When we last left Scrooge, he was leaving the ghost of Christmas present. His transformation was beginning. He is beginning to enjoy Christmas. He enjoyed the love in the Cratchit home. He enjoyed the fun at his family dinner. He even enjoyed the sacredness of Christmas worship. He enjoyed it all and he did not want to leave. The problem is he had to leave and face the last of his three ghosts, the ghost of Christmases yet to come or the ghost of Christmas future.
Our scene for this morning features that voiceless faceless phantom. The only thing Scrooge sees is a large black robe with extruding boney fingers. Those lifeless fingers show Scrooge what he must see. He must look at the stock exchanged where he labored daily. He must look at the grieving Cratchit home, where Tiny Tim has passed. He must look at the grave where his own name edged in stone. He looked at it all and he does not like what he saw. He had changed! What he saw as valuable in this world, means nothing. What he saw as pointless, suddenly had meaning. With this new insight, he promises to live the rest of his life differently. How would you live your life differently if you knew your future? Today, we look at the future too. We see how Jesus would change the world.
We find ourselves today in the second chapter of Luke, verses 21-40. We hear about two different events. The first event came when Jesus was eight days old. For it was on that day that Jesus was formally named and circumcised. (v.21) Never forget, he was Jewish. They followed the various laws. The second came when he was forty days old. For it was on that day that the Old Testament law, Leviticus 12:2-8, demanded that Mary go to the temple. All women who had given birth to a boy had to go to the temple to offer a sacrifice of purification. She sacrificed two doves, because that is what the poorest gave. (vss. 22-24) The sacrifice was made as scripted. The only thing that makes this story unique are the characters they meet at the temple. I have said it a million times. The best things that happen in church are not found in the bulletin.
The two people mentioned in this story play the part of the ghost of Christmas future. They were not preoccupied with the baby Jesus. They were more interested in his future. They were more interested in the things that Jesus would do with his life. They knew that Jesus would play a vital role in God’s plan of salvation for the world. They praised God on that day for two different reasons. It is those reasons I want to look at this morning.
The first-person Mary and Joseph encountered was Simeon. He is described as righteous and devout. He had been waiting for years for the consolation of Israel. What does that mean? It means that he had been waiting for years for comfort. Annually, he sat at the Seder and remembered the great things that God had done for them. It was God who sent the plagues. It was God who parted the sea. It was God who provided for his people in the wilderness. God did some mighty things for them but that seemed like ancient history. God hadn’t done anything for them in quite a while. Those great days with God had been replaced by foreign domination. There must have been days when they felt like they were forgotten. Have you ever felt forgotten by God? When Simeon looked into the face of Jesus he was comforted because he knew God was still with them. When we look into the face of Jesus, we are comforted too. Jesus reminds us that God is still with us!
In 2009, Alan Gross (born 1949) went to Cuba to help set up internet access from a small Jewish community on that island nation. The Cuban government saw him as a threat and arrested him. After five years in a Cuban prison, he was released. I cannot imagine what life is like in a Cuban prison. He lost 100 pounds during his years of incarceration. The only thing that kept him going were his weekly phone calls home. They reminded him that he was not forgotten. Christmas reminds us we are not forgotten!
The second person Mary and Joseph encountered was Anna. She is described as an old prophetess. It was never difficult to find her because she was always in the temple. She had been there since the death of her husband. She knew there was something special about Jesus and spoke about the redemption of Israel. What does that mean? A large part of redemption is forgiveness. When Anna looked into the face of the infant Jesus, she knew that forgiveness was possible. After all, thirty-three years later, Jesus was the perfect sacrifice for the sins of our world so we can experience forgiveness.
On October 2, 2006, Charles C. Roberts (1973-2006) walked into an Amish school with three guns. At first, there were 26 students. He permitted some to leave, leaving behind their classmates. It was at that moment that he began to fire. When silence returned, six people laid dead, including Roberts. Notes left behind revealed he was struggling with the loss of his infant daughter years earlier. The grieving Amish community did something completely unnatural. They forgave Roberts and began supporting his widow. They even offered her some financial help. Their ability to love did not come from this world, it came from God. Their ability to forgive changed the lives of countless people. Christmas reminds us forgiveness is possible! Let me end with this old preaching story.
Many years ago, there was a very wealthy man who shared a passion for art collecting with his son. They had priceless works by Picasso and Van Gogh adorning the walls of their family estate. As winter approached, war engulfed the nation, and the young man left to serve his country. After only a few short weeks, his father received a telegram. His son had died. Distraught and lonely, the old man faced the upcoming Christmas with anguish and sadness. The joy of the season had vanished with the death of his son. On Christmas morning, a knock on the door awakened the depressed old man. As he walked to the door, the masterpieces of art on the walls only reminded him that his son was not coming home. As he opened the door, he was greeted by a soldier with a large package in his hands who said, “I was a friend of your son. I was the one he was rescuing when he died. May I come in for a few moments? I have something to show you.” The soldier mentioned that he was an artist and then gave the old man the package. The paper gave way to reveal a portrait of the man’s son. Though the world would never consider it the work of a genius, the painting featured the young man’s face in striking detail. Overcome with emotion, the man hung the portrait over the fireplace, pushing aside millions of dollars-worth of art. His task completed, the old man sat in his chair and spent Christmas gazing at the gift he had been given. The painting of his son soon became his most prized possession, far eclipsing any interest in the pieces of art for which museums around the world clamored.
The following spring, the old man died. The art world waited with anticipation for the upcoming auction. According to the will of the old man, all the art works would be auctioned on Christmas Day, the day he had received the greatest gift. The day soon arrived and art collectors from around the world gathered to bid on some of the world’s most spectacular paintings. Dreams would be fulfilled that day. The auction began with a painting that was not on anyone’s museum wish list. It was the painting of the man’s son. The auctioneer asked for an opening bid, but the room was silent. “Who will open the bidding with $100?” No one spoke. Finally, someone said, “Who cares about that painting. It’s just a picture of his son. Let’s move on to the good stuff.” The auctioneer responded, “No, we have to sell this one first. Now, who will take the son?” Finally, a neighbor of the old man offered $10 dollars. “That’s all I have. I knew the boy, so I’d like to have it.” The auctioneer said, “Going once, going twice…gone.” The gavel fell. Cheers filled the room, and someone exclaimed, “Now we can bid on the real treasures!” The auctioneer looked at the room filled with people and announced that the auction was over. Everyone was stunned. Someone spoke up and said, “What do you mean, it’s over? We didn’t come here for a painting of someone’s son. There are millions of dollars’ worth of art here! What’s going on?” The auctioneer replied, “It’s very simple. According to the will of the Father, whoever takes the son…gets it all.”
It is the story of Christmas. Whoever gets the son, gets it all. You know it is true. If you have Jesus, then you have a constant friend in this world. There has never been a moment in your life when you are alone. Like Simeon, you have companionship. If you have Jesus, then you have forgiveness. Like Anna, you have salvation. David Jeremiah was right! He said, “All the presents in the world are worth nothing without the presence of Christ