Speaking of Christmas C. S. Lewis wrote:
I feel exactly as you do about the horrid commercial racket they have made out of Christmas. I send no cards and give no presents except to children...(Letters to an American Lady, page 50)
I can relate to that sentiment. One thing I hear a lot from people at this time of year is, "You need to have the Christmas spirit." Or "Where is your Christmas Spirit?" I hear that a lot, because I'm not too fond of the way Americans celebrate Christmas.
What exactly is the "Christmas Spirit"? I suppose there are a lot of potential answers to that question. To Scrooge, the Christmas spirit was a ghost. To the liquor industry, the Christmas spirit comes in a bottle, somewhere around $75 million worth this month in America. Some people feel that the Christmas spirit is somehow the truce that takes place in the family where nobody quarrels. I suppose for some people the Christmas spirit is expressed in a card that conveys a sentiment of well being. Ninety-five percent of all Americans will be involved in sending five billion plus Christmas cards expressing these sentiments.
One little boy suggested that the Christmas spirit is really contentment, because that's what you need to be when you don't get what you want. For some people the Christmas spirit is an attitude of happiness found in the fellowship of friends, or the party spirit while consuming too much food and drink. For many, however, the Christmas spirit is not so trivial or so frivolous or so fun. For many the Christmas spirit is one of profound sadness, increased depression, because all that is wrong in your life is then measured against the hilarity of the time and seems even more profoundly painful.
Experts tell us that many people are abnormally depressed during the Christmas season. These people see the happiness and activity that is taking place all around them and become very discouraged, because they don't feel that way. They think that since it is the holidays, they are supposed to feel happy! When they don't, their discouragement and depression is magnified.
As one poet put it in a very personal expression of pain, "Christmas is a bitter day for mothers who are poor. The wistful eyes of children are daggers to endure. Though shops are crammed with playthings enough for everyone, if a mother's purse is empty there might as well be none." And then the poet ended with these words, "My purse is full of money but I cannot buy a toy, only a wreath of holly for the grave of my little boy." And Christmas is like that for some people.
Mostly though, I guess the spirit of Christmas is giving presents, if the mall is any indication. Billions of dollars are spent on everything from candy to multi-million dollar pieces of jewelry and everything in between. And the spirit of Christmas, they tell us, is giving. What is the true spirit of Christmas? Is it fun? Is it fellowship? Is it giving? What is it?
Well, as always, the best answer to that question is to go to the Bible. So I would like to take you to Luke chapter 1, and there we will find out what the spirit of Christmas really is. Let's look at the person who is the closest person in all the human realm to Jesus who had an intimacy with Him that no other person every knew, the one person most directly touched by His birth, none other than His mother Mary.
Luke 1:46-47 (NKJV) And Mary said: "My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
Mary's response to the announcement of Jesus' birth is worship and praise and adoration and gratitude. Without question, she gives the most magnificent psalm of worship, really the most magnificent psalm in the whole New Testament. And it is her Magnificat, it is her psalm of praise to God for the coming of Jesus Christ. And that one response, worship, is the spirit of Christmas.
The Christmas spirit is worship! Christmas should be a time of worship for Christians as we celebrate the birth of our Savior. What is worship? Worship is an attitude. It is an attitude of the heart that is filled with wonder and gratitude at what God has done. That's worship. It is the most selfless thing we do. It is to be so grateful and so filled with wonder at what the Lord has done that we lose ourselves in adoring worship, adoring praise. If at Christmas we focus on the very giving of Christ who is our Savior, Christmas will be a time of worship.
Let's look at Mary's worship:
Luke 1:46-54 (NKJV) And Mary said: "My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. 48 For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. 49 For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name. 50 And His mercy is on those who fear Him From generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. 52 He has put down the mighty from their thrones, And exalted the lowly. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things, And the rich He has sent away empty. 54 He has helped His servant Israel, In remembrance of His mercy,
That is the hymn of the incarnation. That is a worship song. Mary knew that she was to be the mother of the Son of God. She had been told that back in:
Luke 1:32-35 (NKJV) "He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 "And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end." 34 Then Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I do not know a man?" 35 And the angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.
