Jesus, The Redeemer Of Our Past
Jesus, The Redeemer Of Our Past Matthew 4:18-23 Leaving off from last week, Scrooge is transported back to the past to remember who he once was. Some of those memories are good, some are painful, but acknowledging and remembering puts him on the path to redemption. Just how Jesus came to redeem all aspects of our past. It’s my prayer that as you listen to these words, If you have placed saving faith in Christ, God will reassure you that Christ HAS redeemed your life, including past mistakes and losses. Not only does Christ redeem, but He calls us to follow Him – not because we’re perfect, but because in Him we’re perfected for His service. If someone were to ask, “Who are you?” I’m guessing that you would tell them a little bit about yourself and what you do – “I’m a banker” or “I’m a mechanic.” But that’s not really who you are – it’s what you do. This leads me to the question, If what you do is who you are, then who will you be when you stop doing what you’re doing? As you think about how to answer that question, you'll likely begin thinking about your past. Memories, both good and bad. What you’ve been through. Lessons learned over time. Proud moments that make you smile. Mistakes. Regrets that we try to hide. But “the past” is quite a small phrase for something representing everything that has happened to you up until today. Sometimes we use the word past with adjectives like recent or distant or forgotten, but even then it’s hard to know how distant distant is supposed to be. Today, we’ll look at, “Jesus, The Redeemer Of Our Past,” as we follow Scrooge and watch as the ghost of Christmas Past takes old Scrooge on a trip down memory lane. Now, I love the way A Christmas Carol describes the voice of the Ghost of Christmas Past by saying, “The voice was soft and gentle. Singularly low, as if instead of being so close beside him, it were at a distance.” I think this perfectly describes our memories – sometimes it seems as if our memories are right next to us but also “at a distance.” And because of that, our minds like to play tricks on us. Memories help shape our identities and how we see the world, but they can also be incomplete and even misleading. This can be especially true about our distant memories. I mean, think about how your memories of Christmas and the feelings associated with it have changed over the years. Maybe Christmas was a happy time until a close family member or friend died. Maybe you found Christmas to be difficult until that one year when someone gave you a gift that changed everything. Or maybe you’re still waiting to figure out what Christmas is all about. For good or bad, our memories help shape who we are, and these memories begin to paint a picture of how the world should look and our role within it. But Scrooge seems to have forgotten his own story. He is always bitter and exasperated at the people around him, but as the story unfolds, we find out this wasn’t always the case. Last week, we left Scrooge in fear and shock and awaiting the ghost of Christmas Past to visit him. Exhausted from all the excitement, Scrooge falls asleep but is quickly awoken by those loud, deep, Christmas bells which gong as the clock strikes midnight. The sleep from Scrooge’s eyes quickly disappears as the ghost of Christmas Past appears standing in front of his bed. “What is your business here?” Scrooge fearfully asks. The ghost replies, “your welfare.” It’s here we get a glimpse of the why Scrooge is about to embark on this midnight journey down the shadow of his past; it’s not to scare him, but for his own good, for his welfare. The ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge on a journey to his hometown, and immediately he was filled with joy. Scrooge’s lip quivers, and a single tear runs down his cheek. “These are but shadows of the things that have been,” said the ghost. It was an overwhelming moment, but there’s more to come. Now, what’s interesting and it’s something that we really need to make a point of is that, from the beginning of the story up until this point, everything has been dark. It’s Christmas eve night. Scrooge worked with only one candle burning. He walked home in the cold, bleak, biting weather with nothing but the moon guiding his shuffling feet. Once home, Scrooge sat in the shadow of the moonlight with only one lonely log crackling in his fireplace, providing barely any warmth nor light. And when the ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge back to his childhood hometown, it’s the first time Scrooge is in the light! The cold of the darkness vanished, and the warmth of the light produced a joy in Scrooge's heart that he long since forgot. But this memory is short-lived