December 17, 2017
Norwalk First United Methodist Church
The Redemption of Scrooge
Third Sunday of Advent
Jesus, the Redeemer of Our Past
“The past” is quite a small phrase for something representing everything that has happened up until now. Sometimes we qualify the word “past” with adjectives like “recent” or “distant” or “forgotten,” but even then, it’s hard to know how “distant” distant is supposed to be.
As we continue our message series today, we discover that Scrooge comes face to face with the Ghost of Christmas Past, and in doing so, he is reminded of things that have happened to him in the past. These remembrances bring him both joy and pain, but they help remind him of who he was and from where he came.
But before we get into that, I want to see how much you remember about Jesus’ birth from Matthew and Luke’s Gospels. Now these are multiple choice questions and you can write your answer in your message notes. Here is your first question.
1) Which Gospel mentions wise men from the east? Is it A) Matthew, B) Luke, or C) Matthew and Luke? (Answer: A. Matthew)
2) Which Gospel has an angel appearing to the shepherds in the nearby fields keeping watch over their flocks at night? Is it A) Matthew, B) Luke, or C) Matthew and Luke? (Answer: B. Luke)
3) In which Gospel is Joseph told by an angel to give his son the name of “Jesus?” Is it A) Matthew, B) Luke, or C) Matthew and Luke? (Answer: C. Matthew and Luke)
Last one. 4) In which Gospel is Mary told that her relative Elizabeth, who was said to be barren, is already with child? Is it A) Matthew, B) Luke, or C) Matthew and Luke? (Answer: B. Luke)
Many times, it is hard for us to exactly remember the true reality of our past. Our memories are not always accurate. Actually, what we recall of the Christmas story in the Bible is a combination of Matthew’s Gospel and Luke’s Gospel. We tend to combine the two, including everything we can in one, neat narrative, even going so far as to having the wise men show up in the Nativity scene. But you see, the Wise Men were not there. In fact, they didn’t discover Jesus until he was about two years old! But I dare you to find a Nativity scene without them.
Sometimes our memory of how we think things are supposed to be might not be the best picture of what they should be. We can get very frustrated when our picture of what Christmas should be doesn’t measure up. Scrooge says to his nephew in the counting house, “Keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.”
In the Charles Dickens story, “A Christmas Carol,” Scrooge seems to have forgotten his own story. He is always bitter and exasperated at the people around him, but as the story unfolds we find out this wasn’t always the case. The Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge on a journey to his hometown, and immediately he was filled with joy. Will you pray with me?
When I was a young child, I remember Christmas Day to be a time of amazement. I could never comprehend how Santa got all those presents under our tree for me and my two sisters. It was always a special and exciting morning. Our parents seemed to be as surprised as we were at the presents we opened. But here is the reality and I will be careful how I tell this because of little ears.
My parents would put us to bed around 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve. When they were sure we were asleep, they would begin to get out the presents from hiding places I never seemed to find, in order to help Santa. They would help Santa wrap our presents, put bikes together, build doll houses, and eat cookies and drink milk. They would usually get to bed around 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning from their hard work. My sister, Susan, the middle child, would then get all of us up around 5:00 a.m. She had already been out to the den and knew that Santa had come. As a child, I always wondered why my parents were ready to take a nap at 9:00 in the morning! You see, my view of the past was a bit different from reality. It is the same with Scrooge.
In his book, “The Redemption of Scrooge,” Pastor Matt Rawle writes this: “Our memories are not always accurate. Sometimes our visions of the past are incomplete or misleading, emphasizing sadness while forgetting joy. When we gather for worship around the Communion table we are called to remember Christ – ‘Do this in remembrance of me.’ Jesus knows our faults and our faulty memories and yet invites us to the table anyway. Daily connecting with Christ doesn’t mean we will be perfect and always filled with happiness, but it does mean through Christ we will remember that we have been redeemed and will be transformed to accept and share love with God and our neighbor.” Pastor Rawle continues, “I’ve heard love described as someone who knows you well and loves you anyway, and Christ indeed loves us.”
In the story, “A Christmas Carol,” the Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge on a journey to his hometown and immediately he was filled with joy. His lip quivers, and a single tear falls upon his cheek. Scrooge is overwhelmed with the memories. But the Ghost reminds him that “These are but shadows of the things that have been.” Scrooge can see glad tidings happening around him, but he just cannot connect with them.