Now in the prayers of Roman Catholics, particularly with regard to the rosary, Mary is called the Mother of God. And that is, in fact, the case. She is the mother of Jesus Christ who is God, but understand it this way: She is the mother of God, not in the sense that Jesus derived any of His divine nature from her. He did not. But only in the sense that he derived his human nature from her. She bore the human being who was God incarnate.
Unfortunately, many have perverted that reality as somehow contributing to the divinity of Jesus Christ. That's become historically a major separation between the Roman Catholic Church and Protestantism. It would be safe to say that Roman Catholicism is largely a Mary cult. It is devoted to worshiping Mary. In fact, in many cases you will find Jesus is somewhat incidental, and Mary is the main figure. And this is because the Roman Catholic Church has decreed the following doctrines as having always been true of Mary, there are five of them. These are unalterable, fixed, unchanging doctrines in the Roman Catholic Church.
Number one is called "The Immaculate Conception of Mary." It does not mean that she immaculately conceived Jesus Christ. It means that she was immaculately conceived by her mother. It is teaching the virgin birth of Mary, thus making Mary free from original sin. The immaculate conception is not speaking of the birth of Christ, it has to do with the birth of Mary.
The second doctrine the Roman Catholic Church decreed is "the sinlessness of Mary," that she lived her entire life and never sinned. We know that the only sinless person who ever lived was Jesus Christ.
The third doctrine is "the perpetual virginity of Mary," that is that she never knew a man all her life long. She was a perpetual virgin.
The Scripture clearly tells us that Jesus had brothers and sisters:
Mark 6:3 (NKJV) "Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?" And they were offended at Him.
Galatians 1:19 (NKJV) But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord's brother.
I guess all Jesus' brothers and sisters were virgin born also - not true.
Fourthly, the Roman Catholic Church has determined that it has always been true and is a doctrine that Mary never died. And they call it "The Assumption of Mary," or the bodily ascension of Mary into heaven.
Fifthly, the Roman Catholic Church teaches that when Mary assumed her place in heaven, when she ascended into heaven, she was coronated as the Queen of Heaven, a position of sovereignty and a position of authority. And in all honesty, in the Catholic system Jesus Himself is put in a position, on occasion, to be appealing to His sovereign mother.
So, the Roman Catholic Church came up with these doctrines: the Immaculate Conception of Mary, that she is free from original sin; her sinlessness throughout her life; her perpetual virginity; her bodily assumption into heaven, therefore she never died; she is coronated as the Queen of Heaven. And the result of that kind of concocted theology is the Mary cult that is at the core of worldwide Romanism. You see idols and shrines to Mary all over the world, in every church, in every cathedral, in homes, in rooms, restaurants, hotels, businesses; along the roads, the highways and the footpaths, Mary is worshiped.
And you may not know this, but Rome has even said that when Gabriel came and announced to Mary that she would bear the Lord, the Son of the Most High, the angel was only asking if this could happen. He was submitting to her authority. Roman Catholic theologians say that he was asking her permission that this could happen. And that she gave her permission when she said:
Luke 1:38 (NKJV) Then Mary said, "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her.
They interpret that as Mary saying, "You have my permission."
So the whole redemptive plan rested, then, on Mary's authority and on Mary's agreement, and her permission set redemption in motion. Now, all of that presents a convoluted and perverse picture of Mary. And as a result, does inestimable damage to the psalm and to an understanding of worship, because if that's true of Mary, then she is not the worshiper, she is the object of worship. If she is a sinless being, who never died, who is a sovereign in heaven, who had to give permission to Gabriel to do the redemptive plan, to carry it out; then this is something quite different than a worshiper. But in this hymn, Mary is not the worshiped, Mary is the worshiper. It is a hymn of worship from Mary to God. And in it is such beauty and such magnificence that it can be looked at like a diamond with many facets and flashing brilliance on many different fronts.
Let's look at the elements that are in this psalm that speak of the significance and the meaning of worship. Here is a worshiper. Here is the Christmas spirit. Here is Mary, and she teaches us how we are to worship.
First, we see in her:
1. THE ATTITUDE OF WORSHIP:
Luke 1:46-47 (NKJV) And Mary said: "My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. 48 For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
In just those first three verses, we get the attitude of worship. And we're going to look at four aspects of it.
