to His death. In making this connection, Paul tells us that God made us qualified to inherit the riches of heaven stored up for believers. God does this by sending us the Spirit of His Son. This was made possible because of Christ’s birth. Elsewhere, Paul teaches that Christ’s incarnation was important to the ministry of the promised Holy Spirit without whom our obedience to God’s commands would be impossible (Rom. 8:1ff.).
In Galatians 4:1-7, Paul speaks of God sending His Son (v.4) and the Spirit of His Son (v.6) in the same breath. The truth that Paul teaches is that Gentile Christians do not need to follow any Jewish rituals (circumcision in particular) for receiving the benefit of the spiritual blessings which God has promised to the children of Abraham. The topic under discussion is heirship. The paragraph begins and ends with the word “heir” in vv.1 & 7. That is, how do we inherit the blessing God made to Abraham (cf. Gen. 12:1-3 etc.)?
The apostle refers twice to Christ’s birth in verse 4. He also uses terms, such as “child” (v.1) and “children” (v.3), referring to those under the Mosaic law and compares them to “slaves” (v.1; also “enslaved”, v.4). The principle drawn from the analogy is that a child equivalent in status to that of a slave cannot yet inherit nor enjoy his father’s wealth until he grows up. The term for growing up in this text is sonship as opposed to childhood. The term “son” occurs four times in vv.5-7. This change or qualifying of the slave-like children into mature sons is brought about by the birth of “His [God’s] Son”, also repeated twice (vv. 4, 6). This in the Bible is called “adoption” (v. 5).
Christmas and Our Inheritance
Unlike our popular understanding of adopting young children who are born to others, adoption in the Bible is about God making us qualified to inherit the blessings which He promised to Abraham (see Gal. 3:29).
As such, children under the Law who once were outside the purview of family inheritance have been made sons so as to become heirs of it. This happens when we exercise our faith in the redemptive work of Christ. Even the physical descendants of Abraham are in the status of children (not mature yet) and are placed “under guardians and managers” (v.2). This status remains for them until they receive sonship. That sonship is obtained for us by Christ because of His birth (v.4) and consequently the sending of the Spirit of His Son (v.6). The Galatians had obtained this gift of the Spirit by faith (Gal. 3:1-3).
The blessings of God offered to Abraham’s descendants is also equally made available to the Gentiles who believe. A similar argument is found in Galatians 2:15-21. The Jews were justified by faith apart from keeping the Law, so are the Gentiles (cf. Rom 2:21ff.).
Paul refers to the death of Christ in terms of His redemptive work. Christ was born to “redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (v.5). Christ’s birth and death facilitated the Father’s sending of His Spirit to our hearts, so that we can, with unwavering confidence, call God “Abba-Father!” (v.6). All that God the Father offers to his Son belongs to us as well (cf. Rom. 8:28-30). God gave us the Spirit of God to guarantee the fulfilment of this final realization of our hope. His indwelling is also a pledge of the full and final inheritance of God that is yet to be received by us (see 2 Cor. 1:22-23; 5:5; Eph. 1:13-14).
Gifts are Enablements
Gifts must be for enablement. If gifts have only momentary value, they are effectively worthless. I remember a gift of Rs.50, when I was in need for just that amount, so I could return a rented bicycle before I left for a long vacation. Our family of five was grateful for the gift of a car at a time when we could not afford one. Yes! Gifts are enablements!
The enablement that comes by the gift of the Holy Spirit through the birth of Christ are many. He makes us alive (regenerates, Tit. 3:3-5). He enables us to obey the laws of God (Rom. 8:1ff). He intercedes for us in our weakness (8:26-27). He remains in us as God’s pledge of the inheritance along with His own Son. For God to fail in His promise is to deny the Spirit of His own Son.
Let us, therefore, savour and treasure God’s gift of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Let us “not quench the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess. 5:14) nor “grieve the Holy Spirit” (Eph. 4:30). Let us “be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Eph. 5:18), “praying at all times in the Spirit” (6:18) and be “transformed into the same image [of God/Christ] from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18). The first Christmas facilitated the gift of the Spirit to us. Thanks be to God for this gift of Christmas!
Saji P. Thomas serves as a co-pastor at Bethel Baptist Church, Bangalore. He is married to Jessy Thomas and they have three children.