God sent the Son … and God sent the Spirit of the Son. St Paul brings together Christmas and Pentecost — as unlikely a pair, to our culture-conditioned minds, as plum pudding and a May Bank Holiday. Son and Spirit remain inseparable. Ask Mary.
Paul is describing how slaves become God’s adopted children and heirs. Telling, as so often, a fresh variation on the story of the Exodus, he sees the law itself as the instrument of slavery. It locked up the Jews in condemnation; it locked out the Gentiles from membership. Is God then powerless to keep his promise to Abraham, the promise of a worldwide family?
No. The birth of the child, as with Abraham himself, signals God’s faithfulness, God’s grace breaking through human impossibility. Born of a woman, born under the law, the Messiah has come to the slave-market, and has purchased his people’s freedom. Christmas people are to think of themselves as Passover people, and then also as Pentecost people: what God did in the birth of the one child, God now does in the birth of dozens, thousands, tens of millions in whose hearts the Spirit is poured out, and on whose lips, is the new-born cry, `Abba, Father’. (`Abba’ isn’t just a child’s word, but here it is treated as the sure sign of new life.) Father, Son and Spirit: God’s inner life, shared with us all.
Come back to Bethlehem, therefore, and see what has come to pass. Only come now, with the angels singing,
And see not one babe in the manger, but more than anyone could count: children and heirs of the free love of God, Passover people, Pentecost people. Christmas is the of celebration because this new birth heralds all new birth. In this young son all God’s Exodus people are called to be sons and daughters, free heirs of God’s lavish grace, clothed (as Isaiah says) with the garments of salvation. If we are in danger of becoming blasé about Christmas, we may run the risk of becoming complacent also about the miracle of the Spirit’s work, perhaps for similar reasons. We know
story too well, and have stopped pondering it in our hearts.
Pondering’ is a powerful word in the original. It isn’t just puzzled musing or focused daydreaming. It speaks of bringing together, or even throwing together, a collection of people, ideas or objects, and seeing what happens. Like the sages and visionaries of old, Mary guarded great and terrible secrets in her heart, turning them this way and that, letting them knock sparks off each other. God and the farmhands. Angels and straw. Grace and blood. Journeys and lodgings and babies and prayers. In and through them all, for her and for us, there weaves the story of God’s unexpected love and power, setting the whole to a music at once strange, wild and redemptive, a Magnificat that now heralds each new birth, each Spirit-led baby-cry, each new personal Christmas.