All I Want for Christmas

So did you get what you wanted for Christmas?  Were all your wishes fulfilled?  Were you ecstatic or disappointed on Monday morning?  Maybe a little bit of both, I know how you feel, for the fifth year in a row I didn’t have a new BMW convertible in my driveway, actually for the fiftieth year in a row I didn’t have a new BMW convertible in my driveway, but hope springs eternal. 

Life often mirrors Christmas in that we don’t always get everything on our list and perhaps the problem lies with our lists. Maybe we have the wrong wants, except for my BMW of course.  And so as we move ahead into 2013, maybe what we really need is to make a new list of wishes. 
I think I’ll skip the BMW and instead wish for a deeper relationship with my Lord, a stronger relationship with my wife, and a more authentic relationship with my kids.  And instead of just wishing I think I’ll put some effort into it as well, that way there’ll be a much better chance the wishes will become reality. 
And just in case you are still shopping for my BMW convertible, crimson red would be nice.  Have a great week and   remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

The Miracles of Christmas

Miracle on 34th Street
The Miracles of Christmas
If nothing else I am expanding my movie repertoire, I hadn’t
seen any of these movies prior to starting this series. I had seen bits and
pieces but never the entire movie.    Miracle on 34th Street begins at
the Macy Thanksgiving day parade when an Older bearded gentlemen discovers that
the man who is supposed to play Santa on the float is drunk, the inebriated
Santa  claims that it’s cold and he is
simply trying to stay warm.  However the
stranger reports him to the parade organizer, Doris Walker who in a panic
decides to replace him with the stranger.
Well, the new Santa does such a great job on the float that Doris
offers him the position of Santa at Macy’s department store where he dos a
wonderful job until management discovers that he calls himself Kris Kringle and
actually believes that he is Santa.   
Through the manipulation of the inept company psychologist
Kris is declared a danger to himself and others and is locked up in an
institution.  And it is up to Fred Gailey
a young lawyer who lives next door to Doris and her six year old daughter to
prove to the court that Kris isn’t insane but is actually Santa Claus. 
A few interesting tidbits about the Movie, it was released
in 1947, not at Christmas time, which would make sense but instead in May
because the head of the Studio felt that more people went to the movies in
May.  The fact that it was a Christmas
movie was kept a secret until the release. 
Here is the promotional cover the for the DVD’s today and here is the
poster from the original release. 
The opening scene of the movie, the Macy’s Thanksgiving
Parade was actually the 1946 parade, which was a challenge because it couldn’t
be reshot if there was an error.  And Edmund
Gwenn, the actor who played Kris Kringle was the Santa Claus in the Parade that
year.
Natalie Wood, who played Doris’s daughter Susan claims that
she actually thought Edmund Gwenn was Santa Claus during the production, it
wasn’t unit the end of the movie that she discovered he was just an actor. 
The movie won several Academy Awards that year and is
included in the list of the top ten inspirational films ever made.
When I mentioned the fact that
I was using the movie to one person they said “But it’s not about Christmas it’s
about Santa.”  No, what it is about is
faith and the ability to believe in the miraculous.  Or as Fred Gailey reminds us in the movie  “Faith is believing when common sense tells you not
to. Don’t you see? It’s not just Kris that’s on trial, it’s everything he
stands for. It’s kindness and joy and love and all the other intangibles.”  Which kind of sounds like Hebrews 11:1 Faith is the
confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance
about things we cannot see.
Sometimes I think we take Christmas for granted.  We have celebrated it for so long that we
have lost sight of the miraculous.  It
wasn’t an everyday event.  But have we we
lost sight of all that happened?  Has the
Miracle of Christmas simply become the story of Christmas? 
Let’s recap the Christmas Story.
 It all began 2000
years ago when an angel visited a young virgin in Israel.  The Angel tells this young girl named, Mary,
that she will become pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Another
angel appears to Mary’s fiancé a man named Joseph and assures him that Mary has
not been unfaithful despite evidence to the contrary.  That Angel confirms Mary’s story as to who
the father will be, God.
Before the Baby is born Mary and Joseph are required by a
governmental order to return to the town of Joseph’s ancestors, thereby
fulfilling a prophecy that had been made a thousand years before.   Once they arrive in the town of Bethlehem, Joseph and his extremely pregnant wife are unable
to find accommodations and so they end up spending the night in a stable full
of animals.  During the night Mary goes
into labour and has the child in the stable where he is laid in a manger to
sleep.
After Mary gives birth to her son even more angels appear to
shepherds who are tending their sheep in nearby fields.   These
angels tell the shepherds about the events that had happened in town and the
shepherds immediately left their flocks to fend for themselves while they go to
worship this child who was born in a stable. 
Meanwhile, a number of wise men from a far off land arrive
on the scene bearing three gifts for the newborn child.  The wise men tell the family that they have
been following a star for months and that it finally came to a rest over the
town of Bethlehem.  However on their way to Bethlehem the wise men had encountered the
local governor and informed him of their mission,
how they were seeking one who would become the king of the Jews.  In a fit of jealousy the Governor ordered all
the children in the village under the age of two murdered. Mary and Joseph
however were able to escape after being warned of the governor’s plans by yet another
angel.
And that’s what we believe. 
I don’t know if there was a street name where that stable in Bethlehem
was located but a miracle definitely happened there.   I was shopping for a Christmas card for my
best friend the other day, and I probably spend more time on Reg’s card than on
any other, which isn’t much of a stretch, I only buy three other cards.  But one of the cards I considered for Reg had
the three wise men staring in awe at the stable and one of them says, “If this doesn’t
make it in the bible I don’t know what will”
 
So why did Jesus have to be born that way?  I mean nothing like that happened with the
birth of Mohammed or Buddha.  Even with
the basket and Pharaoh’s daughter Moses’ birth was downright boring by
comparison so why is the Christmas story so wonderfully strange?  Let’s take a look at what makes it so
miraculous.
The Miracle of the Virgin
Birth
  If there is one element of the
Christmas story that people have the most problem with it is the virgin birth.  There are even churches,
churches that claim to be Christian churches who say this never happened, it was just made up.  Makes me wonder if they don’t believe the
essentials why do they call themselves churches? Hmmm,
enquiring minds want to know.
The virgin birth plays an
important part in both accounts of the Christmas story, you remember the story Matthew 1:18 This is how
Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to
Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she
became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Luke tells us the same story in
Luke 1:26-27 In
the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to
Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be
married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David.
And if there was one person who
should know Mary’s sexual history it was Mary and she seems pretty sure that
she won’t qualify when Angel tells her she is going to be a mom.  Listen to what Mary says Luke 1:34 Mary asked the
angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”
As a matter of fact hundreds of
years before Mary had been born the Prophet Isaiah made this statement Isaiah 7:14 All right
then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a
child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God
is with us’).
We are talking God coming to earth.  How should he come?  The same way that you and me and Genghis Khan
and Adolph Hitler were conceived and born? The prophet said that God would
chose a sign, and he did, he stepped outside the boundary of natural laws
that say that in the act of conception a male and a female would each contribute
a cell which would become a new person. 
Instead God did what had never happened before and has not
happened since and that is he produced a child with only one cell.  You read in the papers about same sex
parents, don’t believe it, it can’t happen. 
It takes ingredients from a boy and a girl to make a baby.
And so believe it or not a virgin gave birth as strange as
that may seem and the child’s name was Jesus.  And it was a miracle. 
Luke
2:1-4
At that time the Roman emperor,
Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire.
(This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All
returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because
Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea,
David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in
Galilee.
The Miracle of Bethlehem  You
understand the significance here right. 
There would come a time that Jesus’ bona fides would be questioned.  Was he really the Messiah? Did he really
fulfill the prophecies? Was he really who he said he was?  And the teachers of the law would look not
only at whether or not he fulfilled those prophecies but how he fulfilled them.
  
