The Untamed Spirit of Christmas

Hidden away in an often-forgotten verse of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is an often-forgotten wonder of Christmas:

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp Thine image in its place:
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.

Christ came into the world not only as the Son of God, but also as the second Adam (1 Corinthians 15:47–49; Romans 5:14). In Christ, we see humanity as we were meant to be: the perfect image and likeness of God, “crowned with glory and honor” (Psalm 8:5). More than that, in Christ we see redeemed humanity as we one day will be. The one who once was formed in the womb of Mary is now being formed in us (Galatians 4:19). And when he finishes stamping his image over the Adam in all of us, “we shall be like him” (1 John 3:2).

“In order to fulfill his mission as a true man, Christ had to be filled with the Holy Spirit to the uttermost.”

This wonder then leads to another: as our second Adam, Christ lived a genuinely human life. He served, suffered, died, and rose not by virtue of his almighty divinity, but by virtue of his perfect humanity. As we sing in the hymn, he was “pleased as man with man to dwell.”

And in order to fulfill his mission as a true man, he had to be filled with the Holy Spirit to the uttermost.

Man of the Spirit

Three times, Isaiah foretold that the coming Messiah would be the consummate man of the Spirit. In the words of the prophet, “The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him” (Isaiah 11:2). In the words of the Father, “I have put my Spirit upon him” (Isaiah 42:1). In the words of Christ himself, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me” (Isaiah 61:1).

All our messianic bells should be ringing, then, when we hear Gabriel tell Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy — the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). From the very moment of Christ’s conception, the Holy Spirit rested upon him.

Even more wonderfully, the Spirit never left him. Throughout the rest of the Gospels, the Spirit serves as Christ’s “inseparable companion,” as the church father Basil put it (Sinclair Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, 37). The great Puritan John Owen went further and listed ten stages of this inseparable companionship (Works of John Owen, 3:162–83). According to Owen, the Holy Spirit

  • formed Christ’s body in Mary’s womb (Luke 1:35);
  • sanctified Christ’s body and filled it with grace (Isaiah 11:1–3; Luke 1:35; Hebrews 7:26);
  • grew Christ in wisdom and knowledge (Luke 2:40, 52; cf. Isaiah 11:1–3);
  • anointed Christ (particularly at his baptism) with everything necessary for his messianic mission (Matthew 3:16–17; John 3:34; Luke 4:1; cf. Isaiah 61:1);
  • empowered Christ’s miraculous works (Matthew 12:28; Acts 10:38);
  • led and upheld Christ in his ministry (Isaiah 42:4; 49:5–8; 50:7–8; Luke 4:1, 14);
  • enabled Christ to offer himself up on the cross (Hebrews 9:14);
  • preserved Christ’s body in the tomb (Acts 2:27; cf. Luke 1:35);
  • raised Christ from the dead (Romans 1:4; 8:11; 1 Timothy 3:16);
  • glorified Christ’s human nature (1 Corinthians 15:45).

Therefore, as Sinclair Ferguson concludes, “From womb to tomb to throne, the Spirit was the constant companion of the Son” (37).

Fully Human Holiness

But if Jesus was (and is) fully God, why did he need the Holy Spirit to fulfill his mission? Couldn’t he have grown in wisdom and worked miracles, for example, by the power of his own divinity? Yes, he could have. But if he had done so, we would not be able to sing,

Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.

“Christmas means more than Christ’s entrance into the world. It means his entrance into you.”

In order for Christ to be our second Adam, he had to fight and win on the same battleground where our first Adam lost. The first Adam fell as man; therefore, Christ must stand as man — as one “made like his brothers in every respect . . . yet without sin” (Hebrews 2:17; 4:15). No animal and no angel could undo our ancient curse; that task was left for a perfect second Adam.

“If we are to be holy,” Ferguson writes, “that holiness must be wrought out in our humanity. This is what Christ has accomplished” (72). By the Spirit, Christ has become the forerunner of a new holy humanity. And now, by that same Spirit, he imprints his fully human holiness in us.

Recovering Our Lost Glory

Just before Jesus was betrayed, he told his disciples, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16–17). The same Spirit who filled Jesus is now with us — even in us (John 14:17) — forever. And as the Spirit of the risen Christ, “he takes the copy of Christ’s religious life in the Spirit and works those same affections and desires in us so we are truly Christlike,” as Mark Jones writes.

In other words, the Spirit pours our humanity into the mold of Christ’s humanity — the mold he formed through his perfect human life. So, for example:

  • He teaches us to address God as “Abba,” just like Jesus did (Mark 14:36; Galatians 4:6).
  • He clothes us with the very power of Christ (Luke 4:14; Acts 1:8).
  • He empowers us to put to death the deeds of the body so that we might be sons patterned after the Son (Romans 8:13–14, 29).
  • He beckons us to “share Christ’s sufferings” (1 Peter 4:13–14).
  • He unveils the glory of Christ so that we might be “transformed into the same image” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
  • In the end, he will give us a body just like Christ’s (1 Corinthians 15:44; Romans 8:11).

The Spirit, who was the “inseparable companion” of Christ on earth, is now our inseparable companion — sent by the Son “to recover glory in us” (The Holy Spirit, 92).

Spirit of Christmas

Many casually mention “the spirit of Christmas” this time of year, often meaning little more than vague goodwill and tame niceness. But here we find another Spirit of Christmas, neither vague nor tame. He is, indeed, a living Spirit, a sovereign Spirit, even a dangerous Spirit — dangerous to all inside of us that is unlike Christ, and to all outside of us that is opposed to Christ.

He is a world-invading, wonder-working, devil-spurning, sin-slaying, death-destroying Spirit. Power is his hallmark, and the glory of Christ his aim. Though invisible as the wind, he is mighty as the hurricane. And if his work at times feels slow, he will not stop until Christ is formed in us — until we no longer have need to pray,

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp Thine image in its place.

So take courage, Christian. Christmas means more than Christ’s entrance into the world. It means his entrance into you.