We find ourselves in the Gospel of Luke. You may remember Luke’s background. Luke was born into a Gentile family, but he was educated in the Greek classics. When his formal education was completed, he was a doctor. However, the church will always remember him as a companion of Paul during his second missionary journey. That is the reason many consider Luke to be Paul’s Gospel. The first four verses of Luke are vital because they set the stage for the rest of the book.
In the opening four verses, Luke admits his work is not original. There have been other books that have tried to summarize the life of Jesus Christ. His book is different for one reason. Luke, himself, can be trusted. His accounts have come from eyewitnesses and fellow believers. Luke investigated those stories. The false ones have been eliminated. The true ones have been included. He does all this work for one reason. He wants this body of believers, personified in this person, Theophilus, to know the truth. This is the truth. Jesus Christ was the Messiah, the only son of God and our holy hope of salvation. Jesus came for one reason, to be the bridge between mankind and God. Marley may have said it after his death, but Jesus demonstrated it in his life; MANKIND WAS HIS BUSINESS! That simple understanding takes us to Dicken’s A Christmas Carol.
You know the story. Everybody knows the story. Ebenezer Scrooge lived for one thing, money! Nothing else really mattered to him. Day in and day out, he sat at his place of business making more money. The problem was, his money wasn’t making him happier, it was making him miserable. If you don’t believe me then ask the people in his life. You could ask his clerk, Bob Cratchit. Working in the cold, he barely made enough for his family to survive. He not only feared Scrooge, but he pitied him. He knew Scrooge was miserable. You could ask his nephew, Fred. He was Scrooge’s sister’s only child. She died in childbirth. Annually, he went to his Uncle Ebenezer’s office to invite him to Christmas dinner. Every year Fred was turned down, but he always went back. He knew his uncle was miserable. You could ask those two nameless chaps who came to his office to collect for the poor. They were shocked by his treatment, but they knew the truth. Scrooge was miserable. Without the miraculous, Scrooge would have died miserable, but the miraculous came in the form of his deceased business partner, Jacob Marley.
You know the story. Everybody knows the story. Scrooge is locked safety in the security of his own home when the most unusual things begin to happen. It begins innocently enough. The doorknocker is transformed. The lion’s face turns in to Jacob’s face. The wind blows without warning. The clocks strike out of time. Scrooge locks his bedroom doors for extra security, but it doesn’t matter. Without an invitation, Marley enters the room. He is visiting Scrooge for one reason, transformation! He must change his ways or face a horrible fate. Scrooge is like many in our time; he doesn’t like change. He appeals to Marley’s practical side and reminds him of their days in business. He was a good businessman. They made a great deal money together. There is only one problem. Money-making was not their business. Scrooge was blind to what Marley knows. Marley says it clearly: MANKIND IS OUR BUSINESS! In other words, we are not just responsible for ourselves in this world, but we are responsible for others. We are responsible for the less fortunate. If you believe Christmas is just about getting gifts, then you have missed the point. Do you remember how Marley planned to transform Scrooge?
You know the story. Everybody knows the story. Jacob Marley arranges three visitors to visit Scrooge. The first is the ghost of Christmases past. The second is the ghost of Christmas present. The third is the ghost of Christmases yet to come or the future. That is the one Scrooge fears the most. How do you feel about your future? You can consider this message an overview of the next three weeks. I will unpack each one in the weeks to come. You know the story. Everybody knows the story. Jesus came for transformation too. Jesus came to transform you!
The first ghost that came to Scrooge was the Ghost of Christmas Past. You remember the story. His past is filled with some wonderful experiences and some not-so-great experiences. There was the Christmas that he spent partying with Fezziwig, and the Christmas he spent at the school alone. Scrooge’s past was filled with both the good and bad. Can anyone relate to that statement? Christmas memories are not all the same. How many wonderful Christmas memories do you hold near your heart? How many Christmas memories do you have that will make you cry? For many, Christmas isn’t merry.
