As we approach Christmas, I wonder "Are you in the Christmas Spirit"? If not, have you lost the Christmas Spirit? Maybe you have never had the Christmas Spirit. Maybe we should define, "What is the Christmas Spirit?"
Some may begin thinking of their favorite adult beverage to mix with Egg Nogg. No, not that spirit.
Some may think back to when they were younger and what Christmas meant to them as a child. For many the Christmas holiday is a time when people decorate the house, get together with family and friends, eat a big meal, exchange gifts, etc.
Clearly the "Christ" in Christmas is a reference to the central figure of Christianity, Jesus Christ. But there are many people who celebrate Christmas who probably wonder if Jesus was even a real historical figure. There was a time during my teens when I wondered about that myself. At age 19 I stopped having any doubts and found that Jesus is the real deal.
So what does the "Christmas Spirit" mean to someone who thinks that the Christ of Christmas is real? In explaining it I'd like to look at popular portion of the Bible story associated with Christmas.
Many Christians would agree that the "Spirit of Christmas" is nicely summarized by:
In fact, whether you are a Christian or not, many people would likely agree that is a very nice summary of what is the Christmas Spirit. And that idea sounds pretty good, doesn't it? Isn't "world peace" the number one answer to most beauty pagent questions?
But is that really what the Bible says? While it's nice to say peace and good will we all know those things often run in short supply. There seems to be an awful lot of conflict and bad will in the world. If God wanted peace on earth, why is there so little peace? What's going on?
A closer examination of that verse reveals that many have missed its real meaning.
The New Testament, the Christian part of the what is the two part Christian Bible was originally written in a dialect of the Greek language. As is so often the case, translating from one language to another can be very difficult and it can be a challenge to convey what the original language said and meant.
Full dislosure, I don't speak Greek. That makes it harder for me or anyone like me to know what the Greek actually said and meant. Even so, I have been around long enough to know that even those who can read and understand the original Greek have differences of opinion over what it really said. I believe that there is a way for the amateur Bible student to get a better sense of what it really says.
The key is to study multiple Bible transations. There are many newer English translations of the original Greek and the original Hebrew of the Old Testament. While each one has its own examples of differences in meaning, reading more than one translation of a passage can often bring new light to what it said in the original or at least it can give you a better sense of what is the real meaning. The "Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men" sentence is a great example of what I am referring to.
Side note: There is a fabulous website which offers multiple translations of the Bible on-line. I use it all the time and if you don't know about it, I would make it a favorite in your browser:
The site is very intuitive, and you can use it to do word and phrase searches; it's super handy. Think of it as term4sale for the Bible.
Once again, in the King James Version (KJV) it says:
By contrast here is how a different translation, the New American Standard Bible (NASB) translates that same verse
The first part is the same but the "peace good will toward men" has now become "peace among men with whom He is pleased". Wow, that's a lot different. We have gone from peace and good will toward all men (humans) to peace with those men whom God is pleased with. So not everyone gets peace? Which is the correct translation or meaning?
Let's try another translation, an even newer one. The New International Version (NIV) says:
The first part of the line has changed a little. We now have "heaven" added to "highest". I'm not sure if "heaven" was in the Greek but I think these translators were trying to answer the question, "Highest what?" It's a good question and if the Greek gives a sense of what that is referring to, it can be a helpful clarification.
The second part of the NIV agrees much more with the NASB and both are quite different from the KJV. The NIV gives more meaning to the NASB's "who he is pleased with". The NIV says "to those on whom his favor rests".
I expect at this point that I have lost most readers.
Some will dismiss this an exercise in semantics but really it's not. It provokes this question: Does God's favor rest on all men? Is it the will of God that all human beings enjoy peace? Could that explain why most men do not enjoy peace?
According to those two newer translations world wide peace is not something the Bible says can or will happen. And if you read other parts of the Bible, to get a better sense of what God is saying, it really talks a lot about the misery of the human condition outside of God and how there is no peace outside of God.
To summarize, it's clear that one of the most "cheerful" parts of the Christmas story isn't quite as cheerful as many have assumed.
But the story does say that there is peace for some, to those with whom God is pleased.
Here are some other verses about those with whom God is pleased:
So back to Christmas and the true Spirit of Christmas. I don't believe the true Spirit of Christmas comes from the celebration or tradition. When you hear a Christian say that Jesus is the reason for the season or that we need to put Christ back in Christmas, essentially they are right. Jesus is the Spirit of Christmas.
If you are not in the Christmas Spirit, I think the best way to get into the Christmas Spirit is to get into Jesus. You do that by accepting Jesus as the free gift God that has given to mankind.
And if you really want to know who Jesus is it means doing a little Bible reading and study. And you can study the Bible online: