When Angela and I first got married she told me that one of the things that she did with her dad each Christmas was to watch A Christmas Carol. But it had to be the Alastair Sim one from 1951, and not the colourized version either.
The movie was first released in the UK under the title of Scrooge and was retitled A Christmas Carol when released in the US. And while it didn’t have a great success in the theatres it soon became a Christmas favorite on television.
And the movie was based on Charles Dickens’ book A Christmas Carol which was written in 1843. And through the years there have been over two dozen different films adaptions of the novel.
Is everyone here familiar with the story or the movie, or Mickey’s Christmas Carol or the Muppets version? To be truthfully I had watched both Mickey and the Muppets before I got around to watching Alastair Sim.
Last year Angela and I went and saw “The Man Who Invented Christmas” and as a result, I finally got around to reading Dickens novel which I loved.
And Dickens breaks his tale down into five chapters which he called staves, which is a musical term, not a literary term, but who am I to question Dickens on literature?
And so, in Stave one Dickens sets the stage for the rest of the story.
Dickens first introduces the location: London England during the reign of Queen Victoria. This was a time of transition for England, it was the period of time between the first and second industrial revolution. A time when people had flocked from the country to the city to fill spots in the factories and the living conditions were terrible and poverty was rampant
And into 19th Century London Dickens introduces the main characters in the story.
He begins not with a person, but with the ghost of a person, Jacob Marley. And he begins the story with these words, “Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.”
Marley was not just dead but had been dead for seven years. And before he died, he was the business partner of Ebenezer Scrooge who is the protagonist of the story.
Dickens describes Scrooge as “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!”
And before the first stave had ended Dickens had introduced us to not only Scrooge and the Ghost of Marley but also to Scrooges nephew Fred and his clerk Bob Cratchit.
We are shown Scrooge’s character when he turns away two men who are seeking donations to help the poor.
And Scrooge sums up his feelings about Christmas by telling his nephew, “What else can I be when I live in such a world of fools as this? Merry Christmas! Out upon merry Christmas! What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer?” Scrooge doesn’t want anybody to enjoy Christmas.
He goes on to tell Fred, “If I could work my will, every idiot who goes around with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.”
The first stave ends with Marley’s ghost, who has been wandering the earth wrapped in heavy chains and money boxes forged by his life of greed and selfishness, visiting Scrooge at home. Marley tells his old business partner that he has a single chance to change and avoid the same fate. Scrooge learns that he will be visited by three ghosts to whom he must listen or be cursed to carry similar chains for eternity.
And everything in stave one is needed to set the stage for the rest of the story.
Without the novel being set in London at that particular time in history, the story wouldn’t make sense. Without introducing Fred and Bob we’d be confused later in the narrative. Without understanding the character of Scrooge, the visit of the three ghosts later would be pointless.
So, let’s begin as Dickens did, with Stave one setting the stage for the Christmas story.
The scripture, from Matthew’s gospel, that was read this morning only gives us a part of the introduction, the rest is found in Luke’s account.
Let’s begin with 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.
And so we begin with The Who The story begins with us being introduced to the main characters. Mary and Joseph. And we discover that they are engaged, but that Mary is still a virgin.
You’ve probably noticed lately it seems that when people say they are engaged it just means they are living together. Not so when this story happened.
And there are some people and even some some churches who say, “Well that couldn’t happen, it’s impossible.” Well yeah, that’s the entire point.
If it was possible, well what would be the point? The prophet Isaiah wrote 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’).
What type of sign would it have been for a young unmarried girl to conceive? A scandal perhaps, but not something which would have definitively said “Hey this is something special”
And there were two people who knew that they hadn’t been involved in Mary becoming pregnant. The first was Mary, who when the Angel broke the news to here responded by saying, Luke 1:34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”
And the second was her fiancé, we read Joseph’s response in Matthew 1:19 Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly. Apparently, he was pretty convinced the child wasn’t his.
And that leads us to The How So you kind of get the picture, an angel appears to Mary and tells her that she’s going to be a mother, I’m sure that her first response was, “cool, I’ve always wanted to be a mother. How long after Joseph and I are married will this happen?” And the Angel says, “No you don’t understand, you’re going to be a mother now.”
What he actually said was, Luke 1:35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.” And she was pregnant, just like that.
And then the angel appears to Joseph to tell him to take a deep breath and settle down. Actually what he tells him is, Matthew 1:20-21 As Joseph 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.”
When we think in human terms, this seems impossible, virgins don’t have babies. The way a baby is conceived it involves two people, a mother and a father and a physical act. Even with IVF, it involves a mother’s egg and a father’s sperm and some type of action, it doesn’t just happen.
So, this was a supernatural act where an egg in Mary’s womb was suddenly and miraculously fertilized by the Holy Spirit and a child was conceived. A child who would be called the Son of God, for obvious reasons. And to deny the virgin birth is to deny the deity of Jesus, and that is not a false teaching, that is a heresy.
Next in this stanza is The Where Luke’s account tells us 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.
The story begins in a small village called Nazareth, but that isn’t where it stays. While the story begins there, that isn’t where the focus of the story is.
Instead, we read in Matthew 2:1 Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, . . .
But why? Why couldn’t Jesus have been born in Nazareth, seems like that would have been easier for everyone.
Much like Dickens story needed to happen in London, the Christmas story had to happen in Bethlehem.
And again, that goes back hundreds of years before the event actually takes place when the prophet Micah reveals to the people of Israel this prophecy, 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.
Bethlehem was larger than Nazareth but it was still just a town, but a very special town. It was Bethlehem where Israel’s greatest King, King David, was born. And so, it was decreed very early that the Messiah, the Son of God, would be born there as well. And there are reasons for that.