In the past few years, the church has begun to recognize those who struggle during Christmas. We call it a Blue Christmas service. It is for those people who struggle with the blues during the month of December. They struggle with their broken dreams or disappointments. The passing of a loved one. The one true love who never came. The adult child who never achieved independence. The job that was lost. The money that was wasted. The health that failed. I have preached at those services, and I remind people of three things:
- Life is hard!
- Sometimes we need others!
- We always need God!
That is why we come to church. It is nice to see our friends, but what we really want is God. Do you remember what Jesus said in Matthew 28? The Master said, “I am with you always until the very end of time.” If you are thankful that God has always been with you, say, “Amen!” The first Ghost was the ghost of Christmas Past.
The second ghost that came to Scrooge was the Ghost of Christmas Present. You remember the story. Scrooge’s world was filled with poverty. The embodiment of that poverty was his clerk, Bob Cratchit. He was enslaved in Scrooge’s lifeless office for slave wages. Out of that small income, he was to provide for his family. Scrooge is so consumed with himself that he doesn’t know a single thing about Cratchit’s family.
It is the Ghost of Christmas Present who introduces him. The saddest member in the family is Bob’s crippled son, Tiny Tim. Once Scrooge meets him, everything begins to change. Charity is when you collect for strangers. Missions is when you get personally involved with human need. How would your perspective change about the poor if you knew one?
Matthew 25 is one of the great chapters in the Bible. You know it because we have visited it so many times. In that chapter we hear the parable of the sheep and the goats. The sheep and the goats are separated. The sheep go to heaven, but the goats go to hell. The distinction is simple. The sheep responded to human need, but the goats failed. Jesus said it clearly. When you did it for the least of these, you did it for me. That verse always troubles me. There is no shortage of human need in our world this Christmas. Jesus expects us to help them. What are you doing to help the needy this year? The first ghost was the Ghost of Christmas Past. The second ghost was the Ghost of Christmas Present.
The third and final ghost that came to Scrooge was the ghost of Christmases yet to come, or the Ghost of Christmas Future. You remember the story. Wearing that long black robe, the face of the ghost is never seen. The gender is never disclosed. The only thing that appears are those long boney fingers. They point to the home of the Cratchit family. There is a surplus of both love and hardship. In the future, Tiny Tim will pass. Those boney fingers point to a grave and Scrooge is faced with his own fate, his own death. As the ghost leaves, Scrooge is begging for one more chance. He will keep the spirit of Christmas in his heart 365 days a year! Scrooge did not want to die. I have never met a person who wanted to die. We all want to live for eternity. There is only one option for eternal life.
The Gospel of Luke was written for one reason. He wanted you to know the truth. He wanted you to know about the greatest life that ever lived. He wanted you to know that Jesus was the only son of God. He wanted you to know that Jesus was your only hope of salvation. It does not come out of the Gospel of Luke, but it comes out of the Gospel of John. However, Luke would agree. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son. That whoever believes in him my not perish but have eternal life.”
Everyone agrees!Charles Dickens was a literary genius. He was one the great talents in the history of British literature. He is remembered as a social critic, who created some of the world’s best known fictional characters. He is considered to the be the greatest novelist during the Victorian Era. His works include Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, David Copperfield, The Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, and A Christmas Carol. There are more but I am limited by time. I remember reading some of them when I was in school. They were penned over one-hundred and fifty years ago and are considered classic. Charles Dickens was a literary genius, but he was not much of a theologian.
Dickens had Jacob Marley visit Ebenezer Scrooge for one reason, transformation! That is why the ghost of Christmases past came. That is why the ghost of Christmas present came. That is why the ghost of Christmas future came. This is the truth. It was a waste of time! All Scrooge needed was Jesus. Mankind was his business! When you have Jesus, you have peace with the past. When you have Jesus, you have purpose with the present. When you have Jesus, you have hope for the future. All Scrooge needed was Jesus and so do you.