A Sermon from the North Yarmouth Congregational Church
A sermon offered by the Rev. Nancy J. White in the public worship of the North Yarmouth Congregational Church, UCC of North Yarmouth, Maine on the first Sunday of Advent, November 27, 2016.
Principal Readings: Isaiah 9:6-7 and Luke 1:46-47, 52-55
This Christmas season, we are doing something a little different. We are using as a foundation for our times of worship, the classic story by Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol. I have always enjoyed this story written in December, 1843 as a thoughtful look at the life of one whose name has come to embody stinginess, greed, looking out for number one, bitterness, and pure mean-spiritedness. In his masterful way, Dickens in the opening pages of this ghostly tale describe him as ‘a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner’ and further that he was ‘secret and self-contained’ and my favorite, ‘He carried his own low temperature always about with him’ (Stave One) If you look up’ scrooge’ in the dictionary, it says, ‘a miserly person’ and acknowledges that the word originates with this character in Dickens classic novella. There are more than 2 dozen versions of this film available for viewing. The watching of this movie in its many versions and forms is a favorite Christmas pastime in my home – I encourage you to watch a version or two suitable for your family to help you prepare for and to enhance your Christmas experience. The gist of the story is that this old miser Scrooge is able to change his ways, sees the value of love and charity and finds much joy in doing so.
We start our advent this year with readings from the prophet Isaiah and the Gospel of Luke. Scholars tell us that this reading from Isaiah was most probably the birth announcement of a new king born into David’s lineage. There was much joy at this announcement as it signaled an end to a brutal time of warfare with all its killing and destruction. With the benefit of hindsight we also attribute the reading to a foretelling of the coming of baby Jesus destined to be Emmanuel, God with us – to show us what God our savior is all about. First century Jews under Roman occupation desperately wanted and needed a savior – a savior who would change their circumstances and free them from the chains holding them in misery and unhappiness.
Over the years, we’ve made our savior into one who guarantees us life in heaven after we die. But Jesus said he came to save us and bring us life abundantly. This life can be ours now if we choose it. We are still promised life in heaven and the really good news is that we don’t need to wait until then to have the life Jesus is promising now – we get to have both!
Do we have chains that weigh us down? Chains that have become so much a part of our lives that we don’t even realize how heavy they are? What do we need to change or break away from them so that we may be free to experience God’s love and peace now? Some of this is about letting go of attitudes and things from the past that no longer serve us well. Are there people in your life who pull you down, who insist on dwelling on the bad and evil in our world rather than focusing on the positive and good? Do you need to let go of an old feeling or grudge that continues to fester inside you? If you look at your life, what is your main focus? Is it God and doing God’s work or are you consumed with life, money and earthly things? Do you need to give up the world’s notion of success and value and realize that is not what brings happiness and fulfillment? Do you need to give up a physical addiction to free yourself for life in God’s kingdom? Do you need to turn away from gossip and focus on speaking your truth in love, compassion and understanding?
In the scene where Marley’s ghost visits Scrooge, Marley is weighed down by chains that, as he explains it, were forged through many years of greed and single-minded pursuit of money while ignoring the plight of others. Since his death, he realizes that caring for the poor and needy should have been his life’s focus but now, unfortunately, he is in a perpetual state of understanding that, but unable to help even though he wants to. He is warning Scrooge that this future will also be his if he does not change his ways and his life. The good news is that there is a glimmer of hope for Scrooge as he responds when Marley tells him of the upcoming visits from Three Spirits, “is that the chance and hope you mentioned, Jacob?” We are witnessing a softening in Scrooge, in his use of Marley’s first name and in his ‘faltering voice’ as described by Dickens. There is a piece of Ebenezer Scrooge who wants to change – there is a glimmer within him that wants to be different.
While our lives may not be quite as starkly self-centered and indifferent to the welfare of others, we certainly have room for change. Change of little things, change of big things, change that will bring us closer to God and God’s love for all people.
Change is not easy, in fact, it can be downright difficult. Even the smallest of changes – perhaps because they seem so insignificant can be hard. Giving up sweets because it’s not healthy for you for example. I remember telling people it was easier to give up smoking as that was an all or nothing sort of thing but to change eating habits is more challenging for indeed we do have to eat something. What is it in your life that needs to change? Big things or little things or both – not easy but here is where our relationship with God comes in – Emmanuel, God-with-us. We are not alone in this – we have God and we have each other.
Friday I had the confirmation class play a little ‘mad-libs’ as we started to learn about our church covenant and one phrase sticks out for me – that we are ‘plodding along with God’. The journey may not be fast or straight forward, we may need to make continual adjustments or changes along the way but the bottom line is that either running or plodding we are doing it with God right beside us guiding us, counseling us, supporting us, encouraging our every effort and loving us every step of the way.
I pray that change will be so much a part of our lives, that God’s love will fill us to over flowing so that we can share that love with our world.
This is the good news of the gospel – the miracle has just begun in YOU for the sake of the world… God bless us Every One!