He had become a celebrity, there was no other word for it, he had toured with his wife across the United States and Canada and crowds flocked to see him. During his time in the U.S., because of his celebrity status, he was granted an opportunity to address Congress on international copyright issues. As a speaker, he filled venues wherever he went
While travelling he wrote a book entitled, A travelogue, American Notes for General Circulation, in which he recorded his impressions of the former colony.
Back home in England the Queen was a fan, especially of the Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist and his works had gained a popular following as well.
Of course, it is Charles Dickens of whom I speak. And while Dickens never ran for political office, he wasn’t above using his celebrity status to take a public political stand, much like many celebrities today. When the Tories were returned to power in England he would write, “They are people whom, politically, I despise and abhor.” I wonder how he really felt?
By 1843 his latest 3 novels that had been greeted with a lukewarm response, his publishers had threatened to cut his monthly income because of the poor sales and his wife was pregnant with the fifth child.
In October of that year, he promised his publishers a Christmas Comedy and delivered it in only six weeks.
As the idea for the story began to morph and the writing began in earnest, Dickens became obsessed with the book. He would later write that as the tale began to take shape that he “wept and laughed and wept again” and he “walked about the black streets of London fifteen or twenty miles many a night when all sober folks had gone to bed.”
The book was released on December 19th and by Christmas Eve the first printing had sold out across London and by the end of 1844 twelve additional editions had been released.
This is week three of our A Christmas Carol series, as we use Dickens book as a framework for telling the Christmas story.
If you aren’t familiar with the book, it is divided into five chapters, which Dickens called Staves.
The first stave acted as an introduction to the book and its protagonist Ebenezer Scrooge. So that week we looked at the first chapters of Matthew and Luke and how they introduced us to the main characters of the Christmas story, a young girl by the name of Mary and her fiancé Joseph.
When Mary is told by a heavenly visitor that she will become pregnant she asks, Luke 1:34 “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” Which seems like a reasonable question, considering the circumstances. And the Angel tells her, 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.” To which he adds Luke 1:37 For nothing is impossible with God.”
In Stave 2 of a Christmas Carol, we see Scrooge visited by the first of three spirits who would visit him, in this case, it was the Ghost of Christmas past, who took Scrooge back in time to his personal past to see how the choices he had made in his past had shaped his present life.
From there we looked at how Christmas can affect our past, that Jesus came to save people from their sins. And that means each one of us has the choice to surrender our past to Christ and to accept his grace and his forgiveness, or not.
This week we are looking at Stave three. In the book, this is where Scrooge is visited by the second spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Present who takes him on a journey to see how Christmas is being celebrated outside of his own narrow worldview.
He watches his nephew Fred and his family celebrate during a Christmas party and he is taken to his clerk, Bob Cratchit’s, family feast. It is there Scrooge is introduced to Cratchit’s sickly son, Tiny Tim, who Scrooge is told will die unless the course of events is changed.
There was so much that happened with the Christmas story in the present tense. There was Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, the entire subplot of no room in any of the local Inn’s and how eventually they found shelter in a stable where the baby Jesus was born. It was to the stable that the shepherds were directed by a host of angels who appeared in the night sky.
But how has Christmas impacted our present? Well, for those of us where are Christ followers that would be evident, without Christmas there’d be no Christ to follow. And we could stop there. But we’re not.
Sometimes in 2018 Christians are made to feel like they should be ashamed of their faith. To many, there is no place in today’s world or today’s culture for those who follow Jesus.
But here is the reality, the world as we know it has been shaped by the events that happened in the small village of Bethlehem 2000 years ago.
If there had been no Christmas, the world that exists today would be a radically different place.
Because, regardless of what the critics might say, Christmas has had a major impact on the world we live in.
This month, the majority of the world will in some form, or another take the time to acknowledge Jesus birth.
Now, they may not recognize it by being in church, but it is recognized in the sense that the day is different than other days.
Most people don’t go to work on Christmas Day.
It is a time to gather with family and to have a celebratory meal, to give gifts and speak about goodwill and wish each other a Merry Christmas. And people recognize that there is something different about that day.
So let’s start with the fact that Christmas Has Defined the Present
Take your bulletin and look on the front, on the bottom corner. So, you see where it says, December 16, 2018?
We take that for granted. That is the date. More correctly it would say AD 2018, 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 that time.
The Christmas story was dated by Luke with these words: 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.)
Imagine determining the time that way today, It was the third year of the reign of Trudeau the second, the Canadian Emperor, Stephen McNeil was governor over Nova Scotia and Mike Savage was ruler over Halifax. It is so much easier to say it was 2018.
The Bible tells us that 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 the first Christmas and those things that happened after the first Christmas.
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 noted 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 to what? To the birth of Jesus.
If there had been no Christmas, then there would be no 2018 and because our calendar was developed by a Jesus follower by the name of Gregory not only would today not be in the year 2018 it wouldn’t be December 16th.
But Christmas has not just defined the present, Christmas Has Impacted the Present.
There are those who would argue that the world is a worse place today because of Christianity. And they point to some of the least savoury parts of church history.
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.”
Really? 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.
And some of these folks will remind you of the crusades, the inquisition and the hundreds of innocent people who were burned as witches in Salem. Actually, there weren’t hundreds of people burnt at the stake in Salem, they hung them. And it was only 20 who were hung. Which if you or one of your loved one was one of the 20, then 20 was too many. But it wasn’t thousands or even hundreds.
An as a side note my 9th Great Grand Mother, Mary Bradbury was convicted of Witchcraft in Salem in 1692 and sentenced to hang. It was not the church who convicted her and sentenced her to death, it was the community and the state. It was, however, her pastor who testified to her Christian character at her trial and her church family that helped her escape and hid her until the hysteria died down.
And by the way, if you support capital punishment you would have hung my Grandmother.
And yes, there have been historical events that the church should not be proud of, and perhaps we should even embarrassed by, but they are the minority of events.
Tomorrow afternoon I will be at the Super Store 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 have given tens of thousands of dollars each Christmas to partner with World Hope to drill wells in West Africa, why?
Because 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.
How many people 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. Of course, if you were Catholic you were probably born at the old Halifax Infirmary, which of course was founded and run by the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul in 1886.
It is why the first hospitals were started by Jesus Followers in Monasteries and even today have names like Saint Jude’s 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.
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.
How many people here have been to school? Elementary school, middle school, High School or post-secondary. Pretty much everybody.
Throughout history, 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.
And because of Christmas there were Jesus followers who fought against slavery and established the Underground railway and later Jesus followers who helped lead in the fight for women’s rights.
I get rolling on this and I feel like John did at the end of his gospel when he wrote, 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 with all of that, the question today is: Has Christmas Defined and Shaped your present?
Paul had the same question in mind when he wrote to the church in Corinth and said 2 Corinthians 6:1-2 As God’s partners, we beg you not to accept this marvelous gift of God’s kindness and then ignore it. For God says, “At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.” Indeed, the “right time” is now. Today is the day of salvation.
You see the most important question today isn’t: What difference has Christmas made in the world? but what difference has Christmas made in your life? And only you can answer that.