One of the prophecies that the
people of Israel looked to in regards to the coming Messiah is found in Micah 5:2 But you, O
Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah.
Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the
distant past.
Maybe people would think it was all an elaborate scam
thought up by Mary and Joseph.  You know
when people are expecting their first child they often dream of what that child
will be and do when they grow up.  Maybe
they will be a Doctor or Prime Minister or the next Sydney Crosby, or perhaps
the next Tiger Woods, without the entire adultery thing.
So maybe Mary and Joseph were hoping that their little boy
would grow up to be the Messiah and they knew the Messiah had to be born in
Bethlehem so while Mary was great with child they made the four day trip.   You say “That would be crazy Denn!”  You watch the news?  I’ve seen people do crazier things with and
for their kids.
I’m not saying that is what happened, I’m just saying that
eventually there could be potential for people to think that’s what happened.
But what if they didn’t have a
choice, what if it could never be said that they were all part of a grand plan
to scam the world into believing that their son was the Son of God by choosing
to have their child in Bethlehem? 
Not only that but this prophecy thing was important stuff,
not to be trifled with.  What if there
was the chance that even if Mary and Joseph were given angelic direction to go
to Bethlehem they hedged.  You know at
the last minute decided they didn’t want to put the extra miles on donkey, or
Mary wasn’t feeling well or Joseph had gotten behind in some of his carpentry
work, or didn’t feel he could take the time off with a baby on the way.
So while they might choose to disobey a heavenly decree, for
whatever reason, and don’t judge them, they would be much more apt to obey the
law of the land, especially when it was enforced as strictly as Rome enforced
it. 
The question then is was Caesar used as a puppet? Or was the
divine plan simply put into place to coincide with the plans of Rome?  Paul wrote in Galatians 4:4 But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject
to the law.  Not anytime but the
right time.
I don’t know if the Micah prophecy had even entered into
Mary and Joseph’s thoughts, if with all that they were going through at that
point in their lives if it was even on the radar.  “We need to get the nursery ready, buy a
crib, get a donkey baby seat and go to Bethlehem to fulfill the prophecy made
five hundred years ago.”  But it was part
of the plan.  And I’m sure when they
heard the news that they were going to have to make the trip to Bethlehem they
may not have been thrilled.
“Great just what we need, Mary is ginormous, I have a big
job going on for the Steinberg’s, our new house isn’t ready yet and now this.”  But it was just what they needed, or at least
it was what the Kingdom needed. 
But ultimately it was a matter of obedience.  Obedience to the laws of man and obedience to
the direction of God.  Maybe Joseph
needed the first in order for the second. 
God is good; he provides us with a way and sometimes makes it easier for
us.
How often do we need that nudge?  I am sure there have been times in my life
when I have done the right things and come out smelling like roses but I didn’t
do the right thing enthusiastically, and maybe not completely willingly. 
And
sometimes we don’t understand why God allows what he does, and maybe will never
understand on this side of eternity so all we can do is believe and claim the
promise of Romans 8:28 And we know that God causes
everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called
according to his purpose for them.  Even when we don’t understand it, and may not
understand it on this side of eternity and even when we wouldn’t have done it
that way.
I
mentioned to someone once that I was making a list of questions for when I got
to heaven but they reminded me that we would have perfect knowledge when we got
to heaven and wouldn’t have to ask those questions because then we would
know. 
We
will be like: there are a few things I’d like to know.  And then it will be the big eureka
moment.  Aha!
Luke
2:8-11
That night there were shepherds
staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an
angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory
surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be
afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all
people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem,
the city of David!
The Miracle of the Angels and Shepherds   The next thing that seems a little out
there are the angels appearing to the shepherds.
To us there is little significance in the
shepherds.  And yet in the time of Christ
they were the despised ones.  The
religious elite snubbed them and considered them second-class citizens.  You see, no
matter how much they loved God the demands of the flock were too much for them
to obey all the ceremonial aspects of the law, such as hand washing.  And so to these who found it so difficult to
keep the law came the announcement of the one who would save them by
grace. 
Perhaps they were special shepherds, we’re
told that just outside of Bethlehem
there was a very special flock of sheep, a flock of perfect sheep without spot
or blemish that were used in the daily sacrifice at the temple. Because these
sacrificial lambs were so important to the religious life of the Jews, they
were given the very best of everything. 
And so maybe it was to those who nurtured the sacrificial lambs that the
Angels came bringing the good news of the great sacrifice and that was
Jesus.  But really the sheep don’t
matter, it was to the shepherds that the Angels came and in vs. 10-11-12 they were told
the story of the baby who was born in a manger.
In those early days historians tell us that it was customary
that when a male child was born that local musicians would gather at the home
and greet the new son with simple music. 
Unless of course you were the son of a poor couple far from home and you
were born in a barn.  But in its place His
heavenly Father provided a choir of Angels to serenade his son.
Matthew
2:1-2
Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea,
during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern
lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We
saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” And then
there was The Miracle of the Wise Men.  
What symbolizes Christmas more than
the picture of the Magi kneeling in adoration before the new born messiah?  Across the desert sand they had come, mile
after mile following but a promise of a distant start.  I wonder if as they packed their camels in Persia
if their family friends and neighbors thought of them as wise men?
“So guys, where’re you going?” 
“That way.”
“Oh and what is your final destination?”
“Don’t know.”
“How will you know when you get there?”
“The star will stop”
“Well, who are you going to see?”
“A baby”
“Uhhhh, and what’s the baby’s name?”
“Wonderful, counselor, prince of peace,
Everlasting father.”
“You know Bob I do believe that the boys
have been out in the sun way too long.”
And yet the Magi of the East made their
pilgrimage across the sea of sand to the little town of Bethlehem to worship at the cradle of
Christ.  We know very little about the
Magi, but we do know that they were
from the country of Persia
which is now Iran.  And we know that the Magi were originally
from a tribe of Medes who tried to overthrow the King.  When their little coup failed they put their
political aspirations behind them and chose safer work as holy men, priest and teachers of Kings.   It was from this occupation that we discover
that Magi is the root word of Magic.  Now
we don’t know why the sign came to these men,
maybe it was there for everyone but only these few choice to follow. 
Regardless of the reason, it was the Magi
who followed the star to visit the Christ child, and maybe it was simply to
signify that Christianity would ultimately be for the gentile as well as the
Jew. Because even though Jesus came as the Jewish Messiah we are told that
there was this sense of expectancy over the entire area of the world concerning
the coming Messiah of the Jews.  The
belief was summed up by the Roman Historian Suetonius
when he wrote “There had spread over all the orient an
old and established belief, that it was fated at that time for men coming from
Judea to rule the world.”
And so it’s fitting is it not that the one that would save
the world, that his birth was announced not only to the people of Israel but to
the greater world as well.  So perhaps
the Wise men’s presence at the first Christmas wasn’t so absurd after all.
And I know that some of you are
sitting there thinking “Doesn’t Denn know that the magi weren’t actually at the
first Christmas?” 
Give
me a break.  I never really thought much
about when the magi arrived until a number of years ago I was talking to a
friend of mine who attends another evangelical church in the city and she told
me how surprised she was to find out that the Wise men weren’t at the first
Christmas but arrived much later.  I kind
of suspected where she got this nugget of information but asked anyway and she
told me that one of her pastors had preached on it the Sunday before.  It comes up from time to time and here’s the
rational.  It would have taken the Magi a
considerable amount of time to make their way from their home in Persia.   It says in Matthew 2:11 They entered the house and
saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.
And lastly Herod ordered the
boys two and under executed.  And so the
assumption is that the Magi arrived after a considerable length of time perhaps
almost two years later.  But we all know
what happens when we assume right? 
Sometimes we’re wrong.  Sometimes
I think preachers stretch a point sometime to show how much smarter they are
then other people. 
A few things to consider, if you
will?  If God could put a star in the sky
to announce the birth of his son, then he could put it there far enough in
advance to get the wise men there on time. 
Secondly, while the Bible says Jesus was born in a manager, there is
nothing to indicate that is where they stayed for their entire stay in
Bethlehem, could have moved into a house the next day if room became
available.  Why would Joseph a carpenter
from Nazareth stay in Bethlehem any longer then he had to for the census?
That was free.
The greatest event in human
history has to be when God came to dwell amongst us. And how should that have
happened?  Should it have been an
everyday event that no one noticed? Or should there have been some element of
wonder attached to it?  I know that there
are people who deny the events of the first Christmas because they can’t
believe that things like that could happen and perhaps that’s why the Bible
says 1 Corinthians 1:18 The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed
for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.
Perhaps we could change that
just a bit to read 1 Corinthians 1:18 The message of Christmas is foolish to those who are headed
for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.