A. Worship Is Internal.
Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord." And then "My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior." The term "soul" and the term "spirit" are synonymous and speak of the inner person. She is simply summing her whole inner being. She is saying that worship rises from inside. It's not something you do on the outside. It's not a performance. It's not a set of words or a set of actions. It becomes that, but it is something that is moral and mental and emotional. It is in the mind and the will and the emotion. It sums up the whole inner being. The whole of her inner being is worshiping.
Worship comes up from inside. It is not coming to church. It is not singing a hymn alone. It is not reading words in a Bible, hearing a sermon. It is not just giving something in the offering. It is not carrying out a ritual, even the Lord's table. Those are potential effects, of course, of a worshiping heart, but they cannot stand alone as true worship. It is the inner heart of adoring praise that is the essence of true worship. It is when the soul and the spirit are overwhelmed. It is an internal thing.
In fact, external, shallow worship is distasteful to God. Superficial worship finds no place of acceptance with Him.
For example, Isaiah the prophet said:
Isaiah 29:13 (NKJV) Therefore the LORD said: "Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths And honor Me with their lips, But have removed their hearts far from Me, And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men,
God says, "These people draw near with their mouths And honor Me with their lips." If I can make this contemporary, "They talk about Me, they put things about Me on their Christmas cards, and they sing My carols, but they do not honor Me. They have removed their heart from Me."
John 4:24 (NKJV) "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."
The true worshiper is the one whose heart is devoted, the one whose heart is overflowing. It comes from deep down inside, and it therefore goes on all the time.
B. Worship Is Intense.
It is not only internal, it is intense. Notice, "My soul magnifies the Lord. My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior." Now, when you read that in English, maybe it doesn't grab you. The word "magnifies" is the Greek word megaluno. I'm sure you know a little about the word mega. That is a Greek word that often gets transliterated over into English when we want to say something is bigger than normal. And what she is doing here is not just exalting, but it is a mega exaltation, it is a large one. The literal meaning of the word megaluno is: "to cause to swell, or to cause to grow, or to crescendo as if starting at some point and extending and becoming larger and larger." And the word "rejoices" means: "to be overjoyed." It even is referred, in some uses, to an out loud kind of joy, an almost exuberant kind of joy that is uncontained. Those are the terms - spontaneous, exuberant joy bursts out in worship. So you have two components of true worship: It is internal, it rises from what the heart comprehends; It rises from what the mind understands. And when Mary came to grips with what was going on, it literally captured her mind. Her mind transferred it to her emotions. It got every part of her inner being moving and it just erupted in intensity. That's the stuff of which worship is made, but it starts with revelation to the mind, doesn't it? This is what's going to happen, here are the facts, and then the explosion in response.
Worship, then, is the right attitude, it is internal and it is intense. If you look at the history of Israel, you will find how God despised superficial worship. Through the prophet Malachi He says:
Malachi 1:7-8 (NKJV) "You offer defiled food on My altar. But say, 'In what way have we defiled You?' By saying, 'The table of the LORD is contemptible.' 8 And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, Is it not evil? And when you offer the lame and sick, Is it not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favorably?" Says the LORD of hosts.
The prophet Amos, the herdsman of Tekoa, was sent by God to both expose and denounce the apostasy and hypocrisy of Israel. And among other things, God said, through Amos, these words:
Amos 5:21-24 (NKJV) "I hate, I despise your feast days, And I do not savor your sacred assemblies. 22 Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them, Nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings. 23 Take away from Me the noise of your songs, For I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments. 24 But let justice run down like water, And righteousness like a mighty stream.
Their superficial worship was making God sick. The very feast, by the way, which God Himself had given them explicit directions to observe, became, through their hypocrisy, a stench to His nostrils.
David put it this way, "You desire truth in the inward parts" (In the heart). Isaiah said the same thing in Isaiah chapter 1:
Isaiah 1:11-13 (NKJV) "To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?" Says the LORD. "I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams And the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls, Or of lambs or goats. 12 "When you come to appear before Me, Who has required this from your hand, To trample My courts? 13 Bring no more futile sacrifices; Incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies; I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting.
This is another way of saying that you have to worship Him from the heart. And Mary did that. All known sin must be confessed to do that. And the focus of everything must be on the Lord.
