Advent 18: The Holy Spirit and the birth of Jesus

We’ve come to expect the angels. The carols sing about them and they adorn the Christmas cards.

Less obvious, perhaps, is the Holy Spirit.

Yet it’s fascinating to notice how often he is mentioned in Luke’s story of the birth of Jesus.

Notice –

  • Gabriel promised Zechariah that John would be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.
  • The Holy Spirit and the power of the Most High would ensure the miraculous virgin conception of God’s Son.
  • Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit when Mary came to stay with her. She appears to have prophesied and her unborn son, John, leaped for joy in her womb.
  • Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit when he named John, and the result was his prophecy.
  • The Holy Spirit was upon Simeon (whose story is for another day), and had revealed to Simeon that he would see the Christ. It was ‘in the Spirit’ that Simeon arrived in the temple when Jesus was there with his parents. Simeon also prophesies.

The Holy Spirit was present at the beginning of creation (see Genesis 1), and at work in the lives of various individuals across the pages of the Old Testament: now Luke notes his presence at the coming of Christ.

Later we will read in Luke how the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove, how he filled him and led him into the desert. Later still, Jesus would promise the gift of the Spirit to those who asked the Father (Luke 11), and (in Acts) tell his disciples to wait for the promise: the Spirit would empower them to be his witnesses – which began at Pentecost.

Pointing us back to the Old Testament’s two-sided promise about the Holy Spirit. On the one hand, there would be an Anointed One upon whom the Spirit would rest (see Isaiah 11, 61); on the other, the Spirit would be poured out on the people.

Both find their fulfilment in Jesus. The anointed individual (see Luke 4) and the one whose exaltation would lead to the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 1,2).

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