Post Mayan Apocalypse

Well, we made it through another “End of the World”. At least, if you are reading this I presume that the Mayans were wrong. If you’re not reading this, then perhaps one of the many and varied doomsday scenarios actually happened on December 21st. On the other hand, maybe you’re not reading it because you just didn’t come to church today. Presumably you are reading it, which is good news in that the world hasn’t ended and you are in church.
But, seeing that we have escaped yet another “End of the World” scenario, this might be a good time to reflect on what you are going to do with the rest of your life. Maybe you want to be lighter and healthier, smoke-free or friendlier.  Maybe you want the rest of your life to be more spiritual—you are going to pray more, give more, attend church more, read your Bible more, or tell more people about Jesus. If that’s the case, then you are going to need help because you already know that you can’t do it by yourself. So, now that you know the world will still be here in 2013, it’s probably a good time to let God have complete control.    Have a great week and   remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Be careful little lips

Let me start by saying I’m not fan of radio prank calls.  When they come on our local radio station I turn it off or find another station.  I also don’t like TV shows like “America’s Funniest Videos”, probably for the same reason.  I am really not into relishing  the humiliation or pain of others and calling it funny.  That being said, I find the public outcry over the prank call to Kate’s hospital somewhat hypocritical. 
  
I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. It’s been on the news and all the social media.  Two radio presenters from Australia called the hospital and pretended to be Prince Charles and the Queen & were able to get a progress report on Kate.  Nothing embarrassing or personal, the staff merely said she was tired and resting.  And people chuckled about it, especially considering the horrendous accents the Aussies used.  
Tragically one of the nurses involved committed suicide the next day and now the Australians are being blamed for her death.  Really?  

While I personally don’t think the blame can be placed at the feet of the radio station or the presenters, it reminds me again of the power of our words and the hurt they may cause, even if unintended.     Have a great week and   remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