because the next memory the ghost of Christmas Past reveals to Scrooge is one of sadness and bitterness. It’s a memory of his sister, Fan. They’re both in their early 20’s and healthy. But Scrooge’s memory quickly shifts to kneeling at Fan’s bedside while she dies. Her last wish was that Scrooge would help raise her son, Scrooge’s nephew. Fan’s words were soft-spoken and faint, but Scrooge heard them none the less. But Scrooge never honored her wish. Now it’s too late, and there’s nothing he can do. “Forgive me Fan! Forgive me!” Scrooge cries out as he weeps bitterly. Adding to this loss, the ghost of Christmas Past also took Scrooge back to the day he was in love. Scrooge is engaged to a poor woman. He’s young, has plenty of money, but is not rich yet. As Scrooge’s business career takes off, he begins to leave behind those who care about him most, because all Scrooge cared about was making money and getting ahead of everyone else. This left little time for his fiancée, who gave Scrooge back his ring and walked outta his life. But surprisingly, Scrooge didn’t remember it happening like that. He looked at the ghost of Christmas Past and dejectedly said, “Nobody’s ever loved me. Nobody ever will.” Remember how memories can be misleading? All Scrooge remembered was how his fiancée broke up with him, leading him to believe that nobody could ever love old Scrooge. But understand that Scrooge weighs everything by gain, and in doing so, he repressed and hide hurtful memories. Could it be that Scrooge’s inability to be merry was a way of honoring his heartbreak, ensuring that the pain he remembered was not dismissed or understood as unimportant? The Gospel teaches us that we honor our pain, not by holding onto it, but by sharing it and carrying it with each other. Christ died and rose again. Christ was laid in the tomb, but that’s not where the story stayed. Suffering is certainly part of the story, but it’s not where it ends. Christ died and was raised, not to prevent us from grieving, but so that our brokenness would be redeemed, our faults would not define us, and our sadness would not be the end of the story. Our memories are not always accurate. Sometimes our memories of the past are incomplete, emphasizing sadness while forgetting joy. Last Sunday, we gathered around the table for Communion, where we’re called to remember Christ, to “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). Jesus knows our faults and our faulty memories but invites us to His table anyway. Living for Christ daily doesn’t mean you’ll be perfect and always filled with happiness, but it does mean that through Christ, we’ll remember we’ve been redeemed. Your past should not define your future! Learn from it and don’t let it hold you back. Let your past enable you to reach people who are going through what you’ve already experienced. Share your life experience, especially your Christian testimony! Remember 2 Cor. 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” So when someone asks, “Who are you?” You can reply, “I’m a follower of Christ!” Because who you are is found in your relationship with Jesus. And your identity in Christ will drive your behavior. Scrooge’s grumbling behavior is starting to change, but the memory that really helped open his eyes was the death of his only friend Mr. Marley. Instead of keeping Marley company those last few hours, Scrooge worked. Even when a woman came and said to Scrooge, “Mr. Marley ain’t expected to live through the night, and if you want to take your leave of him, you should nip along smartly, or there won’t be no Mr. Marley to take leave of,” Scrooge still worked. And now, as Scrooge looks back upon how he grew into a wrenching old sinner, you can tell he wants to change. But how? He knows he’s not perfect. Now, when you look into a mirror, do you see yourself as a child of God? It’s hard knowing God’s perfect and you’re not. But the good news is that perfection isn’t a prerequisite. One day as Jesus walked the banks of the Sea of Galilee, He called out to Peter, Andrew, James, and John saying, “Drop your nets and follow Me.” Jesus wasn’t looking for perfection; rather, He was looking for someone willing. Christ didn’t see them for who they were, but who they were called to become. Jesus didn’t see them as just fishermen, but fishers of men. Christ saw them not for what they had done, but for what they would do for God’s Kingdom. Christ doesn’t call us to follow because we’re perfect, but because through Christ we’re perfected in love. There’s a funny sketch from the British show, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, about a confused tourist who sees that a local shepherd’s sheep have decided to climb trees in order to fly. The