How long has it been for you since you were, as C.S. Lewis put it, surprised by joy just bursting out from inside of you? How long since you were so overjoyed by the truth of God that you burst forth in worship?
C. Worship Is Habitual.
"My soul magnifies," (continuous action, present tense). It isn't that it's just related to an event or a moment, particularly an event or a moment like this that has eternal consequences. It goes on and on and on. It isn't just that you rejoiced when you were saved, it is that you started rejoicing then and never will stop. Fluctuating circumstances do not impact true worship. They don't affect it. They don't have anything to do with it. It flows on uninterrupted. It's not really difficult for one who is a true worshiper from the heart, with intensity, to be able to fulfill the words of Paul, "In everything give thanks."True worship becomes a way of life, because it's fixed on something that never changes. God never changes. Christ never changes. Salvation never changes. His promises never change. His covenant never changes. Our future never changes. So why should worship rise and fall? Why should it ebb and flow? True worship doesn't.
If worship for you only happens on a Sunday morning when it sort of gets pumped up, or only happens around the Christmas season or other special events, you're kidding yourself about whether you're a true worshiper. If worship only happens when things are going well in your life, and you can whistle a tune, because you got what you wanted, or because you're happy about the current events in your life, or because your measure of comfort has been met; if worship is connected to that, then you don't understand the real stuff, because true worship is unaffected by fluctuating circumstances. It doesn't rise, and it doesn't fall. It is the constant praise that comes from deep within the soul, because that which is spiritually true is unchanging.
Job was a true worshiper. He worshiped God in the midst of the worst circumstances imaginable.
Job 1:20-21 (NKJV) Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. 21 And he said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, And naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD."
Worship shouldn't be affected by what goes on in life. And when you begin to ebb and flow in your attitude, and your demeanor and your joy comes and goes, it is because you have attached yourself to another priority than the unchanging work of God and the unchanging presence of Christ. You have attached your joy to the changing circumstances of life, which means your focus isn't on Him, your focus is on you. You can tell a true worshiper, because they go through the circumstances of life with an unmitigated contentment and an unchanging joy as Job did.
D. Worship Is Humble.
And that leads me to a fourth element. The attitude of worship is internal, intense, habitual and, fourthly (here's really the key one) it is humble. True worship only comes from a humble heart. What is a humble heart? A humble heart is a heart that has no thought for itself. Pride is the worship of self, that's what it is. And it competes with God. And if you're not thankful, it's not because God hasn't fulfilled His promise, it's because your comfort level isn't where you want it. And that's because you're focused on you. It's because you didn't get what you deserved, didn't get what you counted on, hoped for, prayed for, thought you deserved. Pride remembers all wrongs done to it. Pride wants to strike back when it is offended. Pride wants to retaliate. It is not filled with praise, because it fixes itself on the ebb and flow of life's issues.
Humility cares nothing for those. Humility isn't going around all the time beating on your chest bemoaning your iniquity. Humility is being so focused on God that what may or may not be yours is of little consequence. You don't focus on you. You're not the issue. God hates pride and God hates the proud, the Bible says, and God resists the proud, but He gives grace to the humble. And anyone who comes to worship must come in humility, because that's being lost in God, and that means that you are not an issue.
We see this attitude of humility in Mary:
Luke 1:48 (NKJV) For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
Mary calls herself "His maidservant". The thing that strikes Mary about this whole deal is that it is incomprehensible that God would have had such regard for such a humble, common girl. That's what's amazing. She doesn't say anything about herself...nothing. Spontaneously, she bursts forth, "My soul exalts the Lord." She doesn't have a thought like this, "Well, I think He made a pretty good choice, I certainly know a lot of women who aren't as godly as me."
We are rather anxious to spread our successes to all who will listen. Even our smallest successes turn into tall tales, don't they? And if we have achieved some great thing, or if we have received some great blessing, or met some great person, or had some distinction or some position; we tend to speak of our success. And our initial response might be, "My soul doth magnify myself."
Well, Mary didn't have such a thought. She didn't even think to pick up the telephone, if there had been one; and, boy, it would be a tough temptation if you just were told you're going to be the mother of God to stay away from the phone. I mean, her immediate thought was directed heavenward. That's the kind of attitude out of which worship rises.
