“And the angel answered her, ‘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.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Tonight we reflect upon the third article of the Nicene Creed, in which we confess: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets. And I believe in one holy Christian and apostolic Church, I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins, and I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.” Dear friends in Christ, how do you talk about someone that doesn’t want to talk about himself? Do you speculate, making guesses as to what he’s all about? Do you mold him into your own image of what you think he should be? Or do you simply say what there is to say, no matter how little there is, and leave it at that?
Christians get into trouble when they try to say more than the Scriptures do on any topic, but especially when talking about the Holy Spirit. Much mischief has been done throughout history because Scripture says very little about the Spirit, and we humans just can’t resist filling the gaps with our own guesswork and speculation, our ideas of what a ‘holy spirit’ should be. Who is the Holy Spirit? Is He simply a power, an emanation from God? Or is He a person, like the Father and the Son, distinct from the other two persons, yet together with them one God? Who is the Holy Spirit? Is He the mover and shaker in the Church, constantly bringing new revelations, some contrary to the Bible, and causing people to speak in tongues or do miracles? Or does He simply bring us Jesus through the Word and Sacraments, working the miracle of faith in stubborn human hearts?
Who is the Holy Spirit? We confess in the Nicene Creed: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets.” The Holy Spirit is the One who proceeds, He is given as a gift by the Father and the Son. He comes to us in this world of sin and death, just as Jesus promised. “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you.” He comes to us not as some vague ‘power’ or ‘emanation’ of God, but as a distinct person, as the Nicene Creed makes clear. The Holy Spirit is a ‘He,’ not an ‘it.’ He is coequal with the Father and the Son, together with them He is one God, together with them He is worshipped and glorified. He doesn’t deserve equal worship unless He is equally God, and so with her worship the Church confesses that the Holy Spirit is true God, a distinct person, but yet one God in unity with the Father and the Son.
It seems like we learn something new about the Father or the Son on every page of the Scriptures, but information on the Spirit is comparatively sparse. There is a reason for that, a very important reason. Jesus tells us that the coming Spirit has no interest in speaking about Himself: “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come.” The Holy Spirit’s joy and delight isn’t to point to Himself, but to Jesus. Like John the Baptist, the Spirit boldly declares, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” How did Simeon know that the little baby boy being brought into the temple was the Messiah? Only through the Spirit. “And [Simeon] came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the Law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God.” The Spirit pointed Simeon to Jesus, and Simeon made the good confession, telling all who would hear that through this child the Lord was bringing salvation. As Jesus promised us, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about me.”
The Holy Spirit has never stopped bringing Jesus to people; that is what He does, the task He delights in. Jesus won salvation, shedding His blood on Calvary’s cross, breathing His last breath declaring, “It is finished.” The Son suffered and died, not the Father or the Holy Spirit, and He suffered and died in your place, bearing all of your sin. He won salvation that day, forgiveness of all your sins and deliverance from death. At the cross, your salvation was won and accomplished, it’s a done deal. But Jesus doesn’t give salvation to you there. You don’t have to fly to Jerusalem to receive the salvation He won; you didn’t have to be present that day. No, instead the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son to bring salvation to you. The Holy Spirit runs the distribution network to bring the salvation accomplished by Christ through the cross and empty tomb to individual humans. He is like FedEx. Now, FedEx doesn’t make the products, instead its task is to deliver them to people. In the same way, the Holy Spirit, while intimately involved in salvation, didn’t shed His blood on the cross to win forgiveness. Jesus did that, and now it is the Spirit’s task to bring that forgiveness to you.
How does FedEx get a package to you? It takes the product from the warehouse, loads it on a truck, and hauls it to your front door. How does the Holy Spirit bring forgiveness to you? He works through the Church. We confess in the Nicene Creed: “I believe in one holy Christian and apostolic Church, I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins, and I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.” The Church is the Holy Spirit’s distribution network, and every congregation is a delivery truck, spread throughout this world to bring forgiveness into every place. Who drives the truck? A pastor, whose only job is to bring that package to you. And those packages are familiar: the Word, read and proclaimed, Holy Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. Each package contains Jesus, His forgiveness, His salvation. They are opened, and you are given eternal life. The Holy Spirit rejoices to give these gifts; that is why we call Him, “the Lord and giver of life.”
Each and every FedEx warehouse bears their logo; so does every truck, every driver, and every package. In the same way, the Holy Spirit is never absent from the distribution of salvation; He is involved wherever the Word is proclaimed and the Sacraments administered. He has bound Himself to those means, and through them alone will He create faith, forgive sins, and deliver us from everlasting death. Don’t trust a ‘spirit’ that comes apart from those means; any ‘spirit’ that comes apart from the Word and the Holy Sacraments, or contrary to them, isn’t the Holy Spirit, but instead comes from the devil. Without doubt miracles still happen, we know the Spirit has worked through dreams before, and can do so now, but we never place our trust in such things above or against the Word of God. The Holy Spirit will certainly never lead the Church to speak in opposition to God’s revealed Word. That is where the Spirit has promised to work, and that is where He will work, until Christ comes again.
For the Holy Spirit is as involved with Christ’s Second Coming as He was with His first—through the Word. “The angel answered her, ‘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.’” As those words were spoken, the Holy Spirit was doing the work, and the plan of our salvation was put into motion. Christmas is the Holy Spirit’s work; He proceeded from the Father to bring the Son into human flesh. And on the Last Day, it will be His great and joyful task to raise us up from the dead. The Holy Spirit worked to bring Christ into the world, He worked to bring Christ to you, and on the Last Day, He will work to bring you to Christ. Together the Trinity, our one God in three persons, planned, accomplished, and delivered salvation to us. In the Name of our loving, merciful, and saving God, the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.