Are You Looking For A Change?
Unlike the Muppet's version, Charles Dickens version of The Christmas Carol has a much darker feel to it. Confronted with the ghost of Christmas yet to come there is a chilling confrontation in a church graveyard. The specter points toward a headstone and Scrooge is reluctant to look at it. There is a sense he knows what he'll find. Dickens' writes:
"Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead," said Scrooge. "But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me."
The Spirit was immovable as ever.
Scrooge crept towards it, trembling as he went; and following the finger, read upon the stone of the neglected grave his own name, EBENEZER SCROOGE."
Scrooge is shaken to his core. He cries out, ""Spirit! Hear me. I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope?"
For the first time the hand appeared to shake.
"Good Spirit," he pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it: "Your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life."
The kind hand trembled.
A trembling hand was the sign of hope for Scrooge, the pause in a relentless journey toward damnation and lostness. The past shaped Scrooge into his present hardness which, in turn, had brought him to the very grave at which he knelt.
Scrooge's response to the trembling hand of hope was a promise. "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. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!"
Are you seeking hope this Christmas? Many folks are fresh out of hope. There are those who find themselves laid-off. Others wonder what their company will do next year. Joy to the World rings hollow in the lives of those who remember loved ones who have died. Peace is a cruel lie to those whose spouses or parents prepare to be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan once more. All of these and countless more bite at our heels, threaten our future, and harden Dickens Ebenezer Scrooge.
In this world, God's people have a monopoly on hope. We are the hope dispensers for those seeking a new thing. And this new thing is nothing less than a radical change in our lives at the most basic level. This change brings into focus God's vision for the world and our lives. This change cleanses us of bitterness and grudges. This change has takes those least acceptable and "gives them a place at the table" to use a political phrase. This change moves us along a journey from what was to what might be; from a godless present into a Christ filled NOW! It needs to be said, that refusing this change, missing it also has eternal consequences.
Where do you perceive the trembling hand of hope today? Some find it in the lights, sentimentality and joy. For others it is the oft-heard story of Mary, Joseph, angels, wisemen, and shepherds. Some base their hope on traditions and making certain is things are just like they always have been.
As nice and necessary as our traditions, decorations, carols, celebrations and all the rest are, the real sense of hope comes from having our lives changed by Jesus. Hope bursts forth from those who cannot help but worship at the cradle of Jesus. Hope explodes from the lips and hearts of those ushered into the presence of this infant who is Emmanuel, "God with us".
Joseph and Mary were transformed. An angelic pronouncement and a startling dream gave them hope for a future that was not marked by shame and being an outcast. Other's that first night were also the trembling hand of a hopeful future. Shepherds, who were often seen as unclean, were changed that night. God's glory broke into the darkness of that night. They left the outskirts with wonder and question and returned with joy and the good news that God was with us.
Those we call Magi too were transformed. A light in the heavens guided them from scholarly pursuit to a place of worship. That star changed them from intellectual believers to worshipping people, no small task.
Herod is probably the negative example for us. He doesn't change at all. In fact, if we read history right he became even more paranoid than before as he ordered innocent children in the area around Bethlehem murdered.
It seems easy to skip over the transforming power of God's Hope during Christmas since we have so much to do. Rev. Paul Stokes shares about those who believe they've matured beyond Christmas. He writes, "A South Sea Islander proudly displayed his Bible to a GI during World War II. Rather disdainfully, the soldier commented, 'We’ve grown out of that sort of thing.' The Islander smiled and said, 'It’s a good thing we haven’t. If it weren’t for this book, you’d have been a meal by now!'
We aren't on a journey that leads to outgrowing Christ. This trip we've been called to take doesn't lead us into any great new enlightenment or special, secret knowledge. This journey follows some well-worn paths. We follow Mary, Joseph, the disciples, Old Testament saints and the faithful from all generations who sought to know Jesus better.
As familiar as this journey may seem it is also brand spanking new to one of us, each and every day. This newness makes it so wonderfully exciting, adventurous and a bit unnerving.
To sense the transforming power of God we have to be a bit like Scrooge. Three words I find key to seeing Christ work in my life are humility, willingness and action. To accept that we have been horribly wrong about the life we've lived is the first step to being able to see God's transforming power work in our life. If we hold on to our excuses, explanations and justifications we will find ourselves on our knees facing our own tombstone with no hope. Yet, if on our knees, we admit just how messed up we've been and are able to express a desire to change, there may yet be hope.
Unlike the Spirits of Christmas in Dickens our humility takes place before God, the Lord of Lord and King of King. Falling before Him and giving up control of our lives to Jesus Christ is the definition of what it means to become a Christian. What follows such an act of humility is a belief that our future can be different as long as Jesus is at the center of our life.
Our willingness to go and do follows this earth-shattering act. Followers of Jesus are willing to do outrageous things for Jesus. What's more they do them. They take in babies left in the street to die because they are unwanted. They hold the dying bodies of Dalits or untouchables in India. They have led the fight against slavery. They have founded college. They have been the force which sought free public education for all people. They bring medical aid and translate the bible. They collect food for the poor and buy toys for angel tree kids. They mow the lawns of their neighbors and check in on those who don't get out much. They rally around someone at school who is hurting and pray aloud for them in a hallway. They contract leprosy as they minister to those with the disease.
Is anything on that list easy? Maybe not but those who follow Jesus have done, continue to do and will do such things today, tomorrow and next week. The willingness to step out and the doing itself is the very proof that the transformation we so desire is taking place.
Want to get on board then bow before God and let Him have His way with you. Make yourself available like Mary did. Put yourself on the line as Joseph did. Walk away from your ideal life and into God's perfect plan and you'll discover the opportunity to let Christ become Lord and Savior this Christmas. Amen.
 of Paul Stokes Plymstock United Church http://www.plymstock.org.uk/