Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Bethany Bullet - December 17, 2013

The lists are long, the stores are packed; it is the giving season. 

In my house, the texts are flying between family members looking to find the right gift or to suggest alternatives.  We even have some gifts wrapped and placed under the tree.  Giving is the order of the season.

You know, generosity is fashionable during the Christmas season.  Giving makes us feel good.  Living a generous life brings honor to the heart and love to others. 

You know as well as I that there are many who will go without this year.  No presents, no tree, no celebratory meal, no family gatherings.  It can be a time of deep depression, anxiety, and profound distress and darkness. 

In this season I can’t help but reflect upon Bob Cratchit the fictional character who is the abused, underpaid clerk of Ebenezer Scrooge in the Charles Dickens story A Christmas Carol.

In the story, Cratchit is first seen at work, where he copies letters by hand in an under-heated "dismal little cell". He is repeatedly described as "ugly" and clothes himself in a tattered white comforter, since he cannot afford a coat. Cratchit is treated poorly by Scrooge and given a weekly salary of "but fifteen bob", a mere pittance, insufficient to feed his family a proper Christmas dinner. Nevertheless, he remains loyal to his employer.

You know the story, Ebenezer Scrooge invisibly visits Cratchit and his family in their small Camden Town home on Christmas Day as well as on a future Christmas. He is accompanied on these visits by the Ghost of Christmas Present and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, respectively. It is partly through concern for the plight of Cratchit's youngest son, the frail and crippled Tiny Tim, that Scrooge makes the transformation from miser to philanthropist, offering Cratchit a raise and "discussion of his affairs".

Ebenezer Scrooge lived a life that was anything but generous.  His miserly ways solidified a hardened heart and a blind eye to the needs of those around him.  Grace and mercy were not a part of his vocabulary or influenced his actions. 
Dickens writes about an encounter with one looking for a gift for those in need,

“At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge... it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir." 

"Are there no prisons?" 

"Plenty of prisons..."

"And the Union workhouses." demanded Scrooge. "Are they still in operation?" 

"Both very busy, sir..."

"Those who are badly off must go there."

"Many can't go there; and many would rather die."

"If they would rather die," said Scrooge, "they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."

In his quest for cash he had given up so much.  His hopes of accumulating wealth dominated his life and sabotaged his relationships. His reputation was in shambles. His plans of establishing a prosperous and respected business in the community and passed years ago.  He did not know how to give.

It wasn’t until in a startling moment of fear and terror he comes face to face with a spirit that changes his heart and he would come to understand what it means to live a generous life.  In that moment the life of those around him would be changed forever. 

It is another startling moment that is before us this morning. 

From Luke the first chapter,
26 Six months after Elizabeth had become pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a city in Galilee. 27 The angel went to a virgin promised in marriage to a descendant of David named Joseph. The virgin’s name was Mary.

28 When the angel entered her home, he greeted her and said, “You are favored by the Lord! The Lord is with you.”

29 She was startled by what the angel said and tried to figure out what this greeting meant.” (Luke 1:26-29)

A startling encounter in a backwater town in Israel, a messenger from God brings a startling revelation that will change the world forever.

Mary is asked to give generously to God so that he may be glorified.

In contrast to the visit the angel makes to an aging Zechariah and Elizabeth earlier in the story, this time Gabriel goes not the holy city of Jerusalem but to a humble town in Galilee.  He goes not to a temple but to a house, not to an aged man but a vibrant young maiden.

The promised child to Zechariah and Elizabeth was an answer to many prayers; the promised child to Mary was a total and complete shock. 

Not to an old couple finally having their first son, but to a virgin, not conception in the natural way, but by the Spirit of God, Mary would have to give up so much. 
38 Mary answered, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let everything you’ve said happen to me.” (Luke 1:38)

Think about what Mary gives up in this moment.
·         The hopes of her parents who were planning a wedding
·         Her reputation as a good and godly girl
·         Her husband’s plans of establishing his household as a prosperous and respected one in the community
In that moment, she gives her womb to the Lord knowing that what the angel had told her would come to pass.  It is a moment of faith, knowing that ridicule, dishonor, and difficulty were coming her way.

At times we are more like Ebenezer Scrooge in Dicken’s Christmas Carol, hording and holding, not wanting to let go of what we believe is rightly ours.  We do not live generously because we have a fierce desire to keep permanently.  Have you ever been called a Scrooge? Have you scoffed a loud “Bah Humbug” at those taking a collection for those in need?  

Mary is neither miserly, nor mistaken for a scrooge, but she gives generously because of the honor of giving, from a faith that knew what she had received: the honor of the angels visit, the honor of a conversation with the Lord of Creation, the honor of a role in the prophetic pageant of the Nativity.  She gave from a desire to honor God and magnify the Lord.

Just a bit later in Luke we hear the wonderful words of Mary’s song, called the magnificat, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” (Luke 1:46-47)

Mary does not doubt but she lives a generous life and gives of herself so that the Lord may be glorified.  Eventually the Child she would raise, to whom she would dedicate her time as a loving mother would generously give of Himself on the cross.  The Babe of Bethlehem ascents the hill of Calvary to give Himself up and change the lives of everyone on earth.  As He breathes His last, His mother is there to watch, to wonder and to weep. 

Jesus gives His life to honor His heavenly Father.  He gives generously to bring you life and He rose victoriously to guarantee it. 

Here at Bethany we talk about giving proportionately for our giving comes from a faith that knows what we have received in Christ for we too have been visited by God’s messengers, He comes to us in word and water, and wafer and wine, for God has come to live with us every bit as much as He lived with Mary.

He comes to you again today in a manger not of wood but of flesh as you come face to face with Jesus in this place and we have been changed. 

We give ourselves, our time and our possessions from a desire to honor God, from a faith that knows what we have been given that he might be glorified through our generous life.  This is anything but Bah Humbug!

After an intense night, Ebenezer Scrooge awakens on Christmas morning a changed man, sending a turkey to his employee Bob Cratchit he begins to live a generous life.  Dickens concludes his story with these words speaking of Scrooge, “and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!”

Are you ready to live a generous life; a life that points to the generous life of the Savior?  May I suggest a proportionate gift to help the church, or a unwrapped toy donated to Christian Outreach in Action to be given to one in need, or your time in service to others and not just in this season when it is fashionable but always. 

We give for the honor of giving from a faith that knows what has been received and from a desire to honor God. 
May it be always be said of those who know Christ, that we live a generous life and that others may observe, God Bless us, Every One!

-Pastor Seth Moorman


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