It’s a Wonderful Life

It’s a Wonderful Life
(Begin with Clip from “It’s a Wonderful Life” scene where
George meets Clarence and wishes he had never been born”
It’s a Wonderful Life has consistently been ranked in the
top 100 movies of all times, it has been called the number one inspirational
film as well as one of the most popular Christmas movies ever produced, and it’s
not even about Christmas.  It is simply a
movie that is set at Christmas time. Even if you’ve never seen the movie you
are probably familiar with the phrase: Every time a bell rings an angel gets
his wings. 
It’s a Wonderful life is based on a short story, entitled “The
Greatest Gift” that was written by Philip Van Doren Ster.  The author couldn’t interest a publisher and
so he eventually self-published in 1943 and used the story for his Christmas
cards.  Eventually though the story was
seen by director Frank Capra who purchased the rights and the movie was made
and released by RKO studios in 1946.  It
starred Jimmy Stewart who had just returned from serving as a pilot during WW2
and Donna Reed an up and coming actress.
Interestingly enough the movie was considered to be a box
office flop because of its high production costs and the stiff competition that
was out at the time.  I wonder what the
more successful movies of that year were?
It would be easy to assume that everyone here has seen the
movie but I actually watched it for the first time last year.  
So for the three people here today who have never seen the
movie here is a synopsis.  George Bailey,
played by Jimmy Stewart is a good man who consistently puts the needs of others
before his own needs, even to the point of giving up his dreams of travel and
becoming an architect in order to run the family building and loan Company
following his father’s death.  You still
with me?  The turning point in the movie
comes when George’s Uncle Billy accidentally loses $8,000.00 of the company’s
money just before the bank examiner arrives to audit the books.  Enter the villain, Henry Potter, played by
Lionel Barrymore who was best known for playing Scrooge on radio productions of
the Christmas Carol.  Potter is an evil
banker who determines that he will have George thrown in jail and charged with
fraud so he can close down the competition. 
George feels that he has let everyone down and he decides
that he is worth more to his family dead than alive and decides to commit
suicide by jumping off a bridge. 
However, all over town people are praying for George and God sends down
Angel Second Class Clarence Odbody to intervene.  And if Clarence is successful in saving
George he will be made a full angel and receive his wings, with the appropriate
ringing of a bell of course.  Not great
theology but a pretty good story. 
Just before George jumps off the bridge Clarence does,
prompting George to once again put aside his plans in order to help someone
else.  George jumps in and saves Clarence
and that led to the scene that we just watched. 
After Clarence grants George his wish, he goes on to show
our hero how different the world would have been without his actions.  The difference in lives that George had
touched and saved, even the difference in how the town of Bedford Falls would
have ended up. 
George runs back to Clarence and begs him to be allowed to
live, his request is granted, all turns out well, a bell rings, an angel gets
his wings and George understands that it truly is a Wonderful Life.
A couple of pieces of trivia about the movie, Jimmy Stewart
wasn’t the first choice to play George, Cary Grant was.  Donna Reed was about fifth in line to play
Mary.  The names of the taxi driver and
policeman in the movie are Bert and Ernie, no relation to the Bert and Ernie
from Sesame Street. 
The FBI felt that the movie It’s a Wonderful Life was
subversive.  On May 26, 1947, the FBI
issued a memo stating “With regard to the picture “It’s a Wonderful Life”,
[redacted] stated in substance that the film represented rather obvious
attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a ‘scrooge-type’
so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these
sources, is a common trick used by Communists. [In] addition, [redacted] stated
that, in his opinion, this picture deliberately maligned the upper class,
attempting to show the people who had money were mean and despicable
characters.”
But that was then and this is now.  The theme of the movie is the difference that
one life can make. Today is the second Sunday of Advent and we are moving
toward the day when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.   But have you ever wondered what would the
world would be like without the birth of Jesus. 
A couple of months ago I heard John Ortberg preach his sermon “Who is
this Man?” and he spoke about the impact that Jesus has had on the world.  And I know all of that but again I was amazed
and intrigued by the difference that Jesus has made, not just in my life
personally but in the world that we live in. 
Years ago I heard a little ditty that said, “Roses are red,
violets are bluish if it weren’t for Christmas we’d all be Jewish.  But even if that is true, which it isn’t,
that would be the least of the differences in our world.  So if we could un-ring the bell so to speak
and speak Christmas and the birth of Christ out of existence, what would the
world look like if Jesus had never been born?
Without Jesus Time Would
be Viewed Differently 
If you take your bulletin and look at the front on the very top
it says December 9, 2012.  We take that
for granted.  That is the date.  More correctly it would say AD 2012, but what
does the AD mean?  It is short for the
Latin phrase Anno Domini  which translated
into English is: In the year of our Lord. 
For most of human history time was measured by those who
were in power at the time, so you will recall at the beginning of the Christmas
story we read in Luke 2:1-2 At that time the Roman emperor,
Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire.
(This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.)
And so the birth of Jesus was originally dated by the fact
that most of the known world was ruled by Caesar Augustus and today we know
that Augustus died in 14.  14 What?  14 the Year of our Lord.  When Jesus was crucified it was under the
authority of Caesar Tiberius.  Tiberius
died in 37, the year of our Lord.  
History has been divided into two sections those things that happened
before Jesus was born and those things that happened after Jesus was born. 
And so the greatest men and women in history, for good or
for evil are defined by two dates, when they were born and when they died, and
those dates are referenced to the birth of a baby in a stable in a little
village in a small occupied country over 20 centuries ago.  And so Napoleon Bonaparte lived from
1769-1821 in the year of our Lord.  And Mahatma
Gandhi lived from 1869 to 1948 in the year of our Lord.  And if you were to visit the grave of the great
Atheist Friedrich Nietzsche  on his
tombstone you would see his life summed up by the dates 1844-1900,  in the year of our Lord. 
Muhammad, the founder of Islam lived from 570 to 632 in the
year of our Lord.  There have been
attempts through the years to secularize this by referring to it as CE or the
Common Era, but common in what?  In the
birth of Jesus.
But it’s not just a matter of time.
Jesus told his disciples
in  Matthew
16:18
Now I say to you that you are Peter
(which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the
powers of hell will not conquer it.
Without Christ there would be
no Christ Followers, there would be no church. 
And for some people that wouldn’t be much of an issue because they
haven’t seen the church as a positive influence.  It was Friedrich Nietzsche who said “I call
Christianity the one great curse, the one great intrinsic depravity, the one
great instinct for revenge for which no expedient is sufficiently poisonous,
secret, subterranean, petty — I call it the one immortal blemish of mankind.”   
But then again this was the
same Nietzsche who was cared for as an orphan by his Christian Grand Parents,
who was educated in a university that was started by the church, who was
treated in a hospital founded by the church, who died in 1900 the Year of our
Lord and was buried in a Christian graveyard.
Without Christ there would be
no Christ Followers because they were the gift that Jesus gave to the world, he
told the world Luke 6:47 I will show you what it’s like
when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it.
The impact that Jesus made he
made though those who followed him.  If
there had been no Jesus there would have been no Jesus followers to make a
difference in the world.  But what was
the difference He made through them?
Without Jesus the Poor Would be Viewed Differently  Tomorrow evening I will be at the mall in
Bedford standing next to a  Kettle
wearing a Santa hat and collecting money for the less fortunate for
Christmas.  Why?  Because in 1865 a Jesus Follower named
William Booth thought the words of Jesus were important when he told people to
take care of the poor.  And the Salvation
Army has continued to do that for almost 150 years.
At Cornerstone we are
collecting money this Christmas to partner with World Hope to drill a well in a
village in Sierra Leone, why?  Because
almost twenty years ago a Wesleyan Pastor by the name of Joanne Lyon took the
words of Jesus serious when he said Matthew 25:35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a
drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.   And when his followers said “When did
this happen?”  Jesus told them Matthew 25:40 “. . . I tell you the truth, when
you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing
it to me!”
 I’m
not saying that compassion is limited to Jesus and his followers but when
disasters happen it is the World Hopes and World Visions, and Samaritan Purses
and the Compassion Internationals that are there firstest with the mostest.  Why? 
Because two thousand years ago Jesus was born and told his followers to
care for the poor and the unfortunate.
Which is why in 1863 when an
international organization was founded in Geneva Switzerland to care for those
in need the symbol they chose was a Red Cross. 
 It’s why the origination that was
started to provide a safe refuge for young men from the streets of London in
1844 was called the YMCA.   Young Men’s
Christian Association. 
And because Jesus welcomed the
little children it was the church that established the first orphanages, and
because it was Jesus who had compassion on the lepers that it was the church
that ministered to those who were considered unclean and undesirable by the
rest of the world.
Which leads us to the next
point. 
Without Jesus the Sick Would be Viewed Differently  How many people here were born at the
Grace Maternity Hospital here in Halifax. 
Do you know why there is a Grace Maternity Hospital?  Because in 1906 some followers of Jesus
decided that there should be a hospital in Halifax where “Fallen women” could
have their babies safely and with dignity. 
Because they remembered how Jesus treated “fallen women”.  And those Jesus followers did the job so well
that when the city of Halifax decided to start a dedicated maternity
institution they asked the Jesus Followers to start it and the Salvation Army
called it the Grace Maternity Hospital. 
In the second and third
centuries two plagues hit the known world and historical reports tell us that
up to 1/3 of large cities were dying.  
That the population was so overwhelmed that the dead were simply thrown
into the streets, and eventually not just the dead but the dying where thrown
into the street. 
And we have historical footage  (video clip from Monty Python’s Holy Grail,
Bring out your dead scene)  That wasn’t
actually historical footage, but we do have a historical account.
Dionysius a Bishop of the
early church wrote this  “Most of our
brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves
and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger they took charge of the
sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with
them departed life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease.”  Why would they do that?  Because they remembered the stories of Jesus
who would touch those who were considered untouchable.
It is why the first hospitals
were started by Jesus Followers in Monasteries and even today have names like
Saint Judes and St. Joseph’s and St. Elsewhere. 
Because for two thousand years those who have taken the name of Christ
read the stories in the Gospels where Jesus saw the sick and had compassion on
them, saw the lepers and touched them, even when others wouldn’t and they
remembered how Jesus healed people. 
When the disciples of John came
to Jesus to ask if he was the messiah Jesus told them in Luke 7:22 Then he told
John’s disciples, “Go back to John and tell him what you have seen and
heard—the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the
dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.”   And the followers of Jesus still do it
today.  When I travel through Africa the
majority of hospitals and clinics have been built by Christian churches.  Not all of them but most of them.  And those that were started by other groups
were started because of the example set by the Christian Church and it’s always
been that way.
Remember how the early Christ
followers ministered during the Plagues in Rome?  Here is an excerpt from the book “The Rise of
Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History” “Thus, a century later, the emperor
Julian launched a campaign to institute pagan charities in an effort to match
the Christians.  Julian complained in a
letter to the high priest of Galatia in 362 that the pagans needed to equal the
virtues of Christians, for recent Christian growth was caused by their “moral
character, even if pretended,” and by their benevolence toward strangers and
care for the graves of the dead.”
And because a Jesus Follower by
the name of Tommy Douglas remembered how concerned Jesus was with the ill he thought
it was important for all Canadians to have access to medical care. 
But it wasn’t just for the poor
and the sick that Jesus makes a difference. 
Sometimes the church has been seen
as anti-women, but Without Jesus Women
Would be Viewed Differently
When Jesus was born historians
tell us that for every 100 women there were 140 men.  Why? 
Because boy children were worth more than female children and so often
when a girl child was born she was set outside and allowed to die.  And that imbalance continues in Countries
like China and India today.
One historian records a
chilling letter from a pagan husband to his wife: “Know that I am still in
Alexandria…. I ask and beg you to take good care of our baby son, and as soon
as I received payment I shall send it up to you. If you are delivered (before I
come home), if it is a boy keep it, if a girl, discard it.”
Under Roman law fathers were
required to raise all healthy male children but were only required to keep
their first daughter, any others were disposable.  Women had no rights, they were considered
mere property of their husbands.  A man
could have his wife killed for committing adultery but the only time a man was
punished was when he committed adultery with another man’s wife and the other
man demanded punishment.
And yet the longest personal
conversation that we have a record of Jesus having is with a woman, in John
chapter four.   And he talked to her as
an equal, which wasn’t the norm of the day but seemed to be the norm for Jesus
because he never hesitated to talk to women and defend women.  And when the early followers of Christ
gathered together in groups called churches many of those identified as leaders
were women.
And because of how Jesus
treated women one of his followers wrote Galatians
3:26-28
For you are all children of God
through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in
baptism have put on the character of Christ, like putting on new clothes. There
is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all
one in Christ Jesus.  That was
radical. 
And at that time a man could
divorce his wife simply by saying “I divorce you”  but Jesus and his church decreed that men
could no longer simply divorce their wives for just any reason but only for the
ultimate betrayal, adultery. 
And Jesus never commanded that
woman should cover themselves from head to toe and hide away from men, instead
he told men to respect them and not look on them as objects.
If we go back to the movie some
say that town of Bedford Falls was modeled after the town of Seneca Falls in
NY, which you may remember was the site of the First Women’s Rights Convention
in the US.  Happened in 1848 and was held
in the Wesleyan Church, why?  Because
Jesus followers remembered that Jesus treated women as equals and the early
church said “There is no longer male and female.  For you are all one in Christ Jesus.
And because Jesus followers
remembered how Jesus valued women we have organization like the Dean Brody
Foundation and World Hope battling the exploitation of girls and women
developing countries. 
But it wasn’t only people who
were impacted by the birth of Jesus.
Do you remember the last
command of Jesus?  Sure you do.  It’s found in Matthew 28:19 where Jesus told
his followers to do three things.  1)
Make disciples  2) Baptize those
disciples, which is why if you are a disciple you need to be baptized and
January 6th would be an awesome opportunity and 3) They were to
teach those disciples.  When the first
church was described in the book of Acts it is recorded that they devoted
themselves to the Apostle’s Teaching and not just men and boys but women and
girls.  Without Jesus Education Would be Viewed Differently 
There had always been
education, but it had been reserved for wealthy privileged males.  In AD 150 a man who followed Jesus by the
name of Justin Martyr opened a school, and there he taught, men and women, free
and slaves.  And because of that the
Romans had him beheaded. 
And for the past two thousand
years the church has been at the forefront of not only teaching knowledge but
also in preserving knowledge.  Why?  Because they remembered when Jesus was asked
what the greatest commandment was his reply was not only to love God with all
of our hearts but with all of our minds as well. 
And so learning about everything
was seen by many in the church as a means of helping believers know more about
the God who created everything. 
Which is why Augustine
said “A person
who is a good and true Christian should realize that truth belongs to his Lord,
wherever it is found, gathering and acknowledging it even in pagan literature,
but rejecting superstitious vanities and deploring and avoiding those who ‘though
they knew God did not glorify him as God…”
There is sometimes a feeling
the church is anti-intellectual and yet when Rome collapsed and the barbarians
overran the Roman Empire and the scrolls and manuscripts that contained the
classics of ancient civilizations were in danger of being lost, it was in
Christian communities called monasteries that those documents were
painstakingly copied and preserved by hand. 
Because a man named Jesus told his followers to love God with all their
minds.
And these monasteries became
places of learning and eventually formed schools called Universities all over
Europe and Asia.   And within six years
of the Puritans landing in the New World 
they established a school whose motto translated into English was “Truth for
Christ and the Church.”  You might
recognize the name of the school, it was called Harvard.  As a matter of fact ninety two percent of the
first 138 institutions of higher learning in the United States were founded by
churches.
Closer to home, of the ten
Universities in Nova Scotia four were started by the Catholic Church, one by
the Anglicans, one by the Baptist and one by the Methodists.   In New Brunswick of the eight universities
one was started by the Catholic Church, one by the Baptist, one by the
Anglicans,one was Methodist, one was Wesleyan and one was
non-denominational.  Love God with all
your mind.  
Most people know about Sunday
School, but how many of you know that it was started in 1780 by a Jesus
follower as a mean to teach children of common people how to read and
write.  In that day and age children
worked 6 days a week and his dream was to give them an opportunity on the
seventh day to learn regardless of how much or how little they had.  And within 50 years we are told that there
were 160,000 Jesus Followers teaching 1.5 million children how to read and
write and how to love God with all their minds. 
And it was the church which
developed alphabets, and dictionaries and developed written music so songs of
worship could be shared around the world. 
Love God with all your minds.
As I got into this message I
realized that I was into much more than one message could handle, and to quote John 21:25 Jesus also did many other things.
If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the
books that would be written.
But the most important question
today isn’t: What difference has Jesus made in the world? but what difference
has Jesus made in your life?