When Scrooge truly sees his former self he realizes, maybe for the first time, how utterly lonely he was as a child. His friends failed to include him for sleigh rides, his family was so distant they aren’t included in his Christmas-past vision, and his own imagination was his only companion. Instead of being filled with blame or anger against those who created his loneliness, he is moved to compassion.
When the spirit notices his emotion, he asks what is the matter. Scrooge replies, “Nothing. There was a boy singing a Christmas Carol at my door last night. I should like to have given him something: that’s all.” Instead of offering a dismissive “Humbug,” Scrooge laments missing an opportunity to make a difference for another.
Instead of anger over his tragic childhood, he is convicted toward ensuring that others will have a different experience. In other words, Scrooge is beginning to build an intimate relationship with himself, or at least the person he used to be before he lost himself in his pursuit of wealth. With the Ghost of Christmas Past, we begin to see a glimpse of Scrooge’s redemption.
Folks, for many, Christmas can be a painful time, when past mistakes or losses are often brought to mind amid the cheer of the season. But remember, Christ came to earth in order to redeem us, and that includes our past losses and mistakes. What do you see when you look in the mirror? Do you see yourself as a child of God? It can be difficult to look in the mirror and know the person looking back isn’t perfect. The good news is that perfection isn’t a prerequisite. Following Jesus is not about never messing up, but about how, through grace, we accept our imperfections and transform them into good works.
In our scripture today, Jesus was walking along the Sea of Galilee when he called out to Peter, Andrew, James, and John saying, “Drop your nets and follow me.” So, they dropped their nets and followed. I imagine that if Jesus asked Peter, Andrew, James, and John the ordination examination questions in the United Methodist “Book of Discipline,” things wouldn’t have gone so well. The conversation might have gone like this.
Jesus: “Do you trust that you are called by God to the life and work of a pastor?”
Peter: “Uh, well, I don’t know. I was fishing just a few moments ago.”
Jesus: “Do you believe in the Triune God?”
John: “I’m not sure. What does “Triune” mean?”
Jesus: “Are you persuaded that the Old and New Testaments—”
James: “Sorry to interrupt, but what’s a New Testament?”
Jesus must have had amazing charisma for fishermen to drop their day jobs and immediately follow him. Maybe the secret is a one-sentence sermon, “Follow me,” though I would imagine that even the most faithful person would be hesitant in following a stranger who only had one sermon. So maybe the miracle isn’t what the disciples saw in Jesus; rather the miracle is what Jesus saw in them.
The Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:7 that “We live by faith and not by sight.” In other words, Jesus did not see the fishermen for who they were, but whom they were called to become. Jesus did not see them as fishermen, but fishers of men, fishers of people. Jesus saw them not for what they had done, but for what they would do for God’s kingdom.
Christ doesn’t call us to follow because we are perfect, but because through Christ we are perfected in love. That’s one of the tenets of the United Methodist tradition, that in this lifetime the Holy Spirit will perfect us in love. This doesn’t mean that we will make perfect decisions or that we are infallible or that we never screw up. “Christian perfection” is about having a perfect love of God.
Sometimes we think of perfection as having no faults; but perfection, in terms of our walk with Christ, is following in the way Christ is calling us to follow. Some are called to follow Christ in the way they teach children, or respond to emergencies, or lead a company, or organize a soup kitchen.
We are not called to be perfect so much as we are perfectly suited with a gift through which we respond to God’s grace. Scrooge is beginning to realize how the person he is doesn’t look much like the person he once was. His bitterness has consumed any hint of love or joy he once knew. In a way, he’s been walking down a path not intended for him to tread, he is not living the perfect plan for his life. I am not perfect, and neither are you, but we are perfectly made to follow Christ.
Jesus knows our faults and our pasts, and invites us to join him anyway, just like he did for Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Remember, Jesus doesn’t call the perfect but perfects the called. Accepting this invitation to follow Christ doesn’t mean we will become perfect, but it does mean through Christ we will remember that Jesus redeems all aspects of our lives and transforms us to that we can accept God’s love and share in the work God is doing in the world.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, I ask you, what is holding you back from accepting Christ’s redemption of your past? Like Scrooge, looking into our pasts can be painful, but in order to grow in grace, we must offer our pasts to Jesus and accept the work he’s already done for us on the cross. Only then can we move forward and live in the freedom Jesus offers us. Let’s pray.
Prayer: Gracious God, you know our past faults and failures because you are always with us. By the power of your Spirit, transform our heartache into acts of mercy and justice for your children today and every tomorrow. Sustain us with your presence, and remind us of your salvation offered through Christ. Amen.