If I was to ask you to name a story that began on Christmas Eve (without the obvious spiritual answer), some people would answer with “A Visit from Saint Nick”, and that would be a good answer. “T’was the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring not even a mouse.” And that is a favourite for many folks.
But I kind of like the story that begins with the words. “Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.” Which of course is the opening lines of “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. And we are going to come back to that in a bit.
This Advent season the staff has been reflecting on the Christmas Story as told in Matthew 1:18-25. And in week one I spoke about a reflection of change how that first Christmas changed the world for Mary and Joseph. Week two Marilyn reflected on the Gift that was given through Jesus on that first Christmas.
Last week Stefan focused on Reflections on Time and looked back 700 years before Jesus’ birth and the prophecy that Isaiah had made to King Ahaz. And then this morning Deborah spoke on “A Reflection of Roles”.
And here we are, Christmas Eve and Marley was dead. If you are familiar with the Christmas Carol then you know that the protagonist is Ebenezer Scrooge who was described in the book as “A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.”
And Scrooge hated Christmas, he once said “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!”
But by the end of the story Scrooge has become a changed person and a committed fan of Christmas. And the transformation came about through the intervention of four ghostly visitors.
Scrooge was first visited by the ghost of his former partner Marley and then by the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas present and the Ghost of Christmas yet to come.
But the reality is that the Ghosts simply represented his past, his present and his possible future.
In the middle of the scripture that we’ve been focusing on this season we see this promise to Joseph Matthew 1:20-21 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
And for a few minutes tonight I want to focus on the last part of that promise,
Matthew 1:21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Now in Canada in 2017 we think of Jesus as a pretty special name. If we hear of someone with that name we just assume that they are from a different culture. But when Joseph and Mary were told that their son’s name would be Jesus it wasn’t all that strange.
2000 years ago in Israel Jesus was a common name, it was simply the Greek form of the Jewish name Joshua.
And maybe you remember Joshua from the Old Testament, we have an entire book that carries his name. He was the leader who led the people of Israel into the promised land.
Joshua was an everyday name, a name that Jesus probably shared with other kids he went to school with. It would be the same if Jesus was born in the late seventies and early eighties and had been named Matthew.
But it wasn’t the name it was what the name meant and Joshua means “Jehovah, or God, is salvation.” Or simply “God Saves”
And in most cases, it was just a name, but the angel tells Joseph that in this case, the name would be indicative of Jesus’ purpose. He would be called Jesus because he would literally save his people from their sins.
So, what does that have to do with A Christmas Carol? Well actually that’s just the way my mind works.
As I was thinking about where I was going with my Christmas Eve message we went and saw the movie “The Man Who Invented Christmas”, which is a great movie about Dickens writing the novel “A Christmas Carol”. Which prompted me to actually read the novel.
You’ll remember from the story, or the movie that Ebenezer was visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas yet to come and it was what the three spirits revealed that changed the trajectory of Scrooge’s life.
And I realized that Jesus didn’t just come to save us from today’s sins but yesterday’s sins as well.
We don’t have to go very far into the story of Jesus before we hear him utter the words “Your sins are forgiven.” And it was that statement that upset the religious leaders so much. Their response was “Only God can forgive sins”. And Jesus agreed.
So the first thing we need to acknowledge is because Jesus Saves Us We Have Freedom from the Past
We all understand that we all sin. We don’t need the preacher or the bible to tell us that. It is a reality of life. If sinning is simply disappointing God with our actions then we understand that reality.
And it is our nature, we are born with a sinful nature, I go back to this time and time again. Just look at children, you don’t have to teach them to be disobedient, to throw tantrums and talk back.
The question is asked, “Is a dog a dog because he barks or does he bark because he is a dog?” And the follow-up question then is “Are we sinners because we sin or do we sin because we are sinners?”
If you need something definitive then we are told in Romans 3:23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.
But that isn’t all of the story. You see Jesus came to save us from our sins, and so we are told in the very next verse Romans 3:24 Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.
And he freed us from the penalty of our sins by forgiving us from our sins. When Peter is preaching one of his first sermons after Jesus had been crucified buried and then rose from the dead he tells the people of Jerusalem. Acts 3:19 Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away.
So that your sins may be wiped away. That is forgiveness and that is God’s promise to you. God can and will forgive the sins of yesterday.
But it isn’t just the sins of yesterday that Jesus came to save us from Because Jesus Saves We Have a Promise for the Present
Scrooge couldn’t change the past, what was done was done, but he had the power to change the present and ultimately change his future.
You can’t start over in your life but you can start again, and forgiveness gives us that opportunity, the opportunity to begin anew with God.
If Jesus simply forgave us our sins and then left us it would simply be the start of a vicious circle. We would continue to live and do wrong, and when the list got long enough we’d tap into Jesus’ grace ask for forgiveness to clear the record and start over.
And it would appear that is how some people view their Christian experience, but that’s not the way it’s supposed to be.
Paul writes in Romans 6:1 Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? And that is a rhetorical question which he immediately follows with his answer. NO! Actually, he expands a little bit when he says, Romans 6:2 Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?
So how do we not live in sin? By claiming the promise. We are told in 1 Corinthians 10:13 The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.
When we accept Jesus as our saviour and accept his grace and forgiveness we are beginning a personal relationship with him, he doesn’t want you to sin, he won’t allow you to be tempted beyond what you can stand and when you are tempted to sin, ask and he will show you a way out.
You may choose not to ask or not to take that way out, but it will always be provided for you. That is the promise.
And that leads us to the fact that Because Jesus Saves Us We Have An Assurance for the Future
Remember a few minutes ago I mentioned Romans 3:23, the fact that we are all sinners? And then spoke about the solution, grace and forgiveness which are found in the next verse?
Later in the same book there is a statement of what happens when we have verse 23 but we don’t take the opportunity to embrace vs 24. And again it is a two-part verse. Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, and ending right there is the reality. The consequence of sin is an eternal separation from God. Do you remember why Jesus came? To save us. But what did he come to save us from? From our sins? But why? Because the consequences of our sinful nature is spiritual death, eternal separation from God and all that is good.
But the verse doesn’t end with the wages of sin, it continues to say, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.
One of Jesus’ best friends, John, who spent three years listening to Jesus preach, watching Jesus perform miracles, who was there when Jesus died and was one of the first at the tomb when Jesus rose from the dead would write to the early church telling them, 1 John 5:13 I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life.
And what is the name of the Son of God? Jesus. God Saves.
In the Christmas Carol, Scrooge became a different person, this Christmas by accepting the gift of Salvation you can become a new person, with forgiveness over the sins of the past, power over the sins of the present and the promise of an eternity with God.
Jesus came to save his people from their sins. That is the gift of Christmas and like any other gift, it’s up to you to accept it.