If the plan had been for Jesus to come, then he had to be born somewhere, not just anywhere.
It helps to narrow down who the Messiah will be. When someone said, “I’m Bob and I’m the Messiah.” And people could ask, “So where were you born Bob?” And he might reply, “Capernaum” and you’d say, “Sorry Bob”.
In the prophecies, the birthplace of the Messiah was as much a sign as was the fact that he would be born of a virgin.
The problem is how do you get Mary and Joseph from Nazareth where they are, to Bethlehem where they are supposed to be. What could possibly motivate a man to embark on a 150 km journey with his very pregnant wife, either walking or riding a donkey?
Let’s pick up the story in Luke 2:1-5 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 travelled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.
So, not to think that Mary and Joseph connived to have their son born in Bethlehem, so they could later claim he was the Messiah. We are told that at that time the Roman Emperor, Augustus, decreed.
The When The story didn’t just happen at any time, it happened at a specific time, at just the right time. Paul writes in Galatians 4:4 But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. The right time? There are all kinds of reasons why the time that Jesus was born was the right time.
God could have chosen any time in the scope of history for his Son to come to earth and for the church to be birthed, and he chose a specific spot on the timeline of history.
According to historians, there was no better time for the church to flourish than the two hundred year juncture of history known as The Pax Romana. New Testament Scholar E. J. Goodspeed notes: “This was the Pax Romana. The provincial under Roman sway found himself in a position to conduct his business, provide for his family, send his letters, and make his journeys in security, thanks to the strong hand of Rome.”
The Roman Peace had spread across the known world, providing one of the few windows of opportunities for the land and sea to be travelled safely without the threat of warring factions. For the first time roadways connected points across the known world.
But it went beyond simple transportation and incorporated communication as well. Instead of having to learn a multitude of languages and dialects it was only necessary to know one. Greek was the common language, a reminder of Alexander’s conquests, allowing the written word to be sent to encourage and correct the growing churches in diverse cultures.
It was not a coincidence that the Creator chose this point in time to interrupt history it was no accident that Christianity came when it did.
But why? Why did God have to come to earth? Why was Christmas necessary? Let’s go back to the scripture that was read for us this morning, Matthew 1:20-21 As Joseph 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.”
Here is The Why Jesus came to save his people from their sins, the why is because God wants us to spend eternity with him.
We were created to be in fellowship with him, and through our disobedience and our natural bent toward sin, we are unable to bridge the gap that separates us from a Holy God. And so, he came to pay the price for us, it’s not anything we did, as a matter of fact, it wasn’t anything we could do. Paul reminds in Ephesians 2:8-9 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.
And maybe you are thinking, so what? You’ve told me about A Christmas Carol and retold the Christmas story, but so what? The so what is that it is easy to go into Christmas, do our traditions, whether those traditions are things like watching “A Christmas Carol” or attending church more, without ever having our lives changed by Christmas.
Here is the so what: each of us needs Christ.
What happened on that first Christmas Day changed the world, but has it changed you?
Stave one set the stage for the remainder of “A Christmas Carol”, Matthew 1 and Luke 1 set the stage for the Christmas story. Without understanding them makes understanding the rest of the story more difficult. Not impossible, just more difficult.
Before we come to the place that we accept God’s grace and forgiveness, there have already been things happening.
The greatest thing is understanding that the decision you make today to follow Christ, began 2000 years ago in a stable in Bethlehem. And thirty years after his birth Jesus understood and embraced his mission. Listen to the words of Jesus from Luke 19:10 “For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”
And he wasn’t just talking about those who were lost right then, he was looking down the tunnel of time to today.
Paul wrote in Romans 5:8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
Remember the words of John 3:16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” For God loved you, that he gave his one and only Son.
And for most people, the story begins long before we make a decision to follow Christ.
People have been speaking into your life, God has been whispering his grace to you. You’ve seen something, read something or heard something that sparked an interest in spiritual things.
I’ve mentioned before that the night I became a Christ Follower it seemed to come out of the blue. For many people it was a complete shock, nobody saw that coming. “Wow, who would have expected that?”
But the reality is that the story had been in the process for years. My parents dropping me off at Vacation Bible School while we were vacationing on Grand Manan, attending the Salvation Army Sunday School while Dad was posted in Germany. My Grand Mother praying for me. And for a year my best friend had been talking to me about Christianity.
I don’t know how many times he invited me to take the step before it ever happened. It would have been so easy for him to say, “well he just isn’t’ interested, I don’t want to offend him so I won’t mention it anymore.” But the Reg was more interested in me going to heaven than he was not offending me.
And you can be part of the story in someone else’s salvation.
Last month I spoke the mission and vision of Cornerstone, you remember Cornerstone exists to reach pre-Christians. That was the reason Cornerstone was planted in 1994, that is the reason why we built this building in this location and it continues to be the reason we exist.
And the scripture we looked at together was How are people prepared: Romans 10:14-15 But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”
Let’s read that again, and maybe there is someone’s name that you can put in the blanks Romans 10:14 But how can _____call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can _____believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can ____ hear about him unless I tell them?
Who is there in your life that you need to share the good news with? This Christmas who can you invite to receive the greatest gift of all, the gift of Jesus and the gift of salvation?
If you aren’t a Christ follower today, God wants you to know the good news, Jesus came for you, to offer his grace and his forgiveness. Your story as a Christ follower began 2000 years ago when the Angel Gabriel told Joseph, Matthew 1:21 And she (Mary) will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” And you can take the words “his people” out and put your name in. He will save Denn from his sins, and Angela from her sins, and you from your sins.