Archive for December, 2016

A Light in the Darkness

christmas-lights1Christmas is full of lights. We have Christmas trees that are full of lights, white lights, multi-colored lights, different shapes, even my father’s favorite, the bubble lights. We decorate our houses in lights, even those new LED flood lights that shower our houses with different designs, patterns, and colors. There is even a contest T.V. show called “Christmas Light Fight” which puts families up against each other to see how extravagant they can make their house Christmas light display. Many communities even have parks that are set aside for a drive thru light display. During this Christmas season we are surrounded by lights.

I recently had the opportunity to walk around this community at night while it was snowing. Have you ever been outside, in the dark, with snow on the ground and while it’s snowing? I’m not sure what exactly it is, but the snow seems to make things quiet. Well this night was a peaceful night, quiet and calm. It was almost unnerving because of the stillness. But one thing that I noticed was that during the other times of the year, when the ground is not covered in snow, it is dark, real dark. Coming from my neighborhoods in Rockford, the comparison is stark. There, streetlights line the roads, houses are packed tightly together with their porchlights, and there are always cars traveling with headlights on. There was not much darkness there. You could call it light pollution. But here, the darkness is all around. Not many cars, porchlights, or even streetlights to drive the darkness away.

So walking around in the fresh fallen snow with houses lit up with Christmas decorations and lights, gave such a warm feeling to me. It gave me a new perspective on my surroundings, one that darkness used to rule over, now the darkness was dispersed through the light offered through the snow and Christmas lights. This reminds me of a scripture passage. Isaiah 9:2.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”

I was walking in darkness but yet saw all the lights from the houses around me. The lights were witnessing to me about this season, reminding me of the story we just heard, telling me that we were ever so close to Christmas. And then there is another passage, Luke 1:76-79.

This is Zechariah speaking of his son who will be John the Baptist; “And you my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

So let us really let the meaning of this season set in on us. Jesus Christ is born into this world of darkness as light to all living in the shadow of death, walking along paths full of shadows and darkness. Jesus has come to bring light to our world, to guide us, and to illuminate God’s plan for this world. Jesus has come to bring hope to this broken world.

But let’s not think that this is just a warm and fuzzy feeling. Certainly it is nice to have a light when everything is dark around us, when we are not sure which way to go or what lies ahead of us. But think about it this way; when you hold a candle up, where does it shed light? Does it just show things in front of the flame? Is this light only shining in one direction? No. The light from a candle flame shines equally in all directions.

Zechariah’s words remind us Jesus has come to shine his light on all those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has come to shine his light into our lives, guiding us on our path. But as Scrooge learned in the Dicken’s classic story “A Christmas Carol,” the light shines equally into our pasts. This is not to shame us or discipline us, but it is to redeem everything that is in the past. If there are things that we don’t want God to see and therefore don’t offer them to him, they will remain unredeemed, they will continue to haunt us. That is, until we give them over to Christ.

But you must see that this is exactly the reason we celebrate this Christmas season. God sent his Son to be light to this world. In doing so, Jesus has passed his light onto us when he asks us to follow him. Then we become light to the world around us. Ephesians 5:8 reminds us of this. “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.”  We are children of the light, sent out to dispel the darkness with the light that is within us.

Jesus Christ dwells within you. His light resides in your hearts. Let us remember that wonderful children’s song “This little light of mine” and never hide it under a bushel or let Satan try to blow it out. Put it on a lampstand and raise it high so that all may see. Amen.

Sermon-Slide-Wk4.gifIf you’ve been following along with us during this season of Advent, you know that we are nearing the end of this season, ready to welcome Christmas in just a few days. Here at Lanark UMC, we have been looking into the redemption of scrooge and after looking at his past and present, we now look to his future, and to our future.

It seems like we have traveled this journey with Scrooge as we thought about what our “Marley’s Ghost” would have said to us about how we were living. We encountered our pasts, recognizing that Jesus came to redeem all of us, from the very beginning. And we also journeyed through our present as we looked at the greatest gift of all, Jesus Christ, and the reason for our celebrations. But today we look to the future. What lies ahead for us? What do we hope for? Who do we have hope in?

The ghost of Christmas yet to come brings Scrooge face to face with his own end. This ghost brings him to the near future where he finds a number of things that bother him, including both Tiny Tim’s and his own death.

