Christmas All Year Long
Sermon Subject: The journey from humbug to hallelujah
Response Called For: Honoring Christmas in your heart all year long
How to Do This: "I will honor Christmas in my heart all year." (See highlighted sermon text.)
Biblical Texts: Luke 2:8–20: And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 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. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." 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." So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Colossians 3:17: 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.
Video Segment: Scrooge’s lifelong transformation
A HALLELUJAH LIFE!
Wow, how quickly the situation has changed in the past few days. It seems hard to believe that Christmas was just twelve days ago, not even two whole weeks. It seems we have smoothly gone from the holidays back to the daily grind. Many in the church have already moved from thinking about the birth of Christ to thinking about the bills that will be coming in over the next few months. In my case, just a few days ago Nancy and I were in Orlando visiting family, having a great time. But reality has already intruded itself with the pressures of work, family, and life in general. One thing is certain though, and that is that change happens for better or worse; and sometimes we even have some control over the change. Some changes, like when a person says yes--or no--to a marriage proposal, like when a child is born, or when you start a new job, are decisions we control or influence. Others like when a loved one dies, or when disasters occur are changes that we have no control over. Some of the changes mentioned above are gradual, while some are dramatic radical changes. Ebenezer Scrooge underwent such a radical change--and things were never the same.
Think about the circumstances preceding the change that Scrooge experienced. Imagine yourself going home one night expecting it to be the same as any other night when wham, a 2 X 4 hits you up side the head. That is exactly what happened to Scrooge when he went home from work on Christmas Eve; he expected nothing different than any other night. He expected to go home, eat his soup, go to bed, wake up, and continue the same routine as every other day. Of course, this was the day he was being robbed again –I mean he had to pay his employee Bob Cratchit for the holiday, or as Scrooge states: Christmas is just “a poor excuse to pick a man's pocket.” However, something miraculous happened this special night, for when Scrooge awakened following his "holy hauntings," he really awakened!
(SHOW VIDEO CLIP.)
What a dramatic change occurred when Scrooge was awakened. He had a joy and love for life that he absolutely could not contain. In some of the other Scrooge movies, he actually dances a little jig in the bedroom, terrifying his housekeeper who had brought in his breakfast. Why was his housekeeper terrified? It was the radical difference in how Scrooge looked at life. The change caused him to immediately take on the part of a “secret angel,” when he had the largest prize turkey delivered to the Cratchits for Christmas dinner. He became charitable and sought out the gentlemen whose charitable request he had snubbed the evening before, making a most generous contribution that truly stunned them. Scrooge even mustered up the courage to attend his nephew’s party, offering his apology and seeking full reconciliation with Fred and Fred’s wife, whom he had never met. It was as if he had been born again.
These were basic character changes in Scrooge’s life; his fruits bore evidence that he had indeed changed. For Scrooge, he had moved from "humbug to hallelujah!" Scrooge’s changed lifestyle from “From Humbug to Hallelujah,” demonstrates to us how we can measure the validity of Scrooge's conversion. While Dickens did not intend to teach a full doctrine of Christian theology, in Scrooge we can see an analogy to our doctrine. When we speak of our own Christian conversion, for example, we know that it comes through faith in Jesus Christ, not by our own works. Scrooge’s actions are best understood as an expression of the fruit of his salvation, not the root of salvation. They were an expression of a changed life, not payment for eternal life. This is the type of conversion that the Christian musician, CARMEN, speaks of in a song about how Christians are to be “Radically Saved” leading to radical fruits in our lives. Through Scrooge, Dickens shows us how to live out what we say we believe. Scrooge shows us how the Spirit of Christ and the message of the baby in the manger can and should change every aspect of life, not just during the holidays, but every day of the year.
When Scrooge stated that, "I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the past, the present, and the future. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach,” just what did he mean? How can living in the spirit of Christmas change a humbug worldview to one of hallelujah? Or another way of saying it is “How can we keep Christmas alive in our lives?”
Part of the problem is with the Christmas spirit. Earlier, we mentioned how quickly the holiday spirit fades? Like New Year’s resolutions, the Christmas spirit quickly fades as life returns to the routine. Stuart Briscoe gives one of the most striking illustrations of this fact through an event that occurred during the First World War. He tells a story told to him many years ago by an old German man. This man had fought with the German forces in the First World War. In those days, warfare was not high-tech but hand-to-hand trench warfare. Soldiers lived, fought, and died in trenches full of mud and blood and vermin. In those trenches, dug in the fields of France, enemies could actually hear each other talking. They didn't need satellites to locate targets. The enemy was just over there; a stone throw away.