If she does glance at herself for only the brief moment, it is only to wonder how she could ever have been noticed by God. How could God have ever noticed her? How could God have ever known her and cared about her or thought her in any sense suitable for this? How could God have ever concluded that she was one to be favored? How could God have been well pleased with her? Why her? Why her?
You see, it is characteristic of humility that it has no thought for itself, and that it is surprised by any commendation, if not shocked. When she says that God regarded her low estate, literally, she uses a term that means that she was in a humiliated state of being, she was a nobody - she was a nobody socially, culturally. She was just a handmaid, capable of nothing and worthy of nothing - a simple wife of a village carpenter, an unlikely mother for God.
Now, we are sure she was a pure and a godly woman. But you know something about the pure and the godly? They never see themselves that way. Those who are truly pure and truly godly and truly righteous don't think they are. And the more godly you are, the less godly you believe yourself to be. And so there's a certain brokenness and a humility. The essence of true spirituality is not to think you have it. But humility is at the heart of true worship, a sense of unworthiness, a sense of sinfulness, a lack of qualification for anything, for any blessing, for any goodness, for any gift from God. And when it comes, you're just absolutely overwhelmed.
Now, worship is internal, intense, habitual and humble. If Mary was exalted above all women, she might have been the humblest of all women. I mean, if God lifted her to the highest, it must have been because she was the lowest.
What is the attitude, then, of worship? A deep heartfelt inner spring of intense gratitude and joy that bursts forth habitually from a humble soul who knows its utter unworthiness. That's worship. And that's the spirit of Christmas.
Who are we that we should be so highly favored as to be made not the mother of God, but the children of God? Who are we that He should come to die for us? Such overwhelming grace, undeserved!
We have seen the attitude of worship, now let's look at:
2. THE OBJECT OF WORSHIP:
So we never miss this, and it's obvious, Mary said, "My soul exalts the Lord and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior." The object of worship is God. All the glory goes to Him. All the honor goes to Him. All the worship goes to Him. Worship is very central in that sense, very simple, very focused, very one dimensional. We worship God.
Luke 4:8 (NKJV) And Jesus answered and said to him, "Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.'"
Worship is limited to one being in the universe and that is God. And Mary knew it. So she worships God the Savior. He is called God our Savior a number of times, in 1 Timothy and in Titus. God is a saving God. He sent His Son into the world to save us from our sin. He was manifested to save us, to deliver us from sin. So the object is God, who is a Savior.
The spirit of worship is internal, intense, habitual, and humble, for that is the attitude of it. The object of worship is the God who saves. And lastly, let's look at:
3. THE CAUSE OF WORSHIP:
What makes it happen? What motivates it? It is what God does for me personally.
Luke 1:49 (NKJV) For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name.
It's as if she's saying, "Can you believe that a holy God would do this for me, a sinner?"
That's where worship starts, that an absolutely holy God would do this for a sinful me. "From this time on, all generations are going to count me blessed because of what God, in His holiness, has done for a sinner." That's where worship starts. And let me tell you something, friend, it doesn't mean anything that God is a Savior, unless you've experienced His salvation, right? It has to come down to you. Mary knew she was a sinner. She knew God was holy. She knew she needed a Savior. And she was worshiping because the Savior had come. And she knew that that meant her sins were to be dealt with. She, like everybody else who is saved from their sins, owes all to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. She offered soul-felt praise, because the Redeemer was coming, the one who would bear her sin, the one who would fill all the sacrificial imagery. That's where worship starts. That's what motivates it. That's what causes it, when you personally experience the saving reality of Jesus Christ.
Jesus didn't change her social status. Her whole life she never became some earthly queen. And though she was the mother of God, she maintained the same social status, she had the same friends, she even had to be given over to John the Apostle to be cared for, because she needed someone to take care of her after Jesus left. Her social status never changed. But her spiritual status changed, just like all who ever believed before and after Christ, His death was her death for sin. And so she knew it. She knew the Redeemer was coming. Her praise comes out of pure gratitude for salvation. And that's where it always starts. It has to start with what the Lord has done for you. Anything less is sort of meaningless and superficial.
What is the spirit of Christmas? Worship, nothing more and nothing less. John Francis Wade summed it all up in his Hymn with the simple words, "O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord."