Hello CUC friends,
Miho and I hope you’re having a meaningful Christmas! And don’t forget, today is only the 2nd day of Christmas, and there are 10 more!
Below you’ll find a slightly updated sermon which I gave on Christmas Eve, 2011. It’s based on the entire Christmas story, but particularly Isaiah 9:2, 6-7.
Grace and Peace
“A Christmas to Keep”
There is a wonderfully joyful scene in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, when old Scrooge awakens to find that for him, morning has actually arrived, Christmas morning in fact. His newfound joy is due mainly to the fact of his still being alive, given a second chance, the chance to turn things around, turn his whole life around.
Through three ghostly visitations on Christmas Eve he has come to see both the coldness that has grown in his heart, and the frightening reality of his impending future: a death to which no one pays attention, a bare tombstone out in the corner of some cemetary, no words of admiration engraved upon it. It changes him, and who wouldn’t be changed?
The whole story is familiar to us — perhaps you can picture in your mind the various scenes of the story’s conclusion – joyful and tearful expressions of rebirth for Scrooge, and tearful for us as well, perhaps, because those scenes, that story, remind us of ourselves and our continual need of second chances, and third and fourth and fifth chances, our need for continual rebirths so to speak, flawed creatures that we are.
There is Scrooge, Christmas morning, on the staircase with his maid, insisting he is sane, thrusting coins into her hand promising a raise, apologizing for years of mistreatment, literally freaking her out! There he is again at his place of business, Boxing Day, awaiting Bob Cratchitt’s cowering presence and awaiting it now mischieviously because he knows all of the good he will soon unleash upon a stunned Mr. Cratchitt and his entire family, including Tiny Tim. And perhaps a favorite scene, with no small amount of fear and apprehension, there is Scrooge entering the home of his nephew during a Christmas party, having refused … countless invitations over the years with a gruff Hum-Bug, now opening up his transformed heart to seek forgiveness from the family he had rebuffed and rejected for so long, then dancing a polka with a forgiving and gracefilled niece (representing God perhaps?), a truly changed man.
And of course Dickens’ own final words “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 it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge…….
” To “keep” Christmas well. “it was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well? That phrase at the end of the story has always puzzled me. Is it just an old English way of saying: Scrooge knew how to observe Christmas, make the most of it, or “get into” Christmas? Certainly it doesn’t mean he was good at keeping it to himself, which would make no sense at all. Regardless is there something deeper there for us, something beyond even the wonderful story of transformation of A Christmas Carol?
“For to us a child is born”, proclaims Isaiah, “and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” While the birth of any child is something to celebrate, the birth of the child we sing of tonight has always been one tinged with cosmic significance, expressing both the promise and hope of a God who seeks to dwell within our hearts, that his kingdom of peace, justice, and mercy might flourish upon the earth, even through our lives! For the earth into which this child was sent, is sent, is in need of all those things, still, isn’t it?
Ongoing suffering in Syria, a new arms race between America, China, Russia and North Korea, violence in India, heightened rhetoric between India and Pakistan, poverty in so many parts of Africa, etc. The daily news, all those breaking news alerts on our smart phones, it all suggests that we still need the story of Christmas, still need the intrusion of the love and peace of God!
Too harsh for Christmas Eve? Too much reality on a night that should be reserved for joy and happiness, a little escapism? Well then, if I might suggest to you tonight, with humility, that we risk missing the whole point of the Christ-child’s arrival, whose desire is that we never ignore the troubles and injustices of the world, especially tonight! … The One who came precisely because of the troubles and injustices and failings of the world!
To KEEP Christmas. Surely what Dickens had in mind was that the child born in Bethlehem would assume within our hearts and lives, beyond the joyful days of Christmas, those lofty titles – Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, the One who spoke of loving enemies, forgiving without limit, caring for the least among us, … the One who welcomed the outcast, sought to share God’s love especially with the rejected and the poor, and who reminded us of that age-old duty “to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.” Dickens said as much through the mouth of the Spirit of Christmas Present, who declared to Scrooge: “Mortal, we spirits of Christmas do not live only one day of the year, but the whole 365; so is it true of the child born in Bethlehem. He does not live in men’s hearts only one day of the year, but all of the days of the year.”
To KEEP Christmas well. Is it not first to welcome into our hearts the vulnerable, holy child this night, perhaps for the first time, perhaps once again, the Mighty God and Prince of Peace, and then to let his love fill us and guide us beyond this night, that the God of light and life may shine into the world through us? Through us!!?
Friends, in the child born for us is not only promise but invitation, not only hope but opportunity, and, for any gathered here this evening who may be lacking a sense of purpose and meaning in life, the chance afforded us once again this Christmas to truly KEEP Christmas, to make a difference in God’s world.
The final word goes to Dickens: “Scrooge was better than his word… it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless us, every one!” Amen