By Pastor Glenn Pease
Celestine Sibley tells of her father saying to her mother one grayish December morning, "the lumber business is going badly. It looks like a poor Christmas this year." She cried out, "A poor Christmas-shame on you! There is no such thing as a poor Christmas! Times can be hard and people poor but Christmas stands by itself as glorious and unmatched by anything else in history."
Here was a woman who had an enthusiasm for Christmas for she saw it as a celebration of good news that all the bad news in the world could not alter. A poor Christmas was a contradiction in terms. You might just as well speak of a poor ocean, a poor moon, a poor sun, or a poor galaxy. There are some things you just can't diminish, and Christmas is one of them.
Christmas is a celebration of a glorious event that all the powers of hell cannot make not to have been. It is too late for a poor Christmas to ever be. The spirit of Christmas has spread around the world. Ever since that night the angels infected the shepherds with this spirit, it has been contagious. We usually connect the word contagious with disease and the spreading of germs from one person to another. But if you look the word up in the dictionary you discover it applies to positive things too. Enthusiasm can be contagious, and praise can be contagious. The communication of any influence to the mind or heart can be become contagious.
This is what we see happening on the first Christmas. Visitors from another world brought something into earth's atmosphere. It is a good thing angels came before the age of science. Scientist worry about alien contamination. When moon rocks were brought back to earth they were worried they could contain some organism that could spread diseases for which we had no cure. They kept these rocks isolated until they were thoroughly checked out. They wanted no alien germs on our planet.
Can you imagine what they would have expected these Christmas angels to go through if they put rocks through such restrictions. They would have insisted that they stay in some sort of angelic delousing chamber before they were permitted to communicate with men. The risks would be enormous that these beings could spread something that would radically alter the human race. The fact is, they did just that. These angels were contagious with the good news of great joy. This spirit broke through the barrier between heaven and earth and infected the shepherds. They were instantly cured of their fear, and filled with enthusiasm to see the announced child in Bethlehem. Verse 17 says, "When they had seen Him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child." What they had was contagious, and they began to spread it to everyone with whom they had contact.
Before the first Christmas day had ended the world had an epidemic on its hands, for the Christmas spirit was contagious. It was spread by mouth from one person to another. If you were a carrier you could give it to a lot of people very quickly. Satan and many of his mad scientists have tried to prevent the spread of this contagious spirit. They have labored hard to find a cure, but to no avail. The Christmas contagion has leaped all boundaries and spread into all the world. A single carrier of the Christmas spirit can infect unlimited numbers of people.
The guidepost, some years back, told the story of an American family in France. The parents and three sons were having a perfectly awful time. There car broke down, their hotel was a dump, and they had to walk in the rain to a drab little joint for dinner. The wife ordered a meal in French and got something she didn't want. The husband called her stupid and their attitudes matched the negative atmosphere. A French couple at the next table were not exactly helping. The father slapped one of his children and started him crying. A German couple on the other side were obviously arguing even though they could not understand a word they were saying.
The only happy person in the place was an American sailor who sat by himself writing a letter. An old French flower woman came in and tried to sell flowers at each table, but no one was in the mood for flowers. She sat down and ordered a bowl of soup. "Can you imagine," she said to the waiter, "I haven't sold a flower all day so it's soup for me on Christmas Eve." They all sat there in heavy silence, never dreaming that there was a contagious spirit about to invade their lives.
The American sailor finished his meal and walked over to the flower woman. He said, "Merry Christmas. I want two of your little corsages. How much are they?" She said, "One franc apiece." He said, "I'll take two", and he handed her a twenty franc note. "I'll get change", she said. And he said, "Don't bother, it is my Christmas present to you." Then he came over to the table of the American family and gave the wife one of the corsages. He pressed the other into his letter and said, " Merry Christmas everybody", as he walked out into the night. The atmosphere in that restaurant exploded with the Christmas spirit. The old flower woman began to dance and wave her twenty franc note. She invited the piano player to join her for a feast. He began to play happy music and the customers all joined in singing. The boy who was slapped, stopped weeping and joined his father in beating out the rhythm with his fork on a glass. There was such a jubilant spirit of celebration that people going by came into the restaurant and joined in the singing. That sailor was a carrier, and through his mouth he infected the whole atmosphere with the contagious joy of Christmas. What a bug this Christmas bug is. When it gets into your system, it cures you of the negatives that plague your life.
Germs and the Gospel have this in common-they are spread by word of mouth from person to person. It is not true that only bad news travels fast. Good news can spread like wild fire. It did on the first Christmas, and we read in verse 18, "And all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them." This good news was not only contagious and spreading like wild fire, it was having a potent impact on all who were touched by it. They were amazed; they were astonished; they were in a state of wonderment. All of these things are conveyed by the Greek word describing their symptoms as they are infected with the good news of Christmas. From Satan's point of view, the Christmas spirit was like a plague he could not stop. He tried to stamp it out in it's early stages, but Herod's plot failed, and the good news kept spreading. The Gospel germ had to much virility for his anti-Christ attack. It kept spreading from person to person, and today it has spread around the world. From Satan's perspective, it is the greatest plague in history.
I would like to make a medical examination of the spirit of Christmas. A diagnosis of this contagious spirit will help us see it's major symptoms more clearly. Diagnosis is a Biblical word. Paul in Acts 25:21, appeals to Caesar for a hearing. The Greek word for hearing is diagnosis. It means thorough or complete knowledge. Paul wants Caesar to hear the whole story, and have a complete grasp of all the facts. When a doctor diagnoses you it means they get a complete knowledge of your symptoms, and thus are able to identify the disease you have.
