Sermon from December 31, 2017
Twas the week after Christmas and all through the house
Nothing would fit me – not even a blouse.
The cookies I’d nibbled, the fudge I did taste
All the holiday parties have gone to my waist.
I remember the marvelous meals I’d prepared
The gravies and sauces and beef nicely rare;
The pies and the cakes, the bread and the cheese
And the way I never said, “No thank you please.”
So away with the last of the sour cream dip
Get rid of the fruitcake, every cracker and chip.
I won’t have a cookie, never even a lick
I’ll only want to chew on a long celery stick.
I won’t have hot biscuits, or corn bread, or pie
I’ll munch on a carrot stick and quietly cry.
I’m hungry, I’m lonesome, and life is a bore –
But isn’t that what January is for?
For the last seven weeks we have been using Charles Dickens’ classic, “A Christmas Carol,” to help us go from Humbug to Hallelujah this Christmas. When Ebenezer Scrooge came to the end of his journey with the three spirits he had changed from humbug to hallelujah and cried out, “I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year!”
That is a great idea but it is not so easy to do, is it? Our Christmas spirit fades quickly as life returns to normal. The bright and shiny lights of December fade away into the cold gray light of January.
World War I was the most devastating war up to that time. Warfare was often hand to hand and soldiers lived, fought and died in trenches full of mud, blood and vermin. The front lines were so close that you could often hear the enemy talking.
The generals though in spite of the viciousness of combat, always called a truce on Christmas. For the soldiers the only good thing about the truce was they did not have to fight on that day but they had to remain in those cold trenches, far from home with nothing to do but wait for the fighting to resume.
One Christmas Eve, the story goes, the British soldiers began to sing Christmas Carols and the German soldiers sang the same tunes back to them in their native tongue. On Christmas Day, several of the British soldiers crawled out of their trenches and, with a white flag to protect them, walked into No Man’s Land (the area between the two sides) carrying a soccer ball. They started to kick the ball around and soon some of the German soldiers crawled out of their trenches to join them. The men chose up sides and played a pick-up game of soccer. They laughed and slapped each other on the back until it started to get dark then they trudged back to their respective trenches. The next day, the carnage of war began again with machine gun fire and bayonet fighting. Everything was back to normal.
Do we want everything to get back to normal? I’ll admit there are some things I can’t wait to resume including a regular schedule and normal hours but what about our attitude? Can we honor Christmas in our hearts all year long?
Our text to conclude our Humbug to Hallelujah Christmas series is the story of the shepherds found in Luke 2:8-20. Follow along as I read the Scripture:
LK 2:8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
LK 2:13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, LK 2:14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
LK 2:15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."
LK 2:16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Did you catch that last verse? The shepherds had to return to their jobs and their routines but they did not forget what they saw – they continued to glorify and praise God. I imagine that they talked about what they saw for the rest of their lives.
A Christmas Carol was about Scrooge’s past, present and future. What about our past, present and future? Can we use those three things to honor Christmas in our hearts all year?
First, may I suggest that honoring Christmas means we…
I. TRUST GOD TO REDEEM OUR PAST
As we have mentioned several times in this sermon series, the past has tremendous power to shape our present. However, too often we fail to recognize that the past need not control our lives but unless we make conscious choices we will likely remain captive to the wounds and regrets of our past. There are three ways we can deal with our past:
A) WE CAN REGRET OUR PAST
I know I tend to live in the land of regret, wallowing in self-pity and the sadness of opportunities lost or mistakes made. We can keep the past alive by punishing ourselves with guilty feelings or grudges, remorse or resentment. When we do, regret becomes a dull ache, flaring up at the most inconvenient times.
Years ago I had a tooth ache. I tried to fix it on my own by taking ibuprofen and at first that worked. But after a while the pain would not go away. Most of the time it was a dull ache, which I could live with, but every once it a while it would flare up to unbearable proportions. As long as it went away after a few minutes, I tried to ignore it and go on as if nothing was wrong. Then one day it flared up and the pain did not go away. I couldn’t sleep or eat and it hurt to close my mouth. Finally, I went to a dentist who took me in that day and he performed a root canal. I had always heard that root canals hurt but it felt so good to have that pain go away that I enjoyed it.
Our past is often like a toothache. The dentist warned me that an abscess in a tooth can spread to the sinuses and affect other parts of the body. Regret about our past can be just as dangerous and destroy us in other areas of our life as well.