Dead?

Just a month ago, Dale Porch, 46, collapsed and died on his front steps after returning home from his night shift job.  The man’s death was certainly a tragedy at his age.  However, what makes it more disturbing is that the Denver man’s body remained on his front steps for two days before anyone realized that he was dead.  The United States Postal Service acknowledged that one of their mail carriers had visited the home but thought that Porch’s body was a Halloween display.

Contrast that with George Johannesen from Winnipeg, who recently discovered that he was dead.  Two weeks ago the 59 year old found out that he died sometime in October.  Guess nobody had thought to tell George.  He wasn’t even aware that he was dead until he received the paperwork from the Government. 
Ultimately it isn’t perception that determines whether or not you are dead, it is life.  And it’s hard to argue with life.  I wonder how many churches are mistakenly thought to be dead or alive simply because of the perception of others? 
However, for people and churches it is better to be thought to be dead and be alive than to be thought to be alive and actually be dead.    Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

The Scrooges of Christmas

Bah, Humbug,  Scrooge is like Bond, everyone has a favorite.  For some there is no Scrooge like Alistair Sim, he was the actor who portrayed Scrooge in the clip we just saw. He also reprised the role in an Oscar winning short film in 1970.  Maybe it is Albert Finney in the 1970 film simply entitled “Scrooge”.  For others it might be George C. Scott from the remake done in 1984 or Henry Winkler in the 1979 “An American Christmas Carol”.  My favorite was Michael Caine from the Muppets Christmas Carol.
And most of us have watched one of the over 20 movie adaptations or television specials of “A Christmas Carol”.  How many have read the book?  I have to admit that I haven’t.
The book, written by Charles Dickens was first released on December 19 1843, the Novella was met with critical success however the author was disappointed with it’s commercial success over the first couple of years it was in print, and yet it has never been out of print since that first edition.  And the first movie was made in 1901 and a new version with Jim Carrey was released just a couple of years ago, and it’s interesting that Jim has had the opportunity to play both Scrooge and the Grinch.  
In his book “A Christmas Carol”  Richard Michael Kelly writes “Dickens’ Carol was one of the greatest influences in rejuvenating the old Christmas traditions of England, but, while it brings to the reader images of light, joy, warmth and life, it also brings strong and unforgettable images of darkness, despair, coldness, sadness and death.”
A couple of highlights for those who have never experienced the movie or the book.  The story opens on a “cold, bleak, biting” Christmas Eve in 1843 exactly seven years after the death of Ebenezer Scrooge’s business partner, Jacob Marley.  Ebenezer Scrooge is described as “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!” who has no place in his life for kindness, compassion, charity or benevolence. He hates Christmas, calling it “humbug”.  It is on that night that Scrooge is visited by the Ghost of his dead partner who warns him to change his ways or end in misery as Marley had.  Scrooge is then visited by three ghosts the Ghost of Christmas Past who reminds him of the man he used to be, of lost love and missed opportunity.  The Ghost of Christmas Present then reveals the goodness of people to Scrooge as they celebrate Christmas.  Even those with very little to celebrate, including his clerk Bob Cratchit whose sick son, Tiny Tim is unable to get treatment because of the poor pay that his father receives from Scrooge.  And finally Scrooge is visited by Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.  Here Scrooge witnesses the death of Tiny Tim and his own death where local business men say they will attend the funeral only if there is a luncheon. Of course you all know that Scrooge wakes up from his dreams a changed man, embraces Christmas and seeks to make the world a better place. 
Each year as I watch different people’s reactions to the Christmas season it gets me thinking about Scrooges.  And I decided that you didn’t have to look like this to be a Scrooge, (Alastair Sim) or like this (Jim Carey) or even like this (Scrooge McDuck).  And the more I thought about it the more I realized that there are all kinds of Scrooges out there.  As a matter of fact there are Scrooges who don’t even know they are Scrooges.  And if you told them they were a Scrooge they would probably be personally offended. 
So as I begin this message today may I categorically state that I’m not preaching to anyone here specifically, that the Scrooges I’m talking about are represented in society as a whole and in previous churches I have pastored but by no stretch of the imagination should they be seen as representative of anyone presently attending Cornerstone.  So if you feel like perhaps, by some stretch of the imagination that I’m referring to you this morning, I’m not.  You just a little bit sensitive, which of course is a nicer word then paranoid.
Today if you are a person who just doesn’t seem to truly get into the Christmas spirit there is a good chance that you would be called a Grinch, from Dr. Seuss’s book the Grinch who Stole Christmas.  But long before there was a Grinch there was a Scrooge.  So who are some of the Scrooges that we see each Christmas?
1) Classic Scrooge This is the Scrooge that Dickens was writing about.  It wasn’t Christmas itself that the Scrooge was upset with it was anything that made life more enjoyable.  Christmas seemed to be the culmination of all that was happy and joyful in London and it seemed to be personified in Bob Cratchit.  And so The Classic Scrooge isn’t opposed to Christmas per se instead it is all that Christmas represents.
People like this have kept the milk of human kindness bottled up so long that it has indeed curdled. They’ve been seasick on the entire journey of life.  Robert Lynd made this observation “There are some people who want to throw their arms round you simply because it is Christmas; there are other people who want to strangle you simply because it is Christmas.”
Ebenezer Scrooge was a classic Scrooge, he hated Christmas for the same reason as the Grinch hated Christmas but we’re not too sure what all of those reasons were. 
The book and the movie give us some hints, at one point Scrooge says Christmas is “a poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December!”
But like the Grinch the most likely reason of all may have been that Scrooge’s heart was two sizes too small.”   As evidenced by this statement of his, “If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”
Scrooge would probably have gotten along well with Samuel Goldwyn who said “You’ve got to take the bitter with the sour.”
Now I know and you know that there isn’t anyone here today like that. But if there was I would say “Lighten up!”  Start to enjoy life because you won’t get out of it alive.  Remember what Solomon wrote in Proverbs 17:22 A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.
There are all kinds of reasons to get uptight and cranky over Christmas and they are all choices.  Don’t let Christmas get you down, enjoy the season.
But not every Scrooge is a general everyday classic Scrooge some are specialized Scrooges  for example there are the 2) Secular Scrooges.  You can recognize this type of Scrooge by their language.  They never say Merry Christmas: it’s always Seasons Greetings or Happy Holidays. They don’t put up a Christmas tree they put up a holiday tree,their idea of a classic Christmas carol is Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer or Frosty the Snow Man and they cringe at the very sight of a nativity scene.
These folks aren’t opposed to Christmas as a matter of fact they seem to embrace the holiday almost in its entirety. Almost.  It’s not Christmas they have a problem with its how the church has tried to make something religious out Christmas.  They want to go to their Christmas parties and get paid on their Christmas holidays and send out Christmas Cards, which of course don’t actually include the word Christmas anywhere in them. They buy and give and receive Christmas presents, they decorate their homes with Christmas lights but they won’t acknowledge that the first part of Christmas is Christ.
