Sunday, November 30, 2014

Advent 1B Series: "From Humbug to Hallelujah!

Do you have any Christmas Day traditions? When I was growing up, Christmas Day was often church, then opening gifts, then my mom’s bacon and egg casserole. 

And by noon, after the gifts were unpacked, and the wrapping paper disposed of, and the shine of Christmas morning was beginning to fade into afternoon. In the evening we’d settle in together and watch “A Christmas Carol” usually the 1951 version starring Alastair Sim, since that was the one that ABC out of Buffalo would show every Christmas Day starting at 7:00.

So, the family would get together to watch this movie over and over again. And it never lost it’s freshness. It was a regular reminder of the possibility of personal transformation. 

After all, isn’t that Jesus’ ultimate message? That the world is being transformed, renewed, and put back together in a vision of wholeness and reconciliation?

And while A Christmas Carol doesn’t specifically mention God or Jesus, it is a story of salvation, salvation from the greed and selfishness that weigh us down, salvation from relationships that have gone sour, salvation from living a story that isn’t ours, salvation from those things in our lives that keep us from living in the fulness of the life that God wants for us.

Salvation from the “humbugs” as we shout “hallelujah!”

And it all began when Scrooge returned home from work one Christmas Eve and was frightened to see the face of his dead business partner, Jacob Marley, staring back at him from the door knocker. Shaken, Scrooge hurries to his bedroom. That’s when Marley’s ghost appears, and confronts the terrified Scrooge:

Let’s watch.


Hear Marley’s words again, He says, “I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it link by link, and yard by yard. I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. It its pattern strange to YOU?”

At least Marley was self-aware enough in death to see the harm he caused others, and the chains he wore were from from a life of selfish ambition and strained relationships. He learned the hard way that financial success brought him personal ruin. And the chains he know wore were the regret of a live poorly lived.

What are YOUR chains? What links are YOU forging? What’s weighing YOU down? What’s keeping you back from fully living the life that God wants YOU to live?

We all have chains. Even if we have all the outward indictors of success, we all have chains that we forge, or chains that are thrust upon us.

The chain of a job that pays well but is sucking the life right out of you.

The chain marriage that is being held together by duct tape.

The chain of financial worry and stress as wages stagnate while the price of everything rises.

The chain of loneliness when you go home to an empty house.

Or perhaps the heavies chain of all, the chain of the past, that keeps you weighed down, unable to fully live the life that God wants for you.

I hear lots of stories about people’s pasts. And when I hear those stories, it’s not the painful acts or traumatic events themselves that strike me. But what strikes me is how those injustices follow people throughout their lives. They’re like shadows hovering over people’s relationships, people’s choices, people’s vision of themselves, even people’s physical health.

It’s something we ALL struggle with. We all struggle with past trauma. We all hear voices of earlier loss or rejection or pain. We call carry within us, the burden of bearing someone else’s painful past. So that their story becomes our story, which we then - unknowingly - pass on to others.

No matter how much you try to hide it, no matter how much to try to tell yourself it’s behind you, no matter how much you ignore it, your chains of the past are there.

The chains of your past are there in the way you misconstrue a simple comment made by friend.

The chains of your past are there in how you overreact to bad news.

The chains of your past are there in your tears after someone criticizes you.

The chains of your past are there when you ignore wonderful opportunities lying at your feet.

The chains of your past are there you meet accomplishment and success with guilt and shame rather than with joy and celebration.

The chains of your past are there when you look in the mirror, and all you can see is someone else’s negative opinion of you.

The chains of you past are there when the power of the previous years veil the possibilities you might see for the future.

And the chains get heavier and heavier as the years tick by.

That’s what Scrooge learned. As Marley’s business partner, co-conspirator, and fellow chain forger, Scrooge didn’t see what he was becoming. Because he wasn’t always like how we just saw him. As a young man he cared deeply for others.  He frolicked with friends. He fell in love.

But something happened. Whether it was from losing his beloved sister. Or from his eyes darkening to the evil of the world. Or from the temptation to the allure of wealth. He changed. He forgot how to connect with others. He forgot how to be human. He forgot how to love.

He forgot that human beings were created for each other. He turned inward, caring only for himself. He decided to TAKE from the world rather than GIVE. He pushed people away. He became locked in his past. He forgot his story.

And as a result, he became a lonely, bitter, angry, frustrated old man.

This first Sunday of Advent, we begin to re-tell the story that shapes us. The story that gives us life. The story that God has put us in. The story that begins by reminding us why we need a saviour to begin with. 

A story that reminds us that there are moments when we need healing. 

A story that reminds us that we sometimes need to be put back together again. 

A story that reminds us that we have hurt one another, and ourselves. And that there needs to be some repair in our lives and relationships.

That’s why we begin the new church year by starting BEFORE Jesus arrives. Advent means “coming” and usually refers to Jesus’ impending arrival, both as a baby in Bethlehem, and his return at the fulfillment of creation, to judge the living and the dead. 

So we usually have two types of readings in Advent, the story of John the Baptist calling us to repentance, and the story of Mary’s impossible pregnancy. And those fit the Advent mood appropriately.

But I think that’s only half the story. I think the other part of the story is the arrival of the new YOU, who YOU are becoming, who God is making YOU. With the arrival of Jesus comes the dawning of a new day for EVERYONE, a fresh start, a more hopeful tomorrow, the trust of an abundant life NOW and the promise of eternity.

And today God knows your past. God knows what has been done to you. God knows the pain, the injustice, the abuse, the grief, the rejection, and the loss.

God knows anger, the resentment, the fear, and the loneliness.

And today God is saying that this is NOT the end of your story. You will NOT be weighed down by the chains of the past. Your past does NOT control your future. God is saying that the story of your painful yesterday is not the story of your healthy tomorrow. God is telling a different story in your life. God is telling a story of hope, of healing, of forgiveness, of peace, and of joy.

Your future is before you. And it’s not just your future. It’s God’s future. Your story isn’t finished. The pain of your past does NOT have power over your future. Your future belongs to God.

Someone else’s opinion of you is NOT your reality. God decides who you are, and God has declared you to be a beloved, forgiven, beautiful, and free child of God.

Your future will not be perfect. Your future will not be without pain or illness or grief. But God has given you power over anything that life throws at you. God has given you power over any betrayal, over any injustice, and over any loss. God has given you power over any rejection, over any conflict, and over any abuse.

God has given you this power because you belong to God, and God is breaking your chains. God is writing the story of your life. And God’s great and glorious future rests inside of you, as you wait this Advent season, to see the love of Jesus fully alive with in you.

May this be so among us. Amen.

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