The Ghost of Christmas Present

When we last left Scrooge, he was trying to recover from his time with the Ghost of Christmas Past. She reminded him of both the good and the bad. There was the Christmas he spent partying with old Fezziwig and the Christmas he was summoned home by his sister, Fanny. There was also the Christmas he spent at school alone. Like us, Scrooge’s Christmases were a mixed bag, filled with both the good and the bad. Sometimes Christmas is not merry.

It was now time for his next visitor, the Ghost of Christmas Present. Like past Christmases, there is both the good and the sad. Scrooge sees the dinner at his nephew’s Fred’s house. They are playing games and laughing at Uncle Ebenezer. There are the poor struggling to survive. For the first time, Scrooge saw the home of his office clerk, Bob Cratchit.  His home was simple at best, with a surplus of both love and hardship. Everyone is doing their best to survive and support one another. The apple of Bob’s eye is his crippled son, Tiny Tim. The boy has no future, but he does one thing no one else can. He pierces Scrooge’s heart. For the first time in a long time, Scrooge shows compassion. The problem is, Scrooge is not ready to act on that compassion. Is that why we find Scrooge so intriguing. We hate to admit it, but there is a little Scrooge inside of each one of us. We have compassion on the poor and the struggling, but we do next to nothing to relieve their suffering. That is why we marvel at the scripture lesson for today.

We are in the first chapter of Luke, verses 26-38. The angel Gabriel goes to Mary to tell her she has been selected by God for a special job. She is going to be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah. There is only one problem. She is unmarried, so pregnancy seems impossible. In other words, she is sexually innocent. You must admit, God is always thinking outside of the box. This child will not be conceived in the old-fashioned way. This child will be conceived in a miraculous way. The Holy Spirit himself will come upon her, and her child will be the son of God. She will name that child Jesus. The name Jesus means “God is salvation.” That is a good church story, but in the real world it is hard to believe. All you must do is walk in Mary’s shoes and the story gets very complex. We covered some of this material last week.

The scriptures tell us Mary lived in a town called Nazareth. It was a small town. In Mary’s day, it had a population of between one hundred and four hundred people. Have you ever lived in a small town? Have you ever worshipped in a small membership church? You do not just know everyone. Everyone knows everyone else’s business. Unlike our world, Mary’s world had high moral standards. We live in low moral times. She was a single pregnant woman. In our low morals time, we are supposed to be open minded about such matters. After all, these are modern times. In Mary’s time, she was shunned. That means her personal dreams and desires were gone. Her pregnancy did not just bring shame to her, it brought shame to her entire family. On the one hand, God’s selection of Mary was a wonderful thing. She would be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah. She will be praised by the generations to come. On the other hand, this unwanted pregnancy meant the death of her personal dreams and desires. She would be a joke to the people who knew her. All she really wanted was respect by this world. That is what makes this morning’s scripture lesson so incredible. Mary surrenders her personal dreams and desires to do God’s will. Luke 1:38 is significant. Mary is addressing the angel, Gabriel. She says, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”  That leads us to an interesting question.

How open are you to God’s will for your life? C. S. Lewis said it for us all. He said, We’re not necessarily doubting that God’s will is the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” Are you more like Ebenezer Scrooge, who was only concerned about himself? Are you more like the virgin Mary, who was open to God’s leading? If that makes you think, say, “Amen!” That leads us to three questions.

This is question number one: does your worldview reflect God’s will? Many consider David O. Selznick’s Gone with the Wind the greatest movie ever made. It is based on Margaret Mitchell’s book of the same name. It was the only book she ever wrote. You know the story because the movie is on television periodically. The movie premiered in Atlanta in 1939. Hattie McDaniel (1893-1952), who played Mammy in the movie, became the first black actor to receive an Academy Award for best supporting actor in 1940. However, she wasn’t invited to the world premiere because of the segregation laws in the Jim Crow south. Racism has been a big part of our country for a long time. I am afraid we haven’t made much progress.

Racism dominates the news. Do these names sound familiar?