Sometimes we get the feeling that these people are in the majority, but you know there really aren’t a lot of these people out there. Not individually.  What there are though are bureaucrats who work for Government offices and corporations who have decided that it is their job to protect the feelings of those who might not be Christians.  And so schools are told they can’t celebrate the true meaning of Christmas and shops and store don’t put up nativities any more and sales clerks are told to avoid the “C” word and to say things like “Have a nice holiday” instead of “Have a Merry Christmas.” 
There was an interesting interview in 2005 with Ben Stein and in the interview Stein states “Next confession: I am a Jew and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish, and it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautifully lit-up, bejeweled trees “Christmas trees. I don’t feel threatened. I don’t feel discriminated against. That’s what they are — Christmas trees. It doesn’t bother me a bit when people say ‘Merry Christmas’ to me. I don’t think they’re slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we’re all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year.”
But most people understand what Christmas is all about (Clip about Christmas) and even new Canadians who don’t share our Christian heritage know that Christmas is a Christian holiday, regardless of what it’s called.  And that even with the sanitized “Happy Holiday” the question then has to be asked “What holiday?”
Dave Berry wrote “To avoid offending anybody,the school dropped religion altogether and started singing about the weather. At my son’s school, they now hold the winter program in February and sing increasingly non-memorable songs such as “Winter Wonderland,” “Frosty the Snowman,” and—this is a real song—”Suzy Snowflake,” all of which is pretty funny because we live in Miami. A visitor from another planet would assume that the children belonged to the Church of Meteorology.”
On the other side of the coin are the people I would call the 3) Religious Scrooges.  You know who I’m talking about.  They would go to the other extreme and take everything secular out of Christmas.  For them Christmas is about Christ and nothing else.   If it was up to them they’d have Santa get a real job, fire the elves and put the reindeer in a zoo.
Now I know that Jesus is the reason for the season, ok don’t get me wrong on that.  But hang on to your chairs cause in 2012 he’s not the only reason for the season.  There are social reasons; people use this as an opportunity to connect with family and friends they’ve been out of touch with.  There are religious reasons, don’t confuse this with Jesus being the reason for the season.  Christmas is a time that people are God aware or at least religion aware.  There will be thousands of people attending church in Bedfordand Hammonds Plains on Christmas Eve and it will have nothing to do with a relationship they have with God and everything to do with how they perceive their religious obligation. 
There are even economic reasons for the season.  I’m not sure what would happen to the retail sector of our economy without Christmas.  I’m not sure that people would buy the same amount of stuff the rest of the year. The money that is spent not only on gifts but on decorations, travel and food is staggering.    Is that bad?  A stimulated economy is good news for most of us.  And it was Eleanor Roosevelt who said, “People say that Christmas is too commercialized.  But I have never found it that way.  If you spend money to give people joy, you are not being commercial.  It is only when you feel obliged to do something about Christmas that the spirit is ruined.”
2000 years after the birth of Christ it is virtually impossible to separate the true meaning of Christmas, that is celebrating His birth, from all of the cultural, social and religious traditions that have come together to form what we think of as Christmas. 
And then there are the 4) Pious Scrooges.  These are the people that would do away with Christmas in a heartbeat.  But not for the same reason that Religious Scrooges would do away with Christmas.   They look at some of the pagan roots of Christmas,and a lot of how we celebrate Christmas does have background outside of Christianity. 
They tell us that date of Christmas was originally used in pagan celebrations in Rometo celebrate the passing of the winter solstice. And they are right, the ancients knew that by this time in December that the shortest day and longest night had passed,and with that came the promise of longer days,shorter nights and eventually spring.  Around 270 a.d. Emperor Aurelia capitalized upon the heathen worship of the sun and declared December 25th as the birthday of the Unconquered Sun.   But when Christians celebrate this December 25th they won’t be doing to recognize the promise of longer days or to remember the birthday of the Unconquered Sun.  
They would tell you that early pagan cultures from the Romans to the Egyptians to the Celts used evergreens in their celebrations to signify eternal life.  But when we put up our trees it will harkens back to a Christmas Eve about the year 1513. When Martin Luther was walking through the woods on the starlit night he thought the stars looked as if they were shining on the branches.  When he arrived home,Martin Luther placed a small fir tree inside his house.  He decorated it with lighted candles.
In 1 Corinthians 8 Paul addressed the issue of meat that had been sacrificed to idols.  Some believers felt that the meat was impure because of its pagan beginnings.  It had been offered up to false gods.  Paul said 1 Corinthians 8:4 So, what about eating meat that has been offered to idols? Well, we all know that an idol is not really a god and that there is only one God.
 And I guess that’s my thought, we can dwell on what December 25th used to represent or we can focus on what it’s supposed to represent. Are we celebrating the birth of the unconquered sun or the birth of the unconquered Son?
Well I got through those four and had to ask myself “where do I fit in?” Because the reality is that I’m a little bit of a Scrooge myself.  If I wasn’t married with a family my house would remain dark,nary a card would be sent and on Christmas Day I would eat a pizza. 
Which is probably why I enjoyed Christmas in Australia, very few people decorated their homes and for Christmas dinner we had a BBQ then we went to the beach. Although my favourite Christmas tradition was when we’d all pile into my Volkswagen Convertible put the roof down,stick a Christmas tape in the stereo and go look at the houses that were decorated.
But I’m not the way I am because I don’t like Christmas or don’t approve of Christmas is just,well I’m one of those 5) Apathetic Scrooges.  I just don’t get excited over all the hoop-la that surrounds the Christmas season.  But I think it’s nature’s way of finding balance because my sister starts decorating and getting ready for Christmas shortly after Easter, well maybe she waits until the first of November. 
So what’s the answer?  2000 years ago Jesus Christ was born after Mary and Joseph traveled a great distance to get to the town his family was from. On that first Christmas there was a star and there was singing and gift giving.  The shepherds were told to rejoice and to celebrate.  And you know and I know Jesus probably wasn’t born on December 25th,and we know that there have been abuses of Christmas both past and present.  But I don’t think it’s wrong to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  He came to offer us the greatest gift we could ever receive,the gift of forgiveness and eternal life.  And it all started in a manger in Bethlehemand that’s worth celebrating.
And to finish we have another quote from Ben Stein about Christmas “This is a revolutionary, stupendous freeing of the human spirit. This is why Christmas is such a joyous time for people, whether Jews or Christians, or anyone else, who want to believe that we humans can be forgiven and go on to lead lives of triumph no matter what has happened in our past.”