There are two major symptoms of the Christmas spirit. If you have these two symptoms you can be diagnosed as being a carrier of this contagious spirit. If we put all of the persons in the New Testament who were infected with this spirit, under the microscope, these are the two symptoms we find. First is-
Awe, astonishment, and wonder were the clear symptoms of all who were involved in the Christmas story. The wise men saw the wondrous Star of Bethlehem, and they were moved to come to worship the child. You do not worship what does not create wonder. There has to be some degree of awe to stimulate worship. That is why people are more likely to praise God as they look at the Grand Canyon then when they look at a mole hill. The spectacular and wondrous compels the mind to think big. When you think big you tend to think of God. The Star of Bethlehem was big and awesome, and it produced wonder in those wise men. This is the first symptom of the Christmas spirit.
The angels produced this same symptom in the shepherds. Their glory lit up the Judean field, and the shepherds were filled with wonder as they heard the angels sing. Their wonder compelled them to run to town to see the great sight of the new-born King. After they saw the Christ child their wonder was magnified, and they amazed everyone they knew with their awesome experience.
The Greek word describing what they did is the word right next to diagnosis in the Greek concordance. It is diagnorizo, and it means, to make known thoroughly and completely. The NIV translates it, " They spread the word." They told everybody every detail with such enthusiasm that it was contagious. The wonder was thus spread in an epidemic of amazement.
Let's be honest with the facts. All of us would be filled with wonder if we saw a bright special star in the sky that was moving. All of us would be filled with wonder if we were confronted with angels in the middle of the night. The wise men and the shepherds were not unusual men for catching the wonder that God sent into the world that first Christmas. It would take an unusual person to escape the contagion of such awesome signs.
We don't have to put ourselves down because we can't match their spirit of wonder. We could if we saw the star and heard the angels, but we only have the record of their experience. You can't expect to hear a man describe his awe at looking at the Grand Canyon, and feel the same wonder that he did. Wonder naturally decreases with each step that you are removed from the actual experience. We have no star to follow and no Christ child to see. This was history that can never be repeated and experienced by anyone again. Even the most elaborate Christmas play or film cannot reproduce the emotions of the original cast. This is not required to have the Christmas spirit, anymore than it is required that we have the same emotions as George Washington, to have the spirit of freedom and love for our land.
But wonder, to some degree, is a key symptom, and that is why it is important to reflect on the miracles and providence of God surrounding the Incarnation. James Kestle wrote,
Somehow God weaves the strangest things
Into a pattern fair
He took an angel song, a star,
A Hebrew peasant pair,
Some shepherds on Judean hills
And unknown wise men three,
A stable cold and dark and damp,
A manger 'neath an inn
A weary world kneels hopefully
Before the Babe of Bethlehem!
We cannot feel the intensity of the wonder of the wise men and shepherds, but on the other hand, we experience a wonder they did not. We have the wondrous history of the spread of their contagious Christmas spirit. It spread to many hundreds and even thousands in their life time. But we see this spirit spread to many millions, and change the lives of people in every culture around the globe. Their wonder was based on the immediate impact in their lives and in their community. Our wonder is based on the long range impact of that first Christmas on the whole world. To contemplate the lives touched by the message of the star, the angels, and the shepherds is to be filled with wonder that a baby could alter the whole course of history. Richard Crashaw wrote,
Welcome all wonders in one sight!
Eternity shut in a span.
Summer in winter, day in night
Heaven in earth, and God in man.
Great little one! whose all-embracing birth
Lifts earth to heaven, stoops heaven to earth!
If you enter into the wonder of Christmas you reveal that you have the Christmas spirit, for wonder is a primary symptom, and it is contagious. The second symptom we see is-
It all started with Mary in Luke 1:46 where she begins her famous song, "My soul praises the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior." The father of John the Baptist, Zechariah, was next in Luke 1:68, "Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people." Then came the angelic praise in Luke 2:14, "Glory to God in the highest." And then that of the shepherds in Luke 2:20, "The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told."
The Christmas spirit can easily be diagnosed in those who lift their voice in praise to God. That is why music is such a vital part of Christmas. Music is the instrument of praise. Christmas songs are about praise to God for His wondrous gift, and the love that would motivate the gift of His Son. The fastest way to get infected with the spirit of Christmas is to start praising God for what He has done for you through His Son. This sort of praise is very contagious. If you let it start coming out of your mouth, before you know it, it has infected your heart, and your mind, and your whole attitude can be changed. Then it will leap from you to others, and they will be infected. Praise is contagious, and just like fear it can spread rapidly.
Herod chose to be a carrier of fear, and when he heard of the birth of the King of the Jews, we read in Matt. 2:3, "When King Herod heard this he was disturbed and all Jerusalem with him." Here was one man with a negative fearful attitude about Christmas, and in no time he had infected the whole city. This was evil contagion that Satan hoped would kill the spirit of Christmas. Fear is Satan's antidote to praise. If he can get people infected with fear he can break the fever of praise. That is why we need a persistent inclination to focus on the fascination of the Incarnation, so we can maintain the sense of inspiration that makes us carriers of the Christmas spirit. Let Satan rob you of the two symptoms of wonder and praise, and he has cured you of this contagious spirit. Do not let this happen, but be filled with wonder and praise that others can see in you that it is true-Christmas Is Contagious.