tourist asks why the sheep are in the trees, and the shepherd replies, “It’s my belief that these sheep think they’re birds. Notice how they don’t fly but fall. Talk about the blind leading the blind.” You know, a sheep cannot live its calling if it’s trying to be a bird. Nor can we live out what God is calling us to if we are climbing up the wrong trees. Sometimes we think of perfection as having no faults; but perfection, in terms of our walk with Christ, is following in the way Christ is calling us to follow and using the gifts He’s blessed us with. Scrooge is beginning to realize how the person he is doesn’t look much like the person he once was. Now I’m not perfect, and neither are you, but we’re perfectly made to follow Christ. Which was the perfect lesson Scrooge needed to understand. He was coming to his senses. Likewise, Christmas is a season for the senses. Our eyes search for light in the midst of darkness, our ears are tuned to sleigh bells and choirs, we taste and smell the “for a limited time only” gingerbreads and evergreen-scented candles. Unlike any other time of the year, the Christmas season brings change. The weather changes, houses become adorned with light, Christmas music floods the radio. Christmas brings change because everything changed the night God put on flesh and was born in Bethlehem. “For God so loved the world,” He became part of it so that everything within might be transformed! As Scrooge remembers some of his joyous past occasions, immediately sights and smells fill his memory. He’s beginning to change. The ghost of Christmas Past took Scrooge down a happy and painful journey. But it was a needed journey that planted the seed of peace in Scrooge’s heart. During Advent, church’s light the Advent candles in different orders. For The Redemption of Scrooge, we, as a church, light the Advent candles in a way that follows Scrooge's journey to redemption: Peace, Hope, Love, and Joy. We end on Joy because Joy reveals the true, lasting meaning of Christ on earth, but we’ll get to that on week 4. But for now, Scrooge lost all hope decades ago, and with it, peace. As Scrooge’s past comes into light, and his heart begins to warm, he felt a long-forgotten sense of peace. With the presence of peace picking at Scrooge’s heartstrings, he unwound enough to muster up some hope. But that’s not where the story ends. Advent doesn’t end on hope. Scrooge has to learn what real love is. Peace and hope provide the pathway to love, and eventually to joy. Just like our fishermen who dropped everything to follow Jesus, they too longed for a peace that only Christ can provide. They could not become fishers of men if they remained in the boat. Peace and hope was their pathway to the One who is Love, Jesus Christ. And as “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom,” Peter, Andrew, James, and John followed because Christ IS Truth and spoke the Words of Truth and life. Love secured their peace and hope, leading directly to a joy that couldn’t be shaken no matter what the circumstances. Christ calls us by His grace and says, “Follow Me, and I will make you.” It’s not “Follow Me, because of what you are already.” It’s not “Follow Me, because you just might make something of yourself.” NO! It’s “Follow Me, because of what I will make you.” So I ask you to please come back next week, as we follow Scrooge’s heart transformation, and we’ll begin to answer the question, “What will Christ make Scrooge, and what will Christ make you?” Brothers and sisters, like Scrooge, all of us are on a journey, and the journey continues. If in your journey the question of “Who are you?” arises, I urge you to wander down the path that leads to Christ. There’s no better time than now, but you must be willing to let go of your net, and follow. AMEN Today Father, as we look at Christmas past, reveal to us how You have been at work in our lives since the beginning. Open our eyes, and give us the courage to examine the mistakes we’ve made in the past, and forgive the mistakes of others, so that we’ll continue to grow into the people You created us to be. LORD, let us not be stuck in our past. Like quicksand, our past, those feelings of sadness, regret, and anger, have a way of keeping us stuck while pulling us down. But You LORD, are our Solid Ground, our Rock, our Foundation. The Bible says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we’ll reap a harvest if we don’t give up” (Gal. 6:9). So LORD, I pray that You are our Strength so that we don’t give up, but press toward the goal of continually follow Christ Jesus, the Redeemer of our past, our hope for the future, and the One who taught us the prayer we pray: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.