The Scrooges of Christmas

Bah, Humbug,  Scrooge
is like Bond, everyone has a favorite. 
For some there is no Scrooge like Alistair Sim, he was the actor who
portrayed Scrooge in the clip we just saw. He also reprised the role in an
Oscar winning short film in 1970.  Maybe
it is Albert Finney in the 1970 film simply entitled “Scrooge”.  For others it might be George C. Scott from
the remake done in 1984 or Henry Winkler in the 1979 “An American Christmas
Carol”.  My favorite was Michael Caine
from the Muppets Christmas Carol.
And most of us have watched one of the over 20 movie
adaptations or television specials of “A Christmas Carol”.  How many have read the book?  I have to admit that I haven’t.
The book, written by Charles Dickens was first released on December
19 1843, the Novella was met with critical success however the author was
disappointed with it’s commercial success over the first couple of years it was
in print, and yet it has never been out of print since that first edition.  And the first movie was made in 1901 and a
new version with Jim Carrey was released just a couple of years ago, and it’s
interesting that Jim has had the opportunity to play both Scrooge and the
Grinch.  
In his book “A Christmas Carol”  Richard Michael Kelly writes “Dickens’ Carol
was one of the greatest influences in rejuvenating the old Christmas traditions
of England, but, while it brings to the reader images of light, joy, warmth and
life, it also brings strong and unforgettable images of darkness, despair,
coldness, sadness and death.”
A couple of highlights for those who have never experienced
the movie or the book.  The story opens
on a “cold, bleak, biting” Christmas Eve in 1843 exactly seven years after the
death of Ebenezer Scrooge’s business partner, Jacob Marley.  Ebenezer Scrooge is described as “a
squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!” who
has no place in his life for kindness, compassion, charity or benevolence. He
hates Christmas, calling it “humbug”.  It
is on that night that Scrooge is visited by the Ghost of his dead partner who
warns him to change his ways or end in misery as Marley had.  Scrooge is then visited by three ghosts the
Ghost of Christmas Past who reminds him of the man he used to be, of lost love
and missed opportunity.  The Ghost of Christmas
Present then reveals the goodness of people to Scrooge as they celebrate Christmas.  Even those with very little to celebrate,
including his clerk Bob Cratchit whose sick son, Tiny Tim is unable to get
treatment because of the poor pay that his father receives from Scrooge.  And finally Scrooge is visited by Ghost of
Christmas Yet to Come.  Here Scrooge
witnesses the death of Tiny Tim and his own death where local business men say
they will attend the funeral only if there is a luncheon. Of course you all
know that Scrooge wakes up from his dreams a changed man, embraces Christmas and
seeks to make the world a better place. 
Each year as I watch different people’s reactions to the
Christmas season it gets me thinking about Scrooges.  And I decided that you didn’t have to look
like this to be a Scrooge, (Alastair Sim) or like this (Jim Carey) or even like
this (Scrooge McDuck).  And the more I
thought about it the more I realized that there are all kinds of Scrooges out
there.  As a matter of fact there are Scrooges
who don’t even know they are Scrooges.  And
if you told them they were a Scrooge they would probably be personally
offended. 
So as I begin this message today may I categorically state
that I’m not preaching to anyone here specifically, that the Scrooges I’m
talking about are represented in society as a whole and in previous churches I
have pastored but by no stretch of the imagination should they be seen as
representative of anyone presently attending Cornerstone.  So if you feel like perhaps, by some stretch of the imagination that I’m
referring to you this morning, I’m
not.  You just a little bit sensitive, which of course is a nicer word then paranoid.
Today if you are a person who just doesn’t seem to truly get
into the Christmas spirit there is a good chance that you would be called a
Grinch, from Dr. Seuss’s book the Grinch who Stole Christmas.  But long before there was a Grinch there was
a Scrooge.  So who are some of the Scrooges
that we see each Christmas?
1) Classic Scrooge This
is the Scrooge that Dickens was writing about. 
It wasn’t Christmas itself that the Scrooge was upset with it was
anything that made life more enjoyable. 
Christmas seemed to be the culmination of all that was happy and joyful
in London and it seemed to be personified in Bob Cratchit.  And so The Classic Scrooge isn’t opposed to
Christmas per se instead it is all that Christmas represents.
People like this have kept the milk of human kindness
bottled up so long that it has indeed curdled. They’ve been seasick on the entire
journey of life.  Robert Lynd made this observation “There
are some people who want to throw their arms round you simply because it is
Christmas; there are other people who want to strangle you simply because it is
Christmas.”
Ebenezer Scrooge was a classic Scrooge, he hated Christmas
for the same reason as the Grinch hated Christmas but we’re not too sure what all
of those reasons were. 
The book and the movie give us some hints, at one point
Scrooge says Christmas is “a poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every
twenty-fifth of December!”
But like the Grinch the most likely reason of all may have
been that Scrooge’s heart was two sizes too small.”   As
evidenced by this statement of his, “If I could work my will, every idiot who goes
about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own
pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”
Scrooge would probably have gotten along well with Samuel Goldwyn who said “You’ve
got to take the bitter with the sour.”
Now I know and you know that there isn’t anyone here today
like that. But if there was I would say “Lighten up!”  Start to enjoy life because you won’t get out
of it alive.  Remember what Solomon wrote
in Proverbs
17:22
A cheerful heart is good medicine, but
a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.
There are all kinds of reasons to get uptight and cranky
over Christmas and they are all choices. 
Don’t let Christmas get you down, enjoy the season.
But not every Scrooge is a general everyday classic Scrooge
some are specialized Scrooges  for
example there are the 2) Secular Scrooges.  You can recognize this type of Scrooge by
their language.  They never say Merry
Christmas: it’s always Seasons Greetings or Happy Holidays. They don’t put up a
Christmas tree they put up a holiday tree,
their idea of a classic Christmas carol is Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer or
Frosty the Snow Man and they cringe at the very sight of a nativity scene.
These folks aren’t opposed to Christmas as a matter of fact
they seem to embrace the holiday almost in its entirety. Almost.  It’s not Christmas they have a problem with
its how the church has tried to make something religious out Christmas.  They want to go to their Christmas parties
and get paid on their Christmas holidays and send out Christmas Cards, which of course don’t actually include the word
Christmas anywhere in them. They buy and give and receive Christmas presents,
they decorate their homes with Christmas lights but they won’t acknowledge that
the first part of Christmas is Christ.
Sometimes we get the feeling that these people are in the
majority, but you know there really aren’t a lot of these people out there. Not
individually.  What there are though are
bureaucrats who work for Government offices and corporations who have decided
that it is their job to protect the feelings of those who might not be
Christians.  And so schools are told they
can’t celebrate the true meaning of Christmas and shops and store don’t put up
nativities any more and sales clerks are told to avoid the “C” word and to say
things like “Have a nice holiday” instead of “Have a Merry Christmas.” 
There was an interesting interview in 2005 with Ben Stein
and in the interview Stein states “Next confession: I am a Jew and every single one
of my ancestors was Jewish, and it does not bother me even a little bit when
people call those beautifully lit-up, bejeweled trees “Christmas trees. I don’t
feel threatened. I don’t feel discriminated against. That’s what they are —
Christmas trees. It doesn’t bother me a bit when people say ‘Merry Christmas’
to me. I don’t think they’re slighting me or getting ready to put me in a
ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we’re all brothers and
sisters celebrating this happy time of year.”
But most people understand what Christmas is all about (Clip
about Christmas) and even new Canadians who don’t share our Christian heritage
know that Christmas is a Christian holiday, regardless of what it’s called.  And that even with the sanitized “Happy
Holiday” the question then has to be asked “What holiday?”
Dave Berry wrote “To avoid offending anybody,
the school dropped religion altogether and started singing about the weather.
At my son’s school, they now hold
the winter program in February and sing increasingly non-memorable songs such
as “Winter Wonderland,” “Frosty the Snowman,” and—this is a real song—”Suzy
Snowflake,” all of which is pretty funny because we live in Miami. A visitor
from another planet would assume that the children belonged to the Church of Meteorology.”
On the other side of the coin are the people I would call
the 3) Religious Scrooges.  You know who I’m talking about.  They would go to the other extreme and take
everything secular out of Christmas.  For
them Christmas is about Christ and nothing else.   If it was up to them they’d have Santa get a
real job, fire the elves and put the
reindeer in a zoo.
Now I know that Jesus is the reason for the season, ok don’t get me wrong on that.  But hang on to your chairs cause in 2012 he’s
not the only reason for the season. 
There are social reasons; people use this as an opportunity to connect
with family and friends they’ve been out of touch with.  There are religious reasons, don’t confuse this with Jesus being the reason for
the season.  Christmas is a time that
people are God aware or at least religion aware.  There will be thousands of people attending
church in Bedford
and Hammonds Plains on Christmas Eve and it will have nothing to do with a
relationship they have with God and everything to do with how they perceive
their religious obligation. 
There are even economic reasons for the season.  I’m not sure what would happen to the retail
sector of our economy without Christmas. 
I’m not sure that people would buy the same amount of stuff the rest of
the year. The money that is spent not only on gifts but on decorations, travel and food is staggering.    Is that bad?  A stimulated economy is good news for most of
us.  And it was Eleanor
Roosevelt who said, “People say that Christmas
is too commercialized.  But I have never
found it that way.  If you spend money to
give people joy, you are not being
commercial.  It is only when you feel
obliged to do something about Christmas that the spirit is ruined.”
2000 years after the birth of Christ it is virtually
impossible to separate the true meaning of Christmas, that is celebrating His
birth, from all of the cultural, social and religious traditions that have come
together to form what we think of as Christmas. 
And then there are the 4)
Pious Scrooges. 
These are the people
that would do away with Christmas in a heartbeat.  But not for the same reason that Religious Scrooges
would do away with Christmas.   They look
at some of the pagan roots of Christmas,
and a lot of how we celebrate Christmas does have background outside of
Christianity. 
They tell us that date of Christmas was originally used in
pagan celebrations in Rome
to celebrate the passing of the winter solstice. And they are right, the ancients knew that by this time in December
that the shortest day and longest night had passed,
and with that came the promise of longer days,
shorter nights and eventually spring. 
Around 270 a.d. Emperor Aurelia capitalized upon the heathen worship of
the sun and declared December 25th as the birthday of the Unconquered Sun.   But when Christians celebrate this December
25th they won’t be doing to recognize the promise of longer days or
to remember the birthday of the Unconquered Sun.  
They would tell you that early pagan cultures from the
Romans to the Egyptians to the Celts used evergreens in their celebrations to
signify eternal life.  But when we put up
our trees it will harkens back to a Christmas Eve about the year 1513. When
Martin Luther was walking through the woods on the starlit night he thought the
stars looked as if they were shining on the branches.  When he arrived home,
Martin Luther placed a small fir tree inside his house.  He decorated it with lighted candles.
In 1 Corinthians 8 Paul addressed the issue of meat that had
been sacrificed to idols.  Some believers
felt that the meat was impure because of its pagan beginnings.  It had been offered up to false gods.  Paul said 1
Corinthians 8:4 So,
what about eating meat that has been offered to idols? Well, we all know that
an idol is not really a god and that there is only one God.
 And I guess that’s my
thought, we can dwell on what
December 25th used to represent or we can focus on what it’s
supposed to represent. Are we celebrating the birth of the unconquered sun or
the birth of the unconquered Son?
Well I got through those four and had to ask myself “where
do I fit in?” Because the reality is that I’m a little bit of a Scrooge
myself.  If I wasn’t married with a
family my house would remain dark,
nary a card would be sent and on Christmas Day I would eat a pizza. 
Which is probably why I enjoyed Christmas in Australia, very
few people decorated their homes and for Christmas dinner we had a BBQ then we
went to the beach. Although my favourite Christmas tradition was when we’d all
pile into my Volkswagen Convertible put the roof down,
stick a Christmas tape in the stereo and go look at the houses that were
decorated.
But I’m not the way I am because I don’t like Christmas or
don’t approve of Christmas is just,
well I’m one of those 5) Apathetic Scrooges.  I just don’t get excited over all the
hoop-la that surrounds the Christmas season. 
But I think it’s nature’s way of finding balance because my sister
starts decorating and getting ready for Christmas shortly after Easter, well maybe she waits until the first of
November. 
So what’s the answer? 
2000 years ago Jesus Christ was born after Mary and Joseph traveled a
great distance to get to the town his family was from. On that first Christmas
there was a star and there was singing and gift giving.  The shepherds were told to rejoice and to
celebrate.  And you know and I know Jesus
probably wasn’t born on December 25th,
and we know that there have been abuses of Christmas both past and
present.  But I don’t think it’s wrong to
celebrate the birth of Jesus.  He came to
offer us the greatest gift we could ever receive,
the gift of forgiveness and eternal life. 
And it all started in a manger in Bethlehem
and that’s worth celebrating.
And to finish we have another quote from Ben Stein about
Christmas “This is a revolutionary, stupendous freeing of the human spirit. This is
why Christmas is such a joyous time for people, whether Jews or Christians, or
anyone else, who want to believe that we humans can be forgiven and go on to
lead lives of triumph no matter what has happened in our past.”