This final spirit represents for us, the fear off the unknown, the fear of what the future holds for each of us. But should we be afraid of our future? Should we be worried about what is coming up around the bend? What if things don’t go the way we want them to, what if tragedy strikes, what if we have a health problem, what if we lose someone close to us? What if?

But you must see that we are reminded again and again in scripture that we are not to fear for the future, Matthew 6:34 “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

So we now have followed Scrooge through his past and how he became who he was at the beginning of the story. We have also visited his present, the world that he so diligently tried to avoid, tried to ignore. A world that is in desperate need, but yet he could never see. Then we traveled to the future to see what lied in store for Scrooge, and it was not something that he wanted to see. Scrooge was afraid. He didn’t want to see all that the final spirit was showing him. But he finally gets it. He realizes that he has not been living the life that he should have been, but he’s afraid that it’s too late. He even questions why he would be shown this, if there was no way to change. He asks the ghost; “Are these the shadows of the things that will be, or are they the shadows of the things that may be?”

Scrooge knows that he was wrong, but could he be allowed to change? Scrooges eyes open, dawn is upon him. Has all of this been just a dream? Did he really meet all of these spirits? An unchanged Scrooge would have brushed it off as just that, only a dream and nothing to be noteworthy of. Time to go back to work as if nothing happened. But this is not the same Scrooge. This is a changed man. He realizes all that needs to change in his life and is grateful that upon opening his window, he finds that it is Christmas day!

He has been given the chance that he was looking for, a chance to change his life. But get this. Scrooge did nothing to deserve this chance. Think about it, about how he lived his life, about how he treated others. He didn’t deserve this extra chance; he didn’t deserve this new day. But it was given to him. It was a gift given on Christmas, a gift that is given to all of us, not just on Christmas but every day of the year, every day of our lives. It is the gift of grace through Jesus Christ.

So I guess we can wrap this series up by looking at “A Christmas Carol” and our Christmas stories in three little words; “keep Christmas well.” We began this series with Scrooge telling his nephew “you keep Christmas your way, and I’ll keep it mine.” Thank God the Scrooge at the end of the story is not the same person from the beginning.

Scrooge accepted his redemption and he was changed forever for it. He received forgiveness, turned from his old ways, and began walking in a new direction. Scrooge is redeemed, and so are we. Amen.

The Greatest Gift

sermon-slide-wk3If you’ve been following along, over the past couple of weeks we have been looking into the life and redemption of that lovable character Scrooge. Last week was about his past and how our pasts help define who we are. But today is all about the present, about the here and now, and about who we celebrate during this season. We celebrate Jesus Christ, the greatest gift of all.

Many times we share the abundance of life that Jesus gives through giving gifts to loved ones and friends, and through acts of charity and kindness. But I remember times when my family didn’t have enough to give gifts to some family members. It was in those years that I was thankful for family and for the little we did have and it was still a very good year because we had each other.

The Cratchit’s in “A Christmas Carol” are like that. They don’t have much, in fact they have barely enough to survive. What they do have is each other and they are thankful and joyful, more so than Scrooge who has everything according to the world. The Cratchit’s realize what is truly important, the relationship they have with each other and their faith in God. This is what makes them more joyful than we might be able to imagine.

If we let it, Christmas can give us a special gift. Christmas can give us the gift of perspective, of what is really important. I mean, consider the first people that God chose to receive the good news of Jesus’ birth. Shepherds, lowly shepherds. These men were members of a poor, yet humble community.

Speaking of perspective, Scrooge was visited by the ghost of Christmas present who gave him a glimpse of the world that was just outside his door but yet never truly saw. Scrooge walked through this world, but he lived in another. He lived in a world that he created and therefore, that was all he saw. He either couldn’t or wouldn’t see the people just outside his door, even the one inside his door, working for him, that were in need. That were just scraping by.

The ghost of Christmas present opened Scrooges eyes to the poverty and need that was all around him, and it was appalling. I think at first he was shocked that people could feel happy and joyful when they didn’t have all that Scrooge had. These people barely had enough to live on and yet they were thankful. All of this was completely new to Scrooge.