This old gentleman stated how on one cold, moonlit Christmas Eve, he huddled in the bottom of the trench. Because of the annual Christmas truce, the fighting had stopped. Suddenly, from the British trenches a loud, sweet tenor voice began to sing "The Lord Is My Shepherd," and the music floated up into the clear, moonlit air.
Then he said something surprising: from the German trenches, a rich baritone voice joined in, singing "Der Herr Ist Mein Hirte." For a few moments, everybody in both trenches concentrated on the sound of these two invisible singers and the beautiful harmony. The British soldier and the German soldier sang praise to the same Lord Jesus who was their shepherd. The singing stopped, and the sound slowly died away.
"We huddled in the bottom of our trenches and tried to keep warm until Christmas Day dawned," he said. "Early on Christmas morning, some of the British soldiers climbed out of their trenches into No Man's Land, carrying a football.”
One soldier carried a round football (by which Stuart, a native of England, means what we in the United States call a soccer ball). These English soldiers started kicking around a football, in a pickup game in no man's land, between the trenches. Then the old man said, "Some of the German soldiers climbed out, and England played Germany at football in No Man's Land on Christmas Day, in the middle of the battlefield in France in the First World War." (England won.)
Then he said, "The next morning, the carnage began again, with machine guns and bayonet fighting. Everything was back to normal (emphasis added)." (Stuart Briscoe, "Christmas 365 Days a Year," Preaching Today, Tape No. 135)
This truly is a dramatic example of what can and does many times happen to the Christian spirit. As Christians, we need to figure out how to prevent the loss of the Christmas spirit! We need to create a new normal, rather than allowing the old normal to take back control. We do this by letting the joy expressed by the hallelujah of Christ’s birth touch our past, present, and future.
Some people are living in the land of regret, wallowing in the sadness of opportunities lost or mistakes made, not allowing the hallelujah of the birth of a baby in a manager to control that portion of your life. Many times, people desire to keep the past alive by punishing themselves with guilty feelings or grudges, with remorse or resentment. In the hallelujah life, however, past events are utilized to educate us, to train us. It is the means God can use to expose our need, prompting us to find God’s solution to that need. It exposes our weaknesses, pointing out to us that we need to find God’s strength. The past cannot make things better, but it can be the catalyst that makes us seek better things. Think about past Christmas experiences where the hallelujah experience has been lost. Lets not make that mistake again, but seek the strength of the Holy Spirit and gain a new experience. Others, however, choose to live in the land of denial. They abuse themselves with substances, activities, and/ or people. They attempt to compartmentalize their lives in order to lessen the tension caused by their conflicting values and behavior. Again, the hallelujah life sets men free, because of the truth in the baby in the manager that provides light to those that seek Him.
God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin (1 John 1:5–7).
When the light of the baby in the manager leads us, we are redeemed. In our scripture reading today, the message of the angels to the shepherds was that a Savior had been born to free people; not from Roman rule, but from the more tyrannical dominion of their sin, their failure, their bitterness and resentment. The baby in the manager would bring peace with God for all that accept Him. Our sins are wiped away, hallelujah!!! God redeems our past through forgiveness. The Bible says that through faith in Christ “your sins may be wiped out” (Acts 3:19). In this passage from Acts, Peter is telling the people in Jerusalem who had clamored for Jesus’ crucifixion that they could be forgiven for the sin of putting Jesus Christ to death. What are you doing with your past? Have you already moved back to Bah, humbug, or can we collectively claim the joy of shouting hallelujah by letting God redeem us from our sins? By remembering the birth of a baby in a manager who came into the world in order to provide the covering of our past we grasp hold of the hallelujah joy! Now what about our present life?
