Preaching: Pastor Rebecca Henry
Date Presented: Sunday, December 4, 2016
Scripture Reference: Isaiah 9:2, 6; Luke 2:8-14
Sermon: The Redemption of Scrooge: The Remembrance of Christmas Past: Hope from Heartbreak
My sister, Sarah, is someone who lives with a great deal of fear and anxiety. Her doors are always securely locked. Anytime we stay at a hotel she has a plan of how to get out. A few years ago my family was sitting around the dinner table teasing her a bit about her fears to which she said, “Well, it is no wonder considering all the trauma I experienced growing up.” Almost in unison the rest of us asked, “What are you talking about?” She said, “Well, to start I was afraid for weeks that Mom and Dad were going to be hauled off to jail because they sheltered those people from El Salvador.” My parents set her straight on that one saying the refugees had only been at our house for a dinner. Sarah went on, “Well, fine, but then there is the fact that Dad left us for 6 months and went to Nicaragua.” We all shook our heads and rolled our eyes and said, “Sarah, two weeks; he was only gone for two weeks.” Needless to say, we’ve learned not to always trust my sister’s memories.
Only there is some truth in that for all of us. Our memories aren’t always accurate. We see the truth of that every Christmas as we tell the story of Jesus’ birth in which we speak of shepherds and wise men visiting Jesus. It isn’t entirely accurate as we’ve blended the stories of Matthew and Luke. Matthew tells us the wise men didn’t find Jesus until a few years later, and yet just about every nativity includes both the shepherds and wise men.
Indeed our memories, the stories we remember aren’t always as things were. However, those memories shape our identity. They give form to how we see the world. Our memories can shed light, bring understanding to who we are.
Interestingly in Charles Dickens’, A Christmas Carol, the first sign of daylight comes with the Spirit of Christmas Past. At first Ebenezer Scrooge is afraid, but the Spirit speaks with invitation and gentleness inviting Scrooge to come. In going, it is with the first memory that light surrounds Scrooge and he remembers he wasn’t always bitter about Christmas. In fact, he has some very joyful memories of Christmas – of going home, of dancing. There is something more, though, that also begins to happen. Not all of the memories Scrooge is shown are happy memories. He also remembers being neglected by the other children, and a home life that was less than idea. Only rather than being angry or putting blame on anyone, Scrooge is moved with compassion; lip quivering, tear being shed. Something starts to happen to Scrooge as his heart begins to open up and he feels compassion not only for his childhood, but then for others. But even so, it is painful. He cries out to the Spirit of the Past, “Hurt me no more.” He wants to be free.
The good news is this past is not the end of the story for Scrooge, but then that is also the Gospel message for all of us. Our fears and concerns, our past are met with good news. That is the truth evident in Luke’s story of Christ’s birth. The shepherds are very afraid with the visit of angels, but like Scrooge they have the courage to listen, to not turn away. They meet their fears in the night and are given good news. They journey forward in hope of what God is doing, and they see the Christ child.
It is the same experience at the end of Luke’s Gospel. In the midst of their pain the women go to the tomb of Jesus. They, too, are met by angels and are very afraid. Again, they don’t turn away. Rather with courage they wait and hear the good news. They move forward in hope of what God is doing, and they go to tell the others Jesus is alive.
The same experience can be true for all of us. All of us have pasts that have defined and shaped who we are today. Some of our pasts include wonderful, fond memories that bring us great joy. It is just as true that we all have painful, dark moments in our past. Some of the memories are of how we have been hurt and betrayed by others: perhaps we were abused in some way physically or emotionally; maybe we have lived through a divorce or the unexpected death of a loved one. Some of us have seen the horrors of war or lived through such poverty that we never knew where our next meal might come from. Other painful memories include things we have done: judgements we have made about others; accidents caused; things we’ve said. We all have those painful moments, and like Scrooge we yearn, we cry out to the past, “Hurt me no longer!” But that is the good news for Scrooge and each one of us. Those painful moments in our lives do not have the final word. They are not the end of the story.
As Isaiah proclaims, Christ came into our darkness to bring light, to show us the way forward, to show us the way out of our pain. Christ comes to redeem those moments and to set us free to live into a new future. That is the hope of Advent: Christ comes to transform our lives. Something new is happening.
That is the truth proclaimed here at this Table. We can hold back in bitterness. We can hold back thinking we are not worthy to be in the presence of Christ. We can hold on to our failures, our brokenness, our scars and wounds, but Christ comes to us, here, and invites us to come forward, to receive the good news. We are redeemed. Jesus doesn’t just see our past, but our future and who we can be, the light we can share. Christ sets us free from the past so that we can claim a new future where our past hurt and failures are redeemed and out of those experiences can help us meet people in their pain with the same compassion of Christ. Here we come to experience the miracle of what Christ can do in us. Here we know the miracle has just begun in you, in me, in us – for the sake of the world. God bless us everyone!