Scrooge ends up at Bob Cratchit’s house where he sees how his employee lives. His wife brings out the Christmas goose and although it is a meager animal, he exclaims “There was never such a goose!” They are joyful for what they have received, giving thanks to God for the blessings, for their family, and for this wonderful dinner, even though Scrooge thinks the meal is a disgrace. Then Scrooge is surprised when Bob Cratchit offers thanks to the founder of the feast, Scrooge himself! Bob’s wife is also surprised as she doesn’t share the same sentiment. But Bob makes his point that it is because of his employment that they are able to have the roof over their heads and food on the table. They are thankful.

So here we see another step is Scrooge’s journey to redemption as he finally sees the world as it really is, a world that is desperate need, and one that he can help. But he’s not yet ready. Scrooge still has one more step to take. But how about us? Are our eyes opened to the need in our communities, do we see the world as it really is, one that is in desperate need of the love and grace of God? Do you see it?

We all have gifts that we can give this season and these gifts may not be filling the stockings or giving presents to others, but maybe those gifts of time; time spent with each other, offering a space at our table, offering room in our lives for others.

God has blessed us all with the greatest gift of all in his Son, Jesus Christ. Let us in turn bless those around us by sharing the life he has given to us and witnessing to the true meaning of Christmas; Emmanuel, God with us!

Jesus, Redeemer of Our Past

sermon-slide-wk2“Objects in the rear-view mirror are closer than they appear.” This could be one of the key thoughts for today’s message. Our pasts are closer than they appear. The things that we have lived through and maybe put behind us are never that far away from us. Object in the rear-view mirror are closer than they appear!

Let’s talk about our pasts. Now I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to talk about my past, for a couple of reasons. One, there are things there that I don’t want to remember. Second, I don’t remember it that well. I don’t remember things the way they actually happened.

Memories are hard to trust. They can be incomplete as we leave pieces of the picture out. They can be subjective where we only remember what we want to. They can also be misleading as they guide the decisions we make every day. I’m not saying that this is bad, sometimes our brains are protecting us, and that is a good thing. But I do think we need to confront our pasts as we look to the present and even the future.

Scrooge is visited by the ghost of Christmas past and in the Disney version this ghost is portrayed as a candle. It’s interesting to think of the ghost of Christmas past as a candle, shedding its light on the events of Scrooge’s past. He confronts both memories that are happy and those that bring him pain. Here is where we find Scrooge beginning to realize some of his past mistakes. He wants the ghost to haunt him no longer.

We too have pasts. We too have triumphs as well as mistakes. Many times we try not to remember those mistakes, we want to put them behind us and forget about them. They’re painful, they remind us what we’ve done. They remind us who we’ve done wrong to, who we haven’t loved, who we’ve turned our backs on, or who we’ve hurt. Our pasts remind us who we are, and maybe, just maybe, that’s not who we want to be. So we block it out, try to forget it. Let the past be the past.

Our scripture passage to reflect on today comes from Matthew as Jesus calling the first disciples. Jesus calls out to a couple of brothers who were fishing. He calls to them, asking them to follow him. Drop what you are doing and I will make you fishers of people. “Immediately they left their nets and followed him.”

Jesus knew who these men were, he knew their faults, their problems, their attitudes; he knew their pasts. He called them anyway. Jesus doesn’t call the perfect, he perfects the called. He doesn’t look for those who would be vetted and found to be not guilty of any sin. He finds the ordinary, the flawed, the misunderstood, and uses them is His wonderful calling.

Jesus has come to redeem us, all of us, not just a small part, not just who we are today, but all of us; our past, present, and future. Jesus comes to redeem us, and it certainly came at a cost, his life. Jesus paid the ultimate price to redeem all of us. But remember, his redemption does not remain with our lives as they are today. His redemption goes all the way back. He redeems our past and by doing this, he is using all of our past experiences for his glory.

What do you have in your past that you might be trying to hide from God? What are those skeletons that you don’t want God or anyone else to know about? Jesus knows all about those doors, in fact, he is standing at those doors, and he’s knocking. He wants you to open those doors to him so that he can fully redeem them.

Scrooge was taken on a trip back in time to encounter or confront his past, and that’s the only way he can move forward. That’s the only way he can begin to understand how he became who he is in the present and begin to change his life. Some of you today are facing those same situations. You want to move forward, you want to give your whole life to God, but there are things holding you back. Your past is holding you back. Today’s the day to confront your past, see all those things for what they really are, and allow Jesus to enter those areas of your life and redeem them. Let him take your past, your experiences, and use them for his glory. Offer up your past to him so that they will be a part of our salvation story and witness.