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Peace and Goodwill? 'Bah, Humbug,' Says the Holy Spirit
Image: Illustration by Michael Mullan

Back in the day, Mary of Nazareth set out "with haste," Luke tells us, rushing to a Judean town in the hills where her relative Elizabeth lived with her husband, Zechariah. She was anxious to tell Elizabeth, who was pregnant with the one to be named John, that she herself was also expecting. Mary's greeting was so over the top, apparently, that Elizabeth's "baby leaped in her womb." Luke continues: "And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit" (1:41).

Elizabeth is the first person in Luke's gospel to be filled with the Holy Spirit—although earlier the angel had said that John would be filled with the Holy Spirit (1:15). The Holy Spirit, in fact, shows up quite a bit in the Nativity. Zechariah is filled with the Spirit after his tongue is released. Simeon is said to have the Holy Spirit rest on him and guide him to the temple to see the infant Jesus. And, of course, there is the key moment of the drama: "Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 1:18, NRSV).

It's said prosaically, as if this sort of thing happens all the time. But no matter how it is announced, the careful reader of the Bible will know that something momentous is afoot. Because when the Holy Spirit gets involved, trouble lies ahead.

Peace and goodwill are the twin wishes of Christmas, echoing the angel's announcement about the birth of Jesus. And while our worlds—global, national, and even personal—may remain cauldrons of chaos, hope springs anew during Christmas.

Unfortunately, even if we enjoy this for a few weeks ...

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December 2013

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