B) WE CAN FORGET OUR PAST
We live in a land of denial and try to numb our pain through substances, activities or people. We become good a compartmentalizing our lives and we put up a shell designed to keep others out. That is why Christmas is so hard for many of us: Christmas forces it way under our skin and our pain is exposed.
No matter how hard we try to suppress and forget our past however, it always has a way of jumping up right in front of us – often when we least expect it and least want it to happen. Five years ago I visited my son over Christmas. He had recently moved to Rhode Island so while there we went to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get Rhode Island plates for his car. The office is located in a three story government building and on the first floor is a café. Leaving the building you could smell French vanilla coffee brewing. My son said for some reason that smell reminded him of the grade school he attended in Kentucky when he was 7 years old. He found that funny because he always says he remembers very little about that time but that smell triggered deep memories for him. Fortunately, they were pleasant memories and it made him feel good but so often, especially around Christmas, bad memories often pop up as well. If we try to suppress or forget them our bad memories, hurtful sorrows and poor choices will keep repeating themselves.
That’s why the best way to deal with the past is to…
C) LET GOD REDEEM THE PAST
God redeems our past through forgiveness. Acts 3:19 tells us that through faith in Christ our sins may be wiped out. The word translated wiped out means to wash off, erase, obliterate. It is the same word used in Revelation 7 and 21 about how God will wipe away every tear.
Our past, instead of weighing us down, has been wiped away by God. We can use its memories to educate and train us not to do it again and it can be a reminder of the wonderful grace of Jesus that saves us in spite of our sin.
Next, honoring Christmas means we…
II. MAKE CHRIST THE PRIORITY IN OUR PRESENT
God is not a god of history but of the present. We often shut him off as something from long ago but he is present today. How do we deal with our present? Again, there are three ways:
A) WE CAN CHOOSE TO FOLLOW OUR OWN DESIRES
This is the battle cry of our society as a whole today. Whatever feels good is what we do. If it is hard, if we feel it is stifling us, if we want something else, we just do it. We all want our rights, we all want what we want and we all think we know what will make us happy.
Solomon saw this temptation and wrote in Proverbs 14:12 – There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. You don’t have to look very far to see what a mess man has made of everything and most of the mess comes from our own selfish designs.
B) WE CAN LET OTHERS CONTROL US
C) WE CAN SERVE CHRIST
Colossians 3:17 says and whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
My friend Sean does this to the extreme. Whenever he sells a car, he offers a word of thanks to God for the sale, often out loud in the presence of the unsuspecting customer. That may be extreme and we all weary of actors and athletes who thank God when they win something when most of their lives are far from models of Christianity but there is still something important here for us to learn in how to honor Christmas in the present.
Most of our prayers are prayers of petition. We want something: our car broke down, our health has failed, the money has run short and like the lepers from Luke 17, once we get what we want we go our way without even thinking about thanking God. Here’s a challenge: for the rest of the day, in your prayers, do not ask for anything – simply praise God for who he is.
Finally, honoring Christmas means we…
III. FOLLOW CHRIST INTO THE FUTURE
Most of us don’t think much in terms of the future. It is sufficient to make it through today and after all, it was Jesus who said, “do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself.” So we try to…
A) IGNORE THE FUTURE
Remember the Aesop’s Fable about the ant and the grasshopper? The grasshopper did not plan for the future but just enjoyed the warmth of the summer sun. The result was when winter came he was cold, hungry and homeless. We cannot live in the future but if we don’t plan for the future we won’t have much of a future.
B) WORRY ABOUT THE FUTURE
That is the other extreme. The grasshopper in Aesop’s fable may have been wrong but the ant wasn’t much better off. His whole life was consumed with worry about the future. An old cliché comes to mind: All work and no play makes Johnny a dull boy.
C) ANTICIPATE THE FUTURE
Paul understood this when he wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:9 – So we make it our goal to please him.
This is the time of year to make resolutions. Can we resolve to honor Christmas in our hearts all year? I know too often our resolutions are broken by February but if we truly want to change our lives from humbug to hallelujah can we try? Charles Dickens wrote, “Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew…And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless us, everyone!”
Christmas may be over but we can honor it all year when we honor Christ. He forgives our past, fills our present and fulfills our future.