          George Floyd

          Travon Martin

          Michael Brown

          Eric Garner

You know those names. Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis by Derek Chauvin. Martin was fatally shot in Sanford, Florida by George Zimmerman. Brown was fatally shot in Ferguson, Missouri by Darren Wilson. Garner was strangled to death in Staten Island, New York. They are just four names in a sea of names that revolve around racism. I hate to say it, but you know it is true. Racial tension in America is high. The views that white America holds about those men and the views black America hold about those men are extremely different. This is the question.

Does your worldview reflect God’s will? 1 John 2:9 says, “Whoever says he is living in the light but hates his brother is still living in darkness.” Mankind sees how people are different, God sees what we have in common. You are a disciple of Jesus Christ! What do you see when you look at a stranger? Do you see how they are different from you? Do you look for what you have in common? In other words, are you more like Scrooge, who saw the problem and did nothing? Are you more like Mary, who surrendered to God’s will?

This is question number two: does your community spirit reflect God’s will? One of the great things this church does annually is the “giving tree”. You know the routine. You take a tag off the tree, which contains a gift suggestion. You are to return that gift with the tag and wrapping paper on a designated date, unwrapped! Last week, the tree was full of tags, but by next week all the tags will be gone. The tree will stand empty because this church will buy Christmas gifts for a stranger. Can I be honest with you? I like looking at all the gifts once they are all purchased. It is fun to see the generosity of this congregation. I am proud of your generosity! This is the question.

Does your community spirit reflect God’s will? Galatians 2:10 says, “They asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.”  I am glad you are generous because there is so much need. Did you know that 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day? (World Bank Development) Did you know 22,000 children a day die due to poverty? (UNICEF) God expects us to help them. Are you more like Scrooge, who saw the problem and did nothing? Are you more like Mary, who surrendered to God’s will?

This is question number three: does your self-image reflect God’s will? Psychologists tell us that by age five, children have developed a definite self-image. Economics and social standing influence that self-image very little. The greatest influence on a child are the child’s parents. That makes parenting even more overwhelming. How good of a job did your parents do? Do you have a good self-image or a poor one? I am always amazed at how tough people are on themselves. This is the question.

Does your self-image reflect God’s will? 1 John 3:1 says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so, we are.” Every day get up and look in the mirror and remind yourself that you are a child of God!

Are you more like Scrooge, who saw the problem did nothing? Are you more like Mary, who surrendered to God’s will?

Several years ago, Kathryn and I were in the state of Texas to visit relatives. One of the family members lives in San Antonio. We took that opportunity to visit the Alamo. I came away with a new appreciation for the events of April 6, 1836. For it was on that day the thirteen-day siege ended. Approximately 200 Texans were confronted by approximately 6,000 Mexican soldiers led by Santa Anna (1794-1876) during their war of independence. Some of the greatest names in American history were involved in the battle: Jim Bowie (1796-1836), Davy Crockett (1786-1836), and William Travis (1809-1836). The outcome at the Alamo was obvious, but they refused to surrender.

In one of the great scenes in North American history, William Travis lined up his soldiers and told them of their impending defeat. He drew a line in the sand and said any man wishing to leave the Alamo could do so without recourse. Only one man left. The others stepped over that line to stand with him, hence accepting their fate. History tells us each one died with honor and for a cause that was bigger than themselves. Santa Anna’s cruel treatment of their corpses changed the future of Texas. He wanted to shock his world with his might. Instead, he inspired many Texans to defeat the Mexicans because of his cruelty. About six weeks later, on April 21, 1836, Sam Houston (1793-1863) defeated Santa Anna at San Jacinto and their independence was won. This is my question for you.

What in the world does the Virgin Mary have to do with the Alamo? The answer is everything. The Virgin Mary stepped over the line in the sand and stood with God. However, she also challenges us to step over the line in the sand and stand with God too. When you step over the line you are surrendering your world view for God’s world view. When you step over the line you adopt a new community spirit. You have true compassion for your struggling neighbor. The needy in our world need our help. When you step over the line you rebuild your self-image. Never forget you are a child of God! Saint Ignatius once said, “It is not hard to obey when we love the one whom we obey.”

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