This article was written for Youthworks by Matt Keller, Children's Minister at St Paul's Castle Hill.
What exactly is Christmas spirit? Answers often involve being joyful and descriptions of general goodwill. When I googled it recently I got everything from prosaic answers about playing Christmas songs or decorating your house, to an article on the Scientific American Blog Network which postulated that, amongst other things, it originated from Scrooge’s encounter with a spirit known as Christmas Present!
Not surprisingly few results from my search mentioned anything about Jesus. However, as readers of the stories about the very first Christmas, we are probably familiar with just how often the Holy Spirit is mentioned!
In his commentary on Luke, Bock comments, “God’s Spirit is very active in the infancy events” (ECNT; p.85). This is certainly the case; the Spirit comes upon Mary (Luke 1:35) and fills John (1:15), Elizabeth (1:41), and Zechariah (1:67)…All in the opening chapter! The true Spirit of Christmas is God’s Spirit, for the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace…All the virtues commonly associated with Christmas spirit!
I was incredibly encouraged when I recently attended a Children’s Ministry network meeting in my region, organised by the Youthworks Ministry Support team. A well-established Kids' Minister made available some substantial resources for free to anyone who wished to use them. Another person shared some enormous struggles, and the overwhelming response from those I spoke to afterwards was to figure out how to best support and care for her in her unique situation. Still, other ministers came looking to have particular needs met and left encouraged by the body of Christ resolving to serve them. There is no doubt in my mind that the generosity, compassion, and service shown by the Lord’s people at this meeting came from the Spirit of God.
Jesus famously said “love one another; by this everyone will know that you are my disciples” (John 13:34-35). Our loving care for one another proclaims to the world that we have the Spirit of Christ and are being transformed by him to be more like our Lord. Imagine the message sent to our world if the selfless service and other-person-centredness I experienced at the Children’s Ministry network meeting characterised the way we all related to one another as Christians this Christmas! The world would see the real Spirit of Christmas in action.
I was reflecting recently that our communities of local churches seem to be an under-utilised tool in Children’s Ministry. It seems we’re all working hard to run Kids' Clubs, holiday outreach events and Sunday morning programs, but we rarely work in tandem with a holistic vision to win the lost for Christ together.
So what might this look like? Ephesians 4:3-4 reminds us that “there is one body and one Spirit; make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace”. What could it look like if local church Children’s Ministers worked together rather than subconsciously competing with the church down the road?
Perhaps some of the following ideas might get you thinking:
SRE Christmas assemblies: Are you presenting a Christmas assembly at any schools in December? If you’ve put in the effort to prepare something, perhaps offer to run it for other churches coordinating SRE in other schools. It will definitely save someone else the time and energy trying to pull something similar together!
Christmas carol events: In some suburbs, Christmas carol events seem to vie for space in the calendar. Public schools, community carols, church events…Every weekend is full, for everyone wants to get into the Christmas spirit! What effect might we have on our communities if our churches sent people to serve at local carols events rather than trying to run them or set up our own? If the Spirit of Christ enabled us to serve in even the smallest ways, what message might this send to our neighbours?
Church partnerships - Toys 'n' Tucker and Operation Christmas Child are great ways to show practical love to those struggling at Christmas. However, we need to ensure we’re not ignoring the very real needs in our next suburb over! I long to see well-resourced churches in wealthy areas partnering with churches in lower socio-economic areas of Sydney so that the people of God are together blessing those who struggle at Christmas.
Creativity has never been my strong suit. However, the Spirit of God, who hovered over the waters at creation, can fill us as he filled John, Elizabeth, and Zechariah so that we might speak the word of the Lord in ever more creative ways. Who might you speak to or work with this Christmas so that you might show the true Spirit of Christmas to others?