To me, one of the most fascinating aspects of God’s character is His willingness to dip His fingers into our here and now interacting in our lives. Our living God longs to be actively involved in our lives every moment of every day. But we can follow your own desires. We saw how Scrooge had done this to the ultimate degree. Whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, no matter how it impacted others, he got it. It made him financially wealthy--but poor in every other way. Following our own desires may get us what we initially want, but it will leave us wanting in the end: wanting the things that matter most, we come to a point and say Bah, humbug! On the flip side are those who are always thinking about what they have to do for others, or about what others expect of them, or about pleasing and performing for others. This can be especially true during Christmas. While they might seem to be virtuous, underneath they are often driven by fear and anxiety. God desires we seek out the hallelujah life that puts our desires into perspective. Because of the baby in the manager, we know that we have value. Our God was willing to send His Son to be a baby, so that we might have life and that life would be abundant. Alternatively, we also understand that while other people certainly have an important place in our lives, they are not meant to determine who we are and what we do. How then should we live in the present? The gospel sets us free from self-centeredness and from being controlled by others by coming under the lordship of the baby in the manager. We see this demonstrated by the shepherds as they respond to the message of the angels. When they heard the good news, they acted on it, going to see what God had done (Luke 2:15). The shepherds acted upon a vision of duty to the one that deserves allegiance. It was a vision that causes service to one another because God is in the details of our life. Grasping hold of the hallelujah we can see ourselves serving God as we serve others, and witnessing to God's love as we serve. The incarnation becomes our model of life: being with people in their pain, identifying with them at the same time that we lift them beyond their pain. God will use us if we are willing to give him first place in our lives. This is how we honor Christ--not just Christmas--in our hearts all year long. We come to appreciate each day and savor each moment as a God-given opportunity. You see, it is of limited value to proclaim hallelujah during the season of Advent, only to revert to humbug the rest of the year. We need to purpose in our hearts to be individuals who consistently reflect the beauty of Christ in our lives and, by doing so, truly make this world a better place.
Lastly, our hallelujah life affects our view of the future. We ignore, worry about, or anticipate the future. Scrooge never thought about the future, except in material terms. He ignored the fact that there would be a day of reckoning. He ignored the fact that one day his worldly possessions would pass on to others--and those people may not be to his liking and may not use his good for purposes he would approve. A hallelujah life understands the reality of consequences and learns to cultivate the eternal perspective on life. One day we will all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad" (2 Cor. 5:9–10). Some of us continually think about tomorrow. We anticipate and plan and prepare for as many contingencies imaginable. We worry about providing for our family, saving up for our retirement, preparing for the next project, planning my next job, researching my next writing project, and planning our schedule often 18–24 months in advance. Sometimes we get stuck on the future and forget the past and present. What a humbug. The hallelujah life knows how to put the future in God’s hands and receive today as a gift to be savored now. It knows that worry is not only ineffective in helping us tomorrow, but actually cheats us out of today. The shepherds had a hallelujah experience when they were given the promise of peace with the coming of Jesus. In spite of the present circumstances they announced that peace and lived in that hope (Luke 2:14–19). The hallelujah life sees beyond the problems of the present to the certain hope that awaits us in Christ. This is no time for cowardice! The world today is indeed not a friendly place; but those who walk with the Lord find all they need and enter into an adventure unlike they may have ever known.
At the start, we mention changes that we control. Today we have an opportunity to take control of a change, one that might be the most radical change in your life. The first change is the one that occurs when we say yes to God and His redeeming grace through Jesus Christ! The second change that we can control is by saying Merry Christmas everyday to those around us by reaching out to the community around us in Christ like actions. What then do you say today: Merry Christmas and hallelujah or Bah, humbug? For me, I wish each of you a Merry Christmas and may you have hallelujah joy every day of this coming year. Let’s Pray.
Closing prayer: Lord, wow, we stand in awe of your greatness and glory. We relish the fact that you are willing to touch us with your Holy Spirit and that you caused your Son to be born as a baby in a manager. We confess that we have in the past thought too much of ourselves and far too little of you. Forgive us Lord, and teach us how to honor Christ in the past, present and the future. And may we live so that others will come to know you, believe in you and serve you. In the name of Jesus, our Coming King, we ask this. Amen.
A hallelujah challenge has been set before us, Lord God, to continually have the hallelujah joy and not revert to humbug this coming New Year. We have a remarkable example in Mary, who treasured the events of that first Christmas in her heart and the Magi, who considered "Christmas" all about worshiping the King of Kings. Today, we seek to make a covenant with you, as we need your strength and guidance to continually have Christmas in our hearts. May your Holy Spirit reach out to each of us and enable us each day of the year to honor the Christ of Christmas, showing Christ to the world in our every action. Our prayer is offered in